CIA Involvement in Academia, or How the West Usurped the Cultural Revolution

I'm re-posting this small research post as I imagine a few people here either haven't seen it yet or at least may again find it interesting enough to have some decent conversation about.

This has been brought up before and undoubtedly a lot of you are familiar with the now infamous Wikipedia article about the Cultural Revolution that delves into a hilariously sickening level of anti-communist blood libel. However, what I find deeply interesting are the sources quoted in the article and academic articles written that treat such absolutely ludicrous accusations as fact without batting an eye. Otherwise "respected", well-funded, and high-positioned Western academics routinely write anti-communist screeds wherein Mao and other Chinese Communists are vilified as essentially Hitler-like figures that promoted not only the killing but bloodthirsty cannibalization of counter-revolutionaries.

And so I just spent a few hours researching and tracing back the citations used in their original primary sources to suss out their validity - and discover who exactly originally "researched" or "reported" on such grotesque events - while at the same time accidentally discovering the inevitable CIA involvement and funding of the whole academic environment.

Here is the relevant portion of the wikipedia page:

Some of the most extreme violence took place in the southern province of Guangxi, where a Chinese journalist found a "disturbing picture of official compliance in the systematic killing and cannibalization of individuals in the name of political revolution and 'class struggle'." Senior party historians acknowledge, "In a few places, it even happened that 'counterrevolutionaries' were beaten to death and in the most beastly fashion had their flesh and liver consumed ." Not even the children of "enemies of the people" were spared, as more than a few were tortured and bludgeoned to death and dismembered. Some of their organs - hearts, livers, and genitals, were eaten during "human flesh banquets". According to Mao: The Unknown Story, an estimated 100,000 people "lost their lives" in Guangxi during this period.

Let's take a look at the first source, Zheng Yi Scarlet Memorial: Tales Of Cannibalism In Modern China. Westview Press, 1998. There's not much information on Zheng Yi, but from what I could find out, he traveled to Guangxi province in the late '80s as a journalist, and supposedly interviewed some of the local residents. The interviews and claims seem either extremely shoddy or highly questionable. I've been unable to find reviews for it outside of the China Quarterly (see below) or the "Taiwan Review" which obviously loved it.

In any case, the author is an anti-communist now "living in exile" in the United States.

The second source brings us to one of the leading Western scholars on Orientalist studies: MacFarquhar, Roderick and Schoenhals, Michael. Mao's Last Revolution. Harvard University Press, 2006. Printed in the Harvard U. Press, the book has an air of credibility. This is the relevant page from the book that was quoted in the wikipedia article:

Ouch, those commies were pretty sick dudes! Let's check out the sources for those.

The first thing that sticks out, I'm sure, is the heavy reliance on Zheng Yi's book Scarlet Memorial. It's important to note the heavy reliance most of these articles and books have on the same few pieces of "evidence", and ultimately incestuous relationship all of this research contains.

Jin Chunming's book Wenhua dageming (A Draft History of the Cultural Revolution) is apparently a post-Deng quasi-state endorsed history of the Cultural Revolution, but unfortunately I can't find an English copy of it. The real shitty pun at the end makes it slightly difficult to take serious. but nonetheless it'd be interesting to see it in context, and its own source.

Ding Longjia's book "Kang Sheng and the Unjust Case of Zhao Jianmin" is also similarly written in Chinese as far as I can tell, and I can not find any reference to author or article beyond references to it in MacFarquhar articles. If anyone can track this down I'd appreciate it.

Now, this is where it starts to get interesting. Roderick MacFarquhar is a Harvard university professor, and as well as his numerous books about the Cultural Revolution, edited the China Quarterly where many of these anti-communist and anti-Mao articles appear in the first place (that he often sources).

However, it had an interesting source of funding, as we hear from from his own mouth:

Bruce Cumings (LRB, 15 December 2005) mentions the late Karl August Wittfogel’s part in a debate in the 1960 inaugural issues of the China Quarterly, of which I was then the editor. It was not, as Cumings states, Wittfogel’s ideas on Oriental despotism that were at issue but rather Benjamin Schwartz’s theory about the originality of Mao’s revolutionary strategy, as laid out in Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao. Wittfogel had long preached his dissenting views and the debate provided an opportunity for Schwartz to refute them for the first time in a public forum to which all China scholars had access, and which would also be accessible to the wider community. Wittfogel’s article attacked the theory as ‘the legend of Maoism’, and Schwartz then countered with a piece entitled ‘The Legend of “The Legend of Maoism”’.

Cumings reminds readers that secret moneys from the CIA (from the Farfield Foundation via the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the parent of the CQ, Encounter and many other magazines) provided part of the funding for the CQ – something I did not know until the public revelations of the late 1960s. His implication is that the CIA was behind the debate, and aimed to rehabilitate Wittfogel and his theories in the eyes of the academic community. I trust that this letter will dispel any such notion. The debate was my idea. It was not about Wittfogel’s theories, which had already received considerable academic scrutiny, but was designed to bring his allegations about Schwartz into the public arena so that they could be rebutted. I made sure that Schwartz, my former teacher, would welcome participating in such a debate before asking Wittfogel to submit his article.

Roderick MacFarquhar
Harvard University

The article he's referencing is pretty pro-read actually, and Cumings gets another burn on MacFarquhar when he responds to that letter, but you can read it all here:

Anyway, the take home is that The Farfeld Foundation was a CIA front organization that funneled money to cultural projects they deemed anti-communist and a valuable propaganda weapon against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The rationale behind this covert philanthropy was that American avant-garde culture that was both leftist and anti-communist could be an effective foil against Stalinist Communism's rise in Western Europe, post World War II. It was not just the CIA that directed the flow of money, it was also some very influential and wealthy Americans with names that included Rockefeller, Ford, and Dodge. Although they were not CIA fronts, many other foundations have been implicated as having received CIA monies.

The primary beneficiary of the Farfield Foundation's philanthropy was another CIA front, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and its US Chapter, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, which in turn funded groups and individuals through themselves. Even early neoconservative thinkers received funding from covert CIA sources for journals and freelance authorship.

MacFarquhar's letter mentions that the Congress for Cultural Freedom was the parent of CQ. It also was, as mentioned, a CIA front organization (this is the same group that funded & promoted the Abstract Expressionism movement in order to compete against Socialist Realism in the art world, among many other efforts).

The Congress for Cultural Freedom was "an anti-communist advocacy group founded in 1950. In 1967, it was revealed that it was established and funded by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, and it was subsequently renamed the International Association for Cultural Freedom (IACF). At its height, the CCF/IACF was active in some thirty-five countries and also received significant funding from the Ford Foundation."

What we are left with is a concerted effort by the CIA to fund magazines and academic journals that specifically endorse anti-communist views, drowning out or pushing out competing viewpoints.

