BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Nicholas Kristof, co-author of "China Wakes." Who was Harold Su?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, Co-AUTHOR, "CHINA WAKES": Harold was a young man who -- his family believed very much in the Communist party, and he was the youngest foreign ministry diplomat when he first joined the foreign ministry after the Communist revolution. He became the English interpreter for Zhou Enlai, and occasionally for Mao Zedong himself. You know, he was a real star and somebody who would have risen, I think, perhaps all the way, perhaps to be foreign minister. Then he made the mistake, on a trip to India with Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, of buying some shirts and going to a movie with foreign ministry funds. And he thought, "Well, I'll just pay them back." And then he also made the mistake of telling the Indian government Zhou Enlai's preferences for food and color to make Zhou Enlai's stay a little more comfortable.
Well, the result was when he got back to Beijing, he was reported, he was sent off to prison for 10 years, his career destroyed, and after he was finally released from prison, he was sent off to a village in a remote part of China to work for 10 more years throughout much of the cultural revolution. And finally in, I believe, 1978, China desperately needed English teachers, and here they had, you know, somebody who had been one of the great English speakers in the country and an interpreter for Mao, and they found him in this remote village and brought him back.
But I remember -- maybe the most poignant thing was when he was telling me this story, he had talked about his mother and how he had begged the authorities not to tell his mother about his arrest and about his imprisonment, and at the very end I thought back about her and I said, "Well, so, did they tell your mother?" And he said that they had. And I said, "What happened?" And he said that she was so horrified by his fall that she had committed suicide, and that his father had written him a note in prison to tell him about this.
LAMB:Now, how did you meet him?
KRISTOF: He was a friend of ours. This book is really about our friends in China to a great extent, and he was one of our friends in China, and somebody we became very close to. You know, I always wondered, if he had become foreign minister -- though this was a time when the foreign ministry was denouncing us, was calling us in for these struggle sessions with them -- and I always wondered, you know, if he had become foreign minister, would he be denouncing us as well? -- And that now he's OK, he's living freely in Beijing, and in some ways I kind of figure that this whole brutal experience that he went through in some sense freed him.
LAMB:Now, you mentioned Zhou Enlai. Who was he?
KRISTOF: Zhou Enlai was the prime minister and foreign minister, and effectively the number two to Mao Zedong.
LAMB:And when did Harold Su work for him?
KRISTOF: Throughout, essentially, the mid-1950's until his imprisonment in 1957.
LAMB:And you wrote this book with your wife, and you did, each a chapter, and then she did another chapter. How did you decide which chapters to write?
KRISTOF: Part of it was that we wanted to preserve our own voices, and there were some things that I felt more passionate about, some things that Sheryl felt more about. And part of it was simply arbitrary. Sheryl, for example, was particularly interested in the plight of Chinese women, and she had her own experiences as a Chinese-American woman, and so that was a natural for her. I had been on Tiananmen square when the troops opened fire, so a chapter about Tiananmen and history was more of a natural for me.
LAMB:You speak Chinese.
KRISTOF: I speak Chinese.
LAMB:Where did you learn it?
KRISTOF: Mostly in Taiwan, but also just a function of living in China for five years and spending, you know, just about every night with Chinese friends gossiping about this, about that, about their likes and dislikes.
LAMB:Sheryl Wudunn -- where's the name come from?
SHERYL WUDUNN, Co-AUTHOR, "CHINA WAKES": I found that when I went to China on my first visit, I remember ... I am a third-generation Chinese-American, and grew up in New York City and had no interest in going to the countryside, but Nicholas Kristof actually encouraged me to go. And I remember driving down that path. We were driving through the scattered rice patties -- it was a land away from what I had grown up in -- and we got to this small, little village at the edge of a little lake, and there I was, standing in the village, and I must have been two feet taller than almost everybody else there. And the women there were all grey-haired, and the children were tiny, tiny little kids. And I thought, "this is the village where my father's father was from." And I didn't think that I had any relatives there; I was sure I hadn't. I had nothing in common with these people.
And as I talked and talked and I told them who my grandfather was, they said, "Yes, yes, I am your distant cousin," a woman said as she stepped forward. And I was shocked. She had a different last name, of course. In Cantonese, her last name was -- I'm going to pronounce it; it's going to sound awkward- - "Ng," and it was from there that I found the story of how my name had become "Wudunn." What had happened was that my grandfather had bought some papers, which was common in those days, to go overseas to the U.S. And the papers had the same last name, because in Cantonese, my name, the first part of my name, is "Ng," and he got to Ellis Island and he said, "Well, my name is Ng Dan-Sook." Now, that just really means like, "Uncle Sam." And they didn't hear the "Ng," they had no idea what it was, they didn't know what to do with it, so they just heard the "Dun," and they said, "oh, your name is Dunn." So, my grandfather for the longest time was William Dunn. And finally, after getting all these phone calls, people calling up and saying, "Are you Dunn?" and then hang up, he decided, well, he's going to take the Mandarin pronunciation of his name and call it Wudunn. So that's how I'm a Wudunn.
LAMB:Now, you found out something about your grandfather you didn't particularly care for.
WUDUNN:Yes, I did. It was rather shocking. While I was there, I discovered that he had had another wife, a wife before my grandmother, and that, in fact, they had both gone to the U.S., The first wife and my grandfather, and she bore him two daughters, but no son and so they went back to China, and on that trip he decided to leave her there -- she wasn't going to be able to bear him any more sons, he thought -- and so he took another wife and brought her back to the U.S. And had three children, including my father. So it was a very rude awakening to discover that he had essentially abandoned his first wife -- he never saw her again-- and she stayed there until she died in the 1960s.
LAMB:How did you two meet?
