Nov 12

A reconsideration of “grand democracy” of the CR, theory and practice

Written by snow on Wednesday, November 12th, 2008 at 9:21 am
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Something no less significant than the country’s rapid economic growth of past three decades is that a group of brilliantly independent-thinking intellectual elites came into being with growing public impact, thanks to a relatively more relaxed era. While among them the liberal rightists have found more official avenues publicizing their opinions and effectively influencing the decision-making process at the high-up (as with the cases of economists li yining, Wu Jinglian and zhang weiying, the prime campaigners of western free market economy and neo-liberalism), the liberal leftists, with a sharper edge in critical and alternative thinking on important but still taboo issues such as the legacies of Mao, socialist practice and Cultural Revolution in light of China’s modernization and democratization, have been on the fringe. Cui Zhiyuan, Professor at School of Public Policy and Management in Tsinghua University, is one of them.

The party line has put a lid on any meaningful research of Mao and the Cultural Revolution for the sake of stability. The CCP has kept silence not only on Mao’s anniversaries but also in the face of significant historical misinformation and distortion occurred in a widely publicized book on Mao by Zhang Rong and his husband, even though the book has been widely publicized in the world, even though the world’s well-known China scholars on the subject have pointed out the book’s serious flaws. However, the issue is still probably among the most inflammable, hotly contended (in private or on Internet), bitterly dividing people of all walks today. The often debated political topics such as the legitimacy of the regime or the political reform and path to democracy would invariably boil done to or evolve into the question of how to view the legacy of Mao and CR. We simply cannot avoid this subject forever if the country is to move forward despite the party’s expedient policy of shutting up all opinions and the painful memories of the time under Mao preserved by too many. It makes the open and fair study of the subject even more imperative as today more and more people, the downtrodden in particular, have had a strong nostalgic feeling toward Mao and his time (we often ignore that their experiences of and attitude toward Mao years and CR tend to be dramatically different from that of the intellectual elites and the privileged few whose sufferings and opinions have been successfully voiced in Chinese fictions, movies, TV dramas, and best-selling books in English in past three decades).

The prevailing views on the subject of Mao and CR have been either condemnation or blind exaltation. The article by Cui I recommended here is an unusually cool minded, balanced and well researched study. Not a simplistic negation or affirmation, it provides convincing and controversially inspiring and provocative analysis and arguments to thoughtful questions: What’s the real motivation and reason for Mao to mobilize the entire population in a cultural revolution against his own comrades inside the party establishment? Why did millions of people answer his call and enjoy their rights in the time of Grant Democracy with genuine enthusiasm and passion? Where did it go wrong in the process? What’s the relationship between Mao’s theory of CR (and other issues of Chinese revolution) and the orthodox Marxist doctrine? And more significantly perhaps, is it possible for us, in a dialectic process of creative appropriation, to learn something from the Grant Democracy of CR, a genuine and spectacular democratic practice evolving into a colloquial tragedy, to benefit China’s democratization in the 21st century? The author argues that the failure of the Grand Democracy practiced by the millions during the CR under Mao does not mean that the people do not deserve a democracy at this magnitude, vigor and intensity. He must have all the burning and appalling issues in mind, such as the injustice done to the miners, migrant workers, peasants, and ordinary people intensified in past decades due to lack of effective democracy and public monitoring system. It’s really tempting to think that, if properly managed, the “four big” (大鸣, 大放, 大辩论, 大字报) may well be useful tools for the voiceless and powerless to protect their rights and deal with the long ingrained problems of corruption, bureaucracy and all forms of abusive of power inside the ruling class in China.

I am not sure if the readers of FM are ready for the subject of Mao and CR (I remember once Buxi ruminated on the possibility of a thread on Mao sometime). We may not agree with Cui, but he certainly makes the gain and loss of Mao and his theory of the CR a strong case and and thus deserves our attention.

Admin’s note: snow’s original title includes A good article to recommend: On the Gain and Loss of Mao’s Theory of Cultural Revolution and the Rebuilding of “Modernity” . It refers to this Chinese article 崔之元:毛泽东文革理论的得失与“现代性”的重建(旧文). It’s too long so I removed it and put a copy of this article in the Chinese section.