Here is the effort in the CIA's own words, via an unclassified (but still slightly redacted) report:

The Congress for Cultural Freedom is widely considered one of the CIA's more daring and effective Cold War covert operations. It published literary and political journals such as Encounter, hosted dozens of conferences bringing together some of the most eminent Western thinkers, and even did what it could to help intellectuals behind the Iron Curtain. Somehow this organization of scholars and artists--egotistical, free-thinking, and even anti-American in their politics--managed to reach out from its Paris headquarters to demonstrate that Communism, despite its blandishments, was a deadly foe of art and thought.

On a quick conspiracyish (but not really) note, many of these articles and books, and authors, are physically located in Australian institutions. William Blum and John Pilger have written about (see the Australia chapter of Killing Hope) John Kerr's high level involvement with the CCF especially during the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis when he dismissed the Labour PM and assigned the center-right liberal opposition candidate to its position. Certainly, at least, the largest offshoot of the CCF is found in Australia and its academia.

Anyway, backing up to MacFarquhar, his first position at Harvard was as Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies from 1986-1992. The Fairbank Center, by the way, was started by John King Fairbank, another famous and respected Chinese historian, who, according to Robin W. Winks' book about academic spies Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961, worked for the OSS:

Reviews of his book, predictably, are absolutely abhorrent jokes that serve only the heap lavish praise on his work. The most ridiculous example I found is in the peer-reviewed "Journal of Cold War Studies".

It asks for commentary from five different "preeminent" scholars, all of whom absolutely love MacFarquhar. These two excerpts from two of the professors reflect the tone of all of them:

Mao is shown here to be a nearly perfect Machiavellian prince, hiding his intentions from those he chooses as enemies and lying to them until he can spring traps on them. Clearly he enjoyed such fights. Any semblance of moral principle in the effects of his actions was purely incidental. The book quotes a characterization of Mao’s police operative, Kang Sheng, as “a man with a heart of stone, who did not know how to cry.” The same could be said of Mao. The information base on which the authors drew for this book is spectacular.


If the Cultural Revolution were a video game, it might seem so detached from reality that even fantasy addicts would be hard-pressed to take it seriously. Unfortunately, the joystick that Mao Zedong manipulated was the lever of power in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the results of the Cultural Revolution, his all-too-real fantasy game, were chaos, destruction, violent death, and cruelty on a scale fathomable only in the context of Chinese history.

Expect this book to be a staple in college history classes for years to come.

The third source mentioned in that wikipedia excerpt is probably the most absurd (other than Mao: The Unknown Story): Steven Bela Vardy and Agnes Huszar Vardy. Cannibalism in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China. Duquesne University, East European Quarterly, XLI, No.2, 2007. It's linked for your reading pleasure at - some Zionist & Anti-Communist site.

It's own paltry list of sources quote from mainly themselves, The Black Book of Communism, Anne Applebaum (Washington Post anti-communist 'journalist'), Robert Conquest, the usual suspects. This is more hard right anti-communist than the liberal establishment/social democratic anti-communism that the CCF fostered. East European Quarterly is now defunct, and unfortunately not much information remains about their funding, etc.

A quick tangent before I end: Let's not forget the insane amounts of funding by American elites to make all of this possible by the way! One of the primary sources of CIA funds was the Ford Foundation, as mentioned in a few of those sourcewatch articles. According to Harvard's Asia Quarterly:

Only after the establishment of a Communist regime in 1949 did the U.S. government, foundations, and academic institutions begin to appreciate the desirability – indeed the necessity – of developing expertise in the study of contemporary China. The Ford Foundation’s decision to contribute $30 million to build up the field of East Asian studies was a key stimulus in this regard...

Obviously the CIA funding universities and cultural avenues is nothing new or groundbreaking, but seeing the final results of their effort on a small-scale like this is pretty damn interesting. Also I just wanted to get a lot of this down in one place. For a more general overview of CIA involvement on campuses and academia, take a look at this great Counterpunch article:

If anyone else has other examples, or an actual background in Chinese history, I'd love to hear from you. Also, I typed entirely too much shit and was too lazy to find all of the hilarious excerpts from the ridiculously slanderous and stupid Mao: The Unknown Story which is essentially a Murdoch tabloid in book form; if someone can post a few that'd be great. Thanks to the two people that bothered to read this entire thing and remember to

Discussion of CIA Involvement in Academia, or How the West Usurped the Cultural Revolution on tHE r H i z z o n E:

haha i had just pulled out my copy of "mao's last revolution" today and i read a little bit and was like "ugh... fuck my life"
[account deactivated]
Great Leap into Famine? – Ó Gráda’s review of Dikötter book

Excerpts from Cormac Ó Gráda’s review of new book by Dikötter, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Full review published in Population and Development Review 37(1) : 191–210 (March 2011), as “Great Leap into Famine: A Review Essay.” Ó Gráda is a leading scholar of famine, authoring Famine: A Short History (Princeton University Press 2009) and Black ’47 and Beyond: the Great Irish Famine in History, Economy and Memory (Princeton University Press 1999).

Frank Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine {henceforth “MGF”} is the longest and most detailed study of the Great Leap Forward (GLF) famine to appear in English to date.{…} The tone throughout is one of abhorrence and outrage, and sometimes MGF reads more like a catalogue of anecdotes about atrocities than a sustained analytic argument. In style and approach it recalls Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s controversial Mao: The Unknown Story (2005); indeed, Chang leads the ”praise” for MGF on the back cover. MGF may become the best-known account of the GLF famine for a while. But should it? It is not a comprehensive account of the famine; it is dismissive of academic work on the topic; it is weak on context and unreliable with data; and it fails to note that many of the horrors it describes were recurrent features of Chinese history during the previous century or so. More attention to economic history and geography and to the comparative history of famines would have made for a much more useful book. In what follows I focus on the economic context of the famine, review features of the famine treated by Dikötter but worth further study, and conclude by discussing the role in these events of Mao and the party elite.

Poor China

Famines are a hallmark of economic backwardness. It bears remembering that China on the eve of the Great Leap Forward was one of the poorest places on earth.{…} For at least a century before 1949, major famines were probably frequent enough to warrant Walter Mallory’s depiction of China in 1926 as the “land of famine.” The Taiping Rebellion is routinely reported as costing 20 million lives, mostly from famine and disease. Neither R. H. Tawney’s (1932) report that the famine of 1849 “is said to have destroyed 13,750,000 persons” nor contemporary claims that the Great North China Famine of 1876–79 took a further 9.5 million to 13 million lives should be taken literally, but such estimates accurately underline the apocalyptic nature of those famines. Famine mortality probably declined thereafter. Yet Yang (2010) claims that China’s most severe famine before the GLF famine occurred in 1928–30, killing 10 million people. Between 1920 and 1936, he added, “famine due to crop failures took the lives of 18.36 million people.” Again, these numbers seem too high. Still, Tawney witnessed the devastation that followed in the wake of the famines of the late 1920s, and famine in Anhui province in 1929 inspired Nobel laureate Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. Nor did it end there. Famine in the Yellow River region in 1935 resulted in significant female infanticide in 1935–36, while the Henan famine of 1942 produced its own catalogue of atrocities. Again and again, what Dikötter dubs ”traditional coping mechanisms” (p. 179) had failed to prevent famine.{…}