KRISTOF: We were in Los Angeles. I was working for The New York Times, Sheryl for the Wall Street Journal -- and so we started this incredibly complicated courtship whereby we couldn't really talk about what either of us was doing, and, you know, I would leave messages with Sheryl at the Wall Street Journal just as "Nick."
KRISTOF: Why did ... What was the attraction?
WUDUNN:What was the attraction to him?
WUDUNN:Oh, well, of course, I mean, he was this famous reporter. (Laughs) I remember in the bureau when ... See, he was the only business reporter for The New York Times in L.A., and our bureau at the Wall Street Journal had nine people there, and they were all covering the same exact events that he was, all the same events, and quite often we would open the paper in the morning, and they were like, "That Kristof! How did he do this?" And all five of them would be gathered around the newspaper article trying to figure out how did this one guy beat nine other reporters in the bureau.
LAMB:Now, when did you marry?
WUDUNN:In 1988, just as we were leaving to China. China was our honeymoon.
KRISTOF: So to speak. The first seven months were just a wonderful, wonderful time. You know, we arrived November, 1988 literally fresh from our honeymoon, just after getting married, and that was just the most open time in China's history. We could go off and see friends. We would have lunch with just about anybody we wanted to. One time we drove a friend back into Jun Yung Hai, the Chinese leadership compound, which is like the Kremlin. And, you know, it was all OK then, until Tiananmen.
KRISTOF: Then, overnight, everything changed. I mean, we were changed. It is an absolutely transforming experience when you're on Tiananmen square and you are being shot at by these troops, and you're seeing kids around you killed. But, I mean, that was one night, or the killing went on a few days, but what was in a sense more traumatic almost for us was just the way the whole repressive apparatus clamped down on us and, you know, we were followed. Every time we'd leave our apartment we'd have these government goons behind us -- a couple of cars, couple of motorcycles, trying to figure out our sources. And our phones were tapped, rooms were bugged, our office was broken into; we were called into the foreign ministry regularly to be denounced. It was -- the worst thing was this fear of getting your friends in trouble.
LAMB:When did you leave China permanently?
KRISTOF: 1993. At the end of 1993.
LAMB:And this book that you've written, did you spend time doing only that?
KRISTOF: Yes, we did. We spent a few months while we were still in China working just on the book. I mean, the book is a culmination of our five years there. We heard hundreds of stories from all the people we met, and we've had many, many different experiences. And we wanted China to come alive to Americans. We wanted to tell the stories of the many different Chinese that we met.
LAMB:The minister that you danced with?
WUDUNN:Yes. That was interesting. In fact, Nick and I had a very good partnership, because there were times when the Chinese wanted to meet a foreigner ... And they call him a "big-nosed foreigner," "big-nosed American."
KRISTOF: I have quite a nose.
WUDUNN:For instance, when he went to Beijing University, and he would do interviews, students knew that he wasn't a spy, but me, they weren't always so sure. But there were other times when they didn't want to speak to a foreigner, they didn't want to get caught with a foreigner, and so I could slip into their homes and learn their secrets.
I remember one time I was researching the topic of sexual harassment and the status of women, and I found myself at a dinner dance party, and a cabinet minister asked me to dance -- he apparently thought that I was a local secretary or something -- and as soon as we got out onto the dance floor, he tried to force himself upon me. I was shocked, but it gave me tremendous insight into the status of women, into how women are treated, and how cabinet ministers look upon them as perks. Certainly a non-Chinese wouldn't have been able to have that kind of experience.
LAMB:What kind of an accent do you have?
WUDUNN:It's very interesting. The nice thing about China is that it's such a vast country, full of so many different dialects, that if you're in the north, people will say, "Oh, you have a southern accent." If you're in the south, people will say, "Oh, you have a western accent." It was very, very useful.
LAMB:You went on a trip once as a tourist while you were a reporter. Why did you have to do that?
KRISTOF: Because if you're a reporter, then every time you leave Beijing and go somewhere else in China, you have to go through -- officially you have to go through the foreign ministry and get their permission. What that means is then, well, they may deny you the right to go. But secondly, even if they give you the right, they're going to meet you at the airport, take you to a hotel, often they stay in the hotel room right next to yours, they book up every moment of your time, and they arrange all of your interviews. And it really becomes a farce.
I remember once asking to interview some poor peasants and, so I go to a poor part of China. They take me off into the countryside, there are about 10 officials trailing me, and we pull in. I knew there was a problem when this "poor peasant," so to speak, lived in this, you know, huge courtyard. He had a motorcycle and a beautiful place. And so Sheryl and I increasingly decided that if we were going to convey the reality of China, we pretty much had to break the rules, and we had to go out into the countryside without these people following us, and so that's why we did it.
LAMB:Where did you go on this one particular trip? I remember reading -- you said you went down 11 flights of stairs -- from your apartment? To elude the security people?
KRISTOF: Right, right. There were cameras in the elevators, and so I didn't want to tip them off, and of course that meant also I couldn't arrange any of the tickets on the telephone, which was bugged, or in the apartment or in the office. But I got them separately, and then went down the stairs, hid as the car left the compound, because there were cameras and guards at the gate of the compound where we were forced to live, and went off to the airport. I went to Xinjiang on that trip.It's like a Muslim Tibet. It's the far northwest of China and is a sort of a Turkish area where there had been an incipient rebellion, and the authorities had refused for years to let me go, so I went anyway.
LAMB:And they never figured it out?
KRISTOF: After I got back and after they'd read the stories in the "New York Times" they sure figured it out, and they called me in and complained vigorously. I argued that what I had done was legal because I said I had gone as a tourist, and once I was there I decided that this was very interesting and that therefore I wanted to write about it. And so I said, "Well, it wasn't a reporting trip, it was a trip as a tourist," which, by my definition, was legal. They didn't see it that way.