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40 Responses to “A reconsideration of “grand democracy” of the CR, theory and practice”

  1. snow Says:

    Sorry, “grand democracy”, not grant.

  2. admin Says:

    corrected. I also reorganized your post, please see my note above.

  3. Allen Says:

    @Snow, I am sure the CR is a very complex phenomenon, but if you can give a brief summary or highlight a couple of main points Cui tried to make in the book, perhaps people would have a better ground point to start commenting.

  4. wuming Says:

    In my opinion, the phenomenon of Mao can be understood from 2 inter-related perspectives.

    The first is a religious perspective: without a predominant religion, the Chinese populous is nevertheless susceptible to charismatic cult like figures, Mao was certainly such a figure.

    Second, Mao was a leader of a peasant revolt, like many in the Chinese history. In majority of the cases, these revolt were extremely destructive, often decimate a majority of the population in the process.

    The connection was that these leaders of the peasant revolt often took on religious guises.

  5. snow Says:

    Mao is a product of his time and Chinese history. Born into a peasant family, being educated in both the traditional and western cultures and coming of age in one of China’s most traumatic and miserable times, he as a person as well as his revolution and rise to power are bound to be nothing short of complexity, ambivalence, and contradiction. But if we are honest to history, we have to respect Mao as one of the founding fathers of PRC. Well loved for his revolution which changed the fate of millions and hated for the disasters for which he was either directly or indirectly responsible, I think that Deng’s well known comment on his life is basically fair.

    The fanatic personality cult of Mao more than thirty years ago was such an unfortunate event for the Chinese nation. It certainly appeared religious, to say the best and worst aspect of it. But the phenomenon of the personality cult is also like a coin with two sides: while the personality has a lot to blame, we tend to forget that it is the historical circumstance (including a country’s internal and external conditions, the economic embago from outside world and the lack of education and self-confidence of the people…) that makes it possible for certain personality’s rise to the status of a hero or a semi god.

  6. wuming Says:

    I certainly have no quarrel with the idea that Mao was a product of his time. I have precisely stated that such personality appears with regular frequency in Chinese history.

    However, I am having great difficulty in identifying anything good that Mao did for China, Deng’s assessment not withstanding. Yes, some good things happened during Mao’s reign, but can we honestly say that it would not have happened anyway. To me the likelihood that China would have turned out much better without Mao is very high. The last 30 years is a proof of that.

  7. TonyP4 Says:

    Is China better if KMT won the civil war instead of Mao?

  8. chinayouren Says:

    Interesting subject, the legacy of Mao is one of the keys to understand the China of today. I would just like to highlight the following points, which people tend to forget when they start the easy bashing of Mao:

    1- There were good things that came from Mao’s regime, that is a fact. To name only a few: stability, social order, role of women, alphabetism, confidence, end of colonialism. It is no use to hypothesize, like #6 above, that someone else could have done better. The plain fact is, nobody did. Mao took over a broken country and delivered to Deng the structure with which to build the new China.

    2- The western democracies have little to say about Mao.They simply arrived late with their calls for democracy. They spent too much time selling drugs and splitting china’s territory for their own use or giving it to Japan as a present. Whatever horrible mistakes Mao did, Western powers are directly responsible for at least as much suffering as him. Mao should be credited at least for putting an end to their disgraceful activities in China.

    3- For practical reasons, I am not sure it is necessarily positive to do a complete revision of Mao any more, 30+ years later. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for open discussion, and I think intellectuals should be free to analyze and publish books on this subject.

    But Trying to dig further into the wounds or seeking some kind of retaliation can only can bring instability and unnecessary trouble. And mind you, all the real culprits of those crimes are either long dead, or else powerful enough to find a little scapegoat to pay for them.

    It is very traumatic – and unfair- for millions of chinese of the old generation to go tell them now that Mao was a criminal. Just walk around China and ask any middle aged woman her opinion on Mao. More often than not, you are going to find people deeply convinced that he was a hero. Brainwashed? yes, could be, but it is not their fault either. Those people suffered the CR like everyone else, and never chose to be educated in the Mao regime. They lived the drama of their generation. Should they all be declared accomplices now. Are we, or the chinese intellectuals, so much better than them, that we can come and judge how they lived their lives?

