Wild Swans author: Mao was Monster of the Century

[Update: I am playing with some keywords here because this post won’t open for my readers in China. Please tell me if this helps!]

J*ng Ch@ng, author of the popular book Wild Swans (which I reviewed here two years ago) has written a book with her husband claiming that Mao was right up there with Hitler and Stalin as one of the most toxic, mass-murdering menaces ever to grace the 20th century. What a surprise.

The article outlines many of Mao’s sins, which I won’t rehash here; most of us know them all too well. I’ll just drop in a few observations the article makes about the Great Helmsman:

Mao had none of the skills usually associated with a successful revolutionary leader. He was no orator and he lacked either idealism or a clear ideology. He was not even a particularly good organiser. But he was driven by a personal lust for power. He came to dominate his colleagues through a mixture of blackmail and terror. And he seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. Indeed what he learned from his witnessing of a peasant uprising in his home province of Hunan in 1927 was that he derived a sadistic pleasure from seeing people put to death in horrible ways and generally being terrified. During the Cultural Revolution he watched films of the violence and of colleagues being tortured.

The use of terror typified Mao’s rule. Although he had his equivalent of the KGB, Mao’s distinctive form of terror was to get people to use it against each other. This was the model that he perfected in Yenan, when everybody was coerced into the exercise of criticism and self-criticism by which they were forced to confess and implicate each other in terrible “wrongs”. It was a method that was then extended to the whole of China, as people were confined to their work units in the cities and their villages in the countryside.

A very popular argument among CCP sympathizers is that Mao shouldn’t be compared to Hitler and Stalin because they intentionally butchered their victims in acts of genocide, whilst Mao killed his kind of accidentally, through famines brought on by his communal policies and what have you. In other words, his heart was in the right place, even if his actions killed 30 million during the Great Leap Backward.

I reject this argument and put the good Chairman high up on the list for sheer sadism, gleeful mass murder, egomania, complete disregard for the lives of others and generally being a total shit. Plenty of his victims were slaughtered intentionally; they didn’t all starve to death. (Ask Liu Shaoqi and countless others.) And his portait still looms godlike over Tiananmen Square and everywhere else in China, the land he raped and plundered and nearly destroyed.

I’d read this book if I weren’t already too depressed by its subject matter. Maybe next year; I can only read so much about Mao before I’m driven to despair.

Thanks to the reader who sent me this link a few days ago.

The Discussion: 14 Comments

policies are not set in stone. If you notice that in leaping forward, you are in the midst of killing 30 million people, you can change course and stop the dying. Even good intention must be attended by an ability to think critically and observe what’s happening in the world.

June 7, 2005 @ 4:16 pm | Comment

Richard, I ordered the book from Amazon UK. Though I tend to have similar reactions to certain China topics (the CR stuff is deeply depressing to me), I’ll read it and let you all know what I think. I loved Wild Swans, so I’m betting the book will be well-written. Can’t say the same of many of the China books I’ve read…

June 7, 2005 @ 5:23 pm | Comment

And Laowai, Mao knew exactly what was going on. But he was bound by his own dogma.

Lisa, let me know how it is. I had some problems with Wild Swans, as I say in my review.

June 7, 2005 @ 6:35 pm | Comment

Jung Chang’s arguments in her last book Wild Swans, and this latest book, have to stand on their merits.

I do, however, want to point out one thing that is missing from Wild Swans. Sichuan, where her parents were party officials, was one of the most brutal regions of China for repression against the landlord class etc, following the revolution. It is extremely unlikely that her father was not involved in some really nasty goings-on … all of which is absent in the book.

Perhaps we could call it “true, but not complete” … which is the same way a Chinese official (off the record to someone I know) described the book The Tiananmen Papers.

June 7, 2005 @ 7:20 pm | Comment

You’re right, FSN9 – she is less generous with details of her father’s career than she is with any other character. She paints him as a gracious, considerate but very dedicated Party man, totally faithful to the Cause. I suspect he couldn’t have got there without doing some dirty work along the way. The story of his downfall is heartbreaking.

June 7, 2005 @ 7:51 pm | Comment

I met some Chinese who had a rather uncritical view about Hitler saying that after all he was a patriot who only wanted good for his people. That imediatly got me to think about the way Mao is described officialy: He also only wanted good for his people. A friend of mine told me that there exists a biography about Hitler where he is described quite sympathetic as a patriot, I think from the 80’s. I wonder if the official view on Mao also determinates the view on other dictators. If you desribe them as too tyrranic people could start to think, hey we had a guy in our country who went in the same direction.

June 8, 2005 @ 2:17 am | Comment

I like it. It is time to take the myth and mystery away from Moo and the others who perpetrated all the man-made disasters on the Chinese from the 1940s to 1976. Jung Chang and her husband have done the Chinese and the world a favor by their research and effort.

The real deal is to see if the book can get circulated in China.

June 8, 2005 @ 7:34 am | Comment

Circulated in China? Yeah, right.

June 8, 2005 @ 7:35 am | Comment

I Do not need any confirmation about Mao being a lunatic with no regards to human lives. I still remember his conversation in 1959 with Khrushchev when the Kremlin boss was in Beijing just before their quarels became an open event.

As they discuss contentious issues relating to the Moscow’s co-existence with the USA and nuclear issues, Khrushchev had told Mao about being rigid with the Marxist theory of an inevitable war between socialist states and capitalist countries in a whole new nuclear era. Apparently, the Russian leader wanted to convince the Red Chinese emperor that only co-existence is viable and that victory over capitalism can be achieved through other means.

Mao, in his arrogance, brushed Khrushchev’s points aside and retorted, “The Socialist camp had the missiles, a larger land area and a larger population, in a nuclear exchange the imperialist camp would perish while the socialist camp would still exist!”, much to the shock of the Soviet leader that he terminated his nuclear aid to Mao soon after.

I did particularly like the Soviet regime nor Khrushchev, but for once the CPSU made a wise choice and saved us from the madness of the Chairman. At leaST the Kremlin leaders did not arm him to carry out a worldwide slaughter.

June 8, 2005 @ 8:58 am | Comment

SP, I’m glad to see we agree on something.

June 8, 2005 @ 9:54 am | Comment

“much to the shock of the Soviet leader that he terminated his nuclear aid to Mao soon after.”

That’s why the aid ended?

June 8, 2005 @ 1:41 pm | Comment

Bing, yes that is why the aid ended. Not only that, the Soviets were so anxious about Chinese nuclear plans, that they considered using nuclear weapons on China to stop her acquiring them before it was too late. The Soviets went so far as to make enquiries of the US government to get their agreement not to complain about the Soviets taking action. The US told the Russians that there was no way in hell they would agree to such a plan. So much for USA always trying to “keep China down” … all the Americans had to do was sit back and do nothing, and Russian nukes would have started falling on China. Publicise THAT in Chinese newspapers next time the Chinese feel like complaining of “American encirclement”.

June 9, 2005 @ 8:15 am | Comment

I think a person could carry things into China pretty easily. Plenty of copiers and faxes in China. Voila!

June 9, 2005 @ 11:23 pm | Comment

I visited China last summer. I Live in Canada. I did a lot of readin before I left for China—Wild Swans, Life and Death in Shanghai and a history of China. I really enjoyed my time in China abd know I will want to return. I am horrified by Mao and have just recently read Mao the Unknown Story. I do hope the Chinese people learn the whole truth.

I am a great admirer of the Chinese culture and the industry of the Chinese people. It was a pleasure to visit your country.

April 11, 2006 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

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