Mao’s divided legacy

I know, we’ve talked this subject to death, and everyone knows where I stand: I see Mao as having being nothing but bad for China, notwithstanding the few golden years of the pre-GLF 1950s when it looked like he was going to be a true reformer. I respect the rights of Chinese people to view Mao however they choose, and I understand why many of them see him as a hero, even if I disagree.

The NYT takes a look today at this question and notes why Chinese citizens on the “right” see Mao as a Machiavellian killer while those on the “left” see him as a liberator and the man who brought stability to China. It’s good to see that these topics are at least debatable, and to see there are a lot of Chinese “netizens” who aren’t toeing the party line. And this story includes an interesting twist.

…45 years ago, on May 16, 1966, this same man began the Cultural Revolution, an orgy of political violence that killed perhaps two million Chinese.

Mao’s preeminence in China is linked to his role in founding the People’s Republic in 1949. Yet his controversial political legacy, of which the Cultural Revolution is just one example, is growing more, not less, disputed, with time.

At stake is nothing less than long-stalled political reform, say some Chinese analysts and retired Communist Party officials.

“An honest, earnest, serious assessment of Mao based on facts” is “necessary,” Yawei Liu, director of the Carter Center’s China Program in Atlanta, said in an e-mail.

Mao’s legacy overshadows China to this day, so “without such a thorough verdict, it would be hard for China to launch meaningful political reform,” Mr. Liu said.

In China, the debate over Mao’s legacy is growing increasingly heated, conducted via Web sites, articles and books.

Here’s the “news”part of the article. Is the CCP really considering writing Mao out of the government’s policies and documents?

A recent essay by the liberal economist Mao Yushi, “Returning Mao Zedong to his Original Person,” has highlighted the controversy.

Mr. Mao, who is no relation to Mao Zedong, accused the former leader of hypocrisy and unusual cruelty.

The Cultural Revolution was merely a ploy to destroy his many critics after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward famine, which killed around 30 million people, Mr. Mao wrote.

Evidence of cruelty is found, for example, in Mao’s indifference to the fate of friends he drove to suicide, wrote the economist, and that of President Liu Shaoqi, whom Mao first attacked, then pretended to save, only to have Mr. Liu expelled from the party on his 70th birthday, before dying, untended, in jail in 1969.

A document circulating online purporting to detail a proposal by top Communist Party officials to remove Mao Zedong Thought from party work, documents and policies, has also sharpened debate.

The supposed Politburo document, No. 179, dated Dec. 28, 2010, is said to have been proposed by Xi Jinping, the man expected to become China’s next president, and Wu Bangguo, the head of the National People’s Congress.

No one knows if it’s real or fake (I presume it’s fake), but it has ignited the issue again. And I see that as a good thing. I think the more people look hard at all that Mao actually did they’ll have no choice but to see he was far from 70 percent good. And I have no illusions; people won’t let go of their opinions easily, and Mao’s legacy is one of those burning issues that inspire extreme opinions (and a lot of irrationality). At least now more people will be discussing it.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 64 Comments

I read and wrote about this article this morning as well, and had some mixed feelings. I just finished Rebecca E Karls “Mao Zedong and China in the 20th Century”, which has changed a bit about the way I think about the man. I do agree with you, certainly more bad than good, and in regard to those mentioned in the article, I think that moving forward with political reform is a good thing. At the same time, I think the legacy of Mao is a stuborn and incredibly deep seated; it will take a lot to move past some parts of it. If there is indeed a secret document prompting the removal of his ideology, that would blow my mind.

May 6, 2011 @ 6:25 am | Comment

Thanks for the excellent comment. I agree there is more to Mao than just his badness and his story is not totally black and white. But every time I think of the inanity of the GLF, and every time I hear that such-and-such great historical relic was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution I find it harder to bestow much forbearance on the man. Agree on how deep-seated his legacy actually is.

Do you have a link to what you wrote about the NYT article? I’d be interested in reading it.

May 6, 2011 @ 6:35 am | Comment

“It’s good to see that these topics are at least debatable, and to see there are a lot of Chinese “netizens” who aren’t toeing the party line.”

The legacy of Mao is not a particularly sensitive subject today and it is quite openly debated, there are tons of books published in Chinese about the horrors of the CR, and it is not even one of the strictly censored topics on the internet.

In fact, you might be surprised but I find the Chinese people here much more open to discuss Mao than Europeans/Americans. The Western markets were so penetrated by Chang Jung’s best-selling propaganda bio that the character is immediately dismissed as a sort of “Chinese Hitler” who somehow “murdered” 40 million… after this, all intelligent debate becomes impossible.

May 6, 2011 @ 8:08 am | Comment

Julen, I’ve discussed Mao with my colleagues and friends many times, and I agree with you, this topic is one that Chinese people are happy to debate/discuss . As the article says, there has long been debate between the “left” and the “right” about Mao, and it’s good to see it becoming a major topic of debate on the Internet. (Most of my friends, by the way, did toe the party line. The few who didn’t were surprisingly outspoken about why not.)

I have always considered Chang Jung’s book on Mao garbage and have said so here many, many times. I am not convinced how much this book influenced Americans, as most don’t care much about China to begin with. I think it did impress George W. Bush, if I remember correctly, and that was embarrassing.

May 6, 2011 @ 8:58 am | Comment

Julen, you are spot on. I used to be one of the brainwashed drones who would repeat verbatim about how Mao and Communism were pure evil that had murdered 70, 100, 300, 500 million people.

Then I turned 10.

It’s a joke how he’s portrayed as some kind of cartoon supervillain by Western convention. Few realize, as Julen says, that Jung Chang’s book is nothing more than commissioned propaganda, and that this hugely exaggerated 40 million figure is out of 600-1,000 million people over the span of 27 years, including several natural disasters.

The best part is that there’s absolutely no evidence that Mao “killed” 40 million people, or even 30 million people. It seems like Western anti-Communists took the death rate in China, attributed an arbitrary percentage of it to Mao (30, 40%?) and then continued to furiously masturbate to Atlas Shrugged as they are wont to do.

To illustrate how utterly idiotic that is, almost 1 million American (.3% of the population) die a year to either traffic accidents or heart disease. By anti-Communist standards, Bush is almost as bad as Hitler because he “killed” 5-6 million people. Throw in Katrina, because if Mao can tell the Yellow River when to flood, a Yale graduate can certainly direct hurricanes.

I still have a lingering, visceral hatred for Communism, but I understand that Chang’s book is a steaming pile of crap full of guesswork and sheer fabrication.

May 6, 2011 @ 11:33 am | Comment

I don’t disagree about The Chang book.

While I don’t say Mao murdered 30 million people – just as I don’t say Stalin murdered 3 million Ukrainian farmers – I do say he, like Stalin, has a lot of blood on his hands. And I cringe whenever I hear Glenn Beck say Mao murdered 70 million Chinese.

Meanwhile, I posted this not to argue about the number of deaths Mao was responsible for, a discussion we’ve had too many times here. The article is about the conversation in China at the moment about Mao, and what role the government wants Mao to play in their documents and policies.

