Shouting from China tells of Helene’s adventures and tribulations as Beijing correspondent in the 1980s, when she became the first female posted abroad by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Unlike China correspondents today, who have instant clear communication with countries around the world, she had to shout to be heard over an antiquated telephone line. One year she lost her voice five times and the doctor warned she could lose it permanently.
When uprooted from a posting that had totally engrossed her for three years, she wrote: ‘China had been the most secure yet the most hostile, the most exotic yet the most dreary, the most stimulating yet the most depressing experience of my life. I loved and hated it. I had been frustrated in my efforts to report news, infuriated by the bureaucracy and driven almost to despair by the inefficiency, but I had become fascinated by the country and its people. China’s majesty and squalor, virtue and injustice, beauty and horror had caught me in its spell.’
‘The white marble Marco Polo Bridge, named after the Venetian adventurer to China, signalled the south-west limit of Beijing to foreigners in the 1980s. I could amble across, admire its miniature stone lions, and contemplate how the bridge was the site of the Triple Seventh, 7 July 1937, when the firing of a shot triggered Japan’s invasion of Beijing — the onset of the Sino-Japanese War. But I could go no further. A sign at the end of the bridge warned: OUT OF BOUNDS TO FOREIGNERS. Today, foreigners and Chinese alike freely venture beyond the bridge and into cities throughout China.’
Published by Penguin in 1988, the book was republished to include Helene’s coverage of the democracy demonstrations in 1989.
‘SHOUTING from China was a title Helene Chung couldn’t resist … “Thousands of people were executed in my first few months, by a single bullet in the back of the head, for spiritual pollution.”’
‘Chung proves an able reporter, adept at sidestepping the interpretations pressed upon her by party representatives.’
‘When the ABC sent Helene Chung to China she was glad of the chance to see the land of her ancestors. But, born and bred in Australia, she found the country as alien and puzzling as it is to most foreigners.’
‘Helene Chung even managed after 10 months of difficult negotiations to set up … the first television interview given by a Chinese leader … a risky manoeuvre of enormous significance for the future. The ABC, however, found it a bit of a yawn, and the interview never went to air.’
‘ Helene Chung ‘tells what it’s like to be a foreign correspondent in a country which likes to boast of its “open door” policy while frequently leaving even resident journalists with the feeling that they are standing outside, knocking to come in.’
‘The land of Helene Chung’s ancestors isolated her, frustrated her, frightened her. As an overseas Chinese, she felt foreign, as a non-Mandarin speaker, she was left out, and as a journalist she was frustrated by its secrecy. Even more frustrating was the Western world’s willingness to accept that secrecy.’
‘Helene Chung … recalls her posting as foreign correspondent in Beijing with a mixture of wry humour and dry analysis.’
‘Shouting from China … is ballast to the current romantic idealisations of that vast, complex country.’
‘My quandary is whether I should use a lot of valuable Tribune space to warn you not to buy Shouting from China because it’s a lousy book.’
‘Chung recognizes the delicate balance of forces that comprise Chinese politics, the ying and yang of totalitarianism … She adds that it is not possible to be optimistic about liberalization in China with what she had learned about the repressive regime and its violent swings of the pendulum.’
‘The book is illustrated with photographs, indexed and easy to read.’
‘A compelling insight into life in post-Mao China which is part political commentary, part sociological treatise.’
‘A useful and topical adjunct for history units and the Chinese history component of the Chinese Language syllabus.’
‘She claims that she “only peered into a few cracks and crevices of Chinese society,” yet to the uninitiated, she seems to show a great depth of knowledge.’
ON THE EXPANDED 1989 EDITION INCLUDING THE DEMOCRACY PROTESTS
‘Chung’s reports and later thoughts on Tiananmen make this an informative, thought-provoking read.’
‘Chung notes ‘the students’ lack of homogeneity in their demands, and their confusion over the meaning of democracy. The account is both moving and detached.’
‘As Chung points out, 1989 signalled the end of Western naivety with respect to China; any reversion to former romantic notions would amount to self-deception.’
‘Helene Chung confronts China face on, absorbing some of its culture and identifying its contradictions and flaws, but never losing a basic empathy and respect for the Chinese people.’