    Look at what has been done in other countries. Look at France with the war of Algeria, or Spain with Franco. One day these countries decided to turn the page and no questions asked. Now they are among the “champions of democracy”. I think China should do exactly the same.

  9. wuming Says:

    “Is China better if KMT won the civil war instead of Mao?”

    Given the trajectory of Taiwan and China since the civil war, I would say yes. I would go further in stating that status quo is almost always preferable over bloody revolution.

  10. bt Says:

    @ Chinayouren #8

    “Look at what has been done in other countries. Look at France with the war of Algeria, or Spain with Franco. One day these countries decided to turn the page and no questions asked. Now they are among the “champions of democracy”.

    turn the page … no questions asked …
    Could you elaborate, please?

  11. bt Says:

    I heard one day (sorry, I forgot where and who …) that one of the explanations of the CR was that Mao was deadly afraid of a de-maoisation like what happened in the USSR after the death of Stalin.
    Thus, he was seeing Deng and Liu as possible ‘Chinese Khrushchev’.
    What do you Chinese people are thinking about this assumption?

  12. wuming Says:

    “Thus, he was seeing Deng and Liu as possible ‘Chinese Khrushchev’.” Mao did call Liu, Deng and most of the communist hierarchy the ‘Chinese Khrushchevs”.

    I believe Deng’s 70-30 assessment of Mao was for expediency, and shouldn’t be taken as the final words, even as far as the communist party is concerned. But on the other hand, I think that chinayouren is right that now is still not the time to address these issues … we need to address the French Revolution first, as reputedly suggested by Zhou Enlai

  13. TonyP4 Says:

    Mao is 95% Angel is his first half of his rule and 95% Devil in his second half.

    Deng’s 70-30 assessment is politically correct at that time. He may copy the assessment from the one on the historical accuracy of “Romance of 3 kingdoms.”

  14. bt Says:

    “we need to address the French Revolution first, as reputedly suggested by Zhou Enlai”
    Haha, Zhou Enlai was indeed very witty sometimes. A good way to avoid answering a question.

    OK, political considerations aside (how to criticize a man that has brought so many sufferings without loosening the grip of the Party), who thinks that the Chinese (the people) are not ready for the examination of what happened?

  15. huo Says:

    Without CR, there would not be a modern China as we know it today. After CR, most Chinese leaders realised that Mao’s policy was a cul-de-sac and this enabled Deng to make a 180 degree change in policy without much opposition. If Mao had died at the peak of his career, his reputation would have been so great that no successor would dare to change his policies and the China today would be very similar to present day North Korea.

    CR although very destructive, turned out to be an essential step in building a modern China.

  16. chinayouren Says:

    @ # 10 bt-

    “Turn the page” means that in Spain today there are still leaders of parties and public officers that were Franco’s ministers. And in France the declarations of general Aussaresses a few years ago made us all suspect that the government had a responsibility for the crimes committed in Algeria. But I didn’t see any serious investigation done against DeGaulle. He is a French hero, and let him rest in peace, many French would say. And they are right, in my opinion. Now apply this to Mao and China.

    Anyway, I am not saying these examples are the best. I just chose France and Spain because I happen to know those countries well, but you can find similar examples in most of the western democracies.

    So the point I wanted to make is: discuss openly and analyze and write books about Mao: yes. Engage in some sort of legal or government action to punish the crimes/mistakes of that era: no. It is too late for that, and there is more to lose than to win.

    PS. I have been trying to read Mr. Cui’s article in Chinese, but it is complicated vocabulary and it takes me forever. Any chance of getting the book in English? Does anyone know if it is for sale in China?

  17. snow Says:


    “To me the likelihood that China would have turned out much better without Mao is very high. The last 30 years is a proof of that.”

    I think you should consult reliable statistics on what had been achieved from 1949 to 1976 before drawing any conclusion. Nearly every meaningful miracle of last 30 years that China has made had some sort of foundation built during the Mao years: the success of the Deng era, no matter how significantly transformed China, did not start from ground zero, materially and ideologically.