May 6, 2011 @ 1:25 pm | Comment

@Richard – OK, I understand you don’t want to reopen every time the old discussion.

About the OP main point: yes, it is interesting. Except that I doubt there is any substance in the NYT post.

First, the Politburo document mentioned is of course a hoax, it doesn’t even make sense considering the declarations of Xi and Wu in the last years, and the present situation of Xi. Xi would only make such risky proposals (supposing he ever does) once his position is established, until then he is vulnerable and he will be extremely prudent.

This could be a rumour/hoax started by opposed factions in the party — but even that is unlikely, rumours need to be plausible to have some effect.

As per the flourishing discussion about Mao: I don’t see this is happening in any significant scale. I could be wrong though, do you (or someone else here) have links or more info as to where this debate is happening?

This looks like another eye-catching stunt piece by the NYT. As any blogger knows, this kind of subjects bring clicks, and NYT is in a critical phase now with the new paywall.

May 6, 2011 @ 4:18 pm | Comment

Richard: “I respect the rights of Chinese people to view Mao however they choose, and I understand why many of them see him as a hero, even if I disagree.”

The average Chinese view of Mao Zedong results from years of deliberate patriotic, valorizing education and myth-making of the most shameful sort. Suggesting that you “respect” and “understand” why the Chinese view Mao as a hero appears to ignore the very real fact that Chinese history as it is taught in Chinese schools is as much fiction as fact. When you profess to “disagree” with those people who revere Mao, you sound as if you believe that the widely held Chinese view of Mao as a national hero worthy of respect and admiration is defensible, even if you do not agree with it. Such magnanimity is fine when you’re debating with American conservatives who wish to return the U.S. to fiscal health by cutting both spending and taxes – it is not okay when talking about Mao. The HK public intellectual Liang Wendao 梁文道 wrote the following about the way Chinese view history: “We Chinese study history like a child watches a play – whenever a character appears on stage, the first question we ask ourselves is, ‘Is this guy a loyal official or an evil traitor?’ Aside from these two choices, there is no third option.” (我们中国人学历史就像小孩看戏,任何人物一出场,首先要问:’他是忠臣还是奸贼?’除此之外,再无第三条路。)

Retired Yale historian Jonathan Spence wrote the following in the foreword to his short biography of Mao Zedong (Penguin, 1999): “Mao’s beginnings were commonplace, his education episodic, his talents unexceptional…He was one of the toughest and strangest in China’s long tradition of formidable rulers who wielded extraordinary powers neither wisely nor well, and yet were able to silence effective criticism for years or even decades by the force of their own character and the strength of their acolytes and guards. Mao need not have done what he did, and it was he alone who ensured that his visions of social and economic change became hopelessly enmeshed with violence and fear…Those who endured Mao’s worst abuses execrate his memory. Those who benefited from his policies and his dreams sometimes still revere him…This Lord of Misrule was not a man who could be deflected by criticisms based on conventional premises. His own sense of onmiscience had grown too strong for that.” (Spence is not given to overstatment – read his damning criticism of “Mao: The Untold Story” in the New York Review of Books.)

Many of Spence’s other works have been translated into Chinese and are available for purchase in bookstores throughout China – but not his bio of Mao.

It is in some ways very unfortunate that Hitler was such an evil bastard, because everyone else looks good when compared to him (e.g., Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Mao). If Hitler had never Vienna or had been killed in WWI, the world would have been spared the horror of the “Final Solution” and Mao would not be getting off quite so easily as he is. It is China’s shame that the Chinese continue to revere Mao the way they do. One need not rise to the level of Hitler’s madness to be considered a monster.

Perhaps the main reason that Chinese continue to revere Mao has to do with politics. As Harvard historian and political scientist Roderick MacFarquhar (co-author of “Mao’s Last Revolution”) has said, Mao is both China’s Lenin and Stalin – i.e., Mao was China’s deeply flawed leader (Stalin), but he continues to serve as the Party’s ideological bedrock and an important source of legitimacy (Lenin). In short, you can not criticize Mao to the extent he deserves to criticized without damaging the credibility of the CCP.

When a Chinese person expresses reverence for Mao, the best response is to roll your eyes and hope for the day when an honest appraisal is possible in China. In the end, the Chinese love and respect Mao because they have been taught to do so.

May 6, 2011 @ 5:02 pm | Comment

It would certainly be a bombshell if it turned out that Xi Jinping had authored a document about removing Mao Zedong thought from the official canon. However, as unlikely as that seems in itself, it is even more unlikely that it would have been coauthored with Wu Bangguo. The latter is a well-known hardliner and I’m sure he wouldn’t have any second thoughts about keeping Mao to support the current framework.

May 6, 2011 @ 5:06 pm | Comment

You deleted my comment? Good grief.

May 6, 2011 @ 5:28 pm | Comment

Are we sure getting rid of Mao Zedong thought would really be a good thing? As far as anyone knows, Xi Jinping is not a big political reformer. I’m inclined to guess that some right wing folks want to discredit Mao Zedong thought because, even beyond the economic stuff, he said some things in the early days that do not jive well with the current political system. Especially all that pro-multi-party-democracy stuff he was spouting when the KMT was still running things.

Reminds me of the first joke from this post: http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/10/comic-relief-chinese-netizens-find-humor-in-the-nobel-peace-prize/ Zhou and Mao said lots of stuff back in the day that politicians now might find very inconvenient. Especially all of the actual Communist stuff. I think even the left wing, sure they’re into red songs and really, really boring TV shows, but they don’t want a return to actual Maoism anymore than the rightists do because actually running the government in accordance with Mao Zedong thought would make it harder for them to keep stacking the millions most of them make off corruption and having their hands in various state owned or favored enterprises…

Not that I have any fondness for Mao Zedong thought. I’m just not convinced I want Xi Jinping (for example) thought any more than I want Mao Zedong thought…the devil you know…

May 6, 2011 @ 5:32 pm | Comment

A country can come a long way without giving much attention to its skeletons in the cupboard – see Spain. Even now, the issue of addressing or redressing those who were executed by Franco’s troops is sort of sensitive.

But Spain also shows that a democratic country can’t push the past back forever. The 1930s aren’t as far away from the present tense, as they were from the 1980s.

I’m sure China can continue to push the 1950s and 1960s back – but that will come at an uncertain price.

May 6, 2011 @ 5:46 pm | Comment

Racer, I did not delete your comment. As a new commenter, your comment automatically goes to my moderation queue until it’s approved.

Julen: As per the flourishing discussion about Mao: I don’t see this is happening in any significant scale. I could be wrong though, do you (or someone else here) have links or more info as to where this debate is happening?

I was citing an article from the NYT. If it’s false, if they made it up, and if they made up the part about the document in question about easing Mao out of the conversation, then I apologize.

Custer, sorry your comment above also got stuck in my spam filter.

May 6, 2011 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

@Richard – But of course I saw you were citing. My criticism was directed at the NYT not to you. And I don’t suppose they say anything false or made up, I just think they are picking factoids here and there, like journalists do when they need to sell a piece. Little substance and little news, I suspect.

