Japan’s sea of change

According to the latest Japanese opinion poll, Prime Minister Koizumi is winning the war of words over the Yasukuni Shrine visits and gaining public support – at the expense of China and South Korea.

An opinion poll taken by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper immediately after the last Yasukuni visit showed that 42% of respondents supported the vists and 41% did not. A similar poll taken in June recorded 36% for and 52% against. According to The Japan Times, this remarkable reversal was due to several important differences during Prime Minister Koizumi’s last visit. Unlike the previous 4 visits when Koizumi dressed in traditional garb, prayed in the inner chamber, purchased flower offerings and and signed the guest book “Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi” the Japanese public felt that he made some major concessions by dressing in a buisiness suit, only paying his respects outside the shrine and generally trying to emphasise that the visit was carried out in a private capacity.

Perhaps emboldened by this change in public opinion, Foreign Minister Taro Aso, one of the more vocal and controversial members of Koizumi’s new post-election (and right-wing) cabinet, went onto the offensive over the weekend by saying that Japan should not worry about how it is viewed by other countries or whether it becomes isolated, “The only countries in the world that talk about Yasukuni are China and South Korea. We don’t have to worry about whether Japan is isolated or is not being liked.”

Also in the news, a new film will be released in Japan next month, Men of the Yamato, which will no doubt raise a few eyebrows in Beijing. Making movies in Japan concerning World War II was perhaps inconceivable in the past, but the film graphically portrays the sinking of the Japanese Imperial Navy vessel ‘Yamato’. At the time, it was the largest battleship ever built, but was attacked and sunk by the U.S. Navy near Okinawa in 1945. Already, (and inevitably) some media reports have accused the film of glossing over Japan’s wartime aggression and focusing instead on Japanese suffering because the story concentrates on the bravery and comradeship of the men who fought. However, the film and also the replica of the Yamato built by the studio are already proving to be a huge hit.


68 die in China coal mine explosion

An unquenchable thirst for power (as in fuel) combined with a corrupt system in which local officials are payed to ignore hazardous working conditions once again brings catastrophe to Chinese miners.

Coal dust caught fire in a mine in northeast China, sparking an explosion that killed at least 68 people and left 79 missing, the government said Monday, as the country’s leadership called for tighter work safety measures.

Some 221 miners were underground when the blast occurred late Sunday at the Dongfeng Coal mine in Qitaihe, a city in Heilongjiang province, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Seventy-four miners had been rescued by Monday, it said.

Xinhua said a 269-member rescue team was searching for the trapped miners and that Li Yizhong, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, told them to “spare no efforts” to save the workers.

China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest. Fires, floods, cave-ins and explosions are reported almost daily, and thousands of miners are killed every year despite the government’s repeated attempts to improve its record amid lax safety rules and poor equipment.

Whether this was an unsafe or illegal mine or a safe mine that was the victim of an unlucky acident I don’t know for sure. But it got me thinking…

I’ve brought up this topic of unsafe mines before, and some argued that the unsafe, illegal mines are important for the local population – that without them, they couldn’t find work, and in fact the men want to work in these mines even though they know they are unsafe. This strikes me as one of those unresolvable ethical dilemmas, the kind where you just can’t come up with a solution. Like families in rural Thailand who depend on their 17-year-old daughter’s work as a prostitute in Bangkok. Like workers in southern China factories who risk having their fingers sliced off every day, but want to work there nevertheless because it’s better than the alternative. What’s the answer? In Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, the whistleblower is perceived as the villain, as the “enemy” because his uncovering the truth will threaten local business and jobs. Is he a hero or a villain? Just food for thought…


The crackdown on China’s media

In These Times offers a very decent overview of how and why China is cracking down hard on the media, including silencing and imprisoning journalists and, as we all know, filtering and manipulating information in the Internet. It causes one to wonder, can a country that is dedicated to silencing its own people’s voices really be heading toward democracy?