LAMB:And do I gather that you've been to all 30 provinces?
LAMB:How about you?
WUDUNN:Oh, not as many, but I ... 18, 19? I don't remember.
LAMB:How often did you travel together?
WUDUNN:One time we did travel to the seaside resort of Bei Dai Hu, and that was because I found a political story to write about and he found a travel story to write about, but that was about it.
KRISTOF: Mainly the problem was that one of us was always on the Deng Xiaoping deathwatch in Beijing. You know, we were sent to Beijing to cover the post-Deng China, and we kept waiting for him to die. We didn't want to be both caught out in the provinces when he did die.
LAMB:Deng Xiaoping is -- who is he?
KRISTOF: You want to know what his only formal title is? He is the "honorary chairman of the bridge association" -- cards. So it really shouldn't matter what happens to the honorary chairman of the bridge association, right?
LAMB:You call him an emperor.
KRISTOF: He is. OK, of course, he is the emperor of China, and an emperor in China rules until he dies. So essentially, when Deng dies, I think it will have far-reaching change for China. We may not see it immediately. For instance, if he dies Monday, we may not see anything on Thursday -- in the same way that Brezhnev's death laid the groundwork for some remarkable change in the Soviet Union; it wasn't immediate, but we saw what happened, evolved later on.
LAMB:How old is he in this picture that we just saw?
KRISTOF: That is in 1990, so he was 86. He's 90 this year.
LAMB:You went to his home town?
KRISTOF: I went to his home town. It was a very interesting trip. He has never been back. He left when he was about 16 years old and never turned back.
LAMB:Never been to his parents' grave?
KRISTOF: Never been to his parents' grave, which is very unusual in China, because there's a certain holiday, a certain part of the year where they specifically go to the graves of their ancestors and sweep the graves.
LAMB:What does that say about him?
KRISTOF: What I think it says is that his relationship with his family, which was basically a middle-class family -- the local landlords-- it was a very tenuous one. He, I think, was partly embarrassed by the fact that he came from a nice, fairly wealthy background, and here he was a revolutionary, a Communist. And it must have been very difficult for him to reconcile that. And he probably was very, very busy.
LAMB:What are you all doing now?
KRISTOF: We're studying Japanese now. The New York Times is going to send us to Tokyo to be correspondents there, also as a couple, at the beginning of next year.
LAMB:How often does The New York Times allow couples to do this?
WUDUNN:It's becoming more common. There are now a few couples. There's also a couple in Moscow, for example, and there have been a few here and there.
LAMB:And how did you get to report ... How did you get to The New York Times after you'd been at the Wall Street Journal.
WUDUNN:Oh, I got married. (Laughs) Basically, I had internships throughout the country, and then I went to Hong Kong, but I got married, and then Nick was sent to Beijing, and I started stringing for The New York Times, and just strung my way onto the Times.
LAMB:At some point you said that Abe Rosenthal told you to forget everything you'd ever read or heard about China before. He used to be the executive editor of The New York Times. What was the point?
KRISTOF: The point was not to be intimidated by the fact that everybody else had been writing about China for years and knew a lot about it. He just said to go there and, you know, see what you see and smell what you smell, and just write about that, write about that tableau out there. And I think it was great advice.
LAMB:When you went back to your home, where your ancestors were from, what did you see? I mean, talk about it in terms of what we have in our lives here in this country.
WUDUNN:I see. Well, the village that I saw in my father's village is very, very backward. Even though it's in the southern part of China, I was just devastated at how poor the huts were. They were made out of brick and stones put together, and sometimes they were painted yellow or grey.
LAMB:We have a map here, and we're going to show -- that you have at the front of the book -- and I want you to show me, if you can, where your home is on this map.
WUDUNN:Ok, well, it's in right here, that dot that says Taishan.
LAMB And how did you get there?
WUDUNN:We took a -- Nick was with me, we took a van. Well, of course, we got to Guangdong. We got to, I'm sorry, we got first to Macao. From Macao we took a taxi, and we drove through the winding, winding dirt paths in Guangdong province and got to my -- the county Taishan, and then got to my village.
LAMB:What did you notice about your wife as she was approaching her ancestral home?
KRISTOF: That she was getting, I think, a combination of sentimental and kind of jittery about what she would find. And also, I think, just appalled by the extent to which, you know, these were barefoot peasants in every direction.
LAMB:And that's what you found?
WUDUNN:That's what I found.
WUDUNN:Yes, oh, yeah. I mean, a lot of times they were barefoot or they had sandals that were ripped up and hadn't been probably 10 years old. And their clothes were shabby. I mean, I wore my sort of worst clothes. I just wore my -- the rags that I could find, and I still felt as though I had just walked out of Bloomingdale's. It was very sad to see that, because I had had so much. Here I had grown up in the states, I was educated at private schools, I took French and I, you know, shopped at Macy's and Saks, and here was my distant cousin who was 60 years old -- because in China, of course, the generations, they have kids at a younger age -- and there he was. He couldn't even write his name. When I asked him for his address and his name, he had to ask someone else to write it down for him.
LAMB:Where did you go to school here in the states?
WUDUNN:I went to a school called Fieldston High School in New York City.
LAMB:And then where?
WUDUNN:And then I went to Cornell University.
LAMB:Got a degree in what?
LAMB:And your parents are still in New York City?
WUDUNN:They are still in New York City.
LAMB:What did they do, or do.what do they do for a living?
WUDUNN:Oh, they're in business. They have their private businesses.
LAMB:And why did they come here in the first place?
