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Famed Jesuit Priest and China Watcher Dies

September 25, 1990

HONG KONG (AP) _ The Rev. Lazlo Ladany, a Hungarian-born Jesuit who ran the world’s oldest journal of China-watching from a student hostel at the University of Hong Kong, has died of lung cancer. He was 76.

Ladany, a trained violinist and lawyer, died Sunday at Canossa Hospital, where he had been undergoing treatment for the last month.

He was born in Budapest on Jan. 14, 1914 and entered the Jesuit order in Hungary when he was 22. Three years later, he was sent to China to preach. For the next nine years, Ladany lived in Shanghai and Beijing, studying Chinese.

The revolution of 1949 forced Ladany and other Jesuits to flee China. The victorious Communist Party cracked down hard on Roman Catholics, executing thousands and forcing Chinese priests to break all ties with the Vatican.

Ladany arrived in the British colony of Hong Kong and began publishing China News Analysis in 1953. It became his life work and made him famous on university campuses and in embassies on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Operating out of a small room in a student hostel at the University of Hong Kong, Ladany would monitor news broadcasts from almost every Chinese province.

His gleanings from the broadcasts opened a window on China for many, which was off-limits to most Western journalists at the time.

In addition to engaging in the highly speculative tea leaf reading of Chinese politics, Ladany’s newsletters also gave a feel for life in China.

One newsletter during the Cultural Revolution was devoted to a prissy Shanghai teen-ager who, like millions of others her age, was sent to a commune to labor with peasants.

She and other city girls were appalled at the poverty of their peasant comrades and failed at gardening because they couldn’t bring themselves to spread human feces, the only fertilizer available, near their house.

Ultimately, she bribed the village headman with rubber shoes and other treats from Shanghai and escaped to Hong Kong, where Ladany interviewed her.

The newsletter devoted a lot of coverage to hogs, China’s main source of meat and an important fertilizer source.

Under the heading Pigs, the issues were spiced with barnyard humor, such as Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s statement that ″every pig is a small fertilizer factory,″ and that China should push for a ″one man-one pig″ agricultural policy.

″China could very well exist without missiles or bombs,″ Ladany once said. ″It could not exist without pigs.″

In another newsletter, Ladany was one of the first to report that prostitution had returned to China.

He also came close to predicting the fall of China’s Gang of Four, who along with the Mao, led China during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

At the end of 1982, Ladany turned China News Analysis over to a new editorial team which resumed publication on Jan. 1, 1984.

He remained a close watcher of China and was a persistent skeptic of China’s reformers, especially Deng Xiaoping.

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