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Chinese Digest Spicy Chapters of Clinton Life

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Psst. Looking for the full story of “the sex scandal storm that shocked the world”? Pick up your (clandestine) copy here of “The Temperament of President Clinton,” a collection of foreign media accounts that purports to tell the whole tawdry tale of Clinton’s alleged relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

Too racy for you? Then try “Sino-American Summits Explained,” a perfectly aboveboard--and perfectly ponderous--three-volume set examining the history of Chinese-U.S. diplomacy, from the days of FDR to last fall’s tete-a-tete between Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The two publications are part of a recent raft of books about Clinton put out in China in advance of his trip to the country this week. Clinton’s visit, the first by a U.S. president since the massacre of demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square nine years ago, has sparked considerable interest among the many Chinese who welcome all things American, including the American president.

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The summit also is of prime importance to Chinese leaders, who view it as the most significant symbol yet of their return to the diplomatic fold after years in the wilderness because of the 1989 suppression of the pro-democracy movement. Hence the Communist regime’s efforts to put on its best face, including ordering a major spring cleanup campaign in Beijing this year--and a recent cleanup of area bookstalls.

In a show of authoritarian solicitude, the government has banned “The Temperament of President Clinton,” apparently to spare the sensibilities of the leader of the free world. The censorship is a somewhat curious one, given that the tell-all lists its distributor as Xinhua bookstores, the state’s own official bookselling chain.

But Chinese leaders are taking no chances with the summit’s success. That’s especially true of Jiang, who has made better relations with the U.S. one of his top aims and is mindful of the personal prestige and power afforded by appearances with Clinton.

“It culminates their return to diplomatic respectability after the foreign policy debacle of June 4, 1989,” said China expert Andrew Nathan of Columbia University. “They had state visits from Japan, France, Britain. But summits with the U.S. [are] the big enchilada.”

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Besides “Temperament,” other books available this month on the U.S. chief executive include “This Is Clinton,” a straightforward biography, and “Clinton in a Predicament: Mediocre President or Administration Master Hand,” written by a onetime visiting scholar at Harvard. (Conclusion: more of a master hand than a mediocre one.)

But most of the attention has focused on “Temperament,” a 302-page paperback complete with 32 pages of glossy photos, which details not just the Lewinsky case but also the sexual harassment allegations brought by Paula Corbin Jones (“A Weak Woman Faces a Tribunal”). Another section, headlined “Women On and Off the Stage,” offers snapshot looks at the various consorts Clinton is alleged to have had, all the way back to his high school girlfriend.

The book’s title plays on the Chinese words for “sex” and “passion”; posters advertise that it “reveals everything about the world’s foremost sex scandal, which people will find hard to believe.” Its contents are less salacious than might be expected from the sales pitch, although a bawdy cartoon lifted from the Internet, featuring Lewinsky and Mr. T of the old “A-Team” television series, would not make the pages of a family newspaper.

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Gossiping about the U.S. president’s boudoir behavior is a popular pastime among the official Chinese elite, who like to draw comparisons with the revelations of his patient’s wanton sexual romps made by Mao Tse-tung’s doctor a few years ago.

But Clinton has an ally in Zhang Mingyu, an engineer who has traveled twice to the U.S. “It is their family’s business. There is no need to discuss it” in public, said Zhang, 29. “I tell you, if Hillary is OK with it, then there is no problem.”

Though outlawed, the book can still be found at several of the roadside kiosks that dot the Chinese capital. Its chief editor, Lin Fangjian, will not be available for comment, “for reasons we don’t want to say,” said a man named Meng at the publishing house.

Actually, Clinton is not the only president to be accorded a closer look in the run-up to the summit. Jiang is on the receiving end as well, although the treatments of him are--surprise!--flattering.

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A documentary about the Communist Party leader hit theaters last week. Also due out is a coffee-table book about his whistle-stop tour of the U.S. last fall, while an hourlong TV program about that trip, “Handshake Across the Centuries,” aired on national television Friday. Taking a cue, perhaps, from American political commercials and campaigns, the TV program promised to show Chinese viewers both the professional and human sides of their leader, who at 71 is part of the “new generation” of Chinese officials.

“The program explains the practical significance and deeply profound historical meaning” of the visit last year, a TV voice-over declared, to images of Jiang doing calligraphy and smiling with Clinton at the White House.


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