A HIGHER KIND OF LOYALTY. By Liu Binyan, translated by Zhu Hong, New York: Pantheon Books, 294 pp., $22.95 ONE evening in late April, 1989, as spirits in Beijing soared at the birth of China's democracy movement, Liu Binyan made a sober prediction.
``The Chinese people must prepare to ... shed blood in the struggle for democracy,'' said Mr. Liu, his face creased with anxiety as he addressed a gathering more than a month before the June 3-4 Beijing massacre.
China's boldest investigative reporter and a victim of 22 years of persecution under Communist Party rule, Liu knew better than many how brutal the Marxist regime could be.
For much of his life, Liu has agonized over the party's betrayal of humanitarian ideals - ideals of social justice and national salvation that had led him to join the underground organization as a bright, patriotic youth in 1944.
Deeply disillusioned, Liu emerged as one of the most penetrating critics of the ideological rigidity, intolerance for dissent, and chronic power abuses of China's leaders.
In ``A Higher Kind of Loyalty,'' his stirring, sensitive autobiography, Liu describes the devotion to truth and independence of mind that motivated him and thousands of other Chinese to speak out against tyranny.
What is remarkable about the Chinese who fill the pages of Liu's book is their rejection of what he calls the slavish obedience, hypocrisy, and mediocrity cultivated by party repression.
``China seemed like a monstrous mill, continually rolling, crushing all individuality out of the Chinese character,'' Liu writes.
As a result, many Chinese ``lost the qualities of the really human,'' he says. ``They had to train themselves not to be angered at injustice, not to be moved by suffering ... and not to feel responsible.''
Liu's own individualism comes from his upbringing in China's rugged, sparsely populated northeast, where his grandfather and other pioneers settled at the turn of the century. His father, who worked as a Russian interpreter on the Central Manchurian Railway, embraced liberal European values and passed them on to Liu.
Like many nationalistic youths in the 1940s, Liu was also influenced by Marxist writers and joined the Communist resistance as China's ``best hope'' for defeating Japanese occupiers.
But soon, Liu developed doubts about the party. He questioned the systematic beating and persecution of landlords during Mao Zedong's land reform campaign. In the 1950s, as a reporter for the official China Youth News, he was shaken by the party's effort to bind Chinese society in an ideological straitjacket.
Liu's sharp criticism of the Party's growing clannishness, privilege, and isolation from the people led Mao to label him a ``rightist'' in 1956, making Liu, his wife, and two children political ``untouchables'' for two decades.
Exiled to an impoverished village, Liu witnessed the ravages of Maoist campaigns such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-60), which exhausted the peasantry and led millions of Chinese to starvation.
Over the years, in between periods of incarceration, interrogation, and indoctrination, Liu carted night soil at a farm outside Beijing, worked in a library, and raised pigs and made bricks in Henan Province.
Rehabilitated in 1979, Liu began writing again for the party newspaper People's Daily.
Almost overnight, he emerged as a sort of ombudsman for China's oppressed. His scathing expos'es of official abuses won him an eager following of millions. Thousands of Chinese wrote, telephoned, and visited Liu's Beijing apartment to pour out their stories of suffering.
Liu's blockbuster report, ``People or Monsters?,'' attacked the corrupt network of power and cash relations that pervades the Chinese bureaucracy. Others documented the stories of Chinese who were packed away to insane asylums, had their relatives murdered, were jailed, or otherwise punished for challenging those in power.
His articles so angered China's hardliners that Liu was expelled from the Communist Party in 1987. Today, he and his wife, Zhu Hong, live in exile in the United States.
In concluding ``A Higher Kind of Loyalty,'' Liu writes that Chinese will one day shake off their shackles and win freedom.
``We greeted the founding of this state with wild acclaim in 1949; we submitted so docilely to its rule from the '50s right through to the '70s ... But the Chinese people have now changed. They will not tolerate this state any longer,'' he says.
One chilling aspect of the memoir, however, is what Liu admits was his own political naivet'e, his extreme self-doubt when accused as a rightist, and his feelings of profound humiliation when expelled from the party.
Such sentiments, coming from a man of Liu's intelligence and conviction, give readers a sense of the Communist regime's sheer power to deceive and manipulate.