Discussing the book "Chinese encounters" with the authors Arthur Miller and Inge Morath
BROADCAST: Oct. 16, 1979 | DURATION: 00:53:21
Discussing the book "Chinese encounters" with the authors Arthur Miller and Inge Morath.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Arthur Miller, of course, is one of the most distinguished American playwrights, indeed, world playwright, and he's known of course as an excellent essayist and observer of the human comedy. His wife Inge Morath is an equally eminent photographer. She has the eye. And together the subject is not theater, it is theater, but it's Chinese Theater, which means Chinese life, too, because it's hard to draw that line of demarcation between theater and life. And recently Arthur Miller and Inge Morath visited China at a most remarkable moment in its history and possibly in the history of any society. Came just after the Cultural Revolution, which of course will call for hours and years of explanation. And the book that they put forth, Chinese Encounters, is a beaut. It's a pip. Aside from Mr. Miller's insights which are absolutely stunning about their society and in a way reflecting on ours, too, and Inge Morath's exquisite photographs, we've got a winner, and it's published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Chinese Encounters and Harrison Salisbury, who is just about the best journalist there is, has said he's never come -- who of course has been to China a number of times and called the shot way back about the Soviet/Chinese break and schism way back before anyone did, says he's never come across insights such as are in this book. And so my two guests, Arthur Miller, Inge Morath, and their reflections. [Sound of Chinese children reciting] Does that sound familiar to you, Arthur, Inge?
Arthur Miller Well, yes, in a way. I don't know what they're saying. Maybe Inge does.
Inge Morath Well it was in the shool -- in, in the school, it's in the class, and they're counting. And you know they say, "One, two, three, good," and stuff like that. And they do it rhythmically.
Studs Terkel You have a marvelous photograph of them there, their fingers in the air. That's what we heard just then.
Inge Morath That's right. Yes.
Studs Terkel So, where do we begin? I know you're stunned, as you say in the book, Arthur and Inge, but this will be free association and free-wheeling, no invitation to enter. Where do we begin? You -- China. Okay. What led you to China to begin with?
Arthur Miller Well, Inge should talk about her involvement in this because it goes way back.
Inge Morath Well, I, I was from years and years and years way back when I was little, I had an uncle who lived in China for a very long time during the Boxer revolution and all that, so I heard about it a lot. And I loved Chinese art, and in Paris it was very much of Chinese art and talks about that. Then it was very hard to get there because I married Arthur and with an American passport for a very long time you could not go to China. So I was waiting. And one day I thought, things started, Ping-Pong started to flow a little bit, so I figured I'd go and try and I went down Fifth Avenue near Berlitz School of Languages and I said, "I'm going to go in and if somebody is teaching Mandarin today, I'm going to learn it." So I went in and indeed there was a young xuesheng who was a teacher of Mandarin, and I took my first lesson and I -- two years later, and I worked every day since on Chinese, and two years later we had our first chance to go to China. Somebody rang us up, it was '76, still the Cultural Revolution, and I was bumped off that trip two weeks before we were going to go because Jiang Qing said, "No media persons."
Studs Terkel Jiang Qing, who is the widow of Mao Tse-tung and one of the leaders of The Gang of Four
Inge Morath Right!
Studs Terkel We'll come to that, yeah.
Inge Morath And so nothing, I just went on learning Chinese, but I met more and more Chinese in the meantime amongst them Huang Hua, who is now the foreign minister and was the head of the mission to the United Nations, and I started up a friendship with his wife and we started to exchange Chinese letters, and two years after The Gang of Four just having been freshly de-deposed, they said would you like to go and just the two of you? And we went, and we arrived at the very moment which you should [never mind?].
Studs Terkel And what was that moment? We talk about the very--by the way, she knows Chinese, of course, and calligraphy. Arthur, that moment.
Arthur Miller Well, it was the moment really when the Cultural Revolution had been so to speak brought to a halt by the, this new group of men under Huang Hua, Hua Guofeng and the others, and it meant a complete revision for the moment anyway of what had been going on since at least 1966. This is another interesting thing, by the way. We asked everybody in China when would you date the so-called Cultural Revolution? Never came out with the same number twice. It like -- It, it so to speak recedes into dreamland as you go back. When did it start to get really bad? Well one, for one person it's 1969, for another it's '68, for another one it's '72, and so we're using the rough number of 1966.
Studs Terkel Now, the Cultural Revolution we have to just, we could -- By the way, during your trip you talked, you had leads and talked, you had your interpreter, who was very interesting, but you talked to various writers, to actors, actresses, to Bill Hinton, William Hinton, a remarkable American you talk about. But you talked to peo-- and something happened to them during this period. Now, it's a vague -- I suppose a word about the cu-- who was hurt by it?
Arthur Miller Well it's, to start off at the top, obviously the writers were hurt, the teachers were hurt, the professors were hurt, anybody who had any expertise in any field was hurt. Effectively, they dismantled the educational system of China, you know. This was what the shocker was. Everybody said, "Well, the intellectuals got it." What we mean by intellectuals, namely poets, writers, artists and so on, that's only a little fraction of it. Engineers, anybody who knew anything was called an expert. An expert meant he was part of an elite, and he had to go.
Studs Terkel Now we have to think of, here's where your insights, observations come in and, and the talk of the people who, by the way, were astonishingly open.
Arthur Miller Oh, yes. At this moment.
Studs Terkel eah.
Arthur Miller See, they'd been corked up there for a decade and a half, and suddenly it had opened up. You could talk to a foreigner, and that, that was really something for them.
Studs Terkel So we have to understand what's going on in the mind of Mao Tse-tung. We have to -- what was going on? He in authority is saying, "Challenge authority."
Arthur Miller Right.
Studs Terkel Challenge the experts. Now, we'd like the idea here in our country of challenging experts who've led us into trouble, you know. But this is something
Studs Terkel A
Inge Morath It started out like this.
