China’s Cultural Revolution–A Docudrama

December 23, 2008

[First published May 11, 2005] When Mao Tse-tung launched his so-called Cultural Revolution in China in 1966, it was nothing less than a bloody civil war between the Maoist faction and that of Liu Shao-chi, China’s president and Mao’s heir apparent, a battle between Mao’s revolutionary fervor and Liu’s moderate economic policies and relaxation of communist control.

Mao’s supporters mobilized secondary school kids, university students, and other young people into what the Maoists called the Red Guards. These youths beat up and killed people they thought to be bourgeois or counter-revolutionaries. They invaded homes at will, ransacking belongings while seeking proof of subversive activities. Just a shortwave radio, just some Western music, just foreign language publications, even photographs branded residents as traitors. This meant their death.” This terror, plus pitched battles as Red Guard fought Red Guard, “leftist” military units fought “leftist” military units, and “conservative” workers and peasants fought both killed upwards of 10,000,000 Chinese, a bloody toll that is about 18 times the 558,052 killed in the American Civil War, and even greater than the 9,000,000 killed in World War I.

Still, these are just indigestible statistics. Just numbers. So, as I did yesterday for Pakistan’s genocide in East Pakistan, maybe a little fictional story so typical of what happened to many will give some human meaning to the numbers.

***
As an aspiring chemist attending a university in Shanghai, Chen Ying was a very serious student. Although attractive, she shunned boys in favor of studying in her room — her solitary home except for classes and trips to the library or chemistry laboratory.

Her dedication to science made her suspect. While she attended classes, Red Guards invaded her room and rampaged through it looking for evidence incriminating her as anticommunist, pro-Western — a capitalist-roader. They found all they needed: physics and chemistry books in English , and her diary. The diary damned her; it contained critical remarks she’d foolishly written about the Communist Party.

Security police arrested Chen Ying as she left her chemistry class, and took her to the municipal jail. There, teenage Red Guards tortured her for the names of the accomplices aiding her in spying on the Communist Party.

A young girl, no more than sixteen years old, in a Red Guard uniform grunted as she forced the large butterfly screw on the thumb crusher another quarter turn. Chen Ying screamed hoarsely and jerked her head, spraying tears and mucus around her as tremors wracked her body. Slivers of bone glinted white in the ruin of her other thumb, which the Red Guard had already mashed into a bloody pulp.

Two boys held her down and took turns yelling at her, “Confess. You are a spy. Who do you spy for?”

Pain was her universe. She shuddered and quaked with it. It made her dizzy and nauseous. It had made her release her bowels and she squirmed in her own waste. Twice already she had vomited. One of the boys had cupped a rag in the vomit and smeared it over her face.

Between the shouted demands of the boys and her screams, she could hear bone cracking in her left thumb.

She struggled to remember that name, just that one name, that’s all she now desired. But the excruciating pain of the thumb crusher destroyed all Chen Ying’s thoughts, thwarted all memory.

Then the agony leveled off and receded slightly. Impossible agony now became unbearable pain as somehow her body fed her system enough endorphins. And just at the edge of her mind, almost within her grasp, it was there. She fought to pull that name through the agony.

A new burst of pain drove it away; desperate, she tried to change her focus to chemical formulas. She only could recall H2O — water. Agonizing seconds seemed minutes. She thought of CO2 for carbon dioxide, and bore down mentally. She battled the excruciating, burning pain. She struggled to imagine pushing the waves of pain aside with her hands to give her mind space to remember.

It was coming. There — the more complex formula for glucose. Then it almost escaped her in a new wave of pain. She caught it — C6H12O6.

Out of nowhere, the name she sought popped into her mind.

“Stop!” she screamed. “I will . . . confess.”

The girl at her side stopped turning the screw on the thumb crusher.

Gasping for breath, Chen Ying tried to get the name out before her pain submerged it. “Zhao Jin,” she whispered. Her voice broke on the last name. “I am . . . the . . . concubine of Zhao Jin.”

The girl looked shocked. Both boys leaned forward, staring at Chen Ying. One said, “Zhao Jin? You screw Zhao Jin?”

