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Gargan, Edward A. 1950-

GARGAN, Edward A. 1950-

PERSONAL: Born June 19, 1950, in Boston, MA; son of Edward and Bernadette (Praetz) Gargan. Education: University of Wisconsin, B.A., 1975, M.A., 1975; Ph.D. work in medieval studies at University of California—Berkeley.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Newsday 7.1.133, Jianguomenwai, Beijing, China 100600.

CAREER: Journalist and author. New York Times, bureau chief, La Côte d'Ivoire, 1985-86, Beijing, China, 1986-89, New Delhi, India, 1991-94, Hong Kong, 1995—; Newsday, Asia bureau chief, 2000—.

MEMBER: Association for Asian Studies.

AWARDS, HONORS: Edward R. Murrow fellow, 1989-90.


China's Fate: A People's Turbulent Struggle with Reform and Repression, 1980-1990, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.

The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributing editor to Los Angeles Times Magazine and Opinion.

WORK IN PROGRESS: "A book on borders, the politics, and the social meaning and implications of boundaries."

SIDELIGHTS: Longtime journalist Edward A. Gargan has written two books based largely on his experiences reporting from several Asian countries, including China. Although Gargan studied Chinese history at the University of Wisconsin and planned on working in academia, he turned to journalism after his college years. Gargan made a mark for himself working as a bureau chief for the New York Times, first in Africa, and later in China, India, and Hong Kong. Fluent in several languages, including Chinese, French, and Italian, Gargan spent much of the late 1980s stationed in China, where he witnessed several tumultuous events, including Chinese soldiers massacring student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. His first book, China's Fate: A People's Turbulent Struggle with Reform and Repression, 1980-1990, includes vivid descriptions of these events. Gargan wrote the book while serving as an Edward R. Murrow fellow in 1989-90, a period he took off from his reporting duties. In 1991, he returned to the New York Times and continued with the publication for the remainder of the decade. In 2000, Gargan joined the staff of Newsday to serve as the magazine's Asia bureau chief. Gargan's second work, the critically lauded The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong, is a first-hand account of the 3000-mile-long journey he took down the entire length of the Mekong, southeast Asia's longest river. Along the way, Gargan visited numerous countries bordering the river, including Tibet, China, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The book contains Gargan's thoughts about the region's recent past, especially how it has been affected by incursions of the Western world. "A perceptive account of regions infrequently visited by westerners," critic Gilbert Taylor of Booklist wrote of the book.

In China's Fate, Gargan portrays communist China as a nation that denies its citizens basic human rights. While in the country, Gargan witnessed countless examples of political persecution and repression, such as the Tiananmen incident and the thousands of arrests made in its aftermath. Gargan offers a number of opinions on the state of China, as well as U.S. policies toward the nation. Gargan is highly critical of both the Reagan and Bush administrations, because, in his opinion, they ignored the evidence of China's human rights abuses. Throughout his time in China, Gargan interviewed many villagers, as well as city dwellers, including prostitutes and cabbies. He also talked with dissident students and writers clamoring for more freedom in Chinese society. Gargan devotes the last section of the book to the events of Tiananmen Square and China's armed takeover and hostile subjugation of Tibet.

While China's Fate did receive a number of positive reviews, critical opinion of it was somewhat mixed. According to Gayle Feldman, who reviewed the book for the New York Times Book Review, Gargan's work is a good start for readers unfamilar with recent Chinese history. "For readers who have not perused many other works on the subject, his book provides an informative, accessible overview," Feldman wrote. Feldman especially enjoyed the book's final section dealing with Tibet and Tiananmen Square, feeling it was where "the book really comes alive." Chris Goodrich, who reviewed the book for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, enjoyed Gargan's observations about the Chinese people, but not his political analysis of the country. "The most interesting sections deal with the country's people rather than its politics," Goodrich wrote. Judith Shapiro of the Washington Post Book World was also critical of Gargan's sociopolitical opinions. "Gargan is often just enough off the mark to be disconcerting," Shapiro wrote. "There is a tendency to simplify complex questions and omit important descriptions of how China operates; much of what he writes has been better and more thoroughly stated elsewhere. . . . Gargan's strength lies in description rather than analysis."

According to Gargan, one of the main reasons he took a year to travel the Mekong and subsequently write The River's Tale was to give himself the time and luxury to strike out and find Asia on his own terms, something tight newspaper deadlines never allowed him to do. As he writes in the book, he wanted to "weave together my passion for Asia with a longing to travel at my own speed, to wander as I wished, to find a river that would pull me through Asia. . . . That river is the Mekong." The Mekong was a natural choice for such a trip, because it meanders through so much of Southeast Asia. The trip gave Gargan the time to fully digest his many years of covering the area for the New York Times. However, it also gave him time to come to grips with his more distant past. Gargan was sent to a federal prison in the early 1970s, when he was twenty-one and living in Boston, because he refused to serve in the Vietnam War, which he thought was an unjust conflict. According to Gargan, he wrote the book to "lend some substance and meaning" to the two years he spent in a Kentucky prison. Gargan began his trip in Tibet, where the Mekong's headwaters converge to form the river. As in his first work, Gargan discusses the effects Chinese rule has had on the ancient Tibetan culture, and what its prospects are for the future. From there he traveled south through several countries, including Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, each of which was tremendously impacted by the Vietnam War. In Cambodia, for example, he talked to many people who survived the country's horrific Khmer Rouge period, when the communists massacred millions of Cambodians for political reasons. According to Gargan, nearly everybody he spoke with had lost a loved one to the Khmer Rouge. "Almost every conversation I had pivoted on memory and mourning," Gargan writes.

Ultimately Gargan's journey took him to Vietnam, where the Mekong empties into the South China Sea. There, he confronted his personal past and gives an account of the communist nation's progress since the end of the war, which ended in 1975. A number of critics lauded The River's Tale. According to Margaret W. Norton, who reviewed the book for Library Journal, Gargan provides "a highly informed account." Norton concluded that the author "is clearly well versed in the history and customs of traditional Asia." Alex Frater of the New York Times Book Review felt the book to be "a remarkable story, grittily told."



Gargan, Edward A., The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.


Booklist, December 15, 2001, p. 700.

Library Journal, January, 2002, p. 135.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 27, 1991, p. 6.

New York Times, January 30, 2002, p. B8.

New York Times Book Review, February 3, 1991, Gayle Feldman, review of China's Fate: A People's Turbulent Struggle with Reform and Repression, 1980-1990, pp. 16-17; February 10, 2002, Alexander Frater, review of The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, December 14, 1990, p. 57.

Time International, April 1, 2002, p. 54.

Washington Post Book World, February 17, 1991, p. 8.


Newsday, (August 1, 2002), "Newsday on the Scene: Edward A. Gargan."

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