Ed Driscoll

Be Careful What You Wish For

Glenn Reynolds writes:

Hugh Hewitt…observes “The Party ought to require every member read An Army of Davids. (Who’s got the rights in the PRC Glenn?)”. Why limit it to Party members? I think that everyone in China should read it!

And they very well may. But Alvin Toffler told C-Span’s Brian Lamb an instructive story about how The Third Wave circulated through China in the early 1980s:

Our books sell all over the world, and I think I just realized that the answer to that question is China, and it’s “The Third Wave,” because there were millions of copies of “The Third Wave” published in China, and we never got any royalties from them.

LAMB: Was that legal?

Tofflers: No.

We had a lot of…

No, it was, they weren’t part of the copyright convention. They pirated, it was pirated, but, but let’s put it this way, it didn’t make us too unhappy because the book became the bible of the democratic movement in China, and at one time was the best-selling book in china after the speeches of Deng Xioaping. And the people who marched in Tiananmen Square were our readers.

LAMB: Have you been to China?

Tofflers: Yes.

Sure, sure.

But to get back to that, what it did was pave the way for the economic reforms that the chinese…

And indeed one of the charges against Zhao Ziyang when he was ousted after he was sympathetic to the students during Tiananmen Square, he was ousted as chairman of the Communist party, one of the charges was that he had met with us. And he was dumped, not because of us, obviously, but that was one of the side issues.

LAMB: Do you have any sense of how it worked, and who stole the book and had it…

Tofflers: Oh yeah, yeah, we know. It’s a great story actually, we were invited to China and Heidi said…

By a group of futurists.

… By something, by something called the Chinese Society for Future Studies. Now the fact that they had such a thing, had just started such a thing, was itself a signal, because in the old constrained days, if you were a Marxist, you knew the future.

LAMB: It was socialism.

Tofflers: It was socialism, you didn’t have to have futurists discuss what the future might be. So they permitted the formation of something called the Chinese Society of Future Studies, they invited us as the first foreign guests to give some lectures, we went and…

We had just finished making a television documentary, a 90-minute documentary.

LAMB: What year?

Heidi Toffler: 1982.

Alvin Toffler:’82, ’83, Somewhere around there.

Heidi Toffler: … Yeah, and…

Alvin Toffler: ’83.

Heidi Toffler: No ’82, winter of ’82, January ’83. And we had, we had done the editing in canada and it was just finished, and I said to Al, “I’m going to take a couple of cassettes with me,” because we were lecturing, and I said, “this way they can see what’s happening, they can see the changes,” because China had been so isolated. And Al said, “no, it’s…”

Alvin Toffler: I said…

Heidi Toffler:…”We have too much baggage,” and he said…

Alvin Toffler:…They won’t have the machine, the VCR’s.

Heidi Toffler: “You take it, you’re going to carry it,” so I did. And he said, “and besides they won’t have the equipment to play them on.” And surprisingly, they did, and they did, the first night we were there we went to a banquet.

LAMB: In what city?

Tofflers: In Beijing, and sitting next to me was the minister of communications and…

Broadcasting.
He turned and I asked him if we could get television, you know, large television sets with cassette players, and he said, “what kind of cassette?” And I said, “VHS,” and he said, “yes,” he said, “why?” And I explained that we wanted to show the film, and the first question he said, he asked me was, “who has the rights to them?” I said, “we do,” and he… I said, but you… And I figured if I looked too eager, if I appeared to be too eager, he would get turned off, so I said, “oh, no, we have the rights, but you can’t show it on Chinese television.” And he said, “but can we make copies?” I said “no, I know what’s going to happen if you make copies,” and he said, “No, I promise you we’ll only make copies for your lecture.” And of course he did make copies and they did, after we left, circulate.

The people’s liberation army studios, which are the best in Beijing, did a Chinese version.

Dubbed it…

They used a famous actor doing the voiceover, and they distributed it and showed it to tens of millions of Chinese.

Think tanks, and…

And the book itself, and the story has one more twist, and that is we left after the…

But you have to make clear that, that our books were not allowed to be translated, published.

Alvin Toffler: Prior to that, right. And Heidi correctly said, “you know, if we leave a cassette, it will circulate to the top.” And then what happens, we leave and the guy who was our interpreter and handler during the visit, who was also a Chinese sociologist, began making speeches about “the third wave” and began writing articles about it, and immediately he gets a letter from the prime minister’s office saying “I want the name of everybody you’ve spoken to and I want a copy of everything you’ve written.” And he was frightened because he’d been kicked around during the cultural revolution, and a week later he gets a similar letter from the office of the chairman of the communist party, so he’s really nervous. What happens then is, right in the middle of that, “The Third Wave” is published in 3,000 copies and it is immediately attacked as a source of western “spiritual pollution” and taken out of the stores, even though it was restricted to top leadership. At that point, six months go by of dead silence, as far as we’re concerned, we’re hearing none of this until much later. But there is an internal debate in policy circles and in October of ’83, Zhao Ziyang, who was then prime minister, calls a conference in Beijing of top policy-makers and says, “we must study the third wave.” And then people are still afraid, so they go to the chairman of the communist party, who at that time was Hu Yaobang, and say, “what do you think about what the prime minister said?” And he said, “too many people in the party are afraid of new ideas.” And with that the printing presses began, and millions of copies.

LAMB: What does it say about the Chinese people that you could take a cassette and the guy says, “I’ll never copy it,” and then they copy it multiple copies, and the same thing with the book?

Tofflers: Well, look at what they’re doing now. It says that they have no concept of intellectual property. Indeed, we’d just gone through this tremendous trade conflict with them over precisely that issue, and they do not understand even now, I think, why it’s so important to the United States, why intellectual property is a significant issue. I think they go along now because they’re being forced to do it, as a great many… We’ve been pirated elsewhere, as well– Korea, Taiwan.

I disagree with you. I think they understand very well the importance of paying license fees on patents and…

But they think for us it’s trivial, you see.

I think they think that they would rather not pay them and save the money.

Oh, sure, oh, sure.

I don’t think it’s a question of their feeling that since they’re poor… I mean, this is what the problem with the Uruguay round talks for seven years were. On the one end of the debates there were the agricultural subsidies, and the other end was intellectual property, and it took seven years for those two issues, basically to get through.

See, we would categorize those as, on the one hand, the agricultural issue is a first- wave issue, and the intellectual property, the control of information, is a third-wave issue. And those are the two things that kept the Uruguay negotiators wrapped up for seven years.

Of course, a few of the ideas that fuel An Army of Davids may already be circulating through China. Has the PRC blocked TCS Daily?

Update: Hugh Hewitt asks, “How did Ed Driscoll know that?”

Hey, we journalists know everything. Just ask the Washington press corps!

Seriously though, much as I’d love to claim either omniscience or insider connections with the PRC, I simply remember watching Toffler on C-Span when he was making the rounds shortly after the Republican Revolution of 1994 and Newt Gingrich was constantly promoting The Third Wave as a guide to life in the newly emerging Internet-driven 1990s. Reading something like a post about publishing in China triggers a weird factoid buried in the back of my brain, and–voil