More Reviews of Chang and Halloway’s biography of Mao

November 26, 2008

[First published on November 22, 2005] On Chang and Halloway’s biography of Mao I wrote about yesterday, it is an educational experience to read the 38 reviews of the book on Some surely are by Mainland Chinese, and probably planted by the CCP. But those that are not show the depth of the Mao myth among Westerners and, many of them forgetting about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Jung Ill, and Saddam Hussein, the inability to believe that any ruler could be so evil. To give you a taste of this, I include one such one-star (the lowest rating) review below. It is not a parody:

This pure unadulterated piece of garbage is so unbelievably out-of-this-world in portraying the late Chinese Communist Leader as Lucifer incarnate becomes so so boring,and tedious, I (and along with other literary friends) had to just discontinue reading the book and pick something else to read far far more substantial. 

The author, who probably did not get a job in a Chinese take-away in London decided to write a book about Mao in connivance with her old demented husband (who probably married her out of pity and desperation when she was still a boat person) and the end result is a littany of lies whose main basis is her fertile imagination and hate for Chairman Mao. Their pens were already dipped in poison during conception of the book that one has to wonder why her literary sources ran a gamut of hundreds of pages that one can already write another book with it! 

The author’s style is extremely boring, filled with graphic descriptions of the “sufferings” and evilness of Mao , supremely exaggerated. And she blames the old man for the death of practically every Chinese individual (even those who died of natural causes or illnesses or poverty were included in her statistics.) It is sensationalistic from page 1. This person’s hate for Mao is so intense and personal, the book was written by someone with an axe to grind. 

The problem with some boat people is that when they have resources when the times comes, they seize the opportunity to write a book and lace it with personal agenda that they think they can claim fame from the foreign media.No way Jung chang! There’s an opening for a cleaning post in the Chinese Embassy, this job is more suitable for you! 

I myself is not a fan of Mao, I dont even know anything about him thats why I bought this book! However, Mao is nothing in this book except being described as a murderer and a devil. I’m so glad that this book is much disliked by many and I’m glad that a lot of Chinese people have spoken up and defended their old leader. 

Avoid this garbage! </blockquote>

Chang was not one of the “boat people,” that is, one of those who fled from Vietnam in boats during the 70s and 80s. She was born and raised in China, and as a young woman traveled on a fellowship to the reviewer’s home country of Britain, where she now lives with her husband and co-author. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall were they to meet.

Go here for a favorable review in <i>Foreign Affairs</I> by Lucian Pye. More reviews are here.


Nathan’s Review of Chang and Halliday’s Mao

November 26, 2008

[First published on December 1, 2005] Andrew Nathan (Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Columbia, co-editor of <i>The Tiananmen Papers </I> and the author, with Bruce Gilley, of <i>China’s New Rulers</I>) sent me a copy of his review of Chang and Halliday’s <i>Mao </I>. It is the best, and most balanced review I’ve read. He clearly put much work into it, and made many revealing comments on their interviews and sources, which are beyond my evaluation.

I am republishing the review here (it is from the  <A HREF=””><i>London Review of Books</I></A>), since it will serve as an alternative view for those who are relying only on my critique. Where the author’s touch on an issue most important to my own work — on the famine — the review gives me no reason to question my reevaluation of Mao’s responsibility for the famine. As to the famine total, it is in contention among experts and former high CCP members, and some estimates go as high as 50-80 million, so I still may be underestimating its human cost. 

One criticism of the review. I think Nathan goes overboard on his scholarly criticism regarding the lack of access to the sources, or their unavailability. He should mention more fully that Chang not only lived through the much of the post-1949 period of Mao’s rule, and that her parents were very high CCP leaders. Through them and her own experience as a Red Guard, being in forced detention, doing forced labor, and being brainwashed into loving Mao so much she could not at one time dream of criticizing him, she had the personal experience and knowledge to give context and realism to her sources. In this case, I look on some of what she said as I would on refugee reports that no scholar can check except by their consistency with what others are saying, or the scholar’s own knowledge. This is why I recommended both Chang’s family biography in <i>Three Swans</i> and her book on <i>Mao</I>.

 Here is the review. It’s long, but worth the time: <blockquote> <center>Jade and Plastic

By Andrew Nathan </center>

<center> <i>Mao: The Unknown Story</I> by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday </center>

Mao Zedong’s long, wicked life has generated some lengthy biographies in English. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s is the longest, having overtaken Philip Short’s <i>Mao</I> (1999) and Li Zhisui’s <i>The Private Life of Chairman Mao</I> (1995). It represents an extraordinary research effort. The authors have been working on the project since at least 1986, to judge by the date of the earliest interview cited, which – and this is typical of the access they gained to many highly-placed and interesting people – was with Milovan Djilas. They have visited remote battle sites of the Long March, Mao’s cave in Yan’an, ‘over two dozen’ of Mao’s secret private villas around the country, the Russian presidential and foreign ministry archives, and other archives in Albania, Bulgaria, London and Washington DC. They even tried – and failed – to get access to the Chinese war memorial in Pyongyang.

