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This situation can afford a subtle satisfaction; I think the feeling must be quite familiar to Father Ladany, the Jesuit priest and scholar based in Hong Kong who for many years published the weekly China News Analysis.
Far away from the crude limelights of the media circus, he has enjoyed three decades of illustrious anonymity: all “China watchers” used to read his newsletter with avidity; many stole from it—but generally they took great pains never to acknowledge their indebtedness or to mention his name.
Attention: un intellectuel peut ne pas en cacher un autre !
Belge de naissance, chinois de coeur, australien de résidence, chrétien revendiqué, admirateur de Chesterton, Bernanos, Orwell, ami de Revel et Mario Vargas Llosa, intellectuel ayant fait de la nécessité de l’ « insignifiance » supposée de sa nationalité vertu, vendeur de mèche des secrets de sa tribu maolâtre et antichrétienne ayant osé dénoncer les habits neufs de l’empereur et défendre Mère Teresa, intellectuel n’hésitant pas à critiquer l’anti-intellectualisme tout en se méfiant de l’intelligence, à appeler un imbécile un imbécile, à pratiquer tout en restant vigilant le meilleur des journalismes, à mettre en doute des conquêtes de l’humanité aussi grandes que l’euthanasie et le mariage homosexuel et même à révéler et remercier ses propres sources …
(I hasten to add that this is largely a phenomenon of the past; nowadays, fortunately, young scholars are much better educated.) Secondly, in the course of his exhaustive surveys of Chinese official documentation, the analyst must absorb industrial quantities of the most indigestible stuff; reading Communist literature is akin to munching rhinoceros sausage, or to swallowing sawdust by the bucketful.
Furthermore, while subjecting himself to this punishment, the analyst cannot allow his attention to wander, or his mind to become numb; he must keep his wits sharp and keen; with the eye of an eagle that can spot a lone rabbit in the middle of a desert, he must scan the arid wastes of the small print in the pages of the People’s Daily, and pounce upon those rare items of significance that lie buried under mountains of clichés.
China News Analysis was compulsory reading for all those who wished to be informed of Chinese political developments—scholars, journalists, diplomats.Like wise old peasants who can forecast tomorrow’s weather by noting how deep the moles dig and how high the swallows fly, he must be able to decipher the premonitory signs of political storms and thaws, and know how to interpret a wide range of quaint warnings—sometimes the Supreme Leader takes a swim in the Yangtze River, or suddenly writes a new poem, or sponsors a ping-pong game: such events all have momentous implications.He must carefully watch the celebration of anniversaries, the noncelebration of anniversaries, and the celebration of nonanniversaries; he must check the lists of guests at official functions, and note the order in which their names appear.What inspired his method was the observation that even the most mendacious propaganda must necessarily entertain some sort of relation with the truth; even as it manipulates and distorts the truth, it still needs originally to feed on it.Therefore, the untwisting of official lies, if skillfully effected, should yield a certain amount of straight facts.