WUDUNN:They were actually born -- well, my father was born in the states, my mother was born in Canada. But my grandfather came over because, at that time, everybody looked at the U.S. as the golden land. Everybody wanted to leave China. And that's the sad thing, because back then -- this was in the 1920's -- people were leaving China because they thought there was no opportunity there. And that's still going on, even in China today, even though China now is just a remarkable country going through an enormous economic revolution. People still look at America as the land of opportunity.
LAMB:You're from what part of this country?
KRISTOF: I'm a farm boy from Oregon. Town of Yamhill, Oregon, population 600 -- I'm four miles away from that.
LAMB:And where did you go to college?
LAMB:How did you get there? What was the -- I mean, from Oregon to Harvard's a long way.
KRISTOF: Well, it helped tremendously that my parents are academics, and they teach in Portland, which is about an hour away from the farm, and so they always have encouraged me to think about, you know, first-rate colleges and so on. And I think it helped that Harvard is probably looking for Oregon farm boys to get rounded out.
LAMB:What did you do after that?
KRISTOF: Then I went off to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship to study law. At that time law seemed terribly interesting, and then I studied law and decided it wasn't.
LAMB:Did you get a law degree?
KRISTOF: A British law degree, yeah.
LAMB:Can you practice law in the United States?
KRISTOF: No, I couldn't. There are a couple of states where I could take the bar exam right away. I never took the bar. I think Nevada, I could take the bar exam there. In New York I'd have to, I think, go to some kind of committee and request permission.
LAMB:When you got to your wife's village, what was it -- what are the things, looking back on it, that you remember?
KRISTOF: I just remember thinking, "Thank God Sheryl's grandfather left." And I remember also thinking that -- I wondered what had happened to the person who had sold Sheryl's grandfather the papers that he'd used to get to the U.S. You know, here is somebody else who had the right to come to the U.S., And he had sold those papers, and I wondered if his grandkids were there in the village, barefoot and penniless and not very well educated because, perhaps, their grandfather wanted some cash at the time.
LAMB:Carpeting on the floor, cars in the village, stoves in the house, refrigerators?
KRISTOF: None of that.
LAMB:None of that.
WUDUNN:None of that. When I went there in 1987, there was none of that. There were no refrigerators. They cooked on a very, very primitive -- I think they had their own coal which they would cook on, but it was very primitive. And I mean, sometimes the stones or the bricks would fall out, would have rotted away, and they had no money to repair it. They had chickens. They had a pig living right in their front yard. I mean, it's not really a yard, it's just in front of the house. That was in 1987. it's very different now. China has just ... the economic strides are remarkable. I went back there in 1993 as well.
LAMB:Back to your home?
WUDUNN:I went back there to see what had changed.
LAMB:What had changed?
WUDUNN:Well, one family there was having a celebration because the grandchild in the family was one month old. That's a tradition in China, and so there was a big banquet going on, and everybody from villages in the area were coming and they were sitting down to an eight-course meal. (Laughs)
WUDUNN:Eating all sorts of things. They were eating meat, chicken, they were eating pork, they were eating all sorts of vegetables and mushrooms.
LAMB:Would they have done that in '87?
WUDUNN:With a one-month celebration, they would have celebrated it, but nearly as much as they -- I mean, maybe they would have had their few greens or vegetables, because they are farmers, basically, and so they do produce their own food. So they will have a lot of vegetables and rice, but not much meat at that time. But they would have had some meat.
KRISTOF: Gregory's our elder son. He's 2 1/2 years old now.
LAMB:There's a ...
KRISTOF: Oh, that's very interesting, because ...
LAMB:You have another son?
KRISTOF: Yeah, there's another one, Geoffrey. He was just four months old.
LAMB:And then how did you do this in the middle of all this activity over there? I mean, where was Gregory born?
KRISTOF: It was funny, you know. You figure that there are, what, 20 million babies born in China each year, and that it should be no problems, but we kind of figured that ours we wanted born in Hong Kong. So he was born in Hong Kong, and then the Chinese authorities refused to give him a visa to get into China. Well, we got him a tourist visa through our friendly travel agent, what the Chinese call the "back door," and got him this, and then sort of smuggled him into China on this tourist visa. And then the foreign minister refused to give him a residence permit. The foreign ministry was mad at us at that point for some articles that we'd written about the prime minister, Li Peng, and so they wouldn't give Gregory his permit. Sheryl ends up taking Gregory, a tiny baby in swaddling clothes, to the foreign ministry to see if he would melt their hearts, you know, or poo on them at least.
KRISTOF: Neither worked. They had no hearts to melt.
LAMB:What is it that you did that made the foreign minister so mad?
WUDUNN:It was an article that Nick had written.
KRISTOF: But I think beyond that, it was one particular article about Li Peng, and then Li Peng ...
LAMB:Who is he?
KRISTOF: The prime minister, hard-liner, of China --somebody who had played a major role in the Tiananmen crackdown; somebody who comes across as arrogant, as unfriendly, extremely unpalatable politician.
KRISTOF: Who misreads words every once in a while. The Chinese always laugh when he's reading a speech, and he has it memorized, of course, but he's got the text in front of him, and he misreads a character, and they all laugh.
LAMB:He's in this picture, right there on the left?
KRISTOF: No, that's the president, Jiang Zemin.
LAMB:Oh, I'm sorry, I've got the wrong picture. How does he become prime minister?
KRISTOF: Well, he benefitted greatly because he was Zhou Enlai's adopted son, and Zhou Enlai's widow helped him out a great deal. I mean, you know, the Communists have become a little more like a dynasty, and that nepotism helps tremendously. Those kinds of connections to previous leaders help a great deal.
LAMB:Well, when you wrote the article, how did you know right away, or how soon did you know, that they didn't like the article?
