China Beat Archive



David Moser

Date of this Version


Document Type



2011 in The China Beat


Copyright 2011. Used by permission.


I remember watching the legendary six-part CCTV miniseries River Elegy in my dorm room at Peking University in June of 1988—the last June in the Chinese historical calendar that would not have its 4th day permanently stained red. At the time I could not understand much of the stentorian voice-over (I was only a couple of years into my lifelong struggle with Chinese), but during the week the show was broadcast it became clear that the documentary had hit academic circles like an atomic bomb. The series’ content—a sweeping, brutally painful critique of the deep structure of Chinese culture—was the topic of conversation among many of the Peking University grad students I was hanging out with. They had seen nothing like it. “At last,” they would say to me, “a TV show that tells the truth (shuo shihua).” It was common to see handwritten postings discussing the documentary on the outdoor bulletin boards at Peking University’ssanjiaodi, “triangle area,” and informal discussion sessions on the topics of the program were organized at Tsinghua other universities throughout China.