    There is a “republic era” fad going on and the speculation that China would have been better off without Mao and PRC has been around since the 1980s. A simple question: without support of the majority (including many westernized liberal intellectuals in China’s case) can any revolution or any individual’s will to power succeed?

  18. snow Says:

    “Is China better if KMT won the civil war instead of Mao?”

    The “if” here is meaningless. A more meaninful thing to do is ask why did KMT lose the war.

  19. snow Says:


    There is no English version of this article. But you may check Cui’s web site at http://www.cui-zy.cn/ to see his articles in English on related subjects.

    Good suggestion. Unfortunately my eye problem prevents me from working on computer in a concentrated manner that the summarizing job requires.

  20. wuming Says:


    Nearly every achievement of Deng was accomplished by reversing Mao’s policies, if that is the foundation, it is only sensible in a very negative way.

    History is history is history, we can’t quarrel with it. But I can’t resist one more dig in my “republic era” fetish, I was told (I have no statistics to back it up) that in the rare peaceful years in the 1930’s, Chinese economy was thriving.

  21. snow Says:


    By foundation I mean, for instance, the industrialization accomplished in a rapid speech under extremely difficult situations in the earlier years of PRC for which generations of Chinese made their contributions and sacrifices. As mentioned in Cui’s article, the thriving of local industry at grass root level (commune/town/county) even during the CR years (quoting Fei Xiaotong, the well-known sociologist) indicates that the country’s economy was by no means “on the edge of collapsing” as many claimed to be despite an overall chaotic time.

  22. Wukailong Says:

    @snow, wuming: I think the Mao era certainly created a lot of infrastructure that could be used in the reform era. Such things include: railway lines, heavy industry, roads, literacy, a basic educational system.

    This might have been basically finished in the 60s, so the reforms could have started much earlier if there had been a political will. I’m not sure if the Cultural Revolution was necessary for the Reform and Opening up, but I’ve been toying with the idea – it certainly created a good reason to get rid of communist ideology.

  23. bt Says:

    @ Chinayouren #16

    Thanks a lot for your reply… seems that we have here a difference of perception …

    As for the Algerian war, I might disagree with you: it was and it is a hot topic of discussion in the last years … the people didn’t turned the page at all. And we still have a lot to learn (on both sides, the crimes of the FLN have been covered too). There is no investigation of De Gaulle for the Algerian war, yes, and for the simple reason that he was not in power at this time. He stopped the war.
    For Spain, I just know the Catalan side, I don’t know if it’s really representative of the whole country. It just seems to me that the wounds of the civil war were not completely healed.

    However, and this is where we might disagree, It seems to me that there is a common pattern in those civil wars (Algerian war was not a simple colonization war, it has also all the components of a civil war): These wars are usually very brutal and crual, finish to extinguish by themselves because the people are tired of killing each other or because one side wins. Then, when the peace arrive, most people sweep the bad things under the carpet and move on … of course, life is going on.
    However, the wounds are still there, and might cause a lot of problem in the future. So, it might be necessary, after a long while (usually 30 years and more), to “reopen the files” and to examine what really happened and why. Just to avoid a repetition, and that all the people who suffered during this time can finally make their mourning. This is really moving on, IMO.

    For China, we might say that the situation is politically interesting. You can bitch on the Caudillo or on the Général in the street, the government won’t fall. In China, this is not necessary the case … I believe they wouldn’t fall, and that they could afford the blow.
    Germany and South Africa gave a good standard: you might explain and understand without exonerating the culprits and punish. It really seems to me that the Chinese need to get ‘out of Mao’s shadow’, to copy the title of Mr. Pan’s book.

  24. BMY Says:

    Yes , history is history. It’s true that in the earlier years of PRC, there was a rapid industrialization but that dose not mean a different party would have done a worse job . The industrialization was planed and managed by others while Mao was just reading his history books in his dark room. Every time when he closed his books he came out to point out few class enemies from his comrades.

    I am not quiet sure China would not have become of modern China if there was no CR. Many policies Deng carried out in the 80s were ideals he and Liu already had in the late 50s but stopped by Mao.

    I am not quiet sure millions starved to death and hundreds of millions stopped working for years while economy was no means “on the edge of collapsing”.

