Banned in Beijing: The Masses Love Pulp Fiction. Officials Don't

Article excerpt

The masses love pulp fiction. Officials don't.

AUTHOR WANG SHUO FINDS HIS stories in the dark comers of the new China. His 20 novels--profane and often violent pulp fiction populated by drifters, thugs and hookers-have been best sellers. Now they're also collector's items. Beijing recently banned his four-volume anthology as "reactionary" and "vulgar." This year censors also kept two Wang television dramas off the air and chopped up two of his movies. One of them, "Papa," tells of a single father's struggle to raise a rebellious teenage son. After the boy is beaten by gangsters in one scene, Dad rashes him to an emergency room packed with mangled young street fighters, a scene reminiscent of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. "The makeup people made the actors look really awful," Wang admits, grinning wryly. "But based on last year's standards this would have been approved."

That was then. Until recently, Chinese artists could be frank about everything but communism. But last week the communist leadership, locked in power struggles and determined to keep order, announced a much tougher campaign for a "spiritual civilization." A new 15,000-word directive rules out not just slander against the party but anything that encourages "social vices" and makes people "doubt the future of socialism." The declaration calls on cadres to be China's "soul engineers" and attacks those who "pander to low tastes."

By his own admission, Wang, 88, is an expert panderer. Beginning with his first novel, "Stewardess," the 1984 story of a liaison between a young flight attendant and a discharged sailor, he has delivered plot lines that captivate the urban masses. His best known is "Hot and Col& Measure for Measure." A college girl is seduced by a grungy ex-con, then turns to prostitution and finally kills herself. Wang's gallery of bad girls, hoods and drifters comes straight from his own wasted youth, spent on a Beijing military compound during the chaotic Cultural Revolution. As a teen, Wang cut class, fought often and landed in jail-prompting his father to enlist him in the navy. Two years later, the military-run magazine Literature and Arts paid Wang $5 for his first short story. Writing, Wang discovered, was a great way to make a buck.

Wang tired of writing books in 1991 and promptly conquered the worlds of television and film. …