As for my question, it was not rhetorical, I was just trying to crowd-source a bit to see if someone had interesting links. The links provided in the NYT are all well known leftist sites, but I am missing the other side: the ones where they question Mao — there is just an unknown guy called Mao Yushi and a professor in Atlanta?

Here I provide one anti-Mao link: http://chinayouren-free.com/2009/02/18/1585 :)

May 7, 2011 @ 1:22 am | Comment

C. Custer
running the government in accordance with Mao Zedong thought would make it harder for them to keep stacking the millions most of them make off corruption and having their hands in various state owned or favored enterprises…

In otherwords, Mao Zedong thought castrates their moves towards “republican” democracy? They must be dreaming of raking in billions from lobbyists and lining up every top-level position with cronies, instead of the pittance they “earn” today.

May 7, 2011 @ 1:26 am | Comment

Fair enough, Julen. I don’t fault the NYT for doing this story based on the two interviews and the supposed document that’s created so much controversy,as well as their contention that this has been a hot topic of debate on the Web and elsewhere. They also have another quote:

A retired official at China’s National Defense University, Xin Ziling, reportedly called the document a “turning point” in Chinese politics…

They also give the link for maoflag.net and quote a commenter there, as well as links to two other websites. So I don’t think the story is poorly sourced.

May 7, 2011 @ 1:45 am | Comment

I was writing about the Cultural Revolution recently, and I viewed Mao Zedong as this a Machiavellian killer who brought stability to China… per se brought China into the modern age. The French called it Apres Moi Deluge. Mao was like the damn that held the people back during a time of economic repression, and oppression. I wonder if this is the wrong view. Obviously, Mao wasn’t a saint but he served his purpose.

May 7, 2011 @ 5:23 am | Comment

Stalin and Hitler were absolutely marvelous at bringing stability to their countries. Saddam Hussein, Mubarak, Assad, Qadaffi, Ceausescu – any strongman with the military behind them can usher in stability. But at what price? I’m not equating Mao with them, but simply making the point that bringing stability isn’t necessarily a great thing if you wipe out the brain cells of generations of your people and institute polices that lead to the deaths of tens of millions. Not to mention isolate your country and keep it in its own impoverished inward-looking world for decades. If it hadn’t been for Deng, if the Gang of Four had prevailed and China were kept in the throes of the Cultural Revolution to this day, I think we’d all be in agreement that Mao was nearly totally bad. The only thing that makes him look good in retrospect are Deng’s reforms and the ensuing rise of modern day China. This lets people say with pride, Look at the progress China’s made, and it all started with Mao. If China’s fate had gone in the direction Mao actually wanted it to Mao would be totally reviled. Deng saved him and redeemed him, even though he knew by personal experience just how cuckoo and sadistic Mao could be.

Bottom line: Mao’s badness is a matter of historical fact, as are his relatively few acts of good. From trying to tame nature with disastrous dams and a ludicrous campaign to kill sparrows to the more malignant excesss of the GLF and CR, there’s very little to say for Mao. Jung-Halliday go way overboard in their questionable “biography.” There are, however, many other biographies, including first-hand memoirs from the likes of Sidney Rittenberg, that give us a more nuanced picture, but with the inescapable conclusion: Mao was a bad man and a bad ruler. He was a catastrophe for China and the country is still recovering from him to this day.

May 7, 2011 @ 7:54 am | Comment

I guess you can say “it could have been worse”. The country could have collapsed totally (leading to the deaths of hundreds of millions) as per the wishes of Western hawks.

May 7, 2011 @ 9:00 am | Comment

Well said:

“Any strongman with the military behind them can usher in stability. But at what price? Bringing stability isn’t necessarily a great thing if you … institute polices that lead to the deaths of tens of millions. If it hadn’t been for Deng, …& China were kept in the throes of the Cultural Revolution to this day, we’d all be in agreement that Mao was…bad. Deng saved him and redeemed him, even though he knew by personal experience just how cuckoo and sadistic Mao could be. He was a catastrophe for China and the country is still recovering from him to this day.” via Richard Burger

In other words, the inescapable conclusion is Mao’s Legacy must be found questionable in order to push forward much needed political reform. Yawei Liu also mentions this to a certain effect that “An honest, earnest, serious assessment of Mao based on facts” is “necessary”. If anything, Mao was a political opportunist and more discoveries, in this regard, must be uncovered in order to refute the novelty that Mao & the Cultural Revolution played in founding the People’s Republic of China. Even the founding fathers (Zhou Enlai, Hua Goufeng, Deng) after Mao played a reforming role, and Mao has been unjustly glorified.

Thank you for the memoir recommendation.

May 7, 2011 @ 11:07 am | Comment

Stability is the ends, and a motherhood statement at that. I mean, who doesn’t want stability. Strongman/military enforcement is one means to that end, like the examples Richard provided. Strongmen, like military backing, can come and go. So that type of “stability” is co-dependent, and not institutionalized. That said, institutional stability is dependent on the institutions themselves, so there is probably no such thing as stability in isolation or in a vacuum. Nonetheless, the one thing institutions have going for them is that they are capable of outliving strongmen. The other thing, of course, is that people can have input towards an institution far better than they can with a strongman.

China no longer has the strongman model. But she does have a ways to go wrt the requisite institutions.

May 7, 2011 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

It’s a similar thing with Chiang Kai-shek’s legacy in Taiwan. Taiwanese are a few steps ahead in this matter (at least there’s no denial of the bad things he’s done), but every now and then KMT wants to embellish his reputation in books, museums and in the media. But at least people are free to discuss the matter, although they rather not, because it’s very divisive.

But all in all I think we will never understand how Chinese or Taiwanese feel regarding these two historic figures, we’re just foreigners. It’s same when I look at my home country and its history. How I see certain things is very different from how my (in relation to my home country) foreign friends see them.

Blood is thicker than water.

May 7, 2011 @ 3:02 pm | Comment

I don’t think Mao personally murdered 30 million people, or whatever number you want to assign. I think he, like many leaders, was a narcissist who cared far more about gratifying his own ego than he did about building a strong, revolutionary China. You look at his track record, and whenever he got slapped down, he’d sulk in a corner, or as he did after the GLF, say he was “just a monk with a leaky umbrella,” and then when people would take this talk seriously and try to sideline him, he’d complain about being treated like “a Buddha on a shelf” and plot revenge.

Charismatic personalities like Mao are great for certain roles, waging revolution, for example. But for building a stable, sane society? Not so much.

My perspective was originally formed being in China in ’79 shortly after the CR and hanging out with a lot of college teachers and the first wave of “returned students” enrolled at university. Most of them were very cynical about Mao and what he’d done during the CR.

One of my favorite conversations ever was that time when I went to Inner Mongolia. Our required minder (very hard to escape in 79) was a former Red Guard who had thought a lot about the CR and his role in it. He talked about how they’d “smashed the Olds,” because that was what they’d been told to do. I asked him what he wanted to do in the future. He said, “I want to be a judge. Because a rule of law is necessary, so such things don’t happen again.”