    I don’t know if Mao created stability, social order, role of women, alphabetism, confidence, end of colonialism via civil war and endless political violence among millions. History told me the role of women ,end of colonialism were started before 1949. Stability and social order would have achieved earlier without civil wars.

    We can’t reverse history but I always have hard time to believe Mao has done any good for the people and country .

  25. wuming Says:

    That China as a nation survived Mao years and even built some basic infrastructures speaks only to the resiliency of Chinese people. Once their power is actually release, like in the last 30 years, or in Taiwan and Hong Kong in last 60 years, they created economic miracles every chance they had. As BMY and WKL pointed out, good things happened from 1949-1976 in China despite Mao not because of him

  26. chinayouren Says:


    The more I think of it, the more I see Spanish recent history as surprisingly similar to China. Just check out these points about Spain see if they ring a bell:

    – Old country proud of its grand past and humiliated by the power of more industrialized countries.

    – Early 20th century short lived republic succeds ancient monarchy, country in unstable situation.

    – Civil War in the 30s leading to the leader Franco taking over the country and changing completely the system into an absolutist regime according to the fasion of the time (in this case fascism).

    – Regime brings injustice and many are persecuted, but eventually brings stability and prepares the country for a new phase.

    – Franco dies 1975 (10 months before Mao), and precisely in 78 a new constitution is drafted opening the door to a new system.

    – Spain turns a page during the so-called “transition” and none of Franco’s ministers or collaborators shall face any legal charge. Many of them are still active in politics, and some have important positions.

    – Many statues of Franco where not removed from their places, for fear of instability. Many are still standing. Little by little they disappear. Only 2 years ago you might have seen on TV the goverment took away the famous statue in Madrid. They did it secretly and in the nighttime to avoid complications with some few excited rightists. No big deal for the large majority of Spanish.

    – Many books denouncing Franco’s regime are published every year since 1978, and also some books acknowledging the regime’s achievements. People discuss completely openly, but everyone undertstands that it is too late now and it makes no sense to look back to the past.

    – Partly thanks to this pragmatism, the country has been stable and has developed economically and socially at a very fast pace, to the point that by 1986 it was admitted in EU and by the 90s it was (almost) at the level of European countries.

    OK, the comparisons stop here, China is much larger than Spain, and joining the WTO is not exaclty like joining the EU. But noone can deny that the similarities are stunning. I am actually surprised that there are no books analizing this and drawing conclusions for the future of China (when there are loads about S&NKorea compared to E&W Germany).

    And to come back to my point before I get lost: I think the model of Spanish Transition is a very useful model for China to deal with Mao.

    So this is my advice: Just let Mao rest in peace and focus on more urgent things, like opening up the country, allowing free media, creating a Rule of Law, etc. And don’t worry about that big old portrait that hangs today on Tiananmen, it will naturally disappear some day, perhaps one night when we are all asleep. And the country will be so changed by then that chances are most people will not even notice.

  27. chinayouren Says:

    @bt #23- Salut! Yes, I might have been a bit rash speaking about the Gaulle, I just wanted to draw some parallels, and I admit that Mao-De Gaulle comparison is surely not the most fortunate. But it remains that there was an amnesty in 62 when CDG was president, and the officers responsible for the war crimes shall never face criminal charges.

    Germany is a great example of a country coming to terms with its past, but Germany is the exception, not the rule. I don’t think what Germany would be possible in any other circumstances than the extraordinary ones of post WW2. And Mao’s legacy is not comparable to Hitlers.

  28. Raj Says:

    @ bt (14)

    who thinks that the Chinese (the people) are not ready for the examination of what happened?

    I think that they’re ready. But the CCP doesn’t want a big discussion on the Mao years because it’s one of their greatest periods of shame. They won’t tell outright lies, but they want to sweep more critical works under the carpet or deflect attention on to “better” years.