China’s extreme backwardness on the eve of the Great Leap matters because it greatly increased its vulnerability to disequilibria, man-made or other. Had Chinese GDP per head been, say, twice as high as it was, the devastation wreaked by the Leap would presumably have been much less. Nor, on the other hand, does MGF take sufficient account of how conditions improved between 1949 and 1958. If the standard estimate of grain output of 200 million metric tons in 1958 is taken at face value (p. 132), then there was enough food to provide an average daily intake of about 2,170 kcals (Ashton et al. 1984: 622; compare Meng et al. 2010). If, however, the output data are contaminated by Leap-style ”winds of exaggeration” and refer to unhusked grain, then the picture is much less rosy and the margin for error by central planners much narrower. Nonetheless, the achievements of the pre-Leap years prompted a false optimism that much faster growth was feasible—catching up or overtaking Britain “in fifteen years” (pp. 14, 15, 73).

What did the victims die of?

Throughout history most famine victims have succumbed to disease, not to literal starvation. Weakened immune systems and social disruption allowed diseases present in normal times to play havoc during famines. Pre-1949 China was no exception: economic backwardness made infectious diseases such as cholera, typhus, and malaria endemic and most famine deaths were from such diseases and from dysentery. So what did the victims of the Great Leap famine die of? Most accounts imply death by starvation rather than by disease; Thaxton links most deaths in the village of Da Fo in 1960 to ”edema,” and this is corroborated by the most detailed study of the causes of death to date, Yixin Chen’s analysis of public health gazetteers from Anhui province (Thaxton 2008: 209, 253; Chen 2010). Although Chen argues convincingly that the faulty data in the gazetteers underestimate the death toll from diseases such as dysentery and malaria, he nevertheless concedes the primary role of edema and literal starvation. Dikötter (p. 286) concurs and wonders why disease did not carry off more ”before terminal starvation set in.” The primacy of starvation as the cause of famine deaths is rather striking and poses a conundrum for demographers studying famine. Before the 1950s only war-induced famines in economies with effective public health regimes, such as the western Netherlands in 1944–45 or Leningrad in 1941–43, followed such a pattern. Does this imply that the Maoist public health campaigns of the early and mid-1950s influenced the causes of deaths during the Great Leap famine, if not the death toll itself? Could it be that the authorities’ attempts to control migration limited, even if unintentionally, the spread of infectious diseases? Chen (2010) gives due credit to achievements registered before the Leap; by then three major killers—smallpox, plague, and cholera—had been virtually eliminated and large-scale immunization campaigns carried out. Reluctant to allow public health improvements a role, Dikötter surmises, albeit without supporting evidence, that the Chinese peasantry succumbed to starvation quickly, “reducing the window of opportunity during which germs could prey on a lowered immunity” (p. 286).

The demographic impact

MGF is full of numbers but there are few tables and no graphs. Quantification is not its strong point. So we read that “between 1 and 3 million people took their lives” by suicide during the GLF (p. 304); that in Xinyang in Henan province “67,000” people were clubbed to death by militias (pp. 117, 294); that in some unspecified location “forty-five women were sold to a mere six villages in less than half a year” (p. 261); that “at least 2.5 million…were beaten or tortured to death” during the Leap (p. 298); and that delays to shipping in the main ports during some unspecified period cost “£300,000” (p. 156). An estimate of 0.7 million deaths from starvation and disease in labor-correction camps between 1958 and 1962 is obtained by applying an arbitrary ”rough death rate” of two-fifths to a guess at the camp population at its peak (p. 289). The main basis for the claim that “up to two-fifths of the housing stock turned into rubble” (p. xii) seems to be a report describing conditions in Hunan province from Liu Shaoqi to Mao on 11 May 1959, after Liu had spent a month in the region of his birth (p. 169).2 On page after page of MGF, numbers on topics ranging from rats killed in Shanghai to illegal immigration to Hong Kong are produced with no discussion of their reliability or provenance: all that seems to matter is that they are ”big.”

The cost of famines in lives lost is often controversial, because famines are nearly always blamed on somebody, and excess mortality is reckoned to be a measure of guilt. It is hardly surprising, then, that MGF’s brief account (pp. 324–334) of the famine’s death toll arrives at a figure far beyond the range between 18 million and 32.5 million proposed hitherto by specialist demographers (e.g., Yao 1999; Peng 1987; Ashton et al. 1984; Cao 2005). Rather than engage with the competing assumptions behind these numbers, Dikötter selects Cao Shuji’s estimate of 32.5 million and then adds 50 percent to it on the basis of discrepancies between archival reports and gazetteer data, thereby generating a minimum total of 45 million excess deaths. Much hinges on what ”normal” mortality rates are assumed, since the archives do not distinguish between normal and crisis mortality. The crude death rate in China in the wake of the revolution was probably about 25 per thousand. It is highly unlikely that the Communists could have reduced it within less than a decade to the implausibly low 10 per thousand adopted here (p. 331). Had they done so, they would have “saved” over 30 million lives in the interim! One can hardly have it both ways.{…}

Three parts nature?

The role of the weather in 1959–61 remains contested. Is Dikötter right to dismiss it? Contemporary Chinese sources highlighted ad nauseam the difficulties caused by drought and flooding, while denying the existence of famine conditions. Western journalists and historians echoed this view. Time magazine repeatedly reported adverse weather, 5 and an eminent Harvard Sinologist declared as late as 1969 that conditions such as those experienced in 1959–61 “would have meant many millions of deaths in the areas most severely affected” but for the effectiveness of public policy and the transport network (Perkins 1969: 303). MacFarquhar’s pioneering account of the famine also highlighted adverse weather as a factor (MacFarquhar 1983: 322). Dikötter acknowledges the challenges posed by the weather but blames harvest shortfalls instead on the environmental destruction caused by the GLF, which magnified damage caused by adverse weather shocks. Perhaps, but here anecdotes are an inadequate substitute for more rigorous meteorological analysis. Research on the impact of the weather hitherto has relied on indirect measures such as the proportion of the grain crop damaged by the weather or reported grain production. Using this approach Y. Y. Kueh found that droughts and flooding accounted for the bulk of the shortfalls in 1960 and 1961, although he also insisted that “even without natural disasters, the agricultural depression was inevitable” (Kueh 1984: 80–81; 1995: 224). Researchers have only begun to use some abundantly available direct measures that are not subject to misreporting.6 In the absence of systematic analysis of these data, all one can say is that data from several Chinese weather stations show signs of exceptionally adverse weather shocks in 1959–61, though hardly enough to account for the regional variation in harvest shortfalls.7 Dikötter’s sense that the weather did not matter much may well be correct, but his failure to nail the issue is a lacuna.