Though China is the fastest growing economy in the world, censorship and limits on freedom of expression are on the increase as the government struggles to contain growing unrest across the country.

New regulations issued by China’s State Council in late July prevent theater companies and artists from performing works that “oppose the basic principles of the constitution that place the Communist Party as the ruling party.”

According to the new rules, commercial performances should also refrain from performances that “are deemed harmful to the state … endanger state unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity, [or] endanger state security or the honor or interests of the state,” reported the official newspaper of China’s Communist Party, The People’s Daily….

In recent months, hundreds of riots by groups as diverse as retirees demanding withheld pensions, farmers protesting land seizures, citizens incensed by government corruption and ethnic minorities inflamed by prejudice have rocked different parts of China. The worst trouble came on June 16, when thugs in Shenyou, about 50 miles from Beijing, attacked locals resisting a forced buyout of their land, killing six people and injuring about 50.

Authorities had tried to censor news of the unrest by sealing off the affected areas and detaining journalists trying to cover the situation. But with 100 million people in China now connected to the Internet and more than 330 million owning cell phones, news of the violence spread quickly across the country.

In response, existing controls on the Internet, such as intrusive monitoring of chat rooms by human censors and advanced filtering techniques developed with help from U.S. corporations such as Cisco, are being stepped up, especially during sensitive times. The government is so blasé about the censorship that it uses state-controlled media to spread word of it.

Some of the stuff in this article is sinister, like translators who work with foreign reporters being called in for “debriefings,” and paid chat room “Netizens” boasting of how they will manipulate public opinion. Nothing very new to us China watchers, but it’s good to see the story getting so much mainstream attention.

Via Bingfeng.


China’s Press Kicks Some…

So you know how I’m always pontificating about how a grassroots environmental movement has the potential to be a d3mocr@tizing force in China? Newsweek thinks so too:

In China, where the ruling Communist Party discourages or outright crushes any attempts at grass-roots movements, environmental protection is one of the only areas of activism that is thriving. Led by an increasingly feisty domestic media, some crusading lawyers and a few maverick bureaucrats, the Chinese are beginning to demand information from corporations and their government about the harmful effects of rapid economic development on the environment. In some cases, the public pressure has worked; in a few cases, even the state agency that regulates the environment has joined sides with environmentalists.

More notably, the Newsweek account contains a fascinating chronology of who knew what when, and just how important the role of China’s press was in exposing the disaster:

On Monday afternoon, Nov. 21, an editor at one of China’s most aggressive magazines, China Newsweek (not related to this publication), spotted a curious headline on the Internet. Harbin officials had announced they were cutting off water to residents for four days to make repairs. Finding it odd that an entire city’s water supply would be shut down at once, the editor called her boss to brainstorm. Rumors that an imminent earthquake was behind the mysterious “repairs” had been circulating on the Internet, but the two editors’ suspected the recent chemical plant explosion in Jilin was behind the mysterious shutdown. When they consulted maps of the two provinces and the location of the plant, they agreed the two events must be related.

With only 24 hours to press time, China Newsweek called a well-placed source in Harbin, who all but confirmed their suspicions. “He said the river had been contaminated, but the government had not publicized this,” the editor told NEWSWEEK. At dawn, the magazine sent three reporters to Jilin and Harbin to get the story, before the government intervened to stop them. “We knew that if we didn’t do the story then, we might not be able to do it the next week,” said an editor, who asked that she not be named because of the sensitive nature of the situation. “The seriousness of this incident could affect the future of a lot of officials in the Northeast.”

The China Newsweek story came out Nov. 24, about one day after the country’s environmental regulators finally owned up to the contamination that had left more than three million people who lived in and around Harbin without running water. The story provided details about which government officials knew what and when. It reported that the governor of Heilongjiang province had told 400 officials in a closed meeting that the city of Harbin had lied about the water-supply shutdown because it was waiting for permission from higher authorities to disclose the spill and didn’t want to contradict Jilin official reports. And it said that the cover-up ended only after provincial officials in Heilongjiang sent a desperate request for guidance to the central government. The editor of China Newsweek said she hoped the story would show people the harm done by “the conflicting interests of government officials from neighboring parts of the river.”