And yeah, I agree that a lot of so-called “leftists” who are using Mao’s legacy are all about the cool revolutionary songs and imagery, as opposed to the more inconvenient parts about what “continual revolution” really means.

May 7, 2011 @ 4:24 pm | Comment

Well said, Lisa. I’m not of the school that Mao “murdered” 30 million (or 70 million or whatever), but I do believe he bears considerable responsibility for many of the deaths that wouldn’t have happened if there had been a little more sanity during the GLF and, to a lesser extent, the CR.

For a good description of Mao’s role in the famine, see Ian Johnson’s interview with the author of Tombstone, Yang Jisheng. Mao didn’t murder the farmers, but he set up a framework — collectivization, hysteria over class enemies, an environment in which anyone who raised red flags was a traitor, a system that demanded local leaders lie about their harvests — that led directly to a catastrophe that was nearly entirely unnecesary.

May 7, 2011 @ 11:52 pm | Comment

Actions must be valued by its results not by its intentions.

May 8, 2011 @ 8:53 am | Comment

If hitler had Complied with Chamberlain’s agreement, had stopped with Austria and Czechoslovakia even with Poland, be would have gone down in history as one of the gratest German statemen. Greater even than Bismarck, even in spite of a few pecadillos. It would be something like 15% wrong and 85% right.

May 8, 2011 @ 9:02 am | Comment

More complicated than that, Eco. If Hitler had stopped with Czechoslovakia, whether he’d be remembered as a great statesman depends on how he treated the civilians there. As we know, his MO was to round up the Jews and then ghettoize them, and later kill them. In Poland, the first thing he did was massacre all intellectuals, and treat all Poles with appalling barbarity.

I think it’s safe to say if he stopped with Austria he’d be remembered as one of the greatest European leaders of the 20th Century, and maybe even greater than Bismarck. But what if he’d gone ahead and murdered all of Germany’s and Austria’s Jews? These “what if” exercises can be very tricky.

May 8, 2011 @ 9:07 am | Comment

I mean German stateman, not European.

About antisemitism, it was very strong then. Many wouldnt then do much to protect them, and even secretly agree with brutal treatment

His action in Poland where a consequence of the will to destruct it as country.

Much of the horrors, and this intentions to future horrors were then not well known. Had he kept his power not so many crimes would have come to light, and the rest rationalized. This rationalization is abhorrent to us today, but to many then, no. Something similar could be say about Mao.

May 8, 2011 @ 3:41 pm | Comment

Eh, truth is somewhere in between

He made some stupid decisions, but he was still responsible for bring China into the (relatively) modern world. Could it have been done without the cultural revolution? Probably. But you gotta give credit where it’s due.

May 8, 2011 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

I don’t think that one can look at a man like Hitler (or Mao) and choose the “goods” and the “bads”. What drives their actions is much more important than the single items. As for Hitler, his determination to kill as many Jews as possible – at home and abroad – would be one of the driving motivations, if not the motivation per se. That’s why the Reich incurred huge debts during his early years in office (to create jobs, to keep the population happy, etc.), and that’s why the debts didn’t matter, because the ultimate goal was war. There was no good beginning and a bad ending. It was basically an identical agenda, from the beginning to the end.

May 8, 2011 @ 9:16 pm | Comment

Xian, I don’t think the truth about Mao lies somewhere in the middle. I think it’s considerably closer to the Bad side of the scale than the Good side. But it’s not all the way to the end. I’m reading yet another book that deals in large part with life under Mao (which I’ll review soon), and I could never say Mao’s legacy leaves him somewhere in the middle.

Eco, there’s antisemitism, and there’s extermination. Hitler was much worse than an antisemite. I get your point, and only disagree with your timing. I’d say 1938 was the cutoff date for Hitler being perceived as a great statesman. If you’re saying you mean only the perceptions of the German people, then you can move the date way later. Up until the very end there was a fierce loyalty to Hitler, and on the day he escaped assassination in 1944 there were spontaneous rallies and parades throughout the country. I just read a wonderful book about this phenomenon, “Life and Death in the Third Reich.” I highly recommend it.

May 8, 2011 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

Mao’s vision for China was best summed up in the Mao-era slogan “Prepare for war, prepare for famine”. These were not wars and famines caused by outside forces, but by his own aggression, paranoia, and disregard for the welfare of his people.

He envisioned keeping the country in a state of permanent revolution, with a brain-washed people being the tools with which his smashed anyone who even seemed close to threatening his rule. He was a monstrous dictator on the same level as Stalin and Kim Il Sung.

Hitler I won’t mention, because his goal was war, not revolution, since after the failed Munich putsch he abandoned revolution, but it is worth mentioning Pol Pot, not only because Mao was his biggest supporter, but also because Pol Pot explicitly modelled his genocidal regime on Mao’s. Pol Pot’s methods were those of Mao, his goal was also the same, the main difference was the extent to which they were implemented. Whereas Pol Pot presided over the deaths, mainly through starvation, of 10-20% of the Cambodian population, Mao probably killed something in the region of 1-5% of the population.

May 9, 2011 @ 3:20 am | Comment

I Don’t Believe I Like Life under Mao’s Era

If I were to choose, will I choose to live in Mao’s Era, or today’s Era? I for sure will choose to live in today’s era.

Why? One reason I think is because I’m a very immoral person and unethical person. When I was in grade school, I was a very bad boy, and committed many infractions, from small things like stealing my desk mate’s rubbers and pencils to pushing a student down a flight of stairs during a fight, and broke his arm.

Let me first list all the items on why I don’t like Mao’s era.

In Mao’s era, we were asked to be frugal in our clothing. If our clothes broke, we’ll patch it up with needles and thread. There’s a saying “New three years, old three years, you patch it up and it’s another three years”. This is too spartan, too environmentally-friendly for me, I’m a modern consumer, if I don’t like this clothes I bought, I’ll just go online and buy another one from Walmart or Gap.

In Mao’s era, we all brought our own containers when doing shopping. If we were to go buy soy sauce, we bring an empty bottle with us, if we were to buy beer, we would bring a plastic bag to hold it. If were were to buy vegetables, we brought our own basket. These days, everything is much more convenient, you can just go to a grocery store, and have your stuff put into shiny and well-desgined plastic bags for you. I cannot imagine myself going to such trouble as bringing an empty bottle to get buy soy sauce.

In Mao’s Era, there’s definintely no family sedans. 99% of us rode bicycles, tiring our legs our necks our hands and our backs. Today, I drive a modern car, a toyota corrolla, and just last week I drove it to my local grocery store to pick up a bottle of Canola Oil, only 3 mins away. For me to bicycle all the way there? Clearly a step backward, no modern person would tolerate it.

In Mao’s Era, there were so many electricity outages. I remember in my childhood, every 2-3 times week, electricty would go out for 5-6 hours at home, especially during summer. These days, I can turn on all 10 lights in my house and blast my AC to 19 degrees for the entire duration of the summer, and no one dares to shut it down. This is much more comfortable than back then.