Human agency

Malthus and his followers underestimated the role of human factors in exacerbating and mitigating famine in the past, even in very backward economies. As John Post pointed out in his classic account of famine in northwestern Europe in the 1740s, even very poor economies could escape “famine conditions and crisis mortality import grain supplies, adequate welfare programs, and… effective… public administration” (Post 1984: 17). This message is also an important implication of Amartya Sen’s entitlements approach to famine analysis (Sen 1981). Malthusian interpretations of famine in China begin with Malthus himself, and most analyses of pre-1949 Chinese famines continue to be strictly Malthusian.{…} Dikötter’s stance is the polar opposite. He repeatedly cites variants of Liu Shaoqi’s quip (picked up by Liu from peasants in his native Hunan) that the GLF famine was three parts natural and seven parts man-made (pp. 121, 178, 335), but only to reject Liu’s ”three-tenths Malthusian” interpretation in favor of one that rests entirely on human agency.

As the examples of Ireland and Ukraine attest, the temptation to interpret famines as genocides is strong. Dikötter, perhaps rightly sensing that this approach can distort reality, does not go quite so far as Chang and Halliday’s claim that Mao ”knowingly” allowed millions to starve. Indeed, one plausible reading of MGF’s narrative chapters is that it took a long time for the leadership in Beijing to grasp the scale of the catastrophe at its height. Utopian euphoria and a revolutionary impatience to catch up quickly had prompted the Great Leap. They also neutered Defense Minister Peng Dehuai’s interventions at the Lushan ”think-in” in July 1959. Peng’s protests, in any case, were less about the famine per se than the follies of the Leap in its first phase. Dikötter’s depiction of the follies is excellent and corroborates the more theoretical case previously advanced by economists and economic historians such as Yao (1999), Li and Yang (2005), Bernstein (2006), and Wheatcroft (2010).

How much did Beijing know when the famine was at its height? Despite MGF’s relentless anti-Mao stance, it accepts that nobody at the top realized beforehand how murderous the economic war against the peasantry would be. Mao’s private physician, repeatedly invoked by Dikötter as a reliable witness (p. 346), “doubted that really knew” what was happening (Li 1994), and we are told that Mao was “visibly shaken” when presented with graphic reports of famine from Xinyang in Henan province in late October 1960 (p. 116). Reliable information was at a premium; even the “fabled sinologists” in the British Embassy had no clue about what was going on (p. 345). Blaming the tragedy on the usual counterrevolutionary suspects, Mao nonetheless had “abusive cadres” removed. The news from Xinyang set in train moves that would mark ”the beginning of the end of mass starvation” (p. 118). In that same month Mao, under pressure from critics of the Leap, ordered the redeployment of a million workers from industry to agriculture in Gansu province, citing the truism that “no one can do without grain” (MacFarquhar 1983: 323). Various concessions to the peasantry followed, and in January 1961 Mao told the 9th Central Committee Plenum that “socialist construction…should take half a century” (Barnouin and Changgen 2007: 188). {…}

China lacked an all-seeing, all-knowing Soviet-style secret police during the Leap. Too much reliance was placed on poorly monitored regional agents and thuggish local cadres. Why else would it take a visit to his home village in Hunan for Liu Shaoqi to discover the dimensions of the disaster? What he saw converted him overnight from supporter to “blistering” critic of the GLF (pp. 119–121). Central-planner-in-chief Li Fuchun’s reaction to the reports from Xinyang was that misguided policies (which he had championed) had cost lives (pp. 116–117, 122). In a speech in Hunan to party planners in mid-1961, he summarized what have become textbook criticisms of central planning: ”too high, too big, too equal, too dispersed, too chaotic, too fast, too inclined to transfer resources” (p. 122). But thanks to a form of “closed” governance of their own creation, Mao and the party leadership seem to have discovered “destruction on a scale few could have imagined” rather late in the day (p. 123).

None of this absolves Mao from responsibility for the policies that caused the greatest famine ever. But reckless miscalculation and culpable ignorance are not quite the same as deliberately or knowingly starving millions (Jin 2009: 152). Few of the countless deaths in 1959–61 were sanctioned or ordained from the center in the sense that deaths in the Soviet Gulag or the Nazi gas chambers were.8

MGF’s reliance on fresh archival sources and interviews and its extensive bibliography of Chinese-language items are impressive, but its bite-size chapters (thirty-seven in all) and breathless prose style—replete with expressions like ”plummeted,” ”rocketed,” ”beaten to a pulp,” ”beaten black and blue,” ”frenzy,” “ceaseless,” ”frenzied witch-hunt”—are often more reminiscent of the tabloid press than the standard academic monograph. If Yang Jisheng is destined to be China’s Alexander Solzhenitzyn, Frank Dikötter now replaces Jasper Becker as its Anne Appelbaum. The success of MGF should not deter other historians from writing calmer and more nuanced books that worry more about getting the numbers right and pay due attention to geography and history.

Discussion in the comments on the link

discipline posted:
great work, now do jung chang!

Was Mao Really A Monster?

In 2005, the British publisher Jonathan Cape launched Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story, to great fanfare. The book pictures Mao as a liar, ignoramus, fool, philistine, vandal, lecher, glutton, hedonist, drug-peddler, ghoul, bully, thug, coward, posturer, manipulator, psychopath, sadist, torturer, despot, megalomaniac and the greatest mass murderer of the twentieth century – in short, a monster, equal to or worse than Hitler and Stalin. He cared nothing about the fate of the Chinese people and his fellow human beings, or even his close friends and relatives. He was driven by bloodlust and the craving for power and sex. He ruled by terror, led by native cunning, and defeated Chiang Kai-shek by leaning towards Stalin and treacherously insinuating moles and sleepers into the Guomindang.

The book rocketed to the top of the best-seller list in the UK and elsewhere and was hailed as a bombshell, triumph and irrefutable authority. Its success was due in part to the popularity of Wild Swans (1991), a family biography of Chang herself, her mother, and her grandmother, which sold 12 million copies and made her an international celebrity; but also due to the rapturous welcome press reviewers gave the expertly marketed Mao. The media ferment was in turn part of the larger political context of selective China-bashing in the long aftermath of the Cold War, with Mao still haunting the intellectual debates beyond China’s borders about the legitimacy of its post-Mao order. Non-specialist commentators marvelled at the ‘authenticity’ of the book’s scholarship and its 139 pages of references. In The Guardian, Lisa Allardice predicted that it would ‘shake the world’.1 In The New York Times Book Review, Nicholas Kristof wrote: ‘Based on a decade of meticulous interviews and archival research, this magnificent biography methodically demolishes every pillar of Mao’s claim to sympathy or legitimacy.’2 In The Sunday Times, Simon Sebag Montefiore called the book ‘a triumph … a barrage of revisionist bombshells, and a superb piece of research’ and concluded that ‘Mao is the greatest monster of them all – the Red Emperor of China’.3 For Donald Morrison in Time magazine, the book had the power of an ‘atom bomb’.4 In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote that it makes ‘an impassioned case for Mao as the most monstrous tyrant of all times’.5 Media commentators, establishment politicians and representatives of the publishers lined up to say the book would completely change the way in which people think of Mao, and indeed change history. George Walden went so far as to call it ‘the most powerful, compelling, and revealing political biography of modern times’. ‘Few books are destined to change history’, he concluded, ‘but this one will’.6 Some, including Chang herself, voiced the hope it would change even China.

