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Tuesday's staff editorial (Oct. 14) and the accompanying dissent are fine examples of the reckless demonization of China by well-meaning but ill-informed commentators. Although the Chinese leadership needs to be reminded that its conduct sometimes falls far short of what we call civilized behavior, to categorize President Jiang Zemin as "an evil man" and China as "a truly evil empire" smacks of over kill.

Contrary to what seems to pass for conventional wisdom these days, many aspects of life in China are improving. Admittedly it's still tough if you're a political dissident or Tibetan separatist, but it's also true that government is becoming more accountable, personal freedoms are multiplying and real wealth is being created.

As a result, the dominant system of the past half century is in the process of breaking down and China has moved from typical totalitarian to a state of "soft authoritarianism."

Moreover, if we accept your classification of China as "truly evil" how should we then describe rouge states such as Libya, Iraq and North Korea, to name but a few, which by any objective measure must rank much higher on the Most Sinister Nation scale than does China?

Jiang is taking a considerable risk to speak at Harvard--an invitation he could quite easily have ducked. The mere fact that he is coming at all suggests that he is listening to the more enlightened among his retinue of advisers. That deserves a pat on the back, not a rap across the knuckles.--Stephen Hutcheon, fellow, Shorenstein Center, Kennedy School of Government

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