In Mao’s Era, women did not put on make up. Most of them just faced the public with a plain face, no fancy dresses, shoes, skirts, skin lotion, spa’s, rings, etc. Women these days look much more attractive with the help of cosmetics and fashion.

In Mao’s Era, we typically bathed once a month, and because of hot water conservation, the whole family would share the same bath water, with the baby going first, then the husband, wife, then the grandparents. The water would become black when its the grandparents’ turn, but that’s what everyone had to endure. These days, I shower as often as once a week, and turn on the hot water for 30 mins, and feel my entire body cleansed, all the scums rubbed away from every part. How can a modern man not shower frequently?

I for sure want today’s era to continue, wmore cars, more shower, more plastic bags, more comestics, more gasoline, more everything. Only when we get more and bigger of everything can we become more modern, higher GDP, higher effiency, higher production, higher competitiveness.

By the way, I still have not heard any first hand account of people starving to death yet. The literature ability of those rightists are way too low. All this time, I could’ve written at least 100 such stories, like my aunt died, my aunt-in-law died, etc, etc. Why is it so hard to write these stories? Come on.

May 9, 2011 @ 10:42 am | Comment

@Math: “By the way, I still have not heard any first hand account of people starving to death yet.”

Me neither. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who starved to death and later came back to recount the experience. It’s probably just a big hoax, all of it.

May 9, 2011 @ 1:16 pm | Comment

@Math – Yes, where are the first-hand accounts written by people who starved to death?

The biggest irony is that you live in the US, and have done for at least half a decade – getting close to being eligible for US citizenship. If you lived where you do now in the era of Mao, things would not be much worse except that you would no longer be able to post on the internet.

May 9, 2011 @ 1:38 pm | Comment

Dear Math,

I don’t think Mao’s teaching of frugality constitutes the aspect of his legacy that many people find objectionable. That his mantra of frugality was borne out of necessity since his China under his version of communism could not provide for much else, we won’t even go there.

And as a public service, you might want to rethink the fact that you “shower as often as once a week”. You’re not in Mao’s era anymore. You’re not even in Mao’s country. So the self-flagellation can probably go into hiatus for a while.

May 9, 2011 @ 1:50 pm | Comment

Just read your latest post, Math, about not having heard any “first-hand account” about people starving to death.
Know what? You can bathe and shower as often as you want, and you will still…

OK, I’ll respect the netiquette.

May 9, 2011 @ 1:58 pm | Comment

As part of “Mao’s legacy”,anti-intellectualism,I’m afraid,will have greater impact on China’s future.It was planted in everybody’s mind in various political movements and that “uncultured revolution”.Leaving the intellectuals with their bodies beaten or murdered,reputations smeared,thoughts sterilized and their backbones snapped and thrown in the mud.
Today,slogans like “More knowledge,more reactionary” still lingers.And with the rampaging over-worship of political power and money,there’s a worrying void forming in the minds of my people.But the ministry of truth will be pleased,I guess.For there will be more space for their bullshit.

May 9, 2011 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

Math: “I still have not heard any first hand account of people starving to death yet.”

ROFL.

There are, however, many accounts of people watching their friends and relatives starve to death. Check out Tombstone, Mao’s Great Famine and Hungry Ghosts. Most of these victims were farmers and very few of them wrote books, but survivors have told their stories to researchers/writers. There are more than enough first-hand stories of what life was like for farmers during the GLF.

May 9, 2011 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

OMG. Just how can one respond to Math’s lunatic postings?

His contemporary weekly shower is a bit like the shower scene from Psycho…washing away all those accumulated internal toxins and poisonous thoughts.

Mao’s principle of frugality certaintly extended to monogamy.

May 10, 2011 @ 5:06 am | Comment

Mao was a wide reader. He read books with thoughts new for the time during his late teens and early 20s. His rebellion, persistence and creativity made his legacy in 1949. In his later years, his interest in reading was forcus on history, especially about Ming dynasty.

It seems to me that it is a bit simple to put percentage of good and bad on Mao because he was just too complicated.

He had policies which benefited lots of people, even saved people’s lifes I believe. For instance, he said women only could be independent if they were financially independent. That was in early 1950s. He encouraged house-wifes to go to work. One of my aunts went to work as a sewer who brought her own sewing machine and worked for government issued orders in government arranged premises after 1949.

However I do find Mao was very good at creating fear and insecurity in certain groups of people. For instance, he never fully trust intellectuals. He used his way to make them feel insecure.

CR was a disaster, ironicly it started from Mao’s own insecurity from what I understand. CR was out of control and it seems to me that different group/persons tried to get things out from this chaos and disaster later on. Those people under Mao’s ruling witnessed how the policies hysterical in various places far away from beijing. I would like to think how such a centralised government to run a big country like china.

Mao did have certain personality which made him inadaquate to rule a country during peace time. It reminded me the movie ‘George S. Patton’, what he was when the war was over.

There are a couple of facts I would like to mention here. In 1950s, 60s, it was not china or Mao who wanted to be isolated. Let’s think about the international climate at that time towards communist countries. Let’s think about the start of Vietnam War.

China experienced war against Japan and civil war before 1949. In terms of resources, how much left for China at that time? I donot have any figures. However I believe there were some man-made factors which caused the stavation. But I donot have any figures about this either. Hope one day truth will be revealed.

Without 1949, I wonder where China could be today. It might be brutal to say this, Deng’s economic reform or chinese economy might not have achieved to today’s scale if without CR.

Recently I read a news in china about a driver who hit a begger on the road and later on drove back and ran over the person. This is not the first case of car owners deliberately killed innocent people happened in china recent couple of years. For long time, I try to understand the motive and brutal fearlessness to execute voilence towards another human being who is unknown much, for instance what happened in CR.

I think that the comments and opinions from people in China, from people under Mao’s ruling can not be easily undervalued. Meanwhile the generations growing under Mao’s ruling are still growing.

May 10, 2011 @ 8:15 pm | Comment

It might be brutal to say this, Deng’s economic reform or chinese economy might not have achieved to today’s scale if without CR.

The German Economic Miracle of the 1950s would never have happened without Hitler. Seriously. That doesn’t make the second world war or Auschwitz any more valid or acceptable. No one can tell what would have happened, The fact remains the CR was an aberration, the worst thing that could have happened for the minds of China’s young people and a horror for millions whose lives were destroyed. To try to give it credit for anything good that followed years later is incomprehensible.

From the late 50s on Mao was all bad for China. I give him credit for his reforms before then, but it was all downhill from there. He did nothing of any value for China, nothing to recommend him to future generations. Not Hitler, not Stalin, but a very bad man, your classic egomaniacal dictator and an atrocious leader. His vision of utopia for China left the nation in shambles, and it cal all be traced back directly to Mao.

May 11, 2011 @ 12:24 am | Comment

@Dee -

“Mao was a wide reader. He read books with thoughts new for the time during his late teens and early 20s. His rebellion, persistence and creativity made his legacy in 1949. In his later years, his interest in reading was forcus on history, especially about Ming dynasty. “

Irrelevant to whether he was a good leader or not.