Arthur Miller See, the thing that makes it difficult for them to even talk about it, obviously there were terrible injuries. People were killed, people were tortured, people were destroyed. They were blacklisted. It was like a permanent state of McCarthyism is what it was, except the penalties were not that they simply called you a bad name, you could go away and never come back, you see. There's that. But it started and it continued on certain notes of progressive democracy. In other words, China you've got to remember, was a feudal society meaning there was a small elite on the top and the power flowed from the top down. The obedience flowed from the bottom up. Now, the Communists inherited this system of thinking. It may not any longer have been a political system, but it was a thinking system. It's the way they thought about life. Mao made no secret of it. He made a speech in '62 and he said, "Fellows, we inherited this and it's still in us, and it must be eradicated or we can't move." Well, what happened was, authority in whatever guise, it could be bad authority, which a lot of it was, it was the Communist party kicking everybody around, or it could be the authority of knowledge. It could be authority of expertise. Had to go. And they began knocking out the brains of China.
Inge Morath But it was gradual. It was very
Arthur Miller Yeah, in one place it would be one way, another place would be
Studs Terkel We're, we're talking now about a colossal challenge to history, the history of bad, for the years the deprivation, the starving, the, the few atop the many. And this guy says, we've been conditioned for thousands of years to think this way, but something else you point out happened. It jumped from this feudal state to a form of socialism skipping the individual economics that have known as capitalism.
Arthur Miller Exactly. Exactly. So this was, this was part of the
Studs Terkel Yeah. So, wow, this guy is, Mao is challenging the gods, isn't he? In a way? He's challenging the gods.
Arthur Miller I mean, nobody can dismiss this fellow by saying, "Well, he brought on this nastiness." Mao was, and to my knowledge, the only man in power, who ever invited them to destroy power.
Studs Terkel To knock him off.
Arthur Miller Knock him off, and when you knock me off, you've done it. Well of course, he was unfortunately of a great age by this time. And it got a little addled and it became anarchy, and as what they call a mixture of fascism and
Studs Terkel We're going to ask about your people you've met and the insights you, aside from seeing Chinese opera, and the various artists you've met and your own -- How did you go about with the pho -- you, by the way, you were free to take all sorts of
Inge Morath Yes.
Studs Terkel Photographs, Inge.
Inge Morath We were absolutely free. We walked around by ourselves. Early in the morning, first you come you get so excited, you know, everything looks exotic and to go around Peking after you arrive at six o'clock in the morning all by yourselves was an extraordinary thing, and later you get more used to it. But the Chinese were equally astounded, because they hadn't seen any foreigners walking around by themselves either in a very long time. So the first man we met was an old guy, and Arthur describes this very
Studs Terkel Yeah, you describe that scene, this old guy--
Arthur Miller Well, the irony of the joke of it was you see, Inge had studied Chinese for years and she'd never really been left on her own so that she had to speak Chinese, of course, because anybody she spoke Chinese with up to this point had also been able to speak English. So we decided we're going to take a walk around Peking six o'clock in the morning and we're on our own, right? We cross the street and out of an alleyway comes an old man in his 70s pushing his bicycle, and he nearly had a heart attack when he saw us. He simply couldn't believe it. You see? And he said, "Where, where, how, how, where are you, who are you, where did you come from?" See. In English!
Arthur Miller [Laughing] In English.
Studs Terkel Now, there's the story. How did he know this?
Arthur Miller Well, he studied English in the '30s in Tokyo, which many of them did. And I had to smile when I thought here's our first Chinese and he speaks English, but the, I said, "Well, what would, would have happened last year if you'd have greeted foreigners on the street?" He said, "Oh, it would have been very bad for me." I said, "Well, you mean the police?" He said, "Oh, no, the neighbors." You see, they had been taught this paranoid fear of any foreigner was really deep, and he said, " Isn't it marvelous, now I can talk to you on the street and you're from a different country," and he couldn't get over it. We couldn't, we, we, we couldn't get away from him.
Studs Terkel So isn't this interesting. We're talking here about a society, seemingly closed society as indeed it was in a way, in a different way. See, well you, you two were in the Soviet Union, too, where your experience were wholly different.
Studs Terkel After Stalin, they were still looking over their shoulder.
Inge Morath Yes.
Arthur Miller That's
Studs Terkel Of course, a few of those boys are still around. What number are.
Studs Terkel But here, there was no looking behind shoulders.
Inge Morath No.
Inge Morath Totally different atmosphere. Totally different atmosphere. And they also are very searching within themselves and try to explain everything. They really tried to explain what went wrong, where the enthusiasms were right, and at what point it broke, because much of the revolution is beloved by all these people.
Studs Terkel That's the part that
Arthur Miller See, these are not counter-revolutionaries.
Arthur Miller You understand?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Arthur Miller These are, every one of them is passionately with the revolution. There is no thought in anybody's mind of going back to capitalism or something. Therefore
Studs Terkel -- Or feudalism.
Arthur Miller Or, or feudalism, let alone feudalism. Consequently, you're meeting people in a terrible conflict. Where did it go wrong? What happened to this great idea?
Studs Terkel Well the -- here are your encounters, it's called "Chinese Enc--" but what a -- meeting the ten film people, this marvelous actor whose wife was killed, who suffered, this gentle -- the photographs of Inge, by the way, are fan-- and that actress, now you sitting around talking with them, and now they suffered a great deal during this.
Arthur Miller Well
Studs Terkel Oh
Studs Terkel But there was no bitterness. Now, that's the part that's
Arthur Miller The only, the only
Inge Morath Was interesting.