CDT also links to a fascinating blog from a Chinese journalist, and Jilin native, who provides an insider’s look at the factory where the disaster originated. Here’s a taste:

The political rumors in Beijing these past few days are that the governor or party chief of Jilin Province and the CEO of CNPC will soon be sacked and replaced. Maybe not so fast. But one thing is for sure: for lower-level bureacrats, heads are going to roll. At least I hope so. Roll, roll, you stupid heads. There has been so many mayors of Jilin in recent years that even my parents lost count. And the local chief manager of CNPC’s Jilin subsidiary looks like dead meat. Workers were already complaining so much about this guy. Fascist, was the word the used the most. Apparently this guy, Yu Li, introduced draconian rules and is pathetically obsessed with appearnce: workers are fined when they don’t don their uniforms and masks neatly, when they forget to put on a name badge for work, when they don’t walk in a straight line on factory grouds — hell, sounds like first-years at Westpoint. All workers must put down whatever they are doing when there’s a snowstorm in the winter, to clean snow off the paths, or somebody will be find. “My first concern everyday was not safe production anymore,” a distant relative who works at 101st Factory told me. “It was making sure I look OK for the job. I had to check if I was wearing my badge properly when I rushed to the explosion site during the rescue — I was afaid I’d be fined even when I was trying to dillute toxic chemicals and save lives.”

Be sure to check out the Newsweek article and especially, the blog – there’s lots more.


Frank Rich says Iraq Lies Backfire: “Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt

Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt …


GEORGE W. BUSH is so desperate for allies that his hapless Asian tour took him to Ulan Bator, a first for an American president, so he could mingle with the yaks and give personal thanks for Mongolia’s contribution of some 160 soldiers to “the coalition of the willing.” Dick Cheney, whose honest-and-ethical poll number hit 29 percent in



Sorry About That…

From the AP:

HARBIN, China – Visiting Premier Wen Jiabao ordered local leaders to clean up toxic benzene by Sunday night from the river that provides water for this northeast city, where residents spent a fourth day Saturday without supplies in freezing weather.

The foreign minister, meanwhile, delivered an unusual public apology to Moscow for possible damage from the spill on the Songhua River, which is flowing toward a city in the Russian Far East.

Beijing’s show of care and contrition was almost unprecedented and represented an effort to restore its damaged standing with both China’s public and Moscow, a key diplomatic partner…

…Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing’s apology to Russian Ambassador Sergei Razov was reported on the state television evening news, which is seen by hundreds of millions of Chinese.

“Li Zhaoxing expressed his sincere apology on behalf of the Chinese government for the possible harm that this major environmental pollution incident could bring to the Russian people downstream,” the report said.

It was an extraordinary step for the newscast, which usually carries only positive reports about China’s foreign relations…

Here’s one form of apology I wish corporate wrongdoers in the US would adopt:

The plant was run by a subsidiary of China’s biggest oil company, state-owned China National Petroleum Corp., which issued an apology this week and sent executives to help dig wells in Harbin.

Meanwhile, the UK Guardian reports on how the crisis has impacted Harbin’s poorest residents:

For the first time in her life Mrs Li is thinking of splashing out on a bottle of water. It may only cost 7p, but for the migrant mother living in one of the city of Harbin’s poorest neighbourhoods, anything but tap water has, until now, been an unthinkable extravagance.

Decision time is looming. Since China’s biggest recent pollution scare prompted the authorities to cut off water supplies two days ago, the 25-year-old has conserved every drop. She no longer washes the family’s hair and clothes. She eats only bread, buns and other food that does not require water for cooking. And, though it worries her immensely, she has stopped boiling her baby’s bottle to keep it sterile.