“It seems to me that it is a bit simple to put percentage of good and bad on Mao because he was just too complicated. “

“It’s complicated” is what you call someone you’re not serious about on facebook. “It’s simple” is what you call millions of people dying as a results of one man’s insanity and lust for power.

“He had policies which benefited lots of people, even saved people’s lifes I believe.”

I’m sure Pol Pot did also. Unfortunately, both Mao and Pol Pot implemented policies which lead to the deaths through beating, torture, execution and starvation of millions of people. It matters not if they saved the lives of some, if their decisions cost the lives of many more innocents for their own gain.

“In 1950s, 60s, it was not china or Mao who wanted to be isolated.”

Right. That’s why he attacked the Soviet Union and India, distanced himself from even North Korea, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, and even, eventually, Albania. No, China did not want isolation, but Mao did, because it suited his goals to isolate the people from all sources of information or influence that were not under his direct control.

“China experienced war against Japan and civil war before 1949. In terms of resources, how much left for China at that time? I donot have any figures. However I believe there were some man-made factors which caused the stavation.”

Since the starvation happened years after the war, and most definitely after the food supply in China had been stabilised, I have no idea why you are raising the war as a reason for the subsequent famine when multiple sources lay the blame at the feet of Mao and his hare-brained ideas about agriculture. The same methods led to even more disastrous results in Cambodia during the 70′s.

“Without 1949, I wonder where China could be today. It might be brutal to say this, Deng’s economic reform or chinese economy might not have achieved to today’s scale if without CR.”

You need not wonder what China might have looked like had the Communists not seized control of the country – just look across the Taiwan strait at the free, prosperous, and relatively just society found there.

Far from Mao’s reign of terror enabling reform and opening, it killed millions and impoverished many more to no gain whatsoever. It has no saving graces.

“For long time, I try to understand the motive and brutal fearlessness to execute voilence towards another human being who is unknown much, for instance what happened in CR.”

Mao unleashed lawlessness on the country. His policy was to give license to people to beat, torture, and kill their neighbours. In fact, it required them to do so, since those who would not came under suspicion. it was no accident, and it was not “out of control”, since it was at all times controlled by Mao. He ordered someone killed and it happened. He ordered something smashed and it was.

@Richard – Why not Stalin? Mao expressly modelled himself on the man, even to the point of splitting with the Soviet Union when they decided to denounce him. And why not Pol Pot, who expressly modelled himself on Mao? And why not Kim Il Sung? Ceaucescu? The Mao regime was as incompetent, sadistic, grasping, lustful for power, paranoid, morally bankrupt, and reprehensible as all the other communist tyrannies of the last century. There is nothing that the Stalin regime did that the Mao regime did not do. Let’s have a run down:

1) Stalin: the gulag archipelago, Mao: sending people down to the countryside.

2) Stalin: the great purge, Mao: the cultural revolution.

3) Stalin: the Nazi-Soviet pact, Mao: the Sino-Soviet split.

4) Stalin: the Winter War, Mao: the Korean War

5) Stalin: the Ukrainian famine, Mao: the Great leap Forward.

6) Stalin: the Iron Curtain, Mao: the Bamboo Curtain.

7) Stalin: Dekulakization, Mao: the anti-landlord campaign.

8) Stalin: Cult of personality, Mao: Have you been to Tiananmen lately?

I think you can see where this is going. So really, why not Stalin?

May 11, 2011 @ 2:41 am | Comment

Stalin: killed a larger proportion of his population in shorter period of time, Mao: killed a much smaller proportion of China’s population in a much longer period of time
Stalin: led a nation that ended with total financial collapse, Mao: held together a nation that is posting the highest growth in human history

Some minor differences.

May 11, 2011 @ 3:50 am | Comment

Stalin laid the groundwork for the USSR collapse. Mao did not lay the groundwork for China’s ascension. Quite the opposite.

The number of deaths that can be linked to Mao’s policies are at least as great as those linked to Stalin. Stalin had a much more proactive role in the deaths he was responsible for, and took on the task of extermination with great passion. Mao, on the other hand, was quite distressed about the deaths of the peasants. Yet he did nothing until it was much too late. He knew it was his policies that were directly responsible and there’s no way he can be forgiven, even if he felt some remorse.

May 11, 2011 @ 4:19 am | Comment

@Yourfriend –

1) Only depending on whose stats you use. Unless, of course, you’re including those killed during WW2, but it would be wrong to primarily blame Stalin for that.

2) Mao did not “hold together” China, he broke it apart. It was Deng who managed to glue some of the pieces back together. Nor, unlike Mao during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, did Stalin actually preside over the USSR’s economic collapse, something which only happened latter under Brezhnev.

So no, no conclusive evidence of any great difference. Arguably one was worse than the other, but the arguments go both ways – Stalin defeated Hitler, but Mao barely ever fought the Japanese, and so forth. My position is that they were as bad as each other, it seems like a safe one to have.

What there is conclusive evidence of is that Mao consciously modelled himself on Stalin, even fearing that someone who denounce him as Khruschev had denounced Stalin. Ma himself thought he was like Stalin, and other politicians at the time – Alexei Kosygin, for example – drew the same comparison. They didn’t see any great difference between the two, and I don’t see why I should either.

May 11, 2011 @ 4:21 am | Comment

@Richard – None of that seems like a good reason to say that Mao was not as bad as Stalin, or that there was some great qualitative difference between the two. As for evidence of Mao’s remorse at the deaths he caused, I have never seen any. Perhaps you would like to quote some sources here?

The biggest difference seems to be that the USSR ditched Stalin after his death, and so we know much more about his wrong-doing than we otherwise might. Mao was never ejected the way Stalin was.

May 11, 2011 @ 4:29 am | Comment

I am not big on the comparisons of Mao with Stalin, Hitler, or whomever. Let’s say Mao wasn’t as bad as Hitler. That’s hardly worth celebrating. Perhaps from different perspectives, Mao may be a little better, a little worse, or the same as Stalin. Whichever way that comparison goes, it’s hardly worth celebrating either.

Ultimately, one can judge Mao based on what he did, without invoking what others did or didn’t do. But if a comparison is necessary, surely there is a loftier metric than Stalin or Hitler.

May 11, 2011 @ 4:55 am | Comment

Richard, I did not try to give any credit for CR but observed this change as the history proved to chinese people it happened so wrong and Deng and also chinese people learned from it and the country moved onto a right track. I thought this is a place for an open discussion on topics but not receiving personal attacks because of different view points because I never say anything untrue regarding this topic from my best knowledge. Personally I would be more interested in finding out what made Mao the person leading the long march to Mao the person in his later years.

My family experienced pain in CR but hatred does not prevent disasters from happening again. There are always new books published from time to time in China to tell more truth about Mao and what happened under his ruling. Those facts should be respected.

May 11, 2011 @ 6:03 am | Comment

FOARP: As for evidence of Mao’s remorse at the deaths he caused, I have never seen any. Perhaps you would like to quote some sources here?