The book cites by name 363 interviewees in 38 countries, including two former US presidents; Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore; the Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko; the Mao aide and later Chinese head of state Yang Shangkun; a former Japanese cabinet secretary who confided that Mao escorted his prime minister to the lavatory in Zhongnanhai; Mao’s daughter and grandsons; and the Red Guard leader Kuai Dafu. Chang and Halliday also cite dozens of interviews with anonymous sources, including a laundry worker who describes the fine cotton used for Mao’s underwear in Yan’an; a pharmacist who allegedly prescribed lysol for one of Mao’s political rivals in the 1940s; Mao’s daughter’s nanny in Yan’an; staff at Mao’s villas; and ‘multiple’ Mao girlfriends. They have used about a thousand non-archival written sources, including published and unpublished works in Chinese, English, Russian, French and Italian. These include many that are unfamiliar to me and perhaps to many other specialists on Chinese Communist history and politics.

As their subtitle proclaims, in virtually every chapter Chang and Halliday have turned up ‘unknown stories’ of Mao. Some, if true, will be big news for historians. Mao amassed a private fortune during the Jiangxi Soviet period; his troops fought only one real battle during the Long March; their break-out from Nationalist military encirclement was deliberately allowed by Chiang Kai-shek; the most famous battle of the Long March never took place; Mao attacked India in 1962 with the support of the Soviet Union.

Other scoops have important implications for Mao’s character. He poisoned a rival during the Yan’an period. He would send his own soldiers to be massacred if it would help him to move up the ranks of the Party. He took pleasure in the slow, agonising death of Liu Shaoqi. We already knew that Mao was selfish and ruthless. Chang and Halliday add that he was a brutal, sadistic power-monger lacking in vision or ideals, comfort-loving and often lazy, riding the revolution to power to satisfy a lust for torture and sex.

It is hard to imagine a more panoramic subject in terms of time, geography and historical forces. Yet Chang and Halliday focus tightly on Mao. Around him we glimpse a Communist Party leadership of cowards and fools, either manipulated by Mao, as Zhou Enlai was, or killed by him. In the deeper background, we perceive a political-movement-turned-regime that engaged in fifty years of mass torture, killing and destruction for no good purpose, leaving its people impoverished and exhausted. Lost in the distance are the larger forces of history that some might think explain the violence and longevity of Mao’s regime: sociological or institutional explanations, or explanations based on China’s geostrategic position between two contending superpowers in the Cold War. Such theories would presumably be too impersonal for this intensely moralising work. They might seem to exculpate Mao by suggesting that he did not always intend the disasters he presided over.

 That Mao’s story might still be to some extent unknown need not surprise us, given the secrecy that surrounds the Chinese archives, the regime’s tight control over historiography and propaganda, and Deng Xiaoping’s decision in 1981 to preserve the regime’s continuity by committing the Party to an official view of its former ruler as ‘70 per cent right, 30 per cent wrong’. Mao (or something resembling Mao) remains embalmed in the heart of Tiananmen Square, and his image remains branded on the official heart of the Party. Deng’s decision influences all officially sanctioned writing on the former dictator, and that means everything openly published on Mao in China. Few historians outside China in recent decades have clung to the older romantic image of Mao as a sage, visionary and humanist, but Chang and Halliday’s Mao is a revelation even for today’s demystified historiography.

 There are problems, however: many of their discoveries come from sources that cannot be checked, others are openly speculative or are based on circumstantial evidence, and some are untrue.

 The inaccessible sources are of two kinds: anonymous interviews and unpublished documents or books. The former include ‘the wife of a Shanghai delegate’, ‘interview with a local Party historian’, ‘interview with an old underground worker’, ‘interviews with people who had been told’, ‘interview with a staff member who knew about Mao’s account’, ‘interviews with Mao’s girlfriends’, ‘interviews with Mao’s personal staff’, ‘interview with a Russian insider’ and ‘interview with a family member’. The book contains dozens of citations like these. The inaccessible documents include the partially unpublished manuscript memoirs of Mao’s second wife, Yang Kai-hui (one of these manuscripts is quoted at length in words ‘mostly recalled from memory after reading this document in an archive’); the ‘records of interrogations of executioners in the 1960s, unpublished’; ‘contemporary newspaper reports’; the ‘unpublished manuscript of a person present’; the ‘handwritten, unpublished’ diaries of Mao’s son Anying; ‘medical documents that established the poisoning’; and many more.*

 Basing their argument on such sources, Chang and Halliday claim that the most famous battle of the Long March, at the Dadu Bridge in 1935, never took place. Their key piece of evidence is an interview with a ‘sprightly . . . local woman . . . who was 93 years old when we met her in 1997’, supplemented by an interview in 1983 with the then curator of the museum at the bridge. Their related claim that Chiang Kai-shek had deliberately ‘left the passage open for the Reds’ is unsourced.

 Chang and Halliday state that Mao’s chief political rival in Yan’an, Wang Ming, was poisoned by a Dr Jin, acting at Mao’s behest. They say that this was established by an official inquiry, whose ‘findings, which we obtained, remain a well-kept secret’. They cite the document in the notes, but do not say where it can be seen. They assert that Mao blamed the Indonesian Communist Party for failing to seize power in Jakarta in 1965. Their evidence is a conversation Mao had with Japanese Communists in 1966, in particular some remarks which, according to the source note, ‘were withheld from the published version’ of the talks and ‘were made available to us by the Japanese Communist Party Central Committee’. How other scholars can consult these remarks isn’t stated.