“Yes, I . . . spy . . . for him.” Now more strongly, she said, “That barrel of pig shit . . . said he would . . . protect me.”

“You lie,” the girl said, without conviction.

“Ask him. Why . . . would I lie? Nothing . . . can save me . . . I’ll soon die.”

The Red Guards said nothing more. The girl’s blood-flecked hands flew to unscrew the thumb crusher. She tossed it on a shelf with other torture instruments. Then she and the two boys left without a glance back.

Chen Ying waited for the inevitable. The pain lessened, and she was able to think. She imagined the results of her victory as she prepared herself for death.

A few minutes later, two uniformed policemen came in and lifted her by her arms. She screamed as the movement in her thumbs sent new waves of agony through her body. They force-marched her out to a small yard enclosed by high concrete walls.

One of the policemen forced her to her knees and pushed her head forward. The other took out his handgun and shot her in the back of the head.

There was the beginning of a smile on her face as it hit the dirt.

The next day, security officials invaded the home of Zhao Jin, the leader of the Maoist faction of Red Guards in Shanghai. A thorough search discovered a Japanese camera, an American radio, and a Western pornographic photograph. Security police arrested and tortured Zhao Jin, but he would not confess. Nonetheless, the items found in his home made Zhao Jin’s guilt clear. A week after police arrested him, they forced Zhao Jin to hang a large sign from his neck that proclaimed “I am a capitalist spy.” A cordon of security police led him to the Shanghai Workers’ Stadium. All along the way, people screamed at him and pelted him with stones, broken pieces of wood, and any other debris they could pick up. Finally, at the stadium, before a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands that the Maoists had gathered for this event, all beating the air with their little red Mao books and hollering revolutionary slogans, security police shot Zhao Jin to death.

Three days later, officials went to the home of Chen Ying’s mother. They told her that they had executed her daughter as a spy, and that the bullet was a waste of government money. The cost of the bullet, they said, was five fen — about three cents. Officials demanded she pay for the bullet the police had shot through the back of her daughter’s head.


Link of Note

”The Chinese Cultural Revolution: Autobiographical Accounts of a National Trauma” By Therese Hoffman

The best way to get a feel for the human meaning of a catastrophic event, such as the Cultural Revolution, is through autobiographies and refugee reports. Here is a good collection of the former, with context.


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China’s Democide Far Exceeds Japan’s

December 23, 2008

[First published April 24/ 2005] One series of headlines in the news last week concerned riots and demonstrations in China over Japan’s democide in China during the Sino-Japanese war, 1937-1945, which merged into World War II. For example, one AP lead was:

SHANGHAI, China (AP) — Japan’s foreign minister was set to travel to Beijing Sunday for talks aimed at defusing the worst tensions between the two Asian powers in decades, after about 20,000 Chinese demonstrators rioted over Tokyo’s wartime history and its bid for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat.

Thousands of police watched the protesters — some shouting “kill the Japanese” — rampage through Shanghai on Saturday but did little to restrain the crowd. Japan filed a strongly worded official protest, complaining that Chinese authorities failed to stop anti-Japanese violence for a third weekend in a row.

Demonstrating in China can get one executed, tortured, or assigned to a honey bucket (buckets carrying human waste) brigade for life. So, these demonstrations had to be organized by the communist regime, and obviously for the purpose of defeating Japan’s bid, with U.S. support, to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

I received an email from China in which the writer asked:

Do you remember me, a Chinese? I want to tell you our feelings towards Japanese. Everyone in our town, young or old, hate Japanese. You may ask why? The Japanese people have never recognize their crimes committed by Japanese troops during World War II. Mr. Rummel, we sincerely hope you tell American friends our feelings, the true feelings . Have you read report about recent anti-Japanese demonstrations across China ? We just want them to recognize their faults. We do not know you what the American people think? Could you tell me?

I wrote in return:

I guess you don’t know that your own communist regime murdered many more Chinese since 1949. I calculate that it murdered 35,000,000 Chinese, while Japan murdered about 3,900,000. Americans recognize the horror of the Japanese occupation of China, especially what is called the Rape of Nanking. However, they also recognize that the communists, especially Mao, were worse.