I am pretty sure I read it years ago, in Harrison Salisbury’s book New Emperors. An official returning from the south of China during the GLF showed Mao a sample of the “bread” people there were eating (which was more like sawdust) and Mao was horror stricken and shouted out, “This is what the farmers are eating?” And still, although visibly shaken, he did nothing. I don’t have the book anymore or I’d dig it up. I admit, that’s my one source, but I respect Salisbury as one of the best reporters who ever lived.

Dee: I thought this is a place for an open discussion on topics but not receiving personal attacks because of different view points

Can you please show me what you consider to be a personal attack? If there is one, I’ll apologize. But for now, I have no idea what you’re referring to. Can you tell me the comment number so I can figure it out? Thanks.

May 11, 2011 @ 6:31 am | Comment

@FOARP to have some knowledge of what Mao read is relevant. If anyone ever reads books about what happened of ruling in Ming dynasty, I believe it can help to understand Mao. Or assuming if Mao were interested in learning how to build up economy for a country after 1949, then Chinese history would be very different.

” That’s why he attacked the Soviet Union and India, distanced himself from even North Korea, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, and even, eventually, Albania.”

My knowledge about China with Soviet Union in 1950s, 60s is that Soviet Union tried to put China under his control and Mao refused. China was always close to North Korea under Mao’s days as I was there and witnessed it. It was said China lost Soviet Union support (their experts not sure financially) in early 60s. It has been educated in China that this is one factor causing the starvation besides the natural disasters. It has been revealed what happend in China in 1950s like Great Leap etc which wasted lots of resource and less efforts in agriculture.

Yes, it was over 10 years after two wars in China. By then, I am not sure anywhere in China there were any big scale agriculture relying on machines or even tractors were popular or any greenhouse concept or any resource financially to be able to get help from oversea. There are some of piece of information how much treasure JiangKaiShi 蒋介石 took out of China in 1949 or before. The food supply hugely relied on massive labour and what nature brought. Thinking of the chinese population in 1960s, I donot know if ‘most definitely after the food supply in China had been stabilised’ is only an assumption.

Chinese peasants were never fairly treated because normally the government policy robs them more even nowadays. In old days, they had to 交公粮 (submit what they got from their harvest to government). It has been revealed some countryside people are so poor they barely have anything after 交公粮.

“ just look across the Taiwan strait at the free, prosperous, and relatively just society found there.”
Economic prosperous is not everything. If trying to get anyone on street now in China and ask them whether they are happy or not. Taiwan has experienced its own learning curve. JiangKaiShi was not a democratic leader. Taiwan was not a free country before Jiang died. But I believe Chinese work on to make better country and society for themselves.

‘Mao unleashed lawlessness on the country. His policy was to give license to people to beat, torture, and kill their neighbours. In fact, it required them to do so, since those who would not came under suspicion.‘
There are quite few books there written by people who did violence on others even their parents and who also were victim at some stage during CR. I think their reflection and thoughts make more sense to me.

May 11, 2011 @ 6:58 am | Comment

Richard, thanks for your message. I donot feel hurt for words ‘your classic egomaniacal dictator and an atrocious leader’, because of YOUR.

May 11, 2011 @ 7:00 am | Comment

From what I have read, lots of death during starvation in 1960s in China happened in countryside especially lots of remote areas and area with poor soil. My parents told me those days in Shanghai which I am from, they were ok and survived though it was not a easy period. For me the strange thing here is people who produced food experienced harder time than those who lived in cities, I guess especially like city SH.

Chinese peasants are never fairly treated, even in this Chinese modernization period.

May 11, 2011 @ 7:39 am | Comment

“Why is it so hard to write these stories?” It is so easy and casual for this man to say this! Tombstone: An Account of Chinese Famine in the 1960s,a book by journalist Yang Jisheng whose father starved to death, includes many of these stories. “It is a tombstone for my father who died of hunger in 1959, for the 36 million Chinese who also died of hunger, for the system that caused their death, and perhaps for myself for writing this book,” writes the author in the opening paragraph.

May 11, 2011 @ 12:27 pm | Comment

Dee, my calling Mao an atrocious leader is NOT an ad hominem. An ad hominem is when you attack someone personally for holding views that are different from your own. For example, if you now called me “stupid” for disagreeing with you, that is an ad hominem. My criticisms of Mao are not personal in nature. As to your claims that peasants are always mistreated and often starve, I would suggest this ignores the enormous, unprecedented scope of “the three difficult years,” as the government euphemistically referred to the GLF, the most lethal famine in all history and one that was to a large extent unnecessary. unnecessary.By saying peasants often starve you are trivializing the horrors of Mao’s famine.

Readthru, thanks for that comment.

May 11, 2011 @ 1:11 pm | Comment

To Dee,

it appears to me that you are suggesting that rural peasants have always had it bad, and that things may not necessarily have been that much worse during the worst years of Mao. As for neighbours unleashing fury on neighbours, it seems that you would only lay the blame on those individuals who actually pursued violence.

However, along with the perks of being a leader comes responsibility. So while rural peasants getting shafted before Mao should not be on his ledger, those who suffered during his reign most definitely reflect on him. And neighbours behaving badly are on Mao’s tab as well, particularly since he encouraged it, and didn’t do much to stop it.

I agree that it’s not that informative to randomly throw out percentages when it comes to the good and the bad wrt Mao. But since he was the leader, the buck stops with him, good and bad.

May 11, 2011 @ 2:52 pm | Comment

Richard, please understand that I donot have any ill feeling towards you even your opinions on Mao. I think I like open discussion in a civil way, I even donot like to use ‘stupid’ and any words like that to convey my thoughts and feelings. As I said the word is ‘YOUR’ not anything else. Is it different when replacing ‘YOUR’ with ‘THE’ or any other neutral word?

My post was not intend to suggest peasants often starve or any idea like ‘rural peasants have always had it bad, that things may not necessarily have been that much worse during the worst years of Mao’ (#56). I would like to see a full accuracy image of what really happened through my reading and the discussion here. It has been revealed that the Great Leap Year was responsible for 60s starvation, no question about this.

@S.K. Cheung
‘As for neighbours unleashing fury on neighbours, it seems that you would only lay the blame on those individuals who actually pursued violence.’
I think each individual who executes violence on another person in their own willingness, even under the influence but not under full forcement, should share the responsibility for what they have done. If we donot have this reflection about CR, I donot know if we can prevent anything like CR from happening again. However by saying this, I donot try to imply anything to say Mao had less responsibility for what he caused.

Chinese director ChengKaiGe (陈凯歌)wrote this in his memoir about CR ‘无论什么样的社会的或政治的灾难过后,总是有太多原来跪着的人站起来说:我控诉!太少的人跪下去说:我忏悔。当灾难重来时,总是有太多的人跪下去说:我忏悔。而太少的人站起来说:我控诉!——“文革”以后也正是如此。打开地狱,找到的只是受难的群佛,那么,灾难是从哪儿来的呢?——打碎了神灯的和尚诅咒庙宇,因为他就是从那儿来的。问到个人的责任,人们总是谈到政治的压力,盲目的信仰,集体的决定等等。当所有的人都是无辜者,真正的无辜者就永远沉沦了。“

I am not strongly interested in which view point about Mao is right/wrong or agreed/disagreed, but interested in revealing an accurary image of the history, or stories from both sides.