Arthur Miller There is -- bitterness in the Western sense, I think not. What there is is mystification as to how it happened, and a determination on the part of many of them that it be named, so to speak. See, when I -- I came unprepared, and so did Inge. I, I didn't expect this, quite frankly. I, I felt very stupid when they started telling me their stories, and to my, I wouldn't have said this if I had been better prepared, I said, "Geez, it sounds like fascism," and they leaped to that and said, "Yes, fascism combined with feudalism, which is worse." That was to quote them. And they -- however, they were, they were really still searching in themselves as to how this thing [unintelligible].
Inge Morath And they wanted you to report it because we said that we really had not read anything about the Cultural Revolution that was in any way clear, and it had not been reported. And so they really wanted Arthur to write. I mean, he finally took out a notebook
Arthur Miller I took out a notebook, I says, "You mind? I'll take this," no, that's what they wanted. You see?
Studs Terkel So, go ahead. I, I want to continue with this because the moment you two came there, Arthur, you and Inge, you came at a quite remarkable and stunning moment
Arthur Miller -- It's the day it cracked.
Studs Terkel The day it cracked.
Arthur Miller Practically. I mean,
Studs Terkel How long did it last? The Cultural Revolution. Is
Arthur Miller Well, this is the thing we started out saying. See,
Arthur Miller It's '66 to '78, but excepting then you meet people say, "Well it's earlier than that. It's '62 or '63," because it was not a decree that started on the first of January or something,
Inge Morath It was 10 years or more.
Studs Terkel And during those 10 years, intellectuals, engineers, others who had that special knowledge [as up?] were imprisoned or they were working on a pig farm, that mostly was work, was it not? Doing
Arthur Miller Well, there were many destroyed literally. See, there were artillery battles, Studs. This is incredible. You see, inside of China there were heavy artillery battles going on between sides in this thing, and they grin now when they tell you that, they tell it to you with a grin.
Studs Terkel Well, who, who, now we come to the question, who was in control, or were in control during the Cultural
Arthur Miller This is the question.
Inge Morath It's very factional. You see, China is a very big country. So I think what happened, Arthur knows better than I do, but what I got out of various conversations is that in many ways in some provinces things would be totally different from other provinces, and the Red Guards were very active, the young people very, very active and they traveled on purpose propagandizing, therefore from one province to the other, and some governors would resist. Some would go along. So it is very complicated and complex and very often central power was challenged, you know, from different corners.
Arthur Miller As an example for you, I, we have this in the book about our happening quite by chance to run across this professor of thermodynamics, who in fact had worked for four years in the United States, but who was all for the Chinese government and so on. Now, this guy had been teaching at Xian, I think it was, at the university, and I said, "Well, tell me. How did it happen? Start from day one." He says, "Well, I'm there lecturing about thermodynamics, and a gang of these guys come in." "What guys?" I said. He said, "Well, I've never seen them before." I said, "Were they students?" He said, "No, but they were young people." "And what did they do?" "They told me to stop." I said, "Well, were there police? What about the authorities in the university?" He said, "It just shook itself to pieces. You see, they assumed a moral authority." Now, we had a little of this in the '60s, remember? We were not immune to this. See? They'd come in and they'd shame everybody with extreme revolutionary phraseology. So that he himself, and this is the point: didn't know, is he right, wrong, or what?
Studs Terkel Here self-doubt was coming in here.
Arthur Miller He thought well, maybe they're right. You see?
Studs Terkel Because they spoke with authority.
Arthur Miller Right, and they'd bring in peasant kids who couldn't do arithmetic, and said you're going to teach them thermodynamics. So he said, "Well, how can I teach them thermodynamics, they can't add, multiply or subtract." You see? But he thought it's only right that the peasants should learn thermodynamics. He said, "The net result of it was I ended up cleaning toilets for five years. They put at the head of the class an ignoramus who did nothing but lead demonstrations." And he - -we found him on a train going to I think it was Shanghai
Inge Morath -- From Xian to Nanking.
Arthur Miller Nanking, to meet with other faculty to see what they could do to reconstruct a faculty for China.
Studs Terkel This is after the event
Arthur Miller And now, he said, I said, "So what, what is your net -- How would you summarize it?" He said, "We lost a generation."
Studs Terkel Now, this -- here's the mystery that you're trying to uncover. And that's, who was in ch-- who, who was minding the store?
Arthur Miller Well, in some times the army would be momentarily called out. See, mind you, part of this, head behind it, the imprimatur of Mao.
Studs Terkel That's the name, yeah.
Arthur Miller You see? However, he would say, "Argue, but don't fight." That was his slogan, "Argue, but don't fight." Well, many of them argued, but a lot of them fought and cracked heads and acted like little, what they call "Little Emperors."
Studs Terkel I'm trying to be Mao now, my mind now, from what you've said.
Arthur Miller You've
Studs Terkel He said, "You've got to re -- we've got to challenge thousands of years of history in which we, the Chinese, the most enlightened people in all the world, of course, are, have been conditioned to obey and accept the great many, hundreds of millions, the few up above. Since you've been conditioned to this, even though we have a new society, you're still conditioned and we gotta knock that out of your system." But there was no -- you asked the question "Why are there no controls? Don't you think if it comes again, if it might, should there not be some kind of equitable setup or, or some kind of area for dissent and questioning?"
Arthur Miller Right.
Studs Terkel You
Arthur Miller Yeah, well, see, what one of the problems is, there's no free press. There was none. So it builds up and suddenly uncorks and spills out everywhere. Now, you say, "What? Who is in charge?" Well, there was anarchy. Nobody was in charge.
Studs Terkel But they blame -- but they're pinning the finger though on -- here comes the phrase, "The Gang of the Four," particularly -- I know there's a new
Studs Terkel There's a new pronunciation now. It's Jiang--
Studs Terkel Jiang Qing. The widow, the wife, widow and who I take it must have been something, a virago of sorts.