 Chang and Halliday report that near the beginning of the Great Cultural Proletarian Revolution, Mao’s ally Lin Biao warned the other members of the Politburo that Mao had been preparing to face a coup for years and had intensified these preparations in the previous few months. Their source is a three-volume work called ‘Documents for Researching the Cultural Revolution’ compiled by the People’s Liberation Army Defence University, which they describe as unpublished. They do not say where they saw it.

 They argue that Mao rejected a death sentence during the Cultural Revolution for the purged state president Liu Shaoqi because he preferred to have Liu suffer a slow, lingering death, that Mao was kept ‘fully informed’ of Liu’s sufferings, that photographs of the dying Liu were taken and, by implication, that Mao saw them. The sources for this string of assertions are interviews with Liu’s widow, Wang Guangmei, and with an unnamed member of Lin Biao’s family.

 Of course, anonymous interviews and unpublished sources are often used in reputable China scholarship. They have to be, because of the secrecy imposed by the regime on its own history and workings. I have engaged in such research myself. What is troubling about Mao: The Untold Story is the authors’ failure to give readers any information to help them to evaluate their sources’ reliability. A lengthy research project that denigrates Mao, involving access to many individuals and many remote and secret locations all over China, over a period of many years, and drawing on a significant number of sensitive unpublished sources, in a country where the keys to history are tightly held, legitimately raises questions that the authors should have anticipated and addressed.

 How was it possible to gain access? Who gave authorisation or protection, formal or informal, to this project, or if none was given, how was secrecy maintained as the research progressed? How were the interviewees found? In what settings were they interviewed? In what manner were they questioned? How were records of the interviews kept? What motivations did informants have for talking? What methods were used to confirm their identities and to corroborate their information? How were unpublished sources obtained? How were they authenticated? Where, if anywhere, may they be consulted by other scholars (and if they can’t, why not)?

 Such a methodological essay might have included some reflection by Chang and Halliday on the history of their project and their motives for taking it on. Chang is the author of the justly acclaimed Wild Swans (1991), which told the stories of her grandmother, her mother and herself, over the span of seven turbulent decades from 1909 to 1978. Chang was one of the millions of people damaged by Mao. Her anger, deeply justified, shapes this new book.

 Halliday’s name appears in smaller type on the spine and dust jacket, suggesting that his role in the project was secondary. He seems to have been responsible for the use of Russian, Bulgarian and Albanian archives and sources, and for interviews with Russian diplomats and Comintern officials. Not a China specialist, he is among other things the author of A Political History of Japanese Colonialism, the co-author of a revisionist history of the Korean War and the editor of the English-language edition of the memoirs of Enver Hoxha. In short, he appears to be a man of the left, whose disappointment with Mao may be political as well as personal.

 It is clear that many of Chang and Halliday’s claims are based on distorted, misleading or far-fetched use of evidence. They state, for example, that the Chinese Communist Party ‘was founded in 1920’, and not, as is usually said, in 1921 – a point they think important because Mao wasn’t in Shanghai in 1920. The two sources they cite, however, merely confirm that early Communist cells were founded a year before the First Party Congress met in Shanghai in 1921, something not contested by historians. They claim that the Kuomintang politician Wang Jingwei was the hidden ‘patron’ of Mao’s early Party career, which appears to be a misreading of the fact that Wang, who served briefly as head of the Nationalists, appointed Mao as well as other Communists to KMT posts during the time of the KMT-Communist united front.

 Chang and Halliday cite four sources to support their statement that Mao amassed ‘a private fortune’ during the Jiangxi Soviet period of the early 1930s. One is an anonymous interview which cannot be checked. The second source is a book in Chinese by a writer called Shu Long, which says that Mao ordered his brother, Zemin, who was president of the Communists’ state bank, to disperse money from a ‘secret treasury’ to the various Communist military units when a gathering enemy offensive threatened the money’s security. The third is The Long March by Harrison Salisbury (1985), which says similarly that Zemin took part in hiding the Red Army’s money and treasure in a mountain cave for two years until it was removed shortly before the Long March and divided among the Communist armies that were about to set off on the March. The fourth source is a file in the Harrison Salisbury papers at Columbia University. However, the citation is garbled, so the file Chang and Halliday used cannot be located in Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library (nor can the correct citation be reconstructed from the information given).

 In the chapter subtitled ‘Chiang Lets the Reds Go’, Chang and Halliday say they have ‘no doubt’ that Chiang Kai-shek allowed Mao’s army to escape from encirclement in 1934 so that it could threaten the warlords of Sichuan and Yunnan, who would then have to capitulate to Chiang to save themselves. It’s true that the Red Army escaped, but most scholars attribute this to Chiang’s incompetence. Chang and Halliday’s clinching evidence is a published reminiscence that Chiang told his secretary: ‘Now when the Communist army go into Guizhou, we can follow in. It is better than us starting a war to conquer Guizhou. Sichuan and Yunnan will have to welcome us, to save themselves.’ Although the quote is accurate, it does not prove the existence of a strategy. The source – who is not the person to whom the remark was allegedly made, Chen Bulei, but a lower-ranking staff member, Yan Daogang – himself explains Chiang’s remark by saying that he first made every effort to prevent the Red Army from entering Guizhou, and only after this failed decided to pursue the Reds there despite the opposition of the local warlord. In any case, one would expect a complex, long-term strategy of this kind to leave more than one fugitive piece of evidence.