May 11, 2011 @ 8:07 pm | Comment

“My knowledge about China with Soviet Union in 1950s, 60s is that Soviet Union tried to put China under his control and Mao refused.”

Yet this control was only claimed after the Soviets denounced Stalin, and after the USSR’s “revisionist” policies were introduced. I’m afraid it seems more likely that Mao turned on the USSR because their relatively liberal policies (both under Khruschev and even Brezhnev) would not have allowed the degree of control he wanted to exercise over the Chinese populace. Mao wanted Stalinism, but close relations with the USSR required de-Stalinisation.

“China was always close to North Korea under Mao’s days as I was there and witnessed it.”

Yet during the Cultural Revolution trade relations were broken off, Jiang Qing’s people denounced Kim Jong Il as a “fat revisionist”, and the Red Guards also attacked North Korea’s policies. Here is an interesting piece from Time magazine written in 1970 about the affect of the Cultural Revolution on China’s foreign policy:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,878284,00.html

However, I am fascinated to hear that you were in North Korea at this time and would love to hear more about it.

“Thinking of the chinese population in 1960s, I donot know if ‘most definitely after the food supply in China had been stabilised’ is only an assumption.”

It is, according to the sources, a pretty solid one. It also matches the conditions in other countries which had undergone similar upheaval such as the USSR, Japan, Yugoslavia, and Germany.

I remember going to dinner one day that was cooked by the father of someone I was doing a little bit of business with in Nanjing. He was a retired Nanjing city policeman, but was originally from the countryside of Anhui. He talked about how during the early 60′s he would occasionally catch a small fish, strap it to his belly, take the train into Nanjing, and sell it for a few mao. Afterwards his son tried to apologise to me about his father talking about old times, he seemed very embarrassed about his father mentioning the past, it was obviously a taboo subject. I told him that I had found it very interesting, but he didn’t believe me even though it was the truth.

“My parents told me those days in Shanghai which I am from, they were ok and survived though it was not a easy period. For me the strange thing here is people who produced food experienced harder time than those who lived in cities, I guess especially like city SH.”

The reason for this seems to have been that the food was seized from the peasants by force to keep the cities fed, and the peasants were left to starve as a result. The same thing happened in the Ukraine during the famines under Stalin.

May 12, 2011 @ 3:15 am | Comment

I guess it’s also worth saying: Yes, the people who turned on their neighbours deserve punishment for what they did. How many of them have been punished? It seems it has been more convenient for people to simply forget.

Just look at the records of the present politburo, none of whom admit to having been Red Guards, even though all of them would have been in their youth during that time. I have a hard time believing that this is the truth.

Li Keqiang, for example, was declared an “Outstanding Individual in the Study of Mao Zedong Thought” during the cultural revolution, yet he was not a Red Guard? This does not seem conceivable. Perhaps someone can see something that I have missed here?

May 12, 2011 @ 3:32 am | Comment

To Dee:
“I think each individual who executes violence on another person in their own willingness, even under the influence but not under full forcement, should share the responsibility for what they have done. If we donot have this reflection about CR, I donot know if we can prevent anything like CR from happening again.”
—agreed. So then the question becomes, were those attackers prosecuted to the full extent of the law? Were they held responsible for their actions? If not, why not? Could it be that the government under Mao didn’t necessarily deplore those types of acts? Besides, when it is said that Mao is responsible for the deaths during the CR, no one is suggesting that he personally off’ed millions of people. But he certainly created the environment and the “influence” under which such events could have taken place. As the head of state, the buck stops with him.

It is certainly informative to reflect upon human nature, and the instincts of survival and self-preservation, to understand what happened during those times. But human nature and instincts are what they are. So it is even more informative to reflect on the behaviour of Mao to ensure that future “leaders” don’t foment the type of environment and “influence” that he did.

May 12, 2011 @ 5:05 am | Comment

If Mao had died in 1946, nothing would have come of his dreams. If he had died in 1956, he would undoubtedly be remembered as simulatneously the “Last Emperor” and the first true representative of a Chinese republic–the greatest ruler in Chinese history, perhaps. If he had died in 1966, he would have been remembered as a great but flawed dictator. But alas, he died in 1976…

May 12, 2011 @ 6:56 am | Comment

Sorry, completely O/T remark:

Just read a report that uncovered instances as recent as 2005, where the family planning ministry would apprehend children from families who were allegedly in violation of the one child policy. Those children were allegedly then adopted off for profit, with some of those profits reportedly trickling back down to the same ministry officials who did the apprehending in the first place.

May 12, 2011 @ 12:04 pm | Comment

@S.K.Cheung
Sigh…Another example of how out dear cadres can suddenly become creative when it comes to squeezing profit out of every little bit of authority.
As far as I know,there’s no telling of whether the kids are properly adopted or just sell off to organ farms.
Disturbing,to say the least.

May 12, 2011 @ 2:39 pm | Comment

Well, having checked a bit more, Li Keqiang finished high school in 1974, so he would have been 12 in 1968 – a bit too young for the Red Guards, even though they did start out as a middle-school group. Xin Jinping was born in 1953, and would have been 15 in 1968, so he would have been in just the right age-range. All the other members of the standing commitee of the present politburo, were born in the 1940′s and would have been in their mid-20′s between 1966 and 1968.

However, it seems unlikely that none of these people took part in “struggle sessions”, or other activites involving the torture and killing of “enemies” during the 1966-1976 period. I know that, given their backgrounds, they are also likely to have been the victims of these sessions, but it was a common feaure of the Cultural Revolution that those who denounced others were themselves denounced. Victimhood neither excuses nor dispproves guilt, if such guilt exists.

@Richard – Of course, against any sign that Mao retained a modicum of human feeling towards the consequences of his actions, must be placed his pronouncements to the contrary:

“This man Hitler was even more ferocious. The more ferocious the better, don’t you think? The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are.”

I hardly think it is going too far to draw comparisons between Mao and similar dictators when he himself approvingly drew the same kind of comparisons.

@t_co –

“If Mao had died in 1946, nothing would have come of his dreams. If he had died in 1956, he would undoubtedly be remembered as simulatneously the “Last Emperor” and the first true representative of a Chinese republic–the greatest ruler in Chinese history, perhaps.”

I doubt this. Mao’s government had seen significant set-backs already by 1956 – Taiwan and the Korean stalemate being two important examples, and others might like to include Mongolia in this.

It is hard to make definitive statements about known facts in history, let alone counter factuals, but had Mao died in 1946, I think it’s a safe bet than both the world and China would have been much the better for it. His “dreams” turned out to be pretty horrific nightmares.

May 12, 2011 @ 8:04 pm | Comment

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