A renowned soloist in ancient Chinese music died suddenly last winter. I hustled to Beijing as fast as I could for the funeral and cremation at which many distinguished figures appeared, above all from the arts. After the brief service, shooed from the small memorial chamber, a group of us adjourned to a private place. Our beloved friend had fulfilled much of her destiny, through performances, recordings, teaching, and so forth. But China remained to preoccupy us even in the midst of loss.

I was approached by someone I had never met but who knew of me. He was a true genius—I do not use the word lightly—and a brain-truster for the central government. Dispensing with all preliminaries, he directly posed to me the question: “What do we do? We all know that the system does not work, that we are caught in...

 

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