But her family’s supplies are already running out. Unlike most of the rest of the city’s 3.5 million residents, she had no bath or barrels to fill when the government warned everyone to prepare for a dry patch. Instead, the family of three drink and wash from three small buckets that are fast emptying.
“We can probably manage for a day or two more, but if it goes on much longer I’ll be very worried,” she said. “I never imagined this would happen when I came to live in the city.”…

…Despite freezing temperatures, people queue on the streets with kettles and flasks when the emergency water tanker, a converted street cleaning truck, pulls in once a day with fresh supplies. For some there is even an air of festivity. “It’s a bit like the war,” says one veteran. “Everyone pulling together and the [communist] party providing for us.”

But in the poorer parts of town there is resentment that the burden and the risk are not being equally shared. “It is all right for the rich and the communist cadres,” said Zhu Yuan Liang, a scrap collector. “But most people are poor and cannot afford to waste money on bottled water.”

The Guardian article also contains an interesting speculation::

The exposure of the cover-up may have been a ploy by central government to make companies and local authorities more responsible for the environment. According to Chinese journalists the order to go public came directly from the state council – led by prime minister Wen Jiabao. A day later Mr Wen held a meeting with ministers in which he emphasised the environmental woes facing China.


It Takes A Village

The Washington Post has an epic recounting of the T@1sh1 prot3sts, detailing the support from outside p0litical activists (including Lu B@ngli3, whose beating at the hands of hired thugs sparked international outrage) and Beijing intellectuals who came of political age in 1989. The article is too long and too detailed for me to adequately summarize it, but here are a few highlights:

…T@1shi has become a milestone in the peasant uprisings that increasingly are breaking out around China, generating open concern in President Hu Jintao’s government and in the Communist Party. In T@1shi’s rebellion, outraged local farmers for the first time received help from outside p0litical act1v1sts and Beijing-based intellectuals whose p0litics were shaped in part by the 1989 d3m0cr@cy m0vement.

The cooperation between local peasant prot3st3rs and veteran act1v1sts pursuing a national political agenda — pushing China toward d3mocr@cy — was hailed by Chinese and foreign civil rights advocates as a significant advance. By helping peasants learn from others, they saw a promise of generating more d3mocr@cy in China’s village el3ctions. And by aggressively promoting coverage in Chinese and foreign media through multiple Web postings and broadcasts of cell phone text messages, they thought they had found a way to pressure the authorities. L1u Xia0b0, a well known Beijing act1vist and writer, said on an overseas-based Web site popular with d1ssid3nts, “Civil elites working together with grass-roots villagers created a new method to safeguard villagers’ hum@n r1ghts.” He added, “Domestic intellectuals and Internet users have provided tremendous support and also brought massive attention among Western media.”

But for the government and Communist Party, the coming together of disgruntled peasants and political act1vists in T@ish1 caused alarm. It raised the specter of a nascent national leadership and coordination for what so far has been an unconnected series of violent outbursts, usually over local economic issues, each of which has had homegrown leaders without broader ambitions…

…The authorities in charge of T@1shi cracked down hard. They sent in riot police to break up prot3sts. They branded the act1v1sts as “plotters” and threw several of them in jail on charges of inciting social disorder. Lu was detained for a day even before the beating. The offices of some were rifled, they said, and their houses were put under surveillance. Some went into hiding.

Most of all, the authorities made sure that T@1shi remained under the leadership of Chen J1ngsh3n, the elected village chief and, simultaneously, the unelected Communist Party secretary. He was the target of the angry peasants, who charged that he bribed his way to victory in last April’s vote and siphoned off thousands of dollars in village funds over the last several years.