Arthur Miller Well, in the last years, to be sure, she was the, the spearhead of the most absurd excesses of this thing. And, and they did knock off all their lead -- the surrounding leadership, and she could, it could be pinned on them very easily. But it would be I think wrong to simply say it began and ended with
Inge Morath No, I think she gained power more and more as the thing was going on. You see, it started out as various diversions of the line, there's always a line and Lin Biao and you know, there was a whole clique that they said was a clique that were counter-revolutionary bourgeois advocated freer enterprise, et cetera. So there was a lot of dissent and fighting within. I mean, Mao very often had to fly down and argue his way, too, which is a thing we didn't really know, either. So, slowly she asserted her power. So these factional fights by very cleverly linking, you know, like the Great
Studs Terkel But there is something else, and this is the question Arthur was asking, see. There is as you say there's an easy scapegoat here.
Studs Terkel But there's something deeper than that, quite obviously it wasn't Gang, Gang of Four could alone, or nor could she alone. There's some -- and this is what Mao had started.
Arthur Miller Right.
Inge Morath Right.
Studs Terkel "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," sort of.
Arthur Miller He let the, he let the genie out of the bottle, and nobody could get it back down in again. However, I just, since we're on this so much, I would caution against -- well, you don't have to caution, it's obvious you can't make a final judgment on this yet. I'm not just copping out here. They can't. I mean, I said, "Well, what do you think about it?" And I said, "Well," [laughing] sort of one foot in the air.
Studs Terkel You point out something here, [mirror?] on that very point. You see, we think we like to hammer down, as you put it, truth. We, we Westerners. By God, this is it! The Chinese said, "Now, wait a minute. [laughing] There are two possibilities." Isn't that the saying? Wait a minute. Now they've lived longer than we have. Oh, you mention that, too, the stamp on a time.
Arthur Miller Oh, yeah. They, they -- their, our idea of time is ludicrous.
Studs Terkel But what is -- well, there again, Pontius Pilate, you see? "What is truth?" Now, it is easy for us to wash our hands as he did, you know. But, but there's something else here. That -- they want to -- I guess come back to Mao again. What this old guy had in mind I guess was to free. I think so. Using
Arthur Miller Yes.
Studs Terkel Free from all past history of
Arthur Miller -- No doubt about that.
Studs Terkel Thralldom.
Arthur Miller See, but what Westerners don't understand, I think, and this is a pure amateur opinion. You see, they're struggling with the, with the remnants of feudalism and this we have not experienced, especially the United States. We don't have a clue about what that means. Now, I use illustrations in the interview with Bill Hinton
Arthur Miller Which we can come to in a
Arthur Miller Which are the best illustrations we have ever
Studs Terkel Yes, we have to talk about this quite remarkable man.
Arthur Miller Yeah, cause he's, he's a great guy.
Studs Terkel But the, the -- something else. We also, as you know, in your plays, my God, Arthur Miller's plays dealing with the dilemma of the guy in our world, whether it's Willie or Joe Keller, the guy's going to make it -- the individual. By God, and if he fails he's -- if he fails to make it materially, he's through. Now they've never had that individual. We've, we glorify, and to some extent of course justifiably, but to the extent of no community. We glorify the individual, and that has never appeared in Chinese -- in the Chinese psyche, has it?
Arthur Miller Only I would suggest it may -- the closest thing you get to it is the individual who rises up and seizes some kind of political or military leadership. In that sense, yes. But they, they obviously don't conceive of themselves apart from the family or the, or the group or the society or being Chinese, you see.
Studs Terkel You know, that when we mention -- we'll come to the matter of what -- the other people you've met and also of the art that you saw and the, the works. Again, I emphasize it's a, it's a, a book in double dimensions. The, the insights of Arthur Miller and the insights too, of Inge Morath and her remarkable eye. I'm going to ask about influences on you, too.
Inge Morath Yes.
Studs Terkel Are they -- William Hinton. My first knowledge of China, this came from his classic called Fanshen.
Arthur Miller Yeah.
Studs Terkel Now, tell us of William Hinton who lives there and his own ambivalences, his feelings there.
Arthur Miller Well, Bill spent the last 30 years on and off in China. You know, he'd come and go, and he
Studs Terkel From an old American family.
Arthur Miller Right. He's the only Ameri-- only Westerner who actually experienced th Chinese Revolution from below, that is, he was in peasant villages when it happened there. And Fanshen, as you know, means "overturn" or "turn over" or something like that.
Inge Morath It means emancipation, turn the body
Arthur Miller Yeah, a turn around. In any case -- see, Bill recognizes -- I, I never felt more flattered than when Bill thought I had something to say about it, because after all I'm no -- I just was looking with two eyes. But his experiences there, for example, he was an agricultural expert, as you know. Well, they had tractors there that the Chinese manufactured, and he got on one because they were having trouble because the damn things took yards and yards and yards of area to turn around, they couldn't turn them around, sharply, which you have to do at the end of a row, for example. You want to turn a tractor quickly. So he got on one, and when he stepped -- you, you can brake one wheel at a time on a tractor, so you, you stop one wheel, let's say the right wheel, and you turn right, it'll turn around on its own base. Anyway, to make a long story short, they groaned and screamed and they just wouldn't do it, and these are new tractors. And he, the head of the comp -- factory there came, he said, "What, what is the trouble?" And Bill said, "Will you -- get me your engineers." The engineers came down, he said, "Did you -- when you've driven this tractor, didn't you notice?" And they said, "Driven the tractor? We're engineers!"
Studs Terkel They never drove a
Inge Morath No.
Arthur Miller Never got on a tractor. Now, this is feudalism. Do you see
Studs Terkel And how! There's something he points out, on the very -- there's very
Inge Morath Something was missing, some
Studs Terkel The very sequence that Arthur just pointed out. Bill connect, connects with something you said earlier. Conditioned as they were through the years and centuries of accepting authority up above, they're conditioned to working with their hands.
Arthur Miller Right.