A Chinese translation was issued by Kaifang Publishers in Hong Kong in September 2006, after tortuous negotiations. In Taiwan, the Yuanliu Publishing Company cancelled the contract for another translation because of unrelenting protests by the family and former subordinates of the Nationalist general Hu Zongnan (described in the book as a communist mole) and experts’ objections to some of its assertions.7 In mainland China, the book remains banned – which is ironic given that the authors’ general line could be said to support the current official position of abandoning Mao and his revolutions.

Few works on the Chinese Revolution by writers based in the West have ever achieved anything like the impact of Mao: The Unknown Story. Its sole competitor in sales terms is Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China, which was reprinted five times within a month of its publication in London in 1937 (by Gollancz) and led to China taking over from the Spanish Civil War as the international focus of European and American antifascism. Keen (like Chang) to change opinion about the Chinese communists not just in the West but in China, Snow relinquished his copyright on the book and encouraged its translation into Chinese and its underground publication in China, where it also went through many reprints and helped persuade hundreds of patriots to join Mao in Yan’an.8 But here the likeness ends. The politics and content of the two books contrast starkly. Whereas Snow’s helped create Mao’s image, in China and the world, Chang and Halliday’s seeks to destroy it, from the minutest details of his character and personal life to his grandest schemes, including the very idea of a revolution.

Another difference is in the books’ reception. Red Star Over China set Snow at odds with political establishments both in the West (where he was blackballed and blacklisted) and in China, while Chang and Halliday’s endeared them to mainstream media and the powers that be everywhere except in China (at least for now). The Chinese authorities banned Mao not because it comprehensively contradicts the official position but because that position is itself ideologically and politically ambivalent. A comprehensive repudiation of Mao is difficult, because of important historical continuities between his regime and theirs as well as widespread social discontent with some of the post-Mao changes. The party’s Propaganda Department knows demonizing Mao would be unpopular and could backfire, given that the legacies of the revolution are still a source of regime legitimacy. Mao is inseparable from China’s national and social progress, with which most Chinese identify, and with China’s delivery from semicolonialism and backwardness. This is why even many Chinese highly critical of Mao as an individual despise the book.

In the West, the same considerations do not apply. Admirers of the book on the right included George W. Bush Jr, who ‘thrilled’ Chang by recommending it as ‘a good book’ that showed Mao to be ‘a bad man’. On the centre-left, Labour’s Roy Hattersley and The Guardian’s Will Hutton also wrote praising it. In China, the picture is more complicated. An indirect rebuff by Pang Xianzhi, Director of the Party Documents Research Office, appeared in the official media.9 Although the book is not available to the general public, many Chinese have criticized it on unofficial websites. Some welcomed it. On the right, Xu Youyu, an influential thinker in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, saw the book as ‘the truest of all the Mao biographies ever written’ and ‘a huge, historic contribution’.10 On the left, however, Huang Jisu, a well-known commentator and playwright, called it ‘a trash heap of old news and senseless rumours … lacking minimal maturity in its presentation, understanding and perspective’.11 Chinese students abroad also denounced it.12

Because the book has sold so many copies, was so widely and favourably reviewed in the commercial press, and has such ambitious political goals, we thought it would be a good idea to bring out a collection of commentary on it by experts and thus give its many readers the chance to view its subject from other angles. The collection is also intended as a resource for use in classroom discussions. Chang and Halliday’s findings and conclusions have begun to figure increasingly in essays by students on China courses, impressed by its apparent solidity and authority. Some teachers and scholars who distrust the authors’ methods and approach see this development as a disaster for modern China studies. To them, we offer this work as an antidote.

Most writing about Mao is of three general sorts: standard academic studies of his life and career, personal memoirs (published mainly in China), and political screeds – either demonographies (usually by Chinese exiles) or hagiographies (also published mainly in China). Chang and Halliday’s book has characteristics of all three genres. Its chief author, Chang, drew some of her material from her own interpretation of events she lived through. She makes no secret of her loathing for Mao – she incessantly demonizes him. Yet the book has the trappings of massive scholarship, citing more than a thousand sources and interviews with hundreds of people ranging from George Bush Sr to the Dalai Lama, Wang Guangmei (Liu Shaoqi’s widow), and various non-Chinese ex-Maoists. The authors are, of course, entitled to their opinion and memory. Where critics can legitimately take issue with them is in their methods and judgement.13

It would be interesting to know how people interviewed in China react to the words Chang and Halliday attribute to them. Would they approve of the book’s message? In many cases, probably not. Wang Guangmei, for example, herself a victim of the Cultural Revolution, showed respect for Mao before she died in 2006. In 2004, with the help of Mao’s and her own children and grandchildren, she organized a gathering at which the two families celebrated their shared feelings about Mao and Liu and the extraordinary experiences of China’s first communist generation.14 It is hard to imagine she would have agreed with Chang and Halliday’s portrayal of Mao.

Nearly all the essays in this volume are by internationally known scholars in the China field, most of them specialists in Chinese communist history. Geremie R. Barmé, Professor at the Australian National University, works on Chinese culture and intellectual history and published a book on Mao’s posthumous cult. Gregor Benton, Professor of Chinese History at Cardiff University, has published books on Chinese communist history, Chinese Trotskyism, Chinese dissent, and Mao. Alfred Chan, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario, has published studies on Mao and the Great Leap Forward. Timothy Cheek, Research Professor at the University of British Columbia, has published books on China’s intellectuals and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) history, including documentary studies on Mao. Chen Yung-fa, Distinguished Research Professor in the Institute of Modern History at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, is the author of major studies on Chinese communism. Delia Davin, Emeritus Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds, has written a pioneering study on women in the Chinese Revolution and books on migration and on Mao. Lowell Dittmer, Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley, has published studies on Chinese politics, including a book on Liu Shaoqi. Mobo Gao, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Adelaide, is best known for his books on rural life and on the Cultural Revolution. David S. G. Goodman, Professor of Chinese Politics and Director of the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Sydney, is the author of books on Deng Xiaoping and on provincial politics and local social and political change in China. Lin Chun, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, has published books and articles on Chinese socialism and development. Andrew J. Nathan, a Professor at Columbia University, publishes in the fields of Chinese politics and foreign policy, the comparative study of political participation and political culture, and human rights. He co-edited The Tiananmen Papers and is the author, with Bruce Gilley, of China’s New Rulers. Jonathan Spence, Sterling Professor of History at Yale University and former President of the American Historical Association, is an authority on Chinese civilization and the rise of modern China. Steve Tsang, Reader in Politics at Oxford University, is a widely published author and expert on China’s foreign and security policy and its governance. Arthur Waldron, Professor of International Relations in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania and vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington DC, co-edited the Civil War volumes of Mao’s Road to Power together with Stuart Schram.