Notable is the attempt by the organizers and T@1shi’s protesters to use China’s laws to achieve their goals:

Yang and Lu, two veteran act1v1sts, quietly got involved in the struggle. They advised the T@1shi villagers on what options were open to them under China’s election laws, Lu said, and inspired them by recounting Lu’s experience in booting out a corrupt leader back home in Hubei province. Basing their demand on the election law and its recall provision, Feng and Liang filed a formal recall motion on July 29. According to Lu and the district government, the motion was drafted with help from Lu and Yang.

It carried more than 400 signatures, meeting the threshold of endorsement by 20 percent of T@1shi’s 1,500 registered voters.

Villagers gathered two days later in an open square. From atop a heap of bricks, as local reporters and other witnesses looked on, Feng read a section from Chinese law books saying village accounts must be published every six months and villagers had the right to recall Chen.

“The law will be our guardian,” he vowed.

What followed was an escalating series of sit-ins, hunger strikes and protests as the local government attempted to remove the town’s ledgers to avoid any outside audit that would reveal village chief Chen’s alleged financial improprieties. Riot police eventually cleared the protesters, who included elderly women, using batons and high-pressure hoses. In spite of this set-back, it appeared for a time that the villagers might have actually achieved their objectives:

Then, in a surprise turn of events, the district government announced that the recall motion was proved valid and villagers should choose an el3ction committee to organize a new vote for village chief, scheduled for the middle of October. The pr0tests should now stop, it said, and activ1sts with “ulterior motives” should be ignored.

On first glance, this seemed like a triumph for the villagers. The official party newspaper, People’s Daily, hailed the outcome as a model for village elections and pointed to signs of “a d3m0cratic environment built upon rationality and legality.”

But then the district government arbitrarily chose all candidates for the seven-person election committee — and all were local officials loyal to Chen.

Outraged, the still-defiant villagers threatened to boycott the vote. Seeking to prevent more violence, the district government swiftly relented and allowed another slate to run as well. The vote was held Sept. 16; all the unofficial candidates were elected and none of the government’s slate.

The seven committee members now had four weeks to organize a new vote for village chief. But somewhere in the government and party bureaucracy — activ1sts believe it was at a senior level in Beijing — officials had decided Chen would not be replaced, lest a precedent be set.

Under pressure and repeated threats, a majority of the petitioners withdrew their signatures, and the recall vote was canceled.

The article concludes with a quote from Lu, the peasant act1vist, who vows to continue his org@nizing: “I will definitely continue. But how to do it is the question now.”


300 human bird flu fatalities in China?

The Japanese scientist who made the claim in New Scientist clarifies his earlier statement.

In my presentation at the meeting in Marburg, I stated that WHO’s official numbers of H5N1 human cases are only based on laboratory confirmed cases. It should be therefore an iceberg phenomenon. Due to poorly organized surveillance and information sharing systems in many affected countries including China, it is reasonable to consider that more cases have occurred actually. We have heard many ‘rumors’or unauthorized information which we cannot confirm. In this context, I talked about a few examples of non-authorized information and rumors about Asian countries which I received through private channels. I clarified that I do not know the original sources and I cannot confirm whether they are true, how these numbers were derived and what laboratory tests and epidemiological investigation were done.

When you think about it, and consider the number of deaths in surrounding countries, 300 doesn’t seem all that outlandish. But as the doctor says, we just don’t know because information channels in China, despite all the SARS reforms, still suck.

Via CDT.


Chinese government officials lied about Benzene spill

Big surprise.

The government tried for days to keep secret the threat posed to the nearly four million people of this city by a chemical explosion and benzene leak that has made the water supply unusable, Chinese news accounts revealed Friday.

The reports, including some from the official Xinhua news agency, suggested that officials here and in Jilin Province, where the disaster occurred 380 kilometers, or 235 miles, up the Songhua River, lied or told only part of the story until they had no choice but to admit the truth.

The explosion at the chemical plant occurred on Nov. 13, but factory officials announced only that the accident posed no threat of air pollution. They denied that chemicals had spilled into the river, the main source of water for Harbin and other communities.