 They argue that the battle of Tucheng during the Long March was a huge defeat, not a victory as officially claimed, and that Mao engineered this disaster on purpose. This conclusion is reached by distorting what the sources say. The sources describe a protracted battle during which Mao refused to withdraw his troops and during which they suffered heavy casualties, but that nonetheless ended in a Red Army victory. Although the sources may be tendentious, Chang and Halliday do not explain why it is reasonable to use them in support of an opposite argument.

 They believe that Chiang Kai-shek acceded to the Communists’ demands for a united front against Japan during the Xi’an Incident of 1936 because Stalin made this a condition for releasing Chiang’s son, Ching-kuo, from Moscow. Chang and Halliday call this a ‘Reds-for-son deal that Chiang had been working on for years’ and that ‘marked the end of the civil war between the CCP and the Nationalists’. Their sources for this argument, developed through several chapters, are all circumstantial; the key piece of evidence is that when Zhou Enlai met Chiang in Xi’an, he told Chiang that Moscow would send his son home. Their source for this information is Han Suyin’s biography of Zhou, in which it is claimed that a senior Communist official overheard this remark while he was standing outside Chiang’s door. Han – in any case an unreliable author – does report that Wang Bingnan overheard part of the conversation between Zhou and Chiang and that Zhou ‘assured Chiang that his son would return, that he was patriotic and undoubtedly wished his father to resist the invaders’. But she does not frame this as part of a deal: rather, as evidence of Zhou Enlai’s human touch. There is no direct evidence of a Stalin-Chiang deal and no good reason to think that Chiang would have altered his strategy for a personal reason.

 The chapter entitled ‘Red Mole Triggers China-Japan War’ argues that the KMT general who in 1937 resisted Japanese encroachments in Shanghai against Chiang Kai-shek’s orders, thus triggering an intense battle, was a Communist agent acting on commands that ‘almost certainly’ came from Stalin. To support that interpretation, Chang and Halliday cite the general’s memoirs, published years later, in which he states that as a military cadet at the Whampoa Academy more than a decade before the battle of Shanghai he had been sympathetic to the Communists, who were then in their first united front with the KMT and formed part of the leadership of Whampoa. General Zhang says that Zhou Enlai told him at that time – 1925 – to ‘wait for a while for the appropriate time’ to join the Party. ‘But the CCP guarantees that from now on we will covertly support you and make your work go easily.’ This becomes in Chang and Halliday’s telling an instruction ‘to stay in the Nationalists and collaborate “covertly” with the CCP’ and – along with the fact that Russians in contact with Zhang were subsequently executed – shaky proof for the proposition that Zhang acted 12 years later on orders from Stalin.

 Chang and Halliday say that Mao got Zhou Enlai to draw up a list of notable people to be exempted from persecution during the Cultural Revolution, and that Zhou does not deserve the credit that he later got for saving people. Neither of their sources backs this up. One is a compendium of Mao’s memos and other documents, which includes a one-sentence directive from Mao to Zhou to protect one individual. The compilers’ note says that Zhou did this and then also drew up a short list of other people who should be protected; it doesn’t say that Mao told him to do this. The other source, an article by Michael Schoenhals, says that rather than intervening in persecutions managed by others, Zhou himself managed the main high-level persecutions of the Cultural Revolution. While this supports Chang and Halliday’s point that Zhou was not blameless, it does nothing to clarify the issue of who drew up the lists of notables to be protected.

 Some of Chang and Halliday’s arguments go beyond the misuse of sources to make claims that are simply unsourced. Perhaps they think these are conclusions that flow self-evidently from the pattern of events. They include claims that Stalin deliberately kept his ambassador away from the Security Council meeting in June 1950 which authorised a UN response to North Korea’s invasion of the South, because he wanted to draw US troops into Korea; that Mao helped cause Stalin’s fatal stroke; that Mao’s remarks to the East German leader Walter Ulbricht about the Great Wall had something to do with Ulbricht’s decision some years later to erect the Berlin Wall; and that Mao started both the Taiwan Strait crises, in 1954 and 1958, in order to provoke an American nuclear threat to China that would in turn put pressure on the Soviet Union to give more help to China’s own atomic bomb programme.

 Chang and Halliday’s false claims include the assertion that Mao had planned for some time what became in 1962 the Sino-Indian border war, and, as part of this, a ‘hefty horse-trade’ occurred in which Khrushchev told the outgoing Chinese ambassador that Moscow would take China’s side if war broke out with India in return for Mao’s support for the Russian position on missiles in Cuba. But according to their own source, Mao’s ambassador reported these Russian protestations to Beijing as a hypocritical attempt to mask a growing alignment with India. Chang and Halliday further imply that Khrushchev’s promise of support helped Mao decide to give ‘the go-ahead for crack troops to storm Indian positions’; they fail to provide the important background information that, to quote an authoritative study by John Garver, Nehru had previously ‘ordered Indian forces to advance into disputed areas and clear Chinese forces, though without firing first. India ignored Chinese warnings to halt this “forward policy”,’ and only then did the Red Army strike ‘suddenly with overwhelming force’.