KRISTOF: Well, we later heard that what happened was that Li Peng's office, you know, called up the foreign ministry to berate them. You know, "How can you allow these reporters, Kristof and Wudunn, to be writing these kind of slanderous attacks?" And so the foreign ministry called me in to complain about that article. Oh, they broke into our office, they ordered the tax bureau to audit our taxes, the surveillance on us just increased dramatically. So you know, we would have even more people tailing us whenever we went out. It showed up pretty quickly.
LAMB:Speaking of your son, you wanted your son to be delivered in Hong Kong. How come?
WUDUNN:I had visited a number of hospitals in Beijing just to check this out. I was also writing a story about the issue, and so I thought I would take an opportunity to look at the maternity wards. And it was perfectly fine -- I'm sure that I would have had no problem, but I just thought, "What if?" What if I needed immediate surgery or something like that? I just didn't want to have surgery in China.
WUDUNN:Because I just didn't like ... There was a risk that I didn't want to take, and it was my first child, I had not been through this experience before. I was a jittery, expectant mother, and I thought Hong Kong was the better way to go. And a lot of other reporters had done the same thing -- they'd gone down to Hong Kong, and so there was a tradition of people based in Beijing going down to Hong Kong to have their babies.
LAMB:How do you think the Chinese like your book?
KRISTOF: We've had very good response from ordinary Chinese -- you know, from friends. I don't know how officials will like it. We come to very optimistic conclusions, but we also go through a lot of the Communist party's dirty laundry.
WUDUNN:But we have every reason to be down on China. When we were there, when we just got there, kids were killed on Tiananmen square; my husband was shot at; my son was effectively banned; we have friends who were thrown in prison, and they're still there. But despite all that, we think that the most important thing going on in China today is this economic revolution, and it's probably the most important thing going on in the world today.
LAMB:How can you explain more about the economic revolution? How does it manifest itself?
KRISTOF: Well, one way of looking at it is that the U.S. has been the biggest economy in the world for the last 100 years or so, ever since we took over from Great Britain. And now China is poised to take over that role, to surpass the U.S. As the world's biggest economy sometime in the next five decades. And, you know, I think that's one index of China's growing importance. You can also look at the fact that China has the world's biggest army, the world's fastest growing military budget. In sports, you know, Chinese women distance runners just came out of nowhere last year to redefine our understanding of human potential. I think in a broad range of areas we're seeing the consequences of this, you know, of the 15 years of extraordinary economic growth in China.
LAMB:What did you see change from '87 to '93?
WUDUNN:Oh, I remember when we first went in '87, and we were interviewing rich peasants. These are officially chosen rich peasants; of course, they would want us to see the best. They were making the average equivalent of 100 U.S. dollars, 200 U.S. dollars a month. Now, in 1993, Nick actually met someone who has a furniture business-- he's a peasant as well-- and he's got a 10-story building that overlooks the rice paddies, and his assets are worth 40 million U.S. dollars. And I know someone who went into the real estate business and in two years has accumulated an empire worth $100 million.
LAMB:You tell the story in here of an Italian-Chinese deal...
KRISTOF: ... that turned on something familiar.
KRISTOF: It's ... yeah, I mean, I suppose it should be kind of a cautionary tale for American businesses, because it shows the way things can take a strange turn. This was a Italian company that was working out a joint-venture in Hunan province to make syringes, and an Italian bank had arranged to make an $18 million loan to finance the venture. Now, as part of that they agreed to send the Chinese managing director and his assistants to Rome for the signing. And the Chinese company also insisted on sending the managing director's beautiful assistant, you know, who had no clear responsibilities, but the Italian firm, the Italian bank, agreed. It's sort of common in China with joint ventures that the foreign company will pay an extra, say, $100,000 in costs to send the Chinese abroad, and then they get an extra $200,000 in pricing on the deal.
So in this case the Italian bank paid for several people from the Chinese company to go to the established Italian business centers like Venice and Florence, and they ended up in Rome. And the date of the signing came for the deal, and the Chinese managing director just refused to sign, and he didn't explain why, and the Italians are all in a tizzy. They keep probing, and finally they figure out what the problem is: the Chinese managing director wants this beautiful assistant of his to spend the night with him, and she's refusing, and he's blackmailing her by saying that he's not going to sign the loan agreement, and they're not going to be able to return to China, unless she yields.
Well, the Italians get wind of this and, you know, they see a stalemate that could go on for months. Meanwhile, they're paying all the hotel bills. They began to get kind of nervous. They were suggesting that maybe they could supply some professionals for this man, and no, he was adamant, he just wanted his assistant. Well, it ended because finally the Italians reminded the guy that if he went ahead with the deal, they were going to give him a $140,000 cash payment , directly to him, under the table -- nominally a consulting fee, basically it was a bribe -- if he went ahead. And so he did. He signed the deal, they all went back to China and, you know, they lived happily ever after.
KRISTOF: Well ... the situation wasn't ideal.
WUDUNN:It wasn't ideal in the sense that obviously the man wasn't punished, and in fact he got $180,000 as his commission, as his bribe. But also, I think if you look a little more closely, there was some progress in the sense that the woman was able to fight back in a way that she probably would not have been able to in earlier years. And if the man tries to punish her, if he tries to kick her out of her job, well, she can get another job at another company. If he puts a nasty note in her personnel file, then, you know, personnel files don't really matter anymore. And so, you know, she has alternatives in a way that in Maoist China she never would have.
LAMB:She got compensation for pain and suffering from the foreign side. This is China.
KRISTOF: But that's China. I mean, there is evil, there is corruption, there's scandal, but there is progress.
LAMB:At the end of your book, you write about the last dinner. Will you tell us that story?