  29. snow Says:

    Supplimentary readings in Englsh on the subject:
    William H. Hinton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_H._Hinton) on the Cultural Revolution (http://www.monthlyreview.org/0305pugh.htm);
    “What Maoism Has Contributed” by Samir Amin(http://monthlyreview.org/0906amin.htm)

  30. bt Says:

    @Chinayouren 26, 27

    “But it remains that there was an amnesty in 62 when CDG was president, and the officers responsible for the war crimes shall never face criminal charges.”
    That’s true, but I think he didn’t had a choice in 1962, because of the instability in the army (OAS, assassination attempts, and even a failed Coup d’etat).
    Anyway, you must be much more knowledgeable than me on the situation in Spain after 1975, but I do see some differences with China. The PP nowadays does not deify Franco, and there is no ‘thoughts of Chairman Franco’ taught at school. I see a “conflicts of interest” in the legacy of Mao.

    “So this is my advice: Just let Mao rest in peace and focus on more urgent things, like opening up the country, allowing free media, creating a Rule of Law, etc. And don’t worry about that big old portrait that hangs today on Tiananmen, it will naturally disappear some day, perhaps one night when we are all asleep. And the country will be so changed by then that chances are most people will not even notice.”

    Sounds very reasonable. One day, maybe.
    BTW, I browse your blog … your name sounds Basque. Super place and nice people!

  31. Michael Says:


    Does Singapore have a democracy where one party has ruled for decades?
    Does Taiwan have a democracy where KMT ruled for decades and all they do is in fight in parliament?

    Did China’s democracy work from 1912 to 1949? No, nothing but pure chaos.

    The people want stability and prosperity. End of story.

  32. snow Says:

    I understand that many people would never get over the strong grudge against the CR due to their personal experience. Both my grandmother and mother were victims of the mad part of the CR and the nightmarish memories of the time still haunt me sometime although I was a little kid back then.

    I always wondered why those well-known “reactionary intellectuals,” who had been badly victimized and had had “sent-down” experiences during the CR that dared to speak something good about the notoriously bad CR and Mao with an open mind and unique perspectives that challenged the seeming consensus of the past three decades.

    A Professor of my college years, gone to study in the US and returned in the 1930s, had undertaken all the troubles of being a “rightist” since the 1950s and again a “reactionary intellectual” in the CR, but once she was rehabilitated by the party in the 1980s she had no problem at all embracing her country, supporting the party, giving Mao the fair share for what he had contributed to China, though as critical-minded and outspoken on politics as usual, despite the fact that the party had wronged her for more than twenty years of her best times.

    Is something wrong with them? They are respectable public intellectuals, brilliant in their fields, decent and noble in character. Only one thing can explain this unusual generosity, tolerance and open mind: they place truth-seeking in the name of history and well-being of a large community above their personal sufferings.

    Of course those who brought their personal hatred of the CR and Mao to the end of their lives can also be respectable in the same sense (Zhang rong being one?). But they do have difference and we need to listen to both

  33. BMY Says:

    @snow #32

    I know what you are saying. there are lots of people like what you described above . However my understanding is many of them just love the country and have tolorence ,open minds and forgiveness but that dose not necessarily mean they admitted CR was a good thing to their life and to their country.

  34. Patrick Says:

    “Is China better if KMT won the civil war instead of Mao?”

    no – the KMT’s land reform policies which laid the basis for economic growth were only enacted to counter the appeal of communism

    As for the CR and DEMOCRACY – the CR is a clear example of the problems of radical Aristotelean democracy – and a very important reminder that we must remember that the modern ideal of democracy is one of limited democracy – whereby non-majority rights are protected through the separation of powers. Indeed this separation is actually far more important than the right to vote

  35. wuming Says:


    “no – the KMT’s land reform policies which laid the basis for economic growth were only enacted to counter the appeal of communism”

    But that does not imply the land reform in Taiwan wouldn’t have occurred anyway. Given the comparison, where KMT’s land reform let to the economic boom, while Mao’s reform (which started reasonably, but was carried to extreme) almost destroyed agriculture, I would bet on KMT.


    I agree with BMY, the condemnation of Mao, CR (and GLF) does not necessarily make a person against the current CCP. Speaking only for myself, I attributed almost no good to Mao, but I am also a strong supporter of much of the current Chinese government’s policies.

  36. snow Says:

    BMY 33

    “…but that dose not necessarily mean they admitted CR was a good thing to their life and to their country.”