 Chang and Halliday state that on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Peng Zhen, the mayor of Beijing, flew to Sichuan for secret talks with the purged general Peng Dehuai. Their source confirms that this meeting took place. But they misreport what the source says, claiming that the meeting was conducted ‘in secret’ (their italics), whereas it was arranged by the local Party secretary, Li Jingquan, as indeed it would have had to have been under the bureaucratic system operating in China at that time, although Li and Peng Zhen agreed not to report the meeting to Beijing. ‘What the two Pengs talked about has never been revealed,’ Chang and Halliday write, although the book they cite contains four pages of reconstructed dialogue. ‘Judging from the timing and the colossal risk Mayor Peng took in visiting’ Peng Dehuai, they say, ‘it is highly likely that they discussed the feasibility of using the army to stop Mao.’ Nothing of that sort is indicated in their source, which says that the two discussed an ideological campaign then unfolding in Beijing. It is unlikely that the two discussed military options, because neither of them – a civilian official and a purged general – had any access at all to troops.

 Chang and Halliday report the case of a brigadier general called Cai Tiegen, who thought of organising a guerrilla force to resist Mao during the Cultural Revolution and was shot for that crime. Their source, however, states that Cai was the victim of a frame-up by a political activist, who distorted some discussions between Cai and his friends about guerrilla warfare to create the false impression that Cai wanted to form guerrilla bands to oppose the regime.

 These three kinds of flaw do not rule out the possibility that in some cases Chang and Halliday’s findings may be true and represent a significant contribution to scholarship. The book makes the most thorough use to date of the many memoirs that have emerged since Mao’s death, written by his colleagues, cadres, staff and victims, and shows special insight into the suffering of Mao’s wives and children. It contains much information from Russian, Albanian and Bulgarian archives and publications, which so far as I know other scholars have not used. Among the new findings from these sources are that it was the Russians who first ordered the CCP to pay attention to the peasants; that Sun Yat-sen’s widow, Soong Ching-ling, was a Soviet agent; that the Russians had dealings with a warlord rival of Chiang Kai-shek’s in the 1930s, leading him to think they might sponsor him to replace Chiang as China’s ruler; that Mao initiated a long-term collaboration with Japanese intelligence in 1939; that Mao had his own ‘powerful intelligence network’ within the American Communist Party, unavailable to the Russians; that, before the Korean War, Mao promised Kim Il-song that China would send in Chinese troops; that at some unspecified date Mao plotted to depose Kim Il-song; and that in the early 1950s Mao undertook unspecified ‘conspiratorial operations’ in the USSR. Such assertions must be examined in the future, but cannot yet be accepted as established conclusions.

 Chang and Halliday are magpies: every bright piece of evidence goes in, no matter where it comes from or how reliable it is. Jade and plastic together, the pieces are arranged in a stark mosaic, which portrays a possible but not a plausible Mao. This Mao is lazy, uncommitted, driven by lust for power and comfort, lacking in original ideas, tactically smart but strategically stupid, disliked by everyone he works with, selfish and mindlessly cruel. ‘Absolute selfishness and irresponsibility lay at the heart of Mao’s outlook.’ Mao was a ‘lukewarm believer’ in Marxism. ‘Mao discovered in himself a love for bloodthirsty thuggery.’ He ‘demonstrated a penchant for slow killing’. He ‘out-bandited the bandits’. He ‘was addicted to comfort’. His ‘most formidable weapon was pitilessness’. This was a man with many enemies, generated and regenerated by his persecutions and oppressions. ‘Mao evinced no particular sympathy for peasants’; ‘Mao was extremely unpopular’; ‘Mao was disliked by the locals.’

 How could a man like this win power? Chang and Halliday’s answer is that he was more vicious than his rivals. Thanks to his possession of shameful secrets, his manipulation of slander, character assassination and actual murder, his withholding and falsifying of information, and his sheer skill at browbeating, he defeated the hardened revolutionaries who were his former comrades-in-arms, turning Zhou Enlai into ‘a self-abasing slave’, ‘hyper-intimidating’ Liu Shaoqi, forming a purely instrumental alliance with Lin Biao and then discarding him – and doing some matchmaking for Lo Fu, for Mao was ‘shrewd about the ways of the heart, particularly in sexually inhibited men’. Mao ran rings around Chiang Kai-shek because ‘Chiang . . . let personal feelings dictate his political and military actions.’ Mao ‘had none of his weak spots’.

 Chang and Halliday position themselves as near omniscient narrators, permitting themselves to say constantly what Mao and others really thought or really intended, when we seldom have any way of knowing. A cautious historian would avoid taking poems or speeches from Mao as a clear expression of what he felt or intended, understanding that poetry may express a state of feeling, and that a political speech or dialogue may contain rhetorical flourishes, humour or irony, or may be intended to mislead. Chang and Halliday take what Mao says literally, even his well-known outrageous statements that famine and nuclear warfare were no big deal. And they repeatedly impute feelings and intentions to him when they lack even a poem or a speech on which to base their interpretation.