Only Jin Xiaoding and Bill Willmott, Emeritus Professor in Sociology at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, are not directly engaged in academic study on the Chinese Revolution, but both are deeply familiar with the issues Chang and Halliday raise and well qualified to comment. Jin is a freelance journalist. Willmott, born in Sichuan, is an expert on the Chinese communities in the Pacific Islands and a long-standing observer of Chinese politics.

Most of the essays are largely critical. The two exceptions are those by Dittmer and Waldron. Dittmer finds the ‘cumulative picture’ of Chang and Halliday’s chapters on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) before the Cultural Revolution convincing and even devastating. However, he criticizes their ‘incessant imputation of evil motives’ and their ‘ vacuum-cleaner’ approach to every titbit conceivably damaging to Mao’s reputation. Apart from these two, the rest are generally quite damning. One condemns its ‘histrionic tone and unwavering certainty’.15 Another calls it a Maoist-style denunciation ‘done in the florid style of the Cultural Revolution denunciations … a Chinese version of a TV soap opera’. 16

It must be said that Chang and Halliday reciprocate the disesteem. A barely suppressed theme of the biography is that established Mao scholarship is incompetent and uncritical. ‘Bits of the information were around’, said Chang, ‘but they were like pieces of a jigsaw that didn’t make any sense. Nobody has put them together into this coherent picture of Mao. People looked but they didn’t see’.17 David Goodman, writing in this volume, classes Mao with good reason among a clutch of recent ‘revisionist’ China books that imply ‘a conspiracy of academics and scholars who have chosen not to reveal the truth’. He likens this view to the conspiracy theory in the Da Vinci Code (adding that the ‘facts’ in the thriller are about as reliable as Chang and Halliday’s). The implication that China scholars have failed to maintain a strict critical distance from Mao and his regime is regrettable, not least in the case of contributors to this volume. Far from acting as Mao’s apologists, they have criticized his views and actions, often savagely, and consistently defended his victims. Some were even prevented for a while from doing research in China as a result of their criticisms – at a time when Halliday was among those praising Mao.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom (Director of East Asian Studies at Indiana University) also found that the book crossed the divide between biography and fiction and compared it to Elizabeth Kostova’s novel about Vlad the Impaler. Like a thriller, it presents Mao ‘in a sensationalist manner’, moves at a brisk pace, and reads as if written by an omniscient narrator with direct access to his or her character’s innermost thoughts and feelings. But Wasserstrom thinks Chang and Halliday’s Mao lacks the complexity and multidimensionality of Kostova’s Dracula, whose motivations appear more plausible.18 Frank McLynn, a well-regarded biographer of Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Carl Jung, and Napoleon, commented that it is ‘axiomatic that a good biography (never mind a great one) of a towering political figure cannot be written from a stance of pure hatred’. Thus Mao ‘has a certain entertainment value. But it is neither serious history nor serious biography’.19

Reviews of the book fall into two broad categories: substantial responses by China scholars writing from a position of expertise; and lighter commentary by China scholars specializing in fields other than the Chinese Revolution, writers generally knowledgeable about China, and journalists, commentators and publicists. The non-experts tend to welcome or denounce the book in line with their general views on the Chinese Revolution. Those hostile to Mao find their prejudices confirmed and praise it as a ‘triumph’ of scholarship. Those friendly or less hostile to him question its methods and findings. On the other hand, China scholars of the sort represented here are less divided. Although a minority praise it, most find little to redeem it and much to censure in it. This goes both for political opponents of Mao’s revolution, either mild or outright, and for its supporters, equivocal or enthusiastic. This selection includes the Chinese Revolution’s critical supporters and its relentless adversaries, as well as others who take an intermediate stance. Most wince at the authors’ methods and repudiate many of their findings.

There is no point in rehearsing or summarizing the reviews, which better speak for themselves. Two champion the book’s findings. The rest, taken together, form a comprehensive indictment of it. The critical studies argue that Chang and Halliday distort small details of history to ‘prove’ their point. The studies charge that evidence is used selectively, where it serves the authors’ purpose, and otherwise ignored. Slurs and innuendos are made to look like hard fact. Judgements seemingly based on strong evidence cited in footnotes collapse on closer scrutiny of the sources. Citations are garbled. Sources are inadequately referenced or uncheckable. Speculation is presented as certainty. Sweeping generalizations are found to rest on flimsy evidence, or no evidence. ‘Myths’ the authors ‘bust’ turn out not to be myths, in the cold light of facts. ‘Sensational’ findings turn out to be old hat, revealed years ago by others. (Even the idea of Mao as monster is not new but was around all along, perhaps most notably in the controversial portrait of Mao published by Li Zhisui, one of his doctors, in 1994.20)

On the whole, Chang and Halliday are disinclined to tackle and sometimes even to reference the work of others, preferring to present their conclusions as original even where they are not. Most scholarly books engage with ‘the field’, but Chang and Halliday ignore established work – except, occasionally, when it coincides with their own preconceived ideas. Many academic studies in English or Chinese that deal with Mao’s character and career are absent from their bibliography. Where they do cite existing work, they sometimes bend its meaning and draw unfair and untrue inferences. Where expert opinion is irreconcilable with their prejudices, they apparently dismiss it. This approach is unacceptable in a book promoted as serious scholarship, especially one as contentious as this. Despite Chang and Halliday’s academic pretensions, they show little inclination to follow basic scholarly procedure. Scholars’ duty to engage with one another’s work is not just a professional formality but a necessary step in the testing of their findings. They must be able to show that their own arguments are either truer and more authoritative than those of others working on the same subject or at least equally legitimate. Chang and Halliday do not do this.

For the most part, the reviewers in this volume confine themselves to questioning Chang and Halliday’s methods and approaches, their treatment of specific issues and events, and their judgement. On the whole, they do not tackle the wider question of whether the Chinese Revolution was, on balance, good or bad for China. Chang and Halliday’s answer is, of course, that it was irredeemably bad. The Chinese Revolution was not only unnecessary and undesirable but a disaster. This theory is comforting for opponents of radical change everywhere and explains why Western conservative establishments hailed the book with such glee and deference. In what remains of this introduction, we make a counterargument in the revolution’s critical defence at a time when revisionist histories of the great social revolutions are in the ascendancy.