The poor Chinese writer probably has no idea what I’m talking about, if my email gets through the Chinese regime’s controls. He has been taught since birth, if he is much younger than I am, that the communists have brought peace, prosperity, justice, and freedom to China. And since no book, newspaper, magazine, TV and radio broadcast, speech, or demonstrators would dare disagree, it must be true.


Link of Note

China’s Bloody Century (1991) By R.J. Rummel

This book details the democide and war dead for the five major periods in China’s history from 1900 to 1987: The Manchu Dynasty until 1912, war lord period, the Nationalist (KMT) government under General Chiang Kai-shek, the Mao Tse-tung regime (Communist Party) from 1949-1976, and after. The chart below provides an overview of the sources of deaths. About 54,000,000 Chinese were murdered by one government/regime/party or another, 1900-1987. When one adds to this those Chinese killed in civil war, including that among the warlords, and war with foreign powers during the Boxer Rebellion and with Japan’s invasion beginning in 1937, the total rises to near 66,000,000. Then there were those man-made famines under the KMT, and then Mao, which jump the total dead in democide, war, and famine to 116,000,000.

No other people in our modern times have suffered and bled so much, not even the Russians.


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“Now, Dearest, You Are Here (A Docudrama on Moa’s China)

December 21, 2008

[first published May 23, 2005] A Docudrama About Pol Pot’s Cambodian Communist Revolution. This is from Rummel” Book 1 alternative history Never Again Series (link here). Note that while the characters are fictitious, their experience is based on known facts and refugee reports. This is unbelievable enough without having to invent any of the horror.

***
April of 1975 was a happy day for Tor as she waited for Nguon beneath the torn awning on the ramshackle building where they lived.

The war was now over. After successive retreats, General Lon Nol could no longer even defend Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, against the Khmer Rouge guerrillas. The Cambodian Army had declared a cease-fire and laid down its arms. Soon afterward, the government conceded defeat and opened Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge and their leader, Pol Pot. An army of 68,000 guerrillas achieved victory for a communist party of 14,000 members against an army of about 200,000 men.

Naturally petite, Tor was skinny from lack of food–a common problem in Phnom Penh at that time. Her face was still round, though–“Just,” Nguon always told her, “as I like it.” She had kept her black hair cut short to keep it out of the way as she worked in her cousin’s small restaurant. On this day, she wore an orange blouse and a beige sarong.

Nguon was teaching, but she was sure he had heard the news about the great victory. No doubt he would cancel class and join her to welcome the guerrilla soldiers. They were supposed to arrive within the hour.

Tor heard people celebrating all around her. Many intellectuals and middle-class Cambodians, disgusted with the everyday corruption of the government, were willing to try anything that brought change, even communism. Tor was no less happy. She was already thinking about bringing her own mother from the northeast, where she had been trapped by the war.

There Nguon was, all smiles as he approached her in his common black shorts. He took her hands and, looking into her eyes, said, “My dearest one. During all these years of war we prayed to Buddha for peace, and now it’s here. The world will change today. What a great moment.”

They walked to Sisowath Quay down which they expected the major force of Khmer Rouge to come on their way to the Royal palace. Many people were out on the streets, laughing, talking, all waiting. Almost every other building had white material–clothes, sheets, or towels–hung from windows or poles.

A low rumble grew into the mechanical roar of trucks. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing and looked toward the approaching noise.

Down Sisowath Quay came the Khmer Rouge. Those soldiers in the vanguard rode in trucks and vehicles of all descriptions. Behind those, squads of guerrilla soldiers walked in single file down the center of the street. They carried an assortment of weapons. No guerrilla seemed older than eighteen. All wore black, pajama-like uniforms, sandals made from strips of tires and inner tubes, and black Chinese caps. Each soldier had wound a red-checkered headscarf around his cap or neck. None of them smiled or looked at the crowds of people lining the roads.

Some of the people cheered and clapped, but most just smiled and waited to see what the victorious guerrillas would do next.