 Of course Mao deserves harsh moral judgment. Too many previous accounts of his life, awed by his achievements, have overlooked their human cost. But this portrayal impedes serious moral judgment. A caricature Mao is too easy a solution to the puzzle of modern China’s history. What we learn from this history is that there are some very bad people: it would have been more useful, as well as closer to the truth, had we been shown that there are some very bad institutions and some very bad situations, both of which can make bad people even worse, and give them the incentive and the opportunity to do terrible things.

 Chang and Halliday’s white-hot fury no doubt represents the unpublished and anonymous Chinese sources that they have used. More authentically than the officially licensed propaganda, these as yet subterranean opinions reflect the current evaluation of Mao within the Party as well as outside. This book can thus be read as a report on the crumbling of the Mao myth, as well as a bombshell aimed at destroying that myth. That the Chinese are getting rid of their Mao myth is welcome. But more needs to take its place than a simple personalisation of blame.



* The structure of the book makes checking the sources more difficult than is usual for a work of serious scholarship. To identify a source, you have first to flip to a section of notes at the back, where source citations are arranged by the page numbers of the main text. Under each page number are several bold-face tag lines keyed to sentences on that page. After each tag line is a list of sources, often as many as five or six. These citations provide only the author’s name and page numbers. You have to flip back and forth in the bibliography to identify the sources. The bibliography in turn is divided into two sections, one for Chinese sources and one for non-Chinese sources. Moreover, many of the source titles are abbreviated, so you have to check the two lists of abbreviations before going to the two bibliographies. When multiple sources are cited for a single assertion, it is often unclear which source is intended to support the controversial part of a passage in the text. If four sources fail to do so and the fifth is inaccessible, then the controversial assertion is impossible to check. </blockquote>

The Monstrous, Hidden Mao Tse-tung

November 26, 2008



[First published Novmber 21, 2005]The Monstrous, Hidden Mao Tse-tung In a previous blog, wrote that I was convinced by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s <I>Mao</I> that China’s Great Famine was a democide, and that this raised the communist democide 1923 to 1987 to 73,000,000, exceeding by over 10,000,000 the democide total for the Soviet Union 1917-1987. There is much more in this book and its predecessor, Chang’s <i>Wild Swans</I> that I will reveal here.


I should note that I’m not doing book reviews, although I need to give some background from the books. My interest is only in what I learned from the books that are new and surprising. First, as to the <I>Wild Swans</I>, this is a story of the lives of three Chinese women, Chang’s grandmother who had her feet bound, and became a concubine; her mother who along with Chang’s father became high officials in the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), and Chang herself who became a CCP member, a Red Guard, and was tortured, incarcerated, persecuted, underwent forced labor, and finally with Mao’s death was able to get a university education and be awarded one of the first foreign fellowships, this to England. What is so absorbing about this is what is revealed about China’s history through its effect on this one family. This includes the downfall of the Manchu Dynasty, China’s brief flirtation with democracy, the warlord years, Chiang Kai-shek’s rise to power, Mao’s gradual seizure of power over the communists, the civil war, Japanese invasion and occupation, the post-war battle against Chiang for China, Mao’s takeover of China, and the various bloody campaigns to solidify Mao’s rule and impose communism, the Great Leap Forward, the Great Famine, the Cultural Revolution, and aftermath. 


Here the perspective is bottom up. The top down perspective, that is of Mao and those around them, is given in <I>Mao</I>. These books are essential to each other and I strongly recommend that anyone interested in China today or its recent history, in pure evil, in communism, in totalitarianism, or in how mass murder and torture can become a routine operation of government, must read these books.


With that as background, what have I learned?


1. Some of the highest CCP members were dedicated to improving the lives of the people, but they soon became disillusioned by the killing, and corruption that infected the whole CCP, even at the top where the lust for power and fear of Mao determined almost every policy. They soon became cynical and were executed. 


While the people’s welfare deteriorated year by year, those at the top ate the best of meals, lived in the best of resorts, mansions, and homes, and even took over what had been public parks for private strolling and relaxation. By the end of Mao’s regime, the people lived in hovels, wore rags, some having to go naked, and were always on the verge of starvation, or so weakened that an ordinary cold meant death. At great expense, Mao had huge mansions built all over China for his private use, sometime spending no more than a few days in one, and had special food brought to him from remote areas. Moreover, he had his guards or cadre secure pretty young women for his sexual pleasure


The total income of China’s government was Mao’s to spend as he wished. All public property was his. All CCP members and government officials, military and police, was his to command.


2. The 1933-1934 Long March of 368 days over about 5,600 miles that you have read about, that “heroic march” of 87,000 communist soldiers from Yuda, Hangxi, led by Mao through much of China, “winning battle after battle against Chiang’s forces,” until finally only 10,000 reached security in Wuqi, Ningxia (Yenan came later). This is almost all a lie, perpetuated by Mao’s propaganda machine and Edgar Snow’s <i>Red Star Over China</I>. This popular and influential book established a favorable impression of Mao in the West. Snow was a communist sympathizer and the book was practically all dictated by Mao.


Virtually none of the well-known battles were fought. They were almost all lies. Chiang was not trying to destroy the communists but preserve them (his beloved son was a captive of Stalin), and guide them to where he could use their presence to overcome warlords that opposed him. 