Studs Terkel Through the centuries. We know the miracles they did with their hands, of course, during this time, the "Long March" itself. But now we come to hands, so the machine is still something alien, technology is still alien
Arthur Miller -- Absolutely.
Studs Terkel To their heritage.
Arthur Miller Right. Right. These are, these are -- I hope it'll all get ironed out before there is too much further damage. But, these are problems! We have our own cultural problems, these are theirs. It's another reason why when people think, well, they're coming more like us, it's ridiculous. See there's no, there's no convergence. They're going to be more and more Chinese and we're going to be more and more whatever we are.
Studs Terkel Before we take that break, and we'll pick up this, this point you just made. We read of course of the tremendous interchange right now industrially, financially of the machines. You're saying -- and some of the fears of those who've been friends of China for years, you know, hope something new is going to happen, say, "Oh God, Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola or, or GM, they're going to be like us." You're saying, "No, not
Arthur Miller No. I don't think so. I, I -- Well, who could predict anything? But you know, you're dealing with 900 million people. It's going to be a billion in a short time. What are we? We're a little drop in a bucket. We're 200 million people. It's true, the, the technology is powerful, but I can't see us infiltrating that culture and transforming it. First of all, they're very proud of it. It isn't like you're going into some cockamamie country that's ashamed of itself. They're not ashamed of themselves. They're ver - damn proud of being Chinese, as well they should be. I, I can't see that.
Inge Morath But look so are the Japanese, they modernized and they've been -- they're totally Japanese.
Arthur Miller Right. They're as Japanese as they can get. Sure, their -- different characteristics come out and so on.
Studs Terkel I'm going to after we'll take a pause now, we're talking to Arthur Miller, Inge Morath, and the book that they've come up with is quite re-- it's called Chinese Encounters, and is that, we've just touched in a very cursory fashion upon a couple of them, there are some sensational ones coming up. And, of course the, the eye of Inge Morath, and some more of these -- I'll ask about the mountains. And suddenly I realize I'm looking at a Chinese painting, but it's not! It's an actual mountain, and Farrar Straus Giroux the publishers, and it's not only finding out about China, but also about what makes the human mind tick, and seeing these -- and a feast for the eye, too, Madame.
Studs Terkel And we continue after this message. [pause in recording] So resuming the conversation with Arthur Miller, Inge Morath on their Chinese adventures and encounter. Train. Oh, we have to -- even -- these -- you point out that a story or something specific tells you much more than something abstract. And of course you've got specifics. You're on this train and Inge's got a book of Yang -- Tang poetry. This is -- it goes back centuries.
Studs Terkel And there's a conductor. Tell us about the conductor on the train.
Inge Morath Oh, it was so wonderful, because I had a -- naturally, you know, studying Chinese you work hard, so I had the grammar which I had to consult constantly, as Tang is, is very difficult and it was slightly falling apart. So the conductor came in, and he saw my grammar which I was studying, and he said, "This is absolutely awful." I mean, he was delighted that I spoke Chinese, and he took that grammar with him and disappeared. And he said, "I'm going to repair it." So he brought it back, beautifully glued together with his own fingers. At the same time he saw my volume of Tang poetry, which had been forbidden like everything else traditionally, and it had just come out and I was lucky to get the volume in Xian, and he just pored over it, he asked could he look at it for a little while, and I looked at my repaired grammar, and he and Su Guang, our guide, were both absolutely entranced with this poetry, which was very beautiful. It's difficult.
Arthur Miller It was, it was really amazing. I mean, that, that conductor on a, on a train, and he was absolutely swept away by this poetry. You see that they've been forbidden that poetry because it was a, a, a revival of feudalism. See, this is interesting. Jiang Qing, this oftentimes stupid and maniacal woman, was going under the same heading as we've been talking about. See, they were going to suppress feudalism. So what they do, they took the traditional Chinese poetry, the theater, the great achievements of their culture and tried to eradicate them, suppress
Inge Morath Eighth century Tang poetry.
Studs Terkel Before I ask you about theater, what you saw and about, about the acting and Chinese opera, which is a phenomenon unto itself. The young today, you see, they're less, because of the Cultural Revolution there are less college students than there were, or like I suppose [unintelligible], is there -- you point out there's a hunger in the bookstores for
Arthur Miller Oh, yeah. Sure. There was -- when we happened to be there one day, what was it? Mark Twain?
Inge Morath Mark Twain was just newly -- a new edition. They were lining up at the bookstores, you see
Arthur Miller There was a line around the block.
Inge Morath They
Studs Terkel They come to read Arthur Miller? You think?
Arthur Miller If they ever hear of him. Well, they're doing a play of mine next month, so.
Studs Terkel They are. That's interesting, because this is new, isn't it?
Inge Morath Yes.
Studs Terkel Now. There's nothing Western under her, though. Beethoven was out, too.
Arthur Miller Right.
Studs Terkel So that -- if they're doing a play of yours, that's a tremendous step, isn't it?
Arthur Miller It is. They're doing All My Sons.
Studs Terkel Really?
Arthur Miller Yeah. And it will be the first Western play apart from Brecht and, of course back in the '50s and before, they did Russian plays, before they broke with Russia.
Studs Terkel They did Chekhov.
Arthur Miller They did the classical
Inge Morath -- They also did Ibsen.
Arthur Miller And Ibsen, yeah. But anything later, no. Because it ran into the cultural revolution time, too.
Studs Terkel But now there is a hunger for the
Arthur Miller Oh absolutely.
Studs Terkel For, for, for the
Arthur Miller See they had the -- we met writers that never heard of Faulkner at all. But then they'd never heard of any English writers. One of them knew, he said, "Balzac". I said, "well he's French", see?
Studs Terkel But they knew Eric Segal's Love Story.
Arthur Miller This was only recent. You see the government naturally said, "Well what are American's interested in?." Right? So they looked up the numbers.