After watching for a while, Tor commented, “They are so young. How could they defeat the army?”

“Well, they did,” Nguon responded. “Let’s go back to our place. I’ve seen enough.”

Tor and Nguon ambled back to their apartment climbed the worn steps and walked down the dim, unpainted hallway to their room. Although almost too excited to eat, they thought it best to get something into their stomachs before what surely would be an evening of celebration. As they ate some reheated rice and fruit and a little leftover ham Tor had saved from the restaurant, they discussed what they would do once the city settled down.

Shots echoed out on the street as they were cleaning up. Tor and Nguon rushed over to the small window and peered out. They saw people moving past their building, their faces creased with confusion. They were looking around and glancing often over their shoulders. Waving their guns and yelling, several Khmer Rouge soldiers pointed in the direction the people were moving.

Tor gasped. “What’s going on? I thought the war was over.”

“I don’t know,” Nguon replied. “Maybe some Lon Nol soldiers don’t want it to end. I’m going out to take a look as soon as we finish here.”

But when they finished cleaning up a few minutes later, the noise from the street had increased greatly. Babies cried; car horns blared; people yelled constantly. Nguon and Tor exchanged an anxious glance. They decided to take a look outside, but when they reached the street they couldn’t believe their eyes.

A mass of people of all descriptions, packed almost shoulder-to-shoulder, moved in the direction the soldiers indicated. The crowd eddied around the spots where the guerrilla soldiers stood yelling like a stream around boulders. Here and there, a crowded car, small truck, or motor scooter crawled along in the flow of humanity. Tor glimpsed several motorbikes loaded down with possessions.

“Move, move. Get out,” the Khmer Rouge soldiers shouted, waving their rifles.

Standing on their steps, Tor looked up the road in the direction all these people were coming from, and saw a body lying on the walkway two buildings down. Another body lay a little further away. Everyone in the crowd avoided them. The bodies created little eddies of their own in the stream of people.

A black-clad soldier with a red scarf around his neck rushed up, pointed an AK-47 at them, and screeched in the high, thin rasp of a teenage boy, “You must leave this evil place. Go now!”

He couldn’t be over fifteen years old, Tor thought.

Nguon didn’t understand. “Go where? Why?”

“Go! Go! Out of the city. Now!” he screamed at them, even louder.

Tor was scared now. Her voice trembled when she asked, “But can’t we get something to take with us? It will take just a–”

Nguon grabbed her hand and jerked her off the steps. He pulled Tor down the side of the crowded road. They were jostled and pushed by people and bumped by the heavy suitcases a few people carried. A short distance down the crowded walkway, Nguon, who was tall for a Cambodian, looked back. Not seeing any soldiers nearby, he pulled Tor into an alley with him.

“What are you doing?” she asked between gulps of air. She’d begun to shake.

“Don’t say anything,” Nguon urged, putting his finger on her lips.

Still gripping her hand, he pulled her with him as he cautiously rushed down the narrow, trash-filled alley. When he came to an intersecting alley, he peeked around the corner.

“No soldiers,” he murmured, and turned the corner with Tor still in tow. Several old people milled around in the alley, asking about all the noise and what was going on. Nguon ignored them.

Within minutes they reached the rear of their building without seeing any soldiers. Obviously, the soldiers were stretched thin in trying to cover all the alleys, roads, and buildings in Phnom Penh. He guessed, however, that the soldiers would began to search these buildings soon.

A small step at a time, Nguon entered the building through the rear entrance, peering down the hallway to make sure there were no soldiers inside. He motioned for Tor to follow him, and they rushed to their room. The hallway was deserted–others had also gone out to investigate the noise in the street.

Once they were inside, Nguon allowed his own fear to show. Looking at Tor, he said quickly, “I think that kid was going to shoot us. I don’t understand it, but I think we should prepare for the worst and get away before they search the building.”

“Where are they sending us?”

“I don’t know, but hurry now, let’s pack what we might need. Pack food, of course, and blankets, clothes, and the money we’ve hidden.”