Chang and Halliday explain the Chinese Revolution as the evil product of one man at the head of a conspiracy of dupes and slaves. Their book is essentially the story of a court intrigue, what Barmé calls ‘ despot-centred history’. They erase the active contribution of men and women other than Mao from the events they describe – even major leaders like Zhou Enlai are discounted, as Mao’s servile tools. Mao is shown to win out over his fellow conspirators by exercising greater viciousness and cunning. The authors talk almost exclusively about conspiracy and manipulation. They say practically nothing about the revolution’s social, economic, political and cultural setting. The intellectual context that shaped Mao’s and his fellow leaders’ ideas vanishes almost entirely from sight in their view of it. In contrast, serious studies treat the Chinese Revolution as a complex, creative process in which millions of ordinary Chinese pursued their transforming visions in interaction with the party and its leaders.21 When others’ agency and the historical context are restored to view in this way, the revolution appears in a quite different light.
At the time of its founding in 1921, the CCP was inspired by noble aims. Its founders had stepped out of the New Culture Movement of the late 1910s, which campaigned for enlightenment, democracy, women’s liberation, social justice, internationalism and the resolution of China’s crisis of sovereignty. Its first General Secretary, Chen Duxiu, pioneered China’s democracy movement in the early twentieth century. In the 1920s, the humanist and universalist values for which he stood continued to inspire the party. In 1929, however, he was expelled as a Trotskyist. At the time of his expulsion, he reminded the other party leaders that ‘democracy is a necessary instrument for any class that seeks to win the majority to its side’ and warned against the suppression of dissident viewpoints.22 Although his former comrades dismissed these ideas as ‘bourgeois’, the party carried on its struggle for a ‘new democratic revolution’ with the support not only of the rural and urban poor but also of many educated Chinese. Li Dazhao, another founder of the CCP who died a martyr in 1927, also championed the idea of national, social and individual liberation and insisted on the necessary coherence of individualism, socialism and liberalism in a democratic system of ‘commoners’ politics’.23

The party’s drift towards bureaucratic centralism started in the mid 1920s with its ‘Bolshevization’ – the imposition of ‘iron discipline’ and extreme centralism of the sort promoted by the Communist International in Moscow, particularly under Stalin. Bolshevization of this sort was speeded by the communists’ defeat in the cities in 1927 and their immersion in the countryside, where they switched to a strategy of armed struggle. Geared up for war, party leaders stressed the need for regimentation, secrecy and top-down command. In the villages, they came to see themselves as the sole source of decision and authority. The administration they formed in Beijing in 1949 reflected this experience of infallible command. It was run from above, along authoritarian lines, and based explicitly on a statist model, despite Mao’s efforts to combat bureaucracy and Stalinist dogmatism.

However, it is important to contextualize these turns in the party’s strategic thinking and organizational methods, for it faced powerful enemies on all fronts and constant white terror. To historicize the revolution is not to defend its weaknesses, mistakes and crimes. Although tragically deformed by its militarization, rustication, and Stalinization, the party continued to retain many of its founding goals and characteristics. After the Long March, when the Red Army battled its way north at the cost of enormous losses, the party spearheaded the resistance in the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–45. In the rural areas after 1945, it led the poor in transforming their local communities. In the villages in the revolutionary years and in the cities after 1949, it changed women’s lives for the better – not completely, but nevertheless massively. Chiang Kai-shek, by comparison, failed to reform the agrarian economy, was an ineffectual leader against Japan, did little to improve women’s status, ruled over an unjust society, and headed a brutal, corrupt and reactionary regime.

Chang and Halliday focus exclusively on the failures of the revolution, including the disastrous outcome of the Great Leap Forward and the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. The picture they give is thus distorted and incomplete. Rounded studies of the Mao years argue that the CCP’s achievements outweighed its failures. Stuart Schram, the doyen of Mao studies, concluded in an essay published in 1994 on Mao’s legacy that

at other times during his years in power, impressive rates of growth and technological exploits … were recorded.… Though the Great Leap Forward brought the peasants widespread misery rather than the promised collective prosperity and happiness, the successive phases in agrarian policy from 1946 onward destroyed the old landlord economy and thus laid the foundations for the emergence of a system of peasant smallholdings in the 1980s.24
The historian Maurice Meisner, a rigorous critic of Mao, argued in a lecture in 1999 that the Chinese communist victory and China’s subsequent socio-economic development ‘must be seen as one of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century’. He concluded that despite ‘all the horrors and crimes that accompanied the revolution, … few events in world history have done more to better the lives of more people’.25

A balanced view of China in the decades of reconstruction after 1949 would also give full weight to the international environment. Blockades and threats by foreign powers created a fear of subversion that degenerated for long periods into cruel hysteria. Political controls tightened even further. Barry Naughton pointed out that resources were massively diverted from production and welfare spending to defence.26 As John Gittings noted in his review of Mao, ‘we should ask how far western (effectively US) hostility encouraged Mao’s radical turn from the mid-1950s onwards, fostering a climate of chauvinism from which China has not yet completely emerged’.27

Even some of Chang and Halliday’s admirers question the polemical onesidedness of their approach. Kristof, for example, felt obliged to remind his readers of Mao’s successes:

Land reform in China … helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women … moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao’s assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world’s new economic dragon.
Other triumphs included the steep rise in life expectancy after 1949, despite the famines, and China’s emergence as a strong and independent country. Even before the spectacular reform-induced growth, China was already leading much of the developing world in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, educational attainment and gender equality.28 Once ‘the sick man of Asia’, China awakened under Mao as a world power, a transformation inextricably tied in the minds of most Chinese to Mao’s very person.

Because Mao’s party never entirely turned its back on the ideals that gave birth to it, it continued to receive the support after 1949 of widely respected humanists like Liu Binyan, Wang Ruoshui and Su Shaozhi who used Marxism to criticize Deng Xiaoping and the post-Deng regime. Worker and peasant activists protested against some of the Deng-ite reforms by appealing to Mao’s revolutionary tradition.29 Among younger intellectuals, ‘new left’ thinking took off in the 1990s, disseminated by websites and other e-media.30 These responses from below are worth noting, for commentators outside China often fail to distinguish sufficiently between the CCP before and after 1978. Despite denouncing Mao while praising Deng, many such commentators talk of the Chinese ‘party’, ‘state’, and ‘regime’ as if they had not undergone remarkable transformations. Yet inside China, the post-1978 regime is criticized by some for its institutional and other systemic continuities with the 1949 revolution, while others regret the abandoning of old ideological tenets and socio-economic policies. The legacies of Maoism are highly pertinent to these debates in Chinese critical discourse.

Chang and Halliday start their book with the claim that Mao ‘was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth century leader’, principally during the Great Leap Forward, when they say 38 million died. They also say Mao was not only indifferent to the thought of mass deaths but positively welcomed and even celebrated them. On this point of relative despotism, brutality and vileness, we round off this introduction. Apologists for the CCP often seek to minimize the effects of its political crimes and the social disasters it caused by resorting to analogies or comparisons with supposedly worse crimes and disasters perpetrated elsewhere. On the other hand, some of its critics try, through what Barmé calls ‘competitive body counting’, to cast Mao as the world’s greatest monster. But if it is dishonourable to use a comparative framework to disguise the extent of Chinese wrongdoing, it is also unacceptable to put Mao at the top of a league of modern atrocities without due regard for historical perspective, given that the twentieth century is littered with such tragedies and evils. This is especially true in China studies, where the claim that Mao outmonstered everyone risks chiming with the Sinophobic idea of a special ‘oriental’ despotism. As Bill Willmott points out, ‘So many people are keen to believe the worst about China, and this book will reinforce their beliefs. Already prejudiced readers will see the Chinese Revolution as nothing more than megalomaniacs killing each other and millions of others’.