WUDUNN:Oh, yes. After five years -- oh, well, for us, five years -- but every correspondent, before they leave, they have a dinner with the foreign ministry in which they basically receive a nice plaque of the great wall, and shake hands, and smile a lot, and take a very buoyant message about China back to the U.S. So we had our meal. At the same time there was our handler, Mr. Zhao, and another woman who he brought with him. And we're sitting at the table, and we were all smiles and talking about very light conversation, and he all of the sudden brings up the fact that "Mr. Kristof, you went to Xinjiang province without approval." Well, this is where we got scolded for Nick's having gone on a tourist trip and writing about it. And then he proceeded...
LAMB:Are you speaking Chinese at this time?
WUDUNN:Oh, yes, yeah, we were speaking in Chinese. And then he started berating us for how we have damaged Sino-U.S. Relations. And it was all -- I mean, I just stopped eating the shrimps. I just didn't feel like eating anything. And the poor woman was embarrassed. She just looked down, straight down at her table, refused to look at either of us, or even Mr. Zhao, and just kept eating as though nothing was going on. She clearly had tuned out. And he just kept going on and on, and we were just horrified. And we thought, well, let's just smile and you know, swallow our food and switch to English, because we thought that maybe if we started speaking in English he would feel a little bit awkward and wouldn't be able to criticize us so much. We did that a little bit, and then the dinner was over and we just sort of ran away and it was really a mistake on their part. I mean, the Chinese government always seems to put its worst foot forward. They have an impeccably awful sense of public relations. Here was an opportunity to leave us with a nice picture of China, and yet they ruin it by -- they spoil the dinner and leave a bitter taste in our mouth.
LAMB:I'm not sure that this is accurate, but I believe that the largest number of foreign students in america today are Chinese.
KRISTOF: That's right.
LAMB:Why? I mean, with the picture you paint and the spies and all that stuff, why do they let their people come here? And do they follow them around the United States?
KRISTOF: China, you know, however awful its human rights situation may be, is a lot less awful than it used to be. It's opening up by the day. It's not nearly as closed as east European countries were. Indeed, by and large, Chinese can go abroad now if they want to. And so you have this huge exodus of around 50,000 Chinese students coming to the U.S. Now, once they are here, there are spies who do keep an eye on others who are politically active. They may get in some trouble if they go back, but again, I think the Communist party is losing its ability to either inspire people or terrify them.
LAMB:You write that you were sympathetic to the Communists?
KRISTOF: Yeah. When I first arrived in China, I had some sympathies with the Communist revolution. I mean, I think that if I had been a Chinese in the late 1940's, I might well have been a Communist. You know, they promised to overturn corruption, to divide up the land, and it's clear that first they did a fair amount of good. You know, they raised the status of women, they had literacy campaigns, all of that.
LAMB:What about you? Would you have been a Communist?
WUDUNN:No. No, I didn't really have any kind of affinity for that.
LAMB:What about the family, when you were growing up?
WUDUNN:My parents were -- in fact, my grandfather on my mother's side was on the welcoming party for Sun Yat-Sen, the other side, the Taiwan side, so they were not Communists.
LAMB:Who took your place, by the way, for The New York Times in China, and can you buy the International Herald Tribune in any hotels?
KRISTOF: Our successor is a fellow called Pat Tyler, and yeah, you can buy the Herald Tribune, you can buy the Hong Kong papers, you can buy Newsweek and Time, all in the Beijing hotels.
LAMB:I wrote down the name "Ah Chang." Who was he?
KRISTOF: He was a man who ... he's a Cantonese...
LAMB:What does that mean?
KRISTOF: ... and that means that he is from the southern province of Guangdong, and he lives in what used to be called Canton, but now everybody refers to as Kwangchow, and...
LAMB:Let me stop you there. If you live in ... Guangdong?
LAMB:... Guangdong province, it's how close to Hong Kong?
WUDUNN:Oh, that's very close. It borders on Hong Kong. And that's where my home village is.
LAMB:So, if people go to Hong Kong, they can get in a train or in a car and drive right up there.
LAMB:OK. Go ahead.
KRISTOF: And he's a very interesting case, because every time I meet him, every time I met him, he would be richer, he would have all of these new business ideas. He was a man who was not very pro-democratic -- he really cared mostly about coming up, making money, and helping his sisters, helping his family along -- but around the time of the Tiananmen square massacre, after the massacre, he saw his opportunity. He saw that now, if he could just claim himself a student, or someone who had supported the movement, and get overseas and claim asylum in the U.S., Then he wouldn't have to go back to China. So he bought a passport, fake passport, and that got him to the U.S.
KRISTOF: What did it cost him?
KRISTOF: 40,000 U.S. dollars. He had that much money then. But when he got there, he turned himself in. And he turned himself in because he couldn't live with -- he was afraid that he would be caught with a fake passport, even though he had gotten as far as he had.
LAMB:Where did he go?
KRISTOF: He went through ... not directly to the U.S. He went through Asia, spent some time in Singapore and Japan, and then back to the U.S.
LAMB:And he turned himself in to ...
KRISTOF: He turned himself in to the authorities, the U.S. Authorities. And he thought that they would be sympathetic to his cause. He said "I was a -- I sympathized with the students, and I helped them, and, you know, I'm afraid that I'll be persecuted if I go back to China." They didn't pay any attention to him. They sent him on the first ... They sent him back to China, and he was fined a lot when he got back to China. And he had nothing with him. He had lost all the money that he had invested in this venture, and he had to start from scratch. Luckily he was not thrown in prison, because we know other people who have been thrown into prison. But he started from scratch, built up another restaurant business, and he was really lucky. He found a great spot.