Tor walked to the corner of the room and pulled out from under a glass topped rattan table a large, battered French suitcase that had been in her family for two generations.

“No, no,” Nguon said, stopping her. “That’s too clumsy. Just two bags, one for each of us, and not too hard to carry.”

Tor fetched her wicker shopping bag from their small closet and Nguon picked up the school bag he used to carry books and papers, and they began to fill them. Just in case they lost a bag, they split the rice and fruit between them, and each took a small bottle of drinking water. They also divided between them their family heirlooms and their other few valuables. Tor kissed her old gold locket containing a photograph of her mother and father, then tucked it into the side of her bag where she wouldn’t accidentally pull it out. She also threw in a box of tissues.

Nguon looked around, stood thinking for a moment, and chided himself, “I almost forgot.” He took an old Cambodian tourist brochure from a drawer in their one cabinet, tore out the map inside, and put it in his bag.

He stepped over to the sink they had used for everything from washing dishes to their bodies, picked up an old Japanese chef’s knife and handed it to Tor. “Wrap this in some of your old clothes and hide it in the bottom of your bag,” he told her. He picked up a six-inch French carving knife, wrapped it, and deposited it in his own bag.

“Okay, let’s . . . ” Nguon trailed off as they heard more shots.

Tor rushed over to look out the window. “No, they can’t be doing this!” she exclaimed.

Here and there in the stream of people, invalids were being pushed in wheelchairs. Others staggered along on crutches. People pushed hospital beds with their loved ones still in them. Tor saw an intravenous tube stuck in the arm of one of the invalids. The tube was connected to a bottle hanging from a pole being wheeled along beside the bed by a woman who was probably a relative.

“The soldiers must also be emptying the hospitals,” Nguon said. “We can’t do anything about it. Let’s go.”

They hurried down the hallway and paused on the stairs to look both ways before plunging into the moving mass of people.

More here


Democide
Books, articles, statistics


Love, Fear, And Death In Mao’s China

December 10, 2008

I urge those of you who are interested in China and what it is like to live under absolute communist totalitarianism to read any one of the many Chinese memoirs now coming out. Their virtue is that they provide feeling and insight into what it was like to live day-by-day under such a system. These memoirs get away from the cold abstractions of scholarly and journalistic books on China, and their sterile analyses and statistics. To understand Mao’s China, you have to take to heart and sense its reality for the people, and these memoirs help you do so.

The latest I’ve read is Son Of The Revolution by Liang Heng and his wife Judith Shapiro. It is not as well written as Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, nor as historically far reaching, since her book covers the personal history of her family over three generations. But, Liang’s memoir is more detailed in its focus on his life and that of his mother and father. Moreover, unlike Chang’s parents and Chang herself, who were high Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadre, Liang and his parents were nothing but ordinary small city dwellers. His father was a reporter for a local newspaper and his mother worked for the local police.

His parents suffered incredibly from the various attempts by the CCP to cleanse China of bad thinkers, rightists, spies, and capitalist roaders. Of most interest to me was Liang’s experience as a Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. He lived in Changsha in central China, which was one of the more violent cities during this period. The Red Guards, nothing more than teenagers and even younger children, divided into enemy factions, each claiming to represent the true revolutionary spirit of Mao. Each had weapons handed out by the army or stolen from armories, including even cannon, machine guns, mortars, and so on. The Army and police were ordered to be neutral in the battles between factions, although they themselves often broke into warring groups.

Guns were everywhere, with young kids and even girls, strutting around with pistols tucked into their belts. The battle in the city was horrendous: bullets whizzing down the streets made it very dangerous for anyone to step outdoors. As happened throughout China, teachers, professors, high officials, and cadre were often beaten, tortured, and murdered as the Red Guards tried to purge the city of those whom they perceived as lacking proper support for the revolution, or who they saw as Mao’s enemies. Evidence of this could be owning a Western book, having distant relatives that escaped to Taiwan, a grandfather who had fought the communists during the civil war, a mother that let drop a criticism of the CCP, and so on.

Among the Red Guards and others involved, no matter the fighting faction, they fought for love of Mao. This is not a typo. It was for LOVE.