Mao used the march as a means to gain more power against his rivals, even killing or leading their communist soldiers into ambushes or hopeless battles with Chiang. He thus led to destruction a whole Army. So, the most notable battles on the march were the defeats he set up to insure his power. He could do this because of his spies close to Chiang who kept Mao informed of all Chiang’s plans and military movements.


During and after the march, Mao carried out purges of communists, including many young people who joined the communists out of dedication to helping the people. Once they saw what Mao’s communism was like, they tried to escape. When caught they were usually executed by being buried alive.


3. Perhaps one of the most influential acts of any communist mole was that of a general in charge of Chiang’s army around Shanghai. When the Japanese invaded China from the north, they were not interested in a war or taking over all of indigestible China, but in reaching some kind of agreement with Chiang. However, at Mao’s command the mole had his troops attack the Japanese in Shanghai against Chiang’s orders. It became a great battle and the Japanese won. This attack on Japanese forces was to the Japanese a cause for war, for it communicated that Chiang was not interested in an agreement, and since they had secured Shanghai as a sea base, they decided to move into the rest of China and on a full scale war. This is what Mao wanted. He never really fought the Japanese, but used the war to attack Chiang and prepare for the postwar struggle against him. 


When I was in Japan during the Korean War a former Japanese soldier who had fought in China described how he and other soldiers would sit on a hill and watch Mao’s and Chiang’s soldiers fight each other. Chiang did not want these battles, Mao did.


4. In the post war struggle, Chiang had virtually defeated communist troops in Manchuria, when the US intervened. President Truman saw Mao as a peasant reformer and sent General George Marshall to arrange a cease-fire, and seek accommodations between Mao and Chiang. Neither Truman nor Marshall had any idea of Mao’s nature and aims. Under threat of the withdrawal of American aid, Marshall made Chiang stop fighting Mao for four months, during which he was to arrange a meeting between both sides. It didn’t happen, but the delay saved Mao’s army. Over the four months, it was massively reinforced by Stalin, and trained by Soviet officers. It was then almost a match for Chiang’s battle hardened forces. 


But, Chiang had three generals high in his command that were communist sleepers. In western, central, and Northern China including Manchuria they kept Mao informed of their movements, while maneuvering for the defeat of forces under their command. Chiang was not only a poor judge of those leading his forces, he refused to take any action against those he suspected of communist leanings. Mao never had such a problem. He killed anyone of whom he had slightest suspicion, and even those who might be so disposed by class background, friendships, family, and previous occupation.


So, Moa won China with the help of communist propaganda, communist moles, sleepers high up in Chiang’s regime and army, Stalin, Truman, and Chiang himself.


4. I need not go into the bloody land reform, and successive movements all dedicated to increasing communist, and thus Mao’s power. I should mention the Korean War, however. Mao was not satisfied with his power over China, he wanted it over the world. He thus tried to use all China’s resources to build up China’s industrial capacity and military capability. He tried to woo Stalin to help him build the atomic bomb, a huge navy, including 50 submarines, and the factories to produce tanks, cannons, airplanes, and so on. American power, however, stood in his way. But, he thought he knew how to weaken it. He wanted a Korean War in order to chew up American forces by the hundreds of thousands with is own. He therefore persuaded Stalin to give Kim Il-sung the go ahead to launch an invasion of the South, which would surely result in the United States getting involved. 


This is a remarkable revelation. It had become axiomatic in strategic studies that when in early 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave his famous Aleutians speech in which he excluded South Korea from the US Pacific “defense line” or “defensive perimeter,” it encourage Stalin to support Kim’s desire to launch the invasion. This lead to the national security principle: well define who you will defend, but otherwise keep your enemy guessing at to what you will do and how. There has been virtually no appreciation of the Korean War being on Mao’s initiative, or that the Acheson speech had nothing to do with it. Mao believed that American forces would be involved, and indeed, it was to draw them into mass slaughter that he wanted the war.


5. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog about Mao’s taking food out of the mouths of his people, condemning 38,000,000 to death, in his insatiable drive for power. And those close to him in power, finally regardless of the risk, turning on him to end the famine. He later got his revenge by the Cultural Revolution. He created a force of young high school and college students who had been so brainwashed as to love Mao as a god. He gave these Red Guards free reign (police and army were ordered not to interfere) to seek out capitalist roaders, spies, rightists, anti-Maoists, and anyone they suspected of counter-revolutionary beliefs, to thus to cleanse the CCP and government no matter how high the officials. 


The Red Guards, young boys and girls, beat and tortured their victims, incarcerated them, had them transported to remote and inhospitable regions to do forced labor, publicly humiliated them, and murdered them. Red Guards formed factions and fought, tortured, and killed each other as to who were the truer Moaists. Even army units got involved either directly in the fighting or by supplying their favorite faction with weapons. 


China fell into chaos. All schools were closed for years, and factory production ceased in some areas. Although the impoverished peasants were left undisturbed in most areas, without any additional food or help, they still had to take care of those sent to their area for hard labor or incarceration. No high official, except Mao, and a few closest to him, such as his wife Jiang Qing and Premier and Foreign Minister Chou En-lai, were exempt.


6. The Cultural Revolution was not just a cleansing of the CCP, it also wiped the culture clean of that which Mao did not approve. Classical books and art were destroyed, classical theater was forbidden, as was dancing, and only movies extolling the CCP or Mao were allowed. Anything cultural from the West was trashed. Normal forms of recreation were all but denied. About 80 percent of ancient monuments were eliminated. China’s priceless heritage was gone as Mao turned China into a cultural desert.