    Agreed. Every sensible person would agree that the CR was an unfortunate event for China. What the open-minded people still tried to make sense of this social, political and cultural monstrosity– by asking questions about its real cause: the very social foundation that made it possible, about where and how it went wrong and so on instead of merely denocing it —is not to re-affirm, but rather to draw valuable lessons from it so that the similar mistake could be avoided in the future.

    Gu Zhun, 顾准, one of the adamant critics of Mao and best liberal thinkers of the post 1949 years, pointed out something positive in the Grand Democracy practiced during the CR. Li Zehou, 李泽后, a well known philosopher, also a CR victim, is not alone in seeing Mao as a deadly idealist when he suggested that Mao did not need to bother mobilizing millions in a cultural revolution against his enemies if he wanted to get rid of them (this plot thoery has been a prevailing view of the cause of the CR) considering Mao’s power inside CCP at the time. The real reason for Mao to take on this huge and risky adventure was to large extent that he had suspected someone inside the party who wanted to lead the country to capitalism and therefore betrayed socialist principles and the interests of the millions.

    Let’s put the issue whether the CR was ideologically justifiable and whether capitalism was good for China aside for the moment. In retrospect, what Mao feared has become reality in the last three decades and not many would doubt that China is now a capitalist country self identified as “socialist with Chinese characteristics.” She has become a world economic power at the prices of staggeringly widening gap between rich and poor, the collapsing of social safety net and social welfare system, and the return of many social ills which had disappeared after the social reforms since 1949. And above all, the ordinary people still have no effective way to monitor every level of authorities who are supposedly responsible for people’s well-being, one of original concerns for Mao to launch the CR. Now money joined with power, rampage corruption, injustice and greed even threatened livelihood of huge population.

  37. Patrick Says:


    I completely agree with you that Mao’s rural policies were destructive, and also very much support the recent reforms by the CCP. But I cannot see any reason to assume that the KMT would have enacted the reforms that it did in Taiwan were it not for the ‘need’ to provide an attractive alternative to communism.
    The reforms were part of a clear counter-strategy to Marxism, that was developed as early as the 1930s, and introduced in Taiwan and Korea after WW2. Without the civil war, the KMT would likely have just kept the status quo and done nothing – which I concede would be preferable to Mao’s experiments.

  38. bt Says:

    @ wuming, patrick, snow

    We disagreed, Chinayouren and I (finally, not that much), about this necessity of the ‘work on memory’ with the examples of Spain and French Algeria.
    Might be a very ‘Western’ perspective, but I believe the ‘memory work’ is always necessary after a while.
    After a traumatic event, the move on strategy might be the best … life is going on, and the show must go on. However, don’t you guys think that now that the things are practically fixed like in nowadays China the critical examination of the events of the CR would allow to definitely heal the underlying wounds?

  39. snow Says:


    There have been more histories and researches available either on line or in paper that questioned the authenticity of the casualty figures of the disasters, natural or human-made or the combination of the two, from 1949 to 1976. A more balanced approach to Mao and the CR has been around since the mid 1990s, breaking the overwhelming all-out condemnation. It also raised the question of serious lack of contextualization and historical perspective in the interpretation of Mao and the CR, which has dominated mainstream studies on the subject: It seemed to suggest that once the Chinese got rid of Mao, the CR, or CCP, for that matter, all the problems that China had in recent history would automatically gone or, as many speculated in spite of historical facts, that China would be better off without Mao, CCP and Chinese revolution in the first place.

    To be sure, no one in his her right mind would deny that Mao was primarilly responsible for something terribly wrong during the CR and some other times under his leadership, that like many men of great historical significance he has dark sides and very complex and even contradictory personality. But to assert that anything good should be accredited to the Chinese people while Mao himself was to blame for all things wrong (therefore he is the number one evil person in China, as some liberal intellecuals led people to believe) seems for me intellectually naïve, if not as narrow-minded as the bigotry that some westerners held against China and CCP as we have witnessed since the 3.14 riots in Lahsa.

  40. snow Says:

    Patrick 37

    I agree with you. There were certainly more terrible things contributive to KMD’s defeat to CCP–corruption inside his army and high ranking offices for one. The CCP won over the populace because to large extent they had a so much cleaner and better disciplined army and officials back then.

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