And so, one day a foreign venture came up, foreign investors came up to him, and said, "We want this spot, and we'll pay you another $40,000. We'll pay you $40,000 for this spot." He took it. Now he's running all sorts of businesses. Now he's going into the pharmaceutical business. He's smuggling dogs into China, which in China it's rather unusual, because Chinese are used to eating dog, not having them as pets. He's smuggling them into China as pets. And he says, you know, "I'm doing something good for China. I'm trying to tell Chinese people that dogs are nice things as pets, not as food."
LAMB:Speaking of eating dogs, you have a whole section on cannibalism, eating humans. What's that about?
KRISTOF: That, I suppose, is a reminder that, you know, however awful things are, they used to be a lot more awful. In the cultural revolution when China was all falling apart, in Guangxi, which is in the south of China, in the far south, there were several counties where brutality was as great as anywhere, and we got ahold of some documents -- these are secret Communist party documents that a Chinese writer had given us -- and they outlined just extraordinary brutality, where perhaps the biggest incident of cannibalism in modern times. But it wasn't, you know, because of famine or some sort of psychopathic murderer; this was politics.
What would happen is the red guards -- Mao's red guards that were leading the cultural revolution -- would be struggling against some kind of landlord or somebody they would call a counter-revolutionary, they would beat him to death, and then they would have the crowd eat his flesh as a way of proving their hatred for this kind of person. And so you had -- some students roasted their principal in a schoolyard, and all the students would have to eat it to sort of show their hatred for these people. In one case, the first student to take some flesh from the principal's body was the boyfriend of the principal's daughter, because he wanted to show that he hated that man, that he had no affection for the family. You had ...
LAMB:What year was ... Was this during the great leap forward?
KRISTOF: No, this was mostly in 1968 in the cultural revolution.
LAMB:When was the great leap forward?
KRISTOF: That was 1958.
LAMB:And that's where you write a lot about the famine.
KRISTOF: Yeah. That was the worst famine in world history. It provoked the worst famine in world history. Thirty million people died.
LAMB:Why? What caused the famine?
KRISTOF: It was a combination of a lot of factors. Part of it was that China had just been collectivizing its countryside, and it had been paying attention to all these kinds of grand projects to, for example, to have steel mills all throughout the countryside. Peasants were ordered to throw in their metal implements into these backyard steel furnaces, and so they were spending all their time on these things producing worthless steel, losing their implements. They started all kinds of, you know, grand projects to build aqueducts, to build dams, this kind of thing, and they neglected the countryside. And then, finally, Mao kind of deceived himself. I mean, he kept telling people that if they just tried hard enough they could increase grain output by 100 percent or more, and so all the local officials started -- I mean, they saw that if they didn't report these kinds of outrageous figures then they would be in trouble, so they began reporting to the center, "Oh, yeah, that our county's grain output rose, whatever, 100 percent." And so the center began demanding more grain from the localities, and there wasn't enough to feed the peasants, and 30 million people died.
LAMB:You write about -- is it Edgar Snow?-- who wrote for Look magazine, who told his audience years ago, back in those days, that there was no such thing as a famine.
KRISTOF: That was one of the scariest things for us as China watchers, that at that time, you had a whole legion of China watchers travel throughout the country, and Edgar Snow was the most prominent of them. They interviewed people, they traveled around, in some cases for months, and they concluded that the one thing they could be sure of was that there was no famine going on. And obviously, in retrospect, they were hoodwinked. And Sheryl and I, we really began to wonder about our own ability, 30 years later, to really know what was happening, especially in the countryside. And, you know, there were times when we really thought that -- when we were surprised by how much could happen out there that we had no clue about.
WUDUNN:Oh, one of the things that we were most proud of, the stories that we were most proud of, was about the family planning clampdown that took place. It began in 1991, and it led to the forced sterilization of millions of women. Basically there's a one-child policy in China. People are allowed only one, and sometimes two, depending upon the area. If it's very remote three children. But because Chinese families, especially in the countryside, favored boys over girls, and so if they only are allowed one or two kids, they want it to be a boy. Lineage is passed down through the females, and daughters marry outside of the family, so they want boys.
So the result is that every year 1.7 million baby girls go missing. Some of them are unreported, some of them are -- the midwife takes the head of the newborn baby and dunks it into a bucket of water. A lot are aborted, done in even before they are born, because of the new machine that is probably the most remarkable in China, having the most pervasive influence, and that's the ultrasound machine. Expectant mothers go to the doctors, and they're not supposed to learn the sex of the fetus, but if they pay a bribe to the doctor, the doctor will tell them, and if it's a girl, they usually abort it.
And then after they've had maybe one or two kids, the woman is forced to go through a sterilization. So we learned about this, we wrote about this, and we were very proud of it. We learned about it two years after the clampdown had begun. The foreign community learned about it two years after it had begun. No policy probably in the world affected so many people so intimately as this family planning clampdown.
LAMB:You say that world bank figures show that by the year 2025 that the population will go from 1.2 billion to 1.6 billion. This country will have 307 million in it, and Japan will only grow by 2 million to 127 million. What do those figures tell you?
WUDUNN:Well, they underscore that China does have a genuine population problem. Every year, China adds to its population 16 million people, which is equivalent to the entire population of Australia. But still -- again, I started off fairly sympathetic to China's population policy, and the more I went on, the more I thought it was just tremendously brutal and not worth it.
LAMB:Chapter 10: I'll show this picture because you have it in your book. You start off this with an excerpt, a rather ... how would you describe it?
KRISTOF: A startling one.
LAMB:A startling excerpt from a book. Why?
KRISTOF: Because that just shows how far China has come. People still have this image of the Chinese as prudish people who don't like to talk about anything that touches on sex, but, of course, you know, the population is growing enormously, so it does exist in China, and it exists in the literature now. This one book that was written by an author who actually has a fairly good reputation for writing good fiction, he wrote this book called "Wasted Capital," and it's about the decadence, it's about the lewd lives of several individuals. And he just describes -- for instance, a woman dies masturbating with corn cobs. I mean, it's just ... some of the images are just outrageous. And it did very well in China in the last few weeks and months that we were there, it was a hot seller, and authorities tried to ban it several times. Finally they did ban it, but there were still a lot of copies that had already gotten out.