Studs Terkel [laughing] They
Arthur Miller And more Americans had bought that book that month or that period than any other book. So they figured well that must what they intrest -- are interested in. So they translated that.
Arthur Miller But now there is a, now there is a seeking.
Studs Terkel Now
Arthur Miller And they'll gradually, quickly become far more sophisticated than that.
Studs Terkel You mentioned that they played Brecht. Well, it's not accidental, is it? Because now we come to Chinese opera, don't
Arthur Miller Yeah, which he derives those style from.
Studs Terkel Well, describe -- I'm going to ask -- this kind of a joke.
Arthur Miller Well Inge's got a
Studs Terkel Arthur Miller, tell us the story of The White Snake. This could take 10 hours. And of, but opera, that is something unique, a unique piece of theater, isn't
Arthur Miller Yeah, that's their invention, and it goes back for how long, Inge?
Inge Morath Oh, it goes back very long, long time. The stories are thousands of years old, the real style that you call Peking opera now is only about a hundred. I mean, that particular style, but wherever you go they have local opera. Some is sung in high voice. I saw one in Szechuan, incredible.
Studs Terkel You know, just for the fun of it, let's say this is a, a piece of an opera called The Roofs of a City, and ineed the story would take hours--
Arthur Miller Oh,
Studs Terkel But just to hear the sound, it'll be very alien to our ears, but I want -- this will be your catapult.
Unnamed Opera [Music from Chinese opera]
Studs Terkel Well, just a touch. I know, but that, that, that sound is familiar to you.
Arthur Miller The -- oh sure, that's -- that's, that's the sound of some of it. Let me try in a, in a, a capsule say the following: Chinese opera is farce, comedy, tragedy, domestic drama, acrobatics, painting, costuming, makeup, music, sound effects and whatever else they can think of throwing in. One thing cheek by jowl next to the other. And let me tell you, it is fantastically effective. It is a style, and once you're onto it, you can get drugged. I could watch Chinese -- I never thought I could ever bear to listen to that stuff, and you can. It's, there's something profoundly human in there.
Studs Terkel It encompasses all the arts. All the art forms.
Inge Morath Absolutely.
Arthur Miller And all at once. I'll quickly give you a scene.
Studs Terkel Of
Arthur Miller A man is standing there listening to serious news; perhaps the death of somebody. And he is shocked. And he's standing with his head cocked and bent over and he's listening carefully, he suddenly does a backflip, right up in the air, comes down on two -- in other words, his feet go over his head, they come down again, he stands and he goes on listening. In other words, that was the shock.
Studs Terkel Yeah. That is incredible. Now, I -- you know, you know, it's funny. Say Chinese opera is almost abstract art, because what the guy did, instead of crying, the literal thing
Inge Morath Yes.
Studs Terkel That might have been social realism. Instead of crying, he did something with a body wholly different that had that same emotion
Arthur Miller Exactly.
Studs Terkel Only more compounded because there was abs--
Inge Morath And it really shocks you. I mean it shocks your emotion.
Arthur Miller Yes. See, after a while, once you accept that this is possible, you begin to receive the emotions that it's expressing, and they're powerful emotions.
Studs Terkel Boy, is that sophisticated.
Studs Terkel I mean really. Because it's, this is -- I suppose it is if someone says, "I don't get that because the woman's got four eyes," you know, and someone -- or "I'd like to have something Norman Rock--" not, I don't want to put down Norman Rockwell, I don't mean to, but that.
Arthur Miller Yeah.
Studs Terkel And the tears, instead they're way beyond.
Studs Terkel So it is interesting.
Arthur Miller They went way out long, long ago.
Studs Terkel But also they're telling -- now, they're didactic, aren't they?
Arthur Miller Well, these, these operas, you see, this is another reason they were suppressed. They're not didactic, they're moral. Sometimes moralistic, but if they are didactic, the, the message escapes a modern really. I mean, that's The White Snake story that you were laughing
Studs Terkel I know this White Snake's that you, that you take pages in describing.
Studs Terkel Not but it also reflects on what we've been talking about, isn't it, as to what is truth. You know, is truth that easy to come by?
Arthur Miller Right.
Studs Terkel Or is it something of many dimensions and convolutions?
Arthur Miller It sure is. See it's, it's, they use the image -- see, we nail down things. We hit it with a hammer. They say that that's like a hammer hitting the ocean or hitting water.
Studs Terkel Yeah. In The White Snake, for instance, I remember it calls upon mythology, animal characterizations, out emerges the girl and the hor -- their secret is she was once a snake, and the husband is a certain kind of guy. And then some -- somebody else appears, and then you start thinking, "Hey, wait a minute, am I going crazy? Or are we -- or is it Mao again, what he was trying to do?"
Arthur Miller Right!
Studs Terkel This is a fantastic adventure you had.
Arthur Miller It is. It is. I would add, since we're talking about that subject, that the women in these ancient operas are the major characters. The men are purely supernumeraries.
Studs Terkel So it comes to the subject. Well Inge, what about that subject, the, the women of China.
Inge Morath Oh, I think many of them are formidable. They have had a very rough deal outside their higher classes, and some were intellectual women. And they always have been recognized as poets and so on, but it was rare that a woman got the scholarly education and the empresses were powerful and some concubines. But now with the revolution, women have really taken a very active part and I met Zhou Enlai's widow on a second voyage to China, and she's really formidable. She talked to me about the Long March" and so on, and she's one representative of a long
Arthur Miller She's 80 years old.
Inge Morath Yeah, of a long line of, of, of powerful women. But the girls are very free now, I found and feel absolutely the same rights I think.
Studs Terkel Well, this is a big subject again we come to. I remember when Harrison Salisbury, a friend was -- when the subject of courting came up. And he says, "Well, they, they speak of a Puritan -- they don't--", but he suspects there is now, what you two disagreed on that. What did you find?
