Linda Jaivin on Hou Dejian

I am currently reading The Monkey And The Dragon (2001) by Linda Jaivin.


I am finding it fascinating in itself, but also because I have some kind of connection, albeit minor, as I mentioned in Lost in translation–and also in time! in December 2013.

I renewed contact with an ex-student from SBHS the other day via Facebook/Twitter. Chris Rodley now writes for The Guardian, among other things. Point is, he was part of a cohort that I was teaching when I was working on my book From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt which Nicholas Jose so kindly remembered in his contribution to Telling Stories, which I am still reading. In other words, around twenty years ago! As presumably is the Christmas party – I think it was Christmas – in Riley Street Surry Hills at Nicholas Jose’s place where I would have met Linda Jaivin. That all happened through my then partner M, who had known both Jose and Jaivin in China and subsequently…

Through that same connection I met, briefly mostly, quite a few other people mentioned in The Monkey and the Dragon. See also my posts Nicholas Jose – Fiction and Non-fiction (2005), I too was offered a free trip to China… (2009), Tiananmen and all that – 20 years on (2009), Liu Xiaobo (2009), Free Liu Xiao Bo (2010), 2010 Nobel Peace Prize (2010), Twenty and more years ago (2010), Tiananmen 25 years on (2014), Random Friday memory 16 – among the Chinese (2015).


Hou Dejian, second from the right, Tiananmen June 1989

On The Monkey and the Dragon:

…Less well known for her activities as a translator and Chinese expert than as the author of fresh titles including Eat Me and Rock and Roll Babes from Outer Space, Linda Jaivin met Hou when he was living in Taiwan, and the two became firm friends.

In the middle of the 1970s, the US-born student Jaivin was a sinojunkie, wanting to further her Chinese studies. She studied in Taipai, where she met students, writers, artists, and musicians. Later, she wrote her way around Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China as a journalist. Hou was one of her favourite subjects.

Jaivin’s autobiographical details are essential to The Monkey and the Dragon, as this is her story as well. The book tells how she was variously declared a spy for Taiwan and China. She helped hide Hou in the Australian embassy followingTianamen Square in 1989. She met her former husband, Geremie Barmé, with whom she has edited ‘New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices’. Her marriage ended in the 1990s…

See also Linda Jaivin’s site and this excellent conversation on Radio Australia: Book on pop star explains Hou Dejian.

JAIVIN: “Hou Dejian always fascinated me from the day I met him. I met him in 1981. He was this mega, mega famous songwriter from Taiwan and he was also one of the most fascinating, charming, weird thinking, later-thinking, people I’d ever met. We then became great friends. And he went on to do some of the most stunning things I’d ever seen anyone do – stunning in a literal sense, in the sense you just reel when you hear the next thing he’s done.

“His story encapsulates the whole story of Taiwan and China”…

LAM: Having reeled him in then, Beijing, in 1990 threw him back. What was that all about?

JAIVIN: “He was the first Taiwan defector to be returned, ‘Return to Sender’. One of the things that happened, a very dramatic thing, was the Tiananmen protests in 1989 and Hou started out as an abserver on the sidelines, being fascinated by what the students were doing with their demands for democracy and their growing, growing, protests. These protests would see 500,000 or a million on the streets. Hou got swept up in it and eventually got really swept up in it and became a hunger striker on the Square. He really saved thousands of lives.

“He was so famous that after the troops had killed about 1,000- they’d killed at least 1,000 people in the streets surrounding the Square, it was about three in the morning. They were waiting for the final orders to go in and clear the Square. That was the words that were used, to clear the Square. Deng Xiaoping had said that by dawn, with maximum force if necessary.

“There were thousands of students clustered in the Square hysterical with fear and anger and they wanted to be martyrs. They were swearing blood oaths and all this stuff and Hou Dejian thought this is horrible. All these lives have already been lost – we’re going to see thousands of students killed.He and another hunger striker and a doctor and a nurse took a van to the front line where soldiers were gathered on the edge of the Square, waiting for the orders to move in.

“He jumped out of the van and they all jumped out with their hands up going: “We’re Hou Dejian” “We’re Hou Dejian” because he was that famous. At this point the soldiers, were going “Oh, it’s Hou Dejian Oh I thought he looked better in TV” and so in this kind of insane situation, he was able to negotiate with them to give the students a little bit of time and a designated route out of the Square. It’s absolutely certain that thousands more lives would have been lost if he hadn’t done that”.