LAMB:Your first book?
LAMB:What do you think of the process?
KRISTOF: It was a wonderful one. We really enjoyed every part of it: pictures, the editing, cover -- everything.
LAMB:What do you think of it?
WUDUNN:I really like it. I think it was just a wonderful process.
LAMB:Who's your dedication? Was this a hard choice?
WUDUNN:No. Our parents had just been so supportive the whole way through, we wanted to recognize them.
LAMB:Who is the -- what's the name on the bottom?
WUDUNN:She's my sister.
LAMB:And why do you -- is she the one that's in Hong Kong?
WUDUNN:No, no ...
LAMB:Obviously not, because she died in 1983.
WUDUNN:She was on the K.A.L. Flight, the K.A.L.007, unfortunately.
LAMB:Where was she going?
WUDUNN:She was going to Hong Kong.
LAMB:And how old was she at the time?
WUDUNN:She was 21.
LAMB:You did reference, though, in the book that you have a sister in Hong Kong.
WUDUNN:Yes, I do.
LAMB:How many children in the family?
LAMB:What about Hong Kong? What did you learn about 1997, when it reverts to control of the Chinese.
WUDUNN:We love Hong Kong so much, and we have great hopes for it, but I know the standard argument about why the Chinese aren't going to hurt it is they don't want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. And I remember when Chris Patten, who's the Briton who went there to be governor of Hong Kong, when he arrived, the Hong Kong officials were telling him, "You can relax. We're not going to hurt Hong Kong. We don't want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg." And his reply was, "The only reason that expression came into existence is because history is littered with the carcasses of dead geese," which is a useful reminder. Still, my bet is that it's going to, despite some troubles, still do pretty well. I mean, already it's striking that Hong Kong is really, in many ways, taking over southern China, rather than the other way around.
KRISTOF: You can get Hong Kong radio. In the southern part of China, you can get Hong Kong radio. You can watch Hong Kong television. You can see Hong Kong movies. Who's taking over who? is really a question.
LAMB:Will they be able to stop the satellite television in China?
KRISTOF: Probably not. They're -- you know, they can make announcements, they can crack down on one particular city or one particular neighborhood, but they're really losing their ability to control things more broadly. The information revolution has come to China.
LAMB:How does someone get a satellite dish?
KRISTOF: Well, you can go to a store and buy it. Then they put down -- they enforce -- they try to enforce this new regulation where you couldn't buy satellite dishes, but you could still get them.
LAMB:You quote Alexis de Tocqueville, you bring up James Madison in this book, and you talk about the civil society. What's the point?
WUDUNN:The point is that China right now, although it doesn't have Jeffersonian democracy, there is a movement there. There is progress. Nick talked about cannibalism; there is no longer that kind of cannibalism there. But people are taking -- getting a larger stake in the system.
We have people now who are interested in listening to talk radio. I mean, talk radio is something from the west. Through talk radio, people are discussing problems of romance. They're talking about the garbage collection, the filthy garbage that's all over the street -- "why doesn't someone clean up?" They're complaining, delicately, about officials, about their local officials, people who have done them wrong. There's a new law, administrative law, that allows people to sue government bureaucracies. Tiny, tiny little changes, but they are steps toward a more freer, more richer society.
LAMB:Next stop, Japan. Why do you want to do that?
KRISTOF: We're captivated by the changes taking place in Asia, and we think that that will be another vantage point to view this from, and also another way of looking at the various debates in this country. Whether it's health care or crime, I think that Japan will offer some interesting and illuminating lessons for us.
LAMB:You're learning Japanese?
LAMB:Is it hard?
LAMB:How are you being taught? Where?
KRISTOF: Right now we're mostly on the farm in Oregon, and we have teachers coming to the farm, and so every day, five hours a day, we just go through the Japanese lessons.
LAMB:When do you report for your -- in Japan?
KRISTOF: Oh, the end of the year.
LAMB:And what are you looking forward to? What's the first thing you want to go find out about?
KRISTOF: I suppose crime. I mean, I'm really curious about what it is about Japan that's responsible for its very low crime rates. Is it the way the police are organized, or the gun control? I think that's going to be interesting.
LAMB:How do you think you'll be received in Japan versus how you've been received in the United States over, you know, being of Chinese/Asian appearance?
WUDUNN:Oh, I think it will be very interesting. The status of women in Japan, of course, is even worse than it is in China, and in China it's still pretty bad. I mean, you know, in China for thousands of years, women have been thought of as nothing more than walking wombs. And even my grandmother, she had her feet bound and always walked very awkwardly. And you would have thought that after 10 years of reform, 15 years of reform in China, that the status of women would have risen dramatically, but in many ways it hasn't.
You know, you have the rise of the market, and with the rise of the market comes sinister industries like ... for instance, you have a trade in copper, you have a trade in toys, in clothes; but you also have a trade in women. You have the trade in wives. Businessmen and women, they go to villages in the countryside and they recruit these uneducated peasant women with the promise of better jobs and higher pay. And they transport them to other areas, remote areas of the country where they don't know the local dialect -- and in China if you don't speak the local dialect, you basically cannot communicate -- and they sell them to uncouth peasants. And I know of one story where a woman, she tried to escape, and the peasant blinded her. He gouged out her eyes. That kind of stuff goes on in China.
LAMB:We're out of time. This is the cover of the book, "The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power: China wakes." Authors Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl Wudunn. Thank you very much for joining us.
KRISTOF: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.