Arthur Miller Well, that one night I, I noted that you'd never saw anybody holding hands in the street or touching each other. You know, a man and a woman just arm in arm or something, and our, our friend Su Guang, who was
Arthur Miller Our interpreter, kept getting -- he was very unhappy about my keep -- my persist in asking him, questioning him about this, and finally one night I went out for a walk alone around the lake, Westlake, and it looked just like any other place. You know, it had benches, and it was kind of cute, you know, you'd see two bicycles parked together.
Studs Terkel Oh so there, so things are going on then.
Arthur Miller Things are going on.
Inge Morath Oh yes, but you see
Studs Terkel It was forbidden, yeah. In the Cultural Revollution.
Inge Morath Yes, it was. Any kind of love story, or naturally acting it out in the street or so was out. So now when I was back in May on television was the first time there was a real love story in a, with a soldier who had been wounded and you know, is [unintelligible], a real kind of a sentimental story, and I happened to turn it on in the hotel and in the evening, and the next day they were all were talking about it, it was the first time a sentimental story was on again, it was still
Studs Terkel You know what's fascinating from reading your book and, and, and the implications of it, that there was this terror that wasn't terror. It was, of course, to be -- but the same time something is go-- there's a great ferment underneath, and discussion free and open. So there's all sorts of free expression of, as you said, almost anarchic
Arthur Miller Yeah.
Studs Terkel While up at the top was the battle.
Arthur Miller Yeah.
Studs Terkel It's kind of, it's kind of
Arthur Miller Oh, it's a, it's, it's
Arthur Miller It's like watching a, a big cake, you know, that's rising and all the dough is moiling about there, anybody who expects to come back from China after studying a cultural revolution like this, with a simple explanation of it, is looking up the wrong tree. It's not possible.
Studs Terkel And of course I, I mean we'd be remiss to not face the obvious. There were millions of kids starving through the years. The starvation of course was part of history, and the bound feet of the women I suppose were.
Studs Terkel Now, what did you find on the streets there?
Arthur Miller Well, Inge can tell you, I think.
Inge Morath Well, the streets are absolutely clean. I didn't see one person that wasn't properly dressed. I mean, they might have only two suits, but they're dressed. You see, I saw pictures where, that girls had no pants, no -- nothing to wear, they had to run around half-naked, people died by the thousands in the street. They picked them up in Shanghai. So there is none of this. I think sometimes they are still -- the amount of food they get is small in the countryside, but this certainly everybody gets what they can get, and they try to distribute as much as they can. And all this has been swept away, and that's a
Arthur Miller The objective problem I think now they are facing it, there isn't enough food.
Arthur Miller There is not enough food. No, it's going to get worse, and that's why they are -- the major number one problem and in my opinion why the Gang of Four came down finally is, they have tried a little too late to institute birth control. The population is vast, it's nearly a billion if it is
Studs Terkel There is birth control now.
Arthur Miller Well,
Arthur Miller But when you start from one billion -- and I mean if you've got, unless you've got a negative birth rate which they are nowhere near getting, think just get out a pocket calculator and see how quickly you get another 100, 200, 300 million people! They simply don't have the production, and therefore they must mechanize agriculture.
Studs Terkel So it comes back to Bill Hinton's point about the great mechanization and technology
Arthur Miller -- They've got to do this, and, and if they gonna take a social attitude such as Gang of Four did, that mechanization is absolutely counter-revolutionary, that it brings in the bourgeoisie, that mechanization brings in experts, "What the hell do we need experts for?" Well, you're dead.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Arthur Miller That's as simple as that. The numbers are too powerful, and that's why I think personally this thing gave out. They've -- simply enough of them saw that they would not eat.
Studs Terkel So what is the prognosis, if there's such a thing. I know it's ridiculous even try to be a Nostradamus.
Arthur Miller I have to believe they're going to make it, because they're infinitely resourceful people, they're disciplined people in many ways. They're anarchic in others, but they are capable of work and, and devotion and so on. How are they going to make it, Studs?
Arthur Miller I am not prepared to tell you, and I don't think a human being lives who can tell you.
Studs Terkel I know there's one thing you came away with, too, in addition to all this, and Inge, we come back to you where, the beauty. I mean, the, the natural beauty and suddenly you realize how Chinese art came to be.
Studs Terkel I'm looking at some of -- is it Guion?
Inge Morath Guilin.
Studs Terkel Guilin. The mountains there, again some of your paintings, I thought it was a painting. I said some of your paintings. A Freudian slip?
Arthur Miller That
Studs Terkel I said, "Some of your paintings." You don't mind my saying
Studs Terkel Oh, here, oh, look at that. The cover, of course. Now, I thought that was a painting. And that's a photograph.
Inge Morath It is, it is unreal, the landscape down there is unreal, and you can see where the Chinese mountains and the scrolls and the mists come from, but they say there are many mountainous landscapes like that, not quite like this, this is quite unique. There's a very clear river goes through it, and the big bamboos, you know, like plumes against that background of these very delicate mountains.
Arthur Miller Incidentally, Studs, you've -- everybody has seen the traditional Chinese paintings, the mountains go straight up, there's a little figure up there, maybe with a book or he's, he's walking down with an animal or something, and they said, "Well, isn't that marvelous stylization?" you see, they, they paint on a rather narrow scroll. Well, it's realism!
Studs Terkel That's what I'm looking at right here. It says
Arthur Miller That exactly the way it looks!
Studs Terkel If I can follow this. I'm going to ask you about some of the poetry here too, perhaps you could read one or two of the poems while you're here.
Inge Morath Oh, they are extraordinary poems.
Studs Terkel Go ahead. I'm looking at the mountains, one of Inge's photographs right here, straight up, and again we, we think it's stylized.
Arthur Miller No, that's the way
Inge Morath There's a miraculous description of the mountains, which is called "Southern Mountains." Here, Arthur maybe -- since
Inge Morath Maybe you'll find just the few lines.
