Broken Images

Broken Images

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images. . . .

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

In 1975, during a six-month stay in Hong Kong (a city I know somewhat since I have lived there for five years) I had the opportunity to talk informally and at length with various Chinese who recently left the People’s Republic—some with valid exit visas, but a larger number having risked their lives to escape.

I am neither a China watcher nor a professional interviewer, and I did not solicit these meetings; they came about through the initiative of friends. In Hong Kong, people who have left China stick quite close together, for they have in common an indescribable experience that their new associates do not understand or are indifferent to. For the escapees, however, China remains a central concern; when they meet a foreigner who shares their painful obsession, they welcome him warmly, put themselves out to introduce him to other friends who, they think, will be better able than they to make him grasp what it is really all about.