7. Until I read <i>Wild Swans</I>, I knew about the brainwashing of China’s people, but I had no feel for it nor did I know how thorough it was. Regardless of Mao’s monstrous evil, the people seemed to generally love him. He was deified. He was “the great savior of China,” the “great helmsman,” the “great provider.” “He loved his people, and had fought for them.” “Everything he did was for the good of the people.” He was China with all its virtues, and none of its faults. The brainwashing was such that people simply could not have negative thoughts about him. What was happening to them was due to Western agents and Chiang’s spies, rightists, and capitalist roaders, or bad people high in the CCP. Mao was as much a victim as they were.


8. In effectiveness, the way Mao controlled information, and deceived and lied to his people, went far beyond what Hitler and Stalin had achieved. It is worthy of close study as to how Mao so controlled information and communications. I believe it was by fear, the trembling fear resulting from systematic and deadly purges. No one could know when he or she would be the next one arrested and tortured to divulge their alleged plotting and counter revolutionary contacts. One might even fall under a quota to be arrested, as Mao dictated that between 1 and 10 percent of all intellectuals had to be arrested. In one province, the army was told that a third to a quarter of all class enemies were to be put to death by bludgeoning or stoning — about 100,000 were thus killed. This method of killing was chosen because it would instill fear and terror in survivors. People were thus turned into obedient robots.


9. Chou En Lai was the face of Mao to the world. He was handsome, a good conversationalist, cultured, and an accomplished diplomat. Mao used him to deal with visiting dignitaries, and he did much to mislead the world about Mao’s aims and character. He was also Mao’s hatchet man and supported Mao’s deadly policies and mass murder. How could this man who so impressed diplomats, and especially Americans do this. He was blackmailed. Mao held him under tight control by threatening to reveal anti-CCP statements he had once made, which would have meant torture and a miserable death.


10. Ho Chi Minh was under Mao’s influence and in some ways control. It was Mao that directed Vietnam’s bloody land reform, with all the same techniques and horror he had inflicted on his own peasants. I had thought that Ho alone was responsible, and only relied on the Chinese for advice. 


11. Pol Pot was equally under Mao’s influence, and the story that Chou En Lai tried to get Pol Pot to moderate his revolution and killing is not true. Mao encouraged it.


12. Then there was the United States as represented by Henry Kissinger and President Nixon. Everyone knows about the famous Nixon visits to China, but what is not known is what was involved. Mao’s ability to catapult China into superpower status was stymied by conflict with the Soviets. He feared a Soviet invasion from Mongolia that could easily seize Beijing. He then looked to the U.S. for protection and for help to achieve his superpower goal.


Nixon saw China as a balance against the Soviets, and declared that we would help defend China if it were attacked, as Mao wanted. Even in the case of weapons Nixo provided help. It was against the law to export weapons and related products to China. Nonetheless, Nixon did so by applying pressure to American allies, like Britain, to do the exporting instead. 


13. I remember well this time of the Kissinger and Nixon visits. It is sickening in retrospect how this monstrously evil man was extolled, toasted, complemented, and helped by Nixon, Kissinger, and the Western media in their train. This went beyond the real politics of an enemy of my enemy is my friend. It was a virtually a love fest.


To understand this is to understand the pro-Mao propaganda that had infected Americans and American leaders over the previous five decades. Much of this was due to outright gushing treatment of Mao, as by the aforementioned <i>Red Star Over China</i>. But it was also due to the dominance of China studies by fellow travelers, those who hated the Chiang Nationalist regime (and their was much to hate), and were thus sympathetic to Mao; or those experts who rarely tried to look beneath the information they were getting on China. When I wrote my book on China, even some of the anti-communists I read did not realize how some of what they believed was propaganda, as for example on the Great Famine, or Long March.


Anyway, Mao’s reputation had been failing and he was losing favor in the Third World when Nixon “played his China card.” The Nixon visits were just what Mao wanted. They boosted his worldwide reputation, including in the U.S.


14. I’ve never counted suicides as democide, but I should have. Families were torn apart; loved ones tortured and persecuted, if not killed; officials, professionals, students were jailed for no reason at all, and many were publicly beaten, dishonored, and humiliated. Suicides were everywhere, but remain uncounted. When you have as many as 100,000,000 persecuted in just the Cultural Revolution, I would guess that the number for all of Mao’s time in power must be in the millions. This would make the democide estimate of 73,000,000 conservative. 


The biography of Mao ends with this Epilogue: <blockquote>Today, Mao’s portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. The current Communist regime declares itself to be Mao’s heir and fiercely perpetuates the myth of Mao. </blockquote>


What is the lesson from all this? Never trust an absolute dictator. Don’t believe a word they say, nor any good or sympathetic thing said about them. Do nothing to increase their credibility or reputation. Diplomacy will not work with such dictators. And if push comes to shove, a war against them is just. It will save lives, and free people from their bloody chains.


Pray tell, my brother,

     Why do dictators kill

         and make war? 

     Is it for glory; for things, 

         for beliefs, for hatred,

         for power?

     Yes, but more, 

         because they can.</pre></blockquote>