Studs Terkel Is that an ancient poem there?
Arthur Miller Well, this is from Han Yu, that's the year 678 to 824 translated by Charles Hartman. "Elongated-like broken then joined again, unbending-like, deserting, then meeting again. Agape-like fish mouths gasping from duckweed, sparse-like constellations traversed by the moon. Majestic-like trees tall in the courtyard. Peaked-like granary stacked up high. Pointed-like halberds standing sharp, glittering-like holding jade and jasper. Opening-like flowers unfurling the calyx. Dripping-like rain falling from broken eves. Leisure-like stretched out and calm. Obstinate-like, familiar and pushy. Superior-like, emergent and speeding. Squirming-like frightened, unwilling to stir." That's one stanza.
Studs Terkel You know what's incredible about that. The year, 768, so it's twelve hundred years ago.
Arthur Miller They are the modern people.
Studs Terkel So we come to China and its history. The history of its art, of its poetry, of its philosophy, you know? In the twentieth century, you know, horrendous poverty at the time and then the march. Oh, we didn't talk about -- you went to
Arthur Miller Yeah.
Studs Terkel That mar-- that -- you met, you met the widow of Zhou Enlai.
Arthur Miller Inge could tell you about that better.
Inge Morath It must have been incredible. They marched I like -- I don't know, it was 10,000 kilometres, 10,000 li, and it took several years, and I did read descriptions in Chinese. One was actually written by Mao's bodyguard. Very interesting description of inc, inc-- abysmal suffering. And terrible and through snowstorms. You know these mountain ranges, it was way down in the mountain ranges, and it ended up in Vietnam around '33 or '34.
Studs Terkel How many thousand miles was it?
Arthur Miller It's, it's about eight thousand miles. Just one quick figure, you see, they started out, they were withdrawing because they couldn't face Chiang Kai-Shek's armies, they were outnumbered and outgunned and they didn't have supplies. So this, this was a simply heroic concept of, of circling up eight thousand miles with no supplies, living off the land without robbing the peasants. They start out with 30,000 some-odd men and ended up after a short time with 300,000 men.
Studs Terkel Because along the way
Arthur Miller Because people were coming from all over China, because this was the first army in the history of China that didn't rob everybody.
Studs Terkel Again, that's it, again a reversal of what been the tradition: the soldier robbing them, but here they bought everything except hot
Arthur Miller Well, the rule was, you will accept nothing from the peasant even if it's offered except hot water.
Studs Terkel You know, so we come toward the end of your adventure that has no end. See, it has no end. But we come -- the dream of people who saw this all over the world, something quite remarkable was happening, the march, Mao, China, no longer hunger. Now we face the hunger because of other events, but yet something is happening within the country that is crazy and wild and yet is it crazy and wild? So now we come to Mao, don't we, again? And Arthur had a, you had a fantasy, a play, a scene.
Inge Morath Yes.
Studs Terkel Now you must describe that scene, because
Arthur Miller Well, the scene quickly that I had imagined was that two revolutionary leaders, young men, come before Mao who's sitting in the center of the stage and he is facing forward, and one describes his ideology and says, finishes describing what he believes, and he says, "Now, Chairman Mao. Am I not the true Maoist?" And then the second one who is practically the opposite in every respect to the first retails his viewpoints and says, "Am I not the true Maoist?" And Mao slightly smiles and the curtain falls.
Studs Terkel What could be more -- well, cryptic isn't the word. Mysterious. The
Inge Morath It is mysterious.
Studs Terkel So as we say goodbye now
Arthur Miller There's only one thing we've got to remember. They must, as but this is what -- I'm reporting what they're telling me.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Arthur Miller They've got to modernize the country. There is no way out. They must introduce technology or they cannot survive.
Studs Terkel But perhaps a final thought from each if you now, any thought. Inge Morath. Now how many weeks were you there?
Inge Morath Well, we were there one month the first time.
Inge Morath Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Arthur Miller And then Inge went back again for a second month.
Inge Morath But I really prepared myself for four years.
Studs Terkel What is the thought you have that comes to your mind now, I say to you, "China. Mao's China. China today."
Inge Morath Well, it just -- I'm very longing to go back and watch it, and it is very inspiring because of the energy it has. Their belief in, in, in surviving and getting towards a better world. They really are and I love their -- the optimism as they come out of this experience, it gives me, for myself, new energy and hope, really.
Studs Terkel Arthur.
Arthur Miller Well, I, I would agree with that, and what I warn myself against, and anybody else is, don't -- we mustn't think of them nostalgically, and we mustn't think of them sentimentally. In fact, they warn you against that. They have problems. You, your -- if you want to help them, and I don't know why you should, but if you did, the best thing to do is to tell them the truth, because that is what they hid from themselves for a long, long time.
Studs Terkel One little thing, a quick anecdote, incident telling the truth. You were watching a play called Loyal Friends or something. You're watching a play, and there was a distinguished playwright there who had been suffering as a result of the cult -- and they're watching, "What do you think of it?" and you said, "It's a boring play." And they jumped up and [unintelligible] that's what, 'cause it repeats itself, you told him the truth.
Arthur Miller Yeah, and they were all -- they -- I was scared to death because they looked formidable.
Arthur Miller And I thought, "What am I doing here if I don't tell them the truth? What do they need me for?" And they all applauded.
Studs Terkel Yeah, that was it. Truth. And we come the question, what is truth? Chinese Encounters is the book. Inge Morath, Arthur Miller. His insights and observations and her insights and observations and photographs, and beautiful. It's a, a marvelous book, and the poetry is -- mostly it's one that opens your eyes I think and, makes you think, I guess, and delight in life, too. Farrar Straus Giroux the publishers, it's available, Chinese Encounters, and thank you very much indeed.
Studs Terkel And we'll, let's close where we began, the voices of those kids learning.