See also Rock & Roll and East Asian History – A profile of Linda Jaivin.

“Whatever I’m passionate about, I write about,” Linda says. Looking at the subjects of her past writings, it would seem this is true. Her first novel, Eat Me, became a bestseller in Australia and France, just to name a few. It is described on Linda’s website as “[inviting] readers to partake of a lusty banquet of conversations about that hottest topic of all – sex.”

In her non-fiction book The Monkey and the Dragon she writes about her friend Hou Dejian’s experiences of the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989; student-led protests for democracy that saw hundreds, perhaps a thousand unarmed demonstrators killed. The experience left Linda feeling traumatised, to the point that she says she “feels like it split my life in half.”

At the time she believed one of her closest friends had been crushed under the treads of a tank. “I’ll never forget I had this gorge rise in my throat, I was between passing out and vomiting.”

“I didn’t even get to the point of crying, it was just this incredible visceral reaction,” Linda says.

It was only later that Linda realised that it was just a rumour and her friend was alive and well, hiding in the Australian embassy.


Further to my reply to kvd’s comment, here is another account, this time from Nicholas Jose. My memory of what my Shanghainese friend M told me, I might add, is that Nick was actually in Shanghai on the night Tiananmen Square was attacked. Along with quite a few others, M was in the hotel room with him at the time. Soon after Nick returned to Beijing to the Embassy, whose staff was then evacuated for a time. Now to the interview with Nick:

Until now the collective perspectives of Australia’s witnesses to Tiananmen have pretty much stayed under wraps as well. But in this extraordinarily revealing Foreign Correspondent key Embassy staffers have assembled for the first time to give their accounts of what happened.
“The British Ambassador had standing instructions that if anybody sought asylum, he was not to spend the night on the Embassy premises. But we had no rules about this you see, so I just made it up as we went along. Mostly I think we were right.” DAVID SADLEIR Australian Ambassador, Beijing 1989
They tell of dodging bullets, offering sanctuary to key targets including noted dissident and – later – Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo and even their part in spiriting confronting and defining images of the conflict out of China and into the hands of the global media hungry for news and pictures…

MCDONELL: Taiwanese singer Hou Dejian was one of the many now in peril. Earlier he’d been the darling of the Party after defecting to mainland China – but he went on to support the students and this changed everything. He’d become friends with Nick Jose.
NICK JOSE: “He was kind of smuggled in under a blanket or something as I recall, but he got there safely. We were very worried about him actually”.
MCDONELL: “Did you have to convince people above you to allow him to enter the Embassy?”
NICK JOSE: “There was discussion of what was happening with the Ambassador… with other senior diplomats – and it was decided that this was worth doing”.
MCDONELL: “That Australia would get him out”.
NICK JOSE: “Well that Australia would give him refuge. I mean he was a friend of Australia in a sense”.
MCDONELL: The Ambassador held off telling the Chinese Government officially that Hou Dejian was inside the Embassy.
DAVID SADLEIR: “I thought that the longer we delayed, the more that China would…. well, the more the tensions would fall…. the more that China would want to come back into the world community, and the more chance I had of getting him out alive, yeah”.
NICK JOSE: “The Chinese Foreign Ministry was informed that he was there and negotiations began for his eventual… I don’t know if release is the word but…”.
MCDONELL: “Safe passage?
NICK JOSE: “Safe passage out of the Embassy and then not so safe passage back to Taiwan”.
DAVID SADLEIR: “They put him in a truck, drove him down to Tianjin, put him on a fishing boat, put him on the beach at Taiwan. That’s how he did it and from there he made his way to New Zealand”.
MCDONELL: Literary critic turned philosopher Liu Xiaobo was another of Nick Jose’s friends now in grave danger. He’d been advising the students and he in particular would be sought by the authorities. Yet on the threshold of sanctuary, the man who’d become a globally renowned dissident made a fateful decision.
NICK JOSE: “I took him in my car from my flat to the Embassy gates and I said well this is it. We can drive in, the gates will open and we’ll drive in and the gates will close and you will have effectively sought asylum from Australia or you can go and find friends who live nearby, friends I also knew. He thought about it, he looked at me and said thank you but no, he would stay in China, he was Chinese, China was his country, China was his fate, and so he went off to find his friends and it was only later that night, around 11 pm that his girlfriend called you know really upset on the phone to say they’d been riding their bikes through a dark street and an unmarked van had just come up and had grabbed him and he’d gone”.
MCDONELL: “Did you wish you’d convinced him to come into the Embassy?”
NICK JOSE: “Yes. I realised that had been a close possibility and maybe if I’d kind of pushed it a bit harder that might have happened”.
MCDONELL: By not seeking asylum Liu Xiaobo chose the toughest of paths. He was arrested, gaoled for 2 years and tortured. In 2008 he’d be gaoled again. This time for 11 years for “inciting subversion of state power”. He went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize from behind bars. It was awarded symbolically to an empty chair.
The order came to evacuate the embassy of all but a handful of staff.