I have consistently pointed out how such totalitarian systems run on fear. That is well documented in this memoir. But there is something added, which was also there in Chung’s book and others, but I had not picked it up as I did here. That is love. Liang was born in 1954, just as the bloody “land Reform” campaign was completed, and before the establishment of the commune—the factorization of the peasant—and Great Leap Forward. From birth, therefore, Liang was subject to intensive and continuous daily brainwashing and the implantation of correct thought. Mao became everything: the “Red Sun,” the “Great Saving Star,” the “Great Helmsmen,” and the “Heart and Soul of China.” If I remember correctly, the second word he learned after that for his mother was Mao. The Chinese were taught that they owed everything good about their lives to him, and everything bad to the previous nationalist regime, American imperialism, rightists, or capitalist roaders. Hard as it is to believe, because of this “education” that he and other Chinese received, he loved Mao, as did Jung Chang, and as did everyone they knew. It was inconceivable to question or criticize him.

But with this love, there still was the constant fear. But not of Mao, since he was perceived, as they were taught, to have only their welfare and happiness in mind. But the fear was of the CCP cadre, of their classifying one as evil, or their accusing one of violating one of the plethora of rules that governed everyday life. The consequences could be horrendous: denial of ration tickets, being made to divorce one’s mate, being sent to the countryside, public denunciation, humiliation, lying confessions, arrest, torture, even execution. One had no protection against any of this, no media, no lawyers, no courts, and no constitution. Everyone was totally at the mercy of the communist cadre, even the cadre themselves were at the mercy of those higher up.

What a fantastic combination. Love for the man responsible for the daily horrors, while fearing the personal impact of these horrors. Of course, no one could conceive that these were Mao’s fault. It just had to be those bad people around him or lower down in the CCP.

A good review of the book by Xiaowei Zheng is here.

Links of Note

“‘20,000’ on death row worldwide”:

At least 1,770 executions took place last year in China, where a person could be sentenced and executed for non-violent crimes including tax fraud, embezzlement and drug offence….

“China’s military budget jumps 14%”:

China has said it will increase its military spending by 14.7% this year to 283.8bn yuan ($35.3bn ….)….China’s armed forces are the biggest in the world and have seen double-digit increases in military spending since the early 1990s…. Washington has several times accused China of understating its military budget. It said last year’s spend[ing] was not the $30bn stated but closer to $90bn.

“China’s role in genocide”:

At the United Nations last September, the Security Council passed Resolution 1564, threatening Sudan with oil sanctions unless it curbed the violence in Darfur. China immediately threatened to veto any move to actually impose sanctions, so the threat was rendered useless.

RJR: It has to do with Sudan’s oil.

“Feinstein insists U.S. not bound to protect Taiwan”:

In remarks certain to please visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday told a gathering of Chinese-American business and cultural leaders in San Francisco that the United States has no obligation to defend Taiwan if it provokes China into a military confrontation.”

RJR: If there is a hell for high officials that by their statements make war more likely, Feinstein is a strong candidate.

“Is the US asleep at the wheel?”:

US politicians and military officers think that Taiwan exists solely for the benefit of — or as a detriment to — US-China relations. This blissfully egocentric attitude has been the source of much confusion in cross-strait relations, and could lead Washington to make a major miscalculation jeopardizing its strategic position in the Western Pacific.

RJR: One problem is the near universal belief that Taiwan was before World War II part of China. It was not then or ever in the last century, nor did the treating ending the Japanese control of Taiwan (Formosa) give it to China. By treaty, its status is undetermined.

“Seeds of Fury”:

Protests are flaring across China’s countryside over everything from land seizures to corruption. In a nation of 900 million farmers, quelling this rising unrest may be Beijing’s greatest challenge…. By the central government’s own count, there were 87,000 “public-order disturbances” in 2005, up from 10,000 in 1994.

“Torture Exhibition:
Display of Crimes Against Conscience”
Not for the queasy.