A Shanghai newspaper, the News Morning Post, reported that government officials in Jilin told their downstream neighbors in Heilongjiang Province, home of Harbin, that there had been no chemical spill. But Jilin officials finally told their peers in Heilongjiang on Nov. 19 that there was a problem.

The China Youth Daily reported that environmental officials in Jilin – instead of telling the public – had tried to dilute the spill with reservoir water.

By Monday, officials in Harbin were preparing to shut down of the water supply, but they feared news of the chemical spill would start a panic, the News Morning Post reported. Instead, they announced that they had to cut off the water to do maintenance work on the mains. Rumors then erupted that the government had detected signs of an earthquake.

Enough people panicked that the officials then had to confirm that the explosion had released benzene into the river. But the damage was done.

On Friday, a front-page headline in the Modern Evening Times here stated: “There Will Not Be an Earthquake in Harbin.”

“They were trying to lie and get by,” said Qi Guangzhong, 64, as he walked along the Songhua River on Friday. “The government wanted to hide this.”

I know, when you refer to “the government” in China, it’s not a monolithic entity. And I’m well aware of how this is argued by certain China followers: the ones doing the lying were the local officials, while the central government was trying to correct the lies and take responsible action. I just wonder whether it’s that black and white, as if the “two governments” – local and central – are truly self-contained organizations, one good, one bad. And I also wonder, if the central government thought they could lie about this and get away with it, wouldn’t they? I mean, look at SARS and AIDS. But when you have a 50-mile-wide toxic slick heading for the Russian border and threatening to poison millions of your own citizens along the way, it’s not very practical to lie about it. And don’t forget, as the article points out, it took the country’s environemntal protection agency 11 days to finally speak out about the danger. Maybe truth was seen as the last resort to a situation beyond the Party’s control…?

Update: Well, this must-read article by the great Philip Pan certainly puts a hole in the “two governments” argument.

“All of these problems are caused by the government,” one man growled as he struggled to carry a huge red bucket of water back to his apartment. He began to say more, but his wife cut him off as a local official walked over, loudly praising the ruling Communist Party.

Twelve days after an estimated 100 tons of benzene and other toxic compounds poured in the Songhua River following an explosion at a state-owned petrochemical plant, the party is struggling to contain a political crisis as much as an environmental one.

Daring journalists succeeded in publishing a series of reports on Friday describing in remarkable detail the efforts by party officials to cover up the chemical spill. Among the disclosures was an admission by a provincial governor that officials in Harbin initially lied to the public about why they were shutting down the water supply, because they were awaiting instructions from senior party leaders.

On Friday night, reporters received orders from the party’s central propaganda department to stop asking questions and go home. All state media were told to use the reports only of the official New China News Agency, the journalists said.

Meanwhile, the central government used the news service to announce it was sending a team of high-level investigators to Harbin. In a sign the party is worried about a public backlash, the report suggested in unusually blunt terms that officials would be disciplined. “Punishments of irresponsible acts are on the way,” it said….

Reached by phone, an environmental official in Songyuan, a city of more than 400,000 located between Jilin and Harbin, confirmed that officials there were told of the spill but chose to keep it secret. The official, who asked to be identified only by a surname, Li, said the city shut off the part of its water system that is linked to the river but told the public it was just doing repairs.

A water industry official in Harbin, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was likely that farmers and others living in rural areas between Jilin and Harbin were not informed of the spill and drank or used the contaminated water. Benzene poisoning can cause anemia, some forms of cancer and other blood disorders, as well as kidney and liver damage.

It was not until Nov. 21, when they were confronted with tests showing pollution at more than 100 times acceptable levels, that Harbin officials decided to shut down the water supply. Even then, the city said the reason for doing so was to “carry out repair and inspections on the pipe network.”