And from Nicholas Jose, Chinese Whispers (1995):

Screenshot - 27_03_2016 , 9_35_00 AM

Update 2

I hadn’t reached the relevant pages in The Monkey and the Dragon when I wrote the first section of this post. Now I have and I find not only that Linda Jaivin’s chronology makes sense but also that M’s recollection of the hotel room in Shanghai on 3 June 1989 was accurate also. Mind you he told me these things only a year or two after the events.

See also Linda Jaivin on Liu Xiaobo.

As Geremie later observed, “Liu Xiaobo, a figure labelled in China as the evil champion of nihilism and the irrational was, ironically, now the chief advocate of positive and rational civil action.” To get the students to listen, Xiaobo decided to lead a hunger strike in the square on 2 June 1989; he persuaded my friend Hou and two others to join him.

I’ve written extensively in The Monkey and the Dragon about Xiaobo and Hou’s quixotic adventures on Tiananmen Square and of their heroic, courageous actions early on the morning of 4 June. Even as the army was shooting down citizens along the approach roads to the square, Liu and Hou insisted on the principles of non-violent resistance: Xiaobo famously confiscated and destroyed an automatic weapon that had fallen into the hands of one of the protesters. After Hou persuaded the army to give the students a chance to evacuate the square, the pair convinced the students themselves to go. Between them they saved countless lives.

Later that day, they took refuge in the apartment of the Australian cultural counsellor, the novelist Nick Jose, where I too was staying. Over the next few days, the growing band of Chinese and Australians in the flat literally stared down the barrel of a gun – a tank parked outside had pointed its cannon at our window.

Whenever I was rattled, by gunfire, by racing convoys of armoured personnel carriers in the middle of the night or simply by the emotional fireworks provided by Hou’s angry ex-girlfriend, who blamed me for the collective decision not to let her into the flat, Xiaobo remained remarkably calm, comforting and good-humoured.

The day came when diplomats, fearing internecine military conflict, decided to evacuate foreign citizens from Beijing. Australians were told to gather overnight at the embassy. By now I planned to leave China with Hou, who had a passport and, as a celebrity, no chance of laying low. Nick and I would sneak Hou into the embassy overnight, before our flight; we asked Xiaobo, who had lost his passport on the square, if he wanted us to get him into the embassy too. He said no. He wrote in his 1992 (Chinese language) memoir Monologue of a Survivor of Doomsday, “Linda was crying as we kissed goodbye for the last time; when her lips were pressed against my face, I felt chilled to my very bones. It was a desolate, sorrowful, uncertain parting …”

3 thoughts on “Linda Jaivin on Hou Dejian

  1. Not to detract at all from the interesting life Linda Jaivin seems to have led, but it just jars me when you provide two exerpts which are nonsensically opposite:

    1) “She helped hide Hou in the Australian embassy followingTianamen Square in 1989”, and
    2) “It was only later that Linda realised that it was just a rumour and her friend was alive and well, hiding in the Australian embassy”

    Leaving aside my disbelief that any civilian could ‘hide someone’ in any embassy to which they were not officially attached, I’d just observe that the above two recitations do not compute.

  2. There is no contradiction in the full narrative pp. 295ff in “The Monkey and the Dragon”. The flat in the Australia Embassy compound belonged to Nicholas Jose, Cultural Counsellor in the Embassy at the time. Steel Gate to Freedom: The Life of Liu Xiaobo gives a lot of detail of the sequence of events. I have talked to Nicholas Jose a number of times about these events. The final sentence in the post as you read it is from an article in the UNSW student paper Tharunka. It does blur Linda Jaivin;s original narrative rather.

  3. Pingback: Miscellaneous and health issue | Neil's Commonplace Book

Comments are closed.