“China’s Cultural Revolution — A Docudrama “


The Ameriican Push For Human Rights And Democracy

December 10, 2008

[First published April 25, 2006] The U.S. Department of State has published “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy:  The U.S. Record 2003-2004” in compliance with the 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act that requires the Department to report on actions taken by the U.S. Government to encourage respect for human rights. If you are a freedomist, as I am, it is a fascinating read. It reveals much activity on human rights and democratization of which I was unaware, and which I am profoundly happy to see being done.

Of course, all such publications by a government agency have to be approached with caution. Bureaucracies will be bureaucracies, you know. The question is then where to look for an honest and probing review of the report. I look to Freedom House, which has been active in promoting democracy, and has a team of country experts that do their country freedom ratings. So, here is their review, in the format of a press release:

 Annual Democracy Report an Improvement This Year
Freedom House noted with interest the just-released report, Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005 – 2006, issued by the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The report is an improvement over previous iterations, but it still lacks a sense of clear U.S. strategy towards the expansion of freedom around the world, Freedom House said today.

The report describes U.S. government activities encouraging democratic growth around the world, and includes accounts of country-specific diplomatic statements and actions, trade policies, and embassy-level interventions, as well as formal “democracy promotion” program activities. However, the 272-page report provides no indication of how the $1.4 billion in democracy and governance work in fiscal year 2005 was actually allocated, nor does it provide any other indication of the Administration’s strategic prioritization among countries, challenges and opportunities.

“The report is an improvement over previous iterations. It documents an impressive collection of programs and policies promoting democracy and human rights around the world,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. “When one examines country allocation figures available from other parts of the U.S. government,  however, it becomes apparent that the real winners are countries in crisis like Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. programs still frequently fail to follow through with funding to those countries that are out of crisis but not yet fully democratic.”

Democracy funding for programs in Africa in particular remains meager. As Freedom House highlighted during its March 29th conference, the continent still has more countries rated “not free” than “free,” yet the region received only 14 percent of total U.S. funding for worldwide democracy programs last year.

Ms. Windsor pointed out other troubling trends. “We have already seen disturbing cuts to democracy programs in 2006. Funding for human rights programs in Central Asia have been cut, Latin American programs have had funding reduced, and even democracy programs in Iraq are facing serious cutbacks,” she said.

Freedom House did note that U.S. programs and policies in some countries have been well-funded and unequivocal in their objectives. The Administration’s push for competitive elections in 2005 in Egypt, for example, and its suspension of free trade talks with officials because of the imprisonment of an Egyptian democracy activist, have been commendable first steps towards a clear U.S. policy to promote democracy in that country.

In other countries, however, dialogue on the importance of democracy has not been matched by sufficient actions. Pakistan, for example, has not been criticized by the Administration for its conspicuously undemocratic behavior, and U.S. relations with Russia have not been significantly affected by the democratic deterioration that has occurred in that country.

Links of Note

“US Report Distorts Human Rights Status in China” It you want a good laugh, read this response by China to the above report on its abysmal human rights record.

“Never Forget Flash Animation.” This is an excellent flash animation of 9/11, available for your website or blog.

“Are Facts Obsolete?” By Thomas Sowell:

What is more frightening than any particular policy or ideology is the widespread habit of disregarding facts. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey put it this way: “Demagoguery beats data.”

RJR: I find this so true in the commentaries/editorials/speeches on democracy, democratization, and the democratic peace.

“Arts for Democracy”:

Arts for Democracy started, when I realized the Left, a group which I used to identify with, seemed to have lost the perspective of its views when observing the conflict between the West and Islam. Rather than joining either group in a never-ending blame game, I use art and text as tools to communicate my beliefs.

“School Of Democracy” Did not know one existed, did you? And in France!

“Democracy Digest” A periodic digest of issues and progress of democracy around the world, and to which you can subscribe.

“Foundation for Defense of Democracies”:

Fighting terrorism and promoting freedom through research, communications, education and investigative journalism.

RJR. For your bookmarks.



Click for a free pdf downloadable alternative
history series emphasizing the democratic peace.


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 Amazon.com. 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=” http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n22/print/nath01_.html”><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.

<hr>

Footnotes

* 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>