In the most damning report in the state media, China Newsweek magazine said the governor of Heilongjiang province, Zhang Zuoji, told a meeting of 400 officials that the city lied because it was waiting for permission from higher authorities to disclose the spill. The magazine also said participants in the meeting were told that Harbin officials were reluctant to contradict the denials of Jilin officials that were reported in “authoritative media,” a reference to official outlets in Beijing.

It was only after an urgent message by provincial officials on Monday night seeking help and guidance from the central government that officials decided to end the coverup, the magazine said. The announcement came at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, less than two hours after city authorities received instructions from Beijing.

A day later, the central government confirmed that a “major water pollution incident” had occurred.

But by then, the damage to the party’s credibility had been done. Residents described a rush to leave the city and panicked buying of bottled water and other supplies as the conflicting explanations fueled public confusion and rumors of an imminent earthquake, apparently introduced by a vague television forecast.

If they are so willing on all sides – local and central – to cover up a disaster that can kill their citizens, why on earth should we believe that they are eager and sincere in their efforts to be transparent and open about bird flu? This is a reflexive, automatic and apparently unalterable response in China to bad news: place stability and harmony above all else, even at the expense of human life. It is not restricted to local governments. This mentality pervades all levels of the Party, and if there were any lessons learned from the great SARS catastrophe, they are not in evidence today.


Jung Chang’s Mao debated at Berkeley

No, I still haven’t read the book and probably won’t be able to get to it until Chinese New Year. But this story is still relevant to this blog.

In “Mao: The Unknown Story,” authors Jung Chang and Jon Halliday portray Mao (1893-1976) as a cynical hedonist who rose to absolute power on Soviet strongman Josef Stalin’s muscle and his willingness to crush millions of peasants in famine, war and sadistic repression….The authors say he sold international leftists a fairy tale of a corrupt state transformed by revolution from the bottom up.

“It was mainly, I think, hot air,” Halliday dryly told a large crowd during an appearance at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business earlier this month.

The assertion that Mao used the bloody turmoil of Marxist revolution for purely egotistical ends has prompted praise in some quarters and outrage in others. The controversy comes as China’s 20-year economic boom is creating growing social disparity — and the ruling Communist Party worries about Maoist nostalgia among a new generation of have-nots even as it holds up Mao as a symbol of its historical legitimacy.

“But overall,” said Qiang Xiao, director of the Berkeley China Internet Project at Cal’s Graduate School of Journalism, “the government doesn’t allow the truth about Mao to come out. The information is suppressed. I believe the book is a very good thing.

“I do not see much positive out of what he has done to China,” said Xiao, who devoted himself to human rights after the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. “I saw the devastating result, not only then but still lasting today.”

The husband-and-wife team of Chang and Halliday supported their archival research with interviews with 150 former Mao lieutenants, concluding that Mao was not only bloodier than Hitler or Stalin but worse in his destruction of culture. Chang is the author of the best-selling “Wild Swans: Three Daughters in China,” a memoir detailing her family’s suffering during the period.

“During the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution, he turned China into a cultural desert,” she told the crowd at Haas. “He made torture public. My mother went through over a hundred of those denunciation meetings. She was made to kneel on broken glass and so on. China must be the most traumatized nation in the world.”

Halliday said Mao appealed to “a large group of fantasists” who gullibly thought he was the real thing. Halliday said Mao also attracted leftists who tolerated violence.

Maoist intellectuals have counterattacked, saying the book negates any historical grounds for the Chinese revolution and positive changes in what had been a corrupt society before Mao’s military victory in 1949.

“It’s just outrageous,” said Gary Miller, a volunteer at Berkeley’s Revolution Books, as he leafleted the authors’ event on campus. “A lot of people look with a great deal of affection at the Mao years because China’s been turned into one giant sweatshop.”

Personally, I’m more inclined to take seriously the opinion of Xiao Qiang than I am “a volunteer at Berkeley’s Revolution Books.” Your call.