Scholars have offered widely differing estimates of the death toll in China between 1959 and 1962, many of them far lower than Chang and Halliday’s. Wim Wertheim, emeritus professor at the University of Amsterdam, reported in his review of Chang’s Wild Swans that Chinese scholars and demographers in the 1950s privately doubted the accuracy of the Census of 1953 upon which calculations of the scale of deaths are often based, on the grounds that it was carried out unscientifically and registered ‘an unbelievable increase of some 30 percent in the period 1947–1953’. Wertheim concluded that ‘the claim that in the 1960s a number between 17 and 29 million people was “missing” is worthless’ if one cannot say for certain that the population in 1953 was 600 million.31 Others, including Ping-ti Ho, an expert in Chinese demography, have pointed to many flaws in the 1953 ‘nationwide enumeration’. Further studies either sweepingly or partially at odds with Chang and Halliday’s could be cited.32 It is symptomatic of Chang and Halliday’s approach that they largely ignore such counter-arguments, which raise serious questions about their findings. Few would deny that the Great Leap led to a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Even admirers of Mao who support the Great Leap’s basic goals concede that it failed – because ‘the hierarchical, authoritarian party system was totally inappropriate for the leadership of a campaign which could only flourish on popular support’, according to Jack Gray.33 However, many would doubt the assumptions that underlie Chang and Halliday’s projections, and their lack of balance and perspective.

A closer look at modern death tolls suggests the record of the British Empire is at least as deplorable as China’s. Under the Raj between 1896 and 1900, more than ten million people died in avoidable famines out of a population little more than one third the size of China’s in 1960. In the Bengal famine of 1943, between three and seven million died, out of a population of 60 million. The 1943 famine was just one of a series of crises in colonial India that together resulted in millions of avoidable fatalities. Chang and Halliday might wish to object that the Bengal deaths were caused, at least in part, by the war, but Winston Churchill himself famously blamed them on the people’s tendency to ‘breed like rabbits’34 and historians attribute the severity of the crisis to British indifference and incompetence (Churchill thought the Indians ‘the beastliest people in the world, next to the Germans’). Needless to say, a proportionately far greater number died in Ireland under British rule in 1845–46. On an even larger scale, the Aboriginal population of Australia and the American Indian population were wiped out in many areas. In any case, the Great Leap deaths were unintended: any equation of them with colonial and racist genocides would be preposterous and indefensible.

We note these other tragedies and atrocities not to minimize the Chinese suffering between 1959 and 1962 but to provide the perspective Chang and Halliday ignore. Far from wishing to justify Mao’s policies in those years, each of us has, in writings stretching back over many years, rigorously and consistently criticized the crimes and errors committed under his rule. However, we reject Chang and Halliday’s indiscriminate approach to the catastrophe and their one-sided refusal to contextualize it or to consider accounts by other scholars and commentators that might undermine their own dogmatic certainty. An extreme example of the authors’ tendentiousness is their portrayal of Mao as a Chinese Hitler.35 They liken the effects of the famine caused by the Great Leap to the extermination of the Jews at Auschwitz and draw a parallel between Mao’s communes and Hitler’s slave-labour camps. These analogies display a saddening lack of moral taste and historical judgement. Six million of Europe’s eight million Jews died in the Holocaust. Auschwitz was the chief instrument in Hitler’s ‘final solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’. The Great Leap Forward, on the other hand, was designed to accelerate China’s industrialization and farm production. Chang and Halliday show no understanding of the dilemma Chinese communists faced in the late 1950s, as a result of China’s severe international isolation and the military blockade. In Chang and Halliday’s view, the Great Leap was a crime perpetrated by a madman. Others, however, see it as a fundamentally rational scheme to mobilize surplus rural labour in order to create local industry, improve rural infrastructure, and achieve national self-sufficiency, as a way of resolving the crisis caused by China’s quarantine. It also had a utopian dimension, rooted in a belief in the need for popular participation and self-government. That it went so catastrophically wrong was due to the manner of its implementation. No one ordered or desired the deaths. The Holocaust, in contrast, was a deliberate barbarity.

Readers will reach their own conclusions about whether Mao: The Unknown Story is good biography or caricature and propaganda, or a bit of both, or more the one than the other. We hope these essays help them make up their minds. Some may object that the selection is prejudiced against Chang and Halliday and therefore of little help in forming an opinion, yet there has been no bending of the stick. What might seem like bias reflects the weight of opinion in reviews by experts. Unlike the worldwide commercial media, which embraced the book with uncritical and even fawning adulation, most professional commentary has been disapproving. Such has been the avalanche of academic criticism that it is hard to fathom why the two authors apparently do not feel moved to answer it. Had they formulated a systematic defence against the many charges levelled at them, we would happily have published it here, but none has as yet transpired, three years after the criticisms first began appearing.

maybe just link things instead of posting long articles please
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Does anyone have a gauge on the extent to which Chinese scholars are complicit in this sort of defamation? I remember reading a few articles that essentially claim that the current revisionist government implicitly condones and encourages a certain amount of criticism concerning Mao and the Cultural Revolution, but of course goes nowhere as far as American academia.
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frontpage this ish please, i got some dudes who be needin to read it
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i was about to post this on my facebook wall but then i saw that the article talked about "fart ghosts" and I figured they wouldn't get it
Hahah, can someone edit that for me? I missed it when I scanned through it this time, forgot about all the retarded filters in place from when I originally posted it.

"fart ghost" should be "liberal"

Edited by aerdil ()

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I got nothing to add at the moment but excellent thread.

I posted that in LF forever ago. I think it's great because it introduces the idea of the american holomdor (which was far more deadly) and is a satire of the shoddy scholarship that goes unchallenged to calculate deaths under communist regimes.

babyhueypnewton posted:
I got nothing to add at the moment but excellent thread.

I posted that in LF forever ago. I think it's great because it introduces the idea of the american holomdor (which was far more deadly) and is a satire of the shoddy scholarship that goes unchallenged to calculate deaths under communist regimes.

Wow, that's shocking, capitalist polices are responsible for a lot of deaths


tapespeed posted:
Wow, that's shocking, capitalist polices are responsible for a lot of deaths

capitalist policies are responsible for no deaths. capitalism does not take responsibility - if you died, it was your fault
All I know is that the China History Podcast owns
i just remembered that Joan Robinson supported the Cultural Revolution and ended up never hearing the end of it

dm posted:
i just remembered that Joan Robinson supported the Cultural Revolution and ended up never hearing the end of it

joan... :allears:


Edited by girdles_gone_wild ()

well yeah.. its a descriptive not a normative article sorry bro theres no answers just kill yourself.
i'm fucking with you
well i'm not, im an antinatalist