Jan 14

Was Mao Really a Monster?The Academic Response to Chang and Halliday’s “Mao: The Unknown Story”

Written by snow on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 3:02 pm
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Here is a new book to recommend http://www.routledge.com/books/Was-Mao-Really-a-Monster-isbn9780415493307:

“About the Book

Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday was published in 2005 to a great fanfare. The book portrays Mao as a monster – equal to or worse than Hitler and Stalin – and a fool who won power by native cunning and ruled by terror. It received a rapturous welcome from reviewers in the popular press and rocketed to the top of the worldwide bestseller list. Few works on China by writers in the West have achieved its impact.

Reviews by serious China scholars, however, tended to take a different view. Most were sharply critical, questioning its authority and the authors’ methods , arguing that Chang and Halliday’s book is not a work of balanced scholarship, as it purports to be, but a highly selective and even polemical study that sets out to demonise Mao.

This book brings together sixteen reviews of Mao: The Unknown Story – all by internationally well-regarded specialists in modern Chinese history, and published in relatively specialised scholarly journals. Taken together they demonstrate that Chang and Halliday’s portrayal of Mao is in many places woefully inaccurate. While agreeing that Mao had many faults and was responsible for some disastrous policies, they conclude that a more balanced picture is needed.”

For a sumary of the book in Chinese, see the Chinese post on this blog; for more information on the book in English version, for the book’s prologue and epilogue in Chinese online version, see http://www.strongwind.com.hk/product/978-988-17302-9-9.aspx.

There are currently 3 comments highlighted: 25544, 25584, 25835.

175 Responses to “Was Mao Really a Monster?The Academic Response to Chang and Halliday’s “Mao: The Unknown Story””

  1. Old Tales Retold Says:

    Beyond the problems with “Mao: The Unknown Story” that are listed above, my main complaint is that the book makes no effort to put Mao in any sort of context. It is as if he floated through history entirely on his own, committing evil for evil’s sake, with various other officials making quiet entrances and exits on the side. Wasn’t the whole nation involved in Mao’s mass campaigns? What did those people carry away from their experiences of Maoism? How did leaders after him use or distance themselves from his legacy? You don’t get any sense of the meaning of it all from Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Just a hatchet job.

  2. TonyP4 Says:

    We need to judge Mao by what he had done to China. Comparing to India, both literacy rate and life expectancy had been improved during his era. However, China had one of the worst famines and huge destruction to cultures.

    I would like to hear someone about 50-70 years old now to echo their opinions on Mao, especially the entire generation losing the chance of good education.

  3. Old Tales Retold Says:

    Well, I think both those angles have to be appreciated: both China’s advances under Maoism (I would highlight the self-respect that some workers gained) and the tragedies, like the famine and loss of education that you mention. The pity with the book is that it doesn’t present any kind of dilemma. We are just told to be angry. It’s fine to conclude overall that Mao was a disaster—but with several hundred pages of material, you have to say something more than “disaster, disaster, disaster.”

  4. Steve Says:

    @ TonyP4 #2:

    “I would like to hear someone about 50-70 years old now to echo their opinions on Mao, especially the entire generation losing the chance of good education.”

    Back in 2002, I had just finished breakfast on a Sunday morning and decided to take a walk down Huai Hai Lu in Shanghai. I wandered into Fuxing Park where an old man was sitting by a fountain. He asked me if we could talk since he wanted to practice his English. I’d say he was in his upper 70s though hard to pin it down more accurately. His English, which he picked up by listening to short wave radio, was very, very good.

    He told me stories about being a young kid in the war, eyewitness details of the Japanese occupation and atrocities, the liberation by the Americans at the end of the war, etc. He had high praise for Americans; the soldiers during liberation had been very kind to him, and he felt only the USA had helped China defeat Japan during the war, so they were the Chinese people’s only true allies. Then he started into the post-revolutionary days.

    He hated Mao and kept letting me know it, punctuated by jabs into my shoulder (he was pretty strong for an old guy), calling him “bastard” over and over again, and didn’t think much of anyone in the CCP. Why did he feel this way? He never mentioned the GLP or CR, but kept saying how his chance at being educated and successful were stolen from him by a corrupt government that only cared about themselves, not about the people. Tony, your assessment exactly fit what he told me. His life was coming to a close and he had nothing to show for it, not because he was an unsuccessful person (he was actually very intelligent and incredibly well informed about world situations) but because he never had the chance to be successful.

    He seemed to think I knew President Bush pretty well and told me to warn him not to deal with the Chinese government (they’re still all bastards to him). He was getting pretty excited so I tried to calm him down. My guess is that he’s probably passed away since that time. I guess I gave him an ear to vent and he gave me another China story and a sore shoulder. 🙂

  5. ecodelta Says:

    The same effect, although not so extreme, happened with the ex DDR(east germany). Many people there consider that their life has been wasted during that period, and now they are old persons with failed dreams.

    The greatest crime was not the death of millions, be it by malice, incompetence, dysfunctions in the political/economical system or … well… mistakes.

    The greatest crime of all, by far, was to “waste” the live of many more millions.

    I doubt very much that the guys in power were not aware of it. They were intelligent enough. What prevented them to avoid that disaster?
    And…… the same crime is still going in NK.

    Another crime was to produce such a huge overpopulation. This puts great dangers and limits for China’s development. And current generation must pay with forced abortions ans insecure future depending on only one child.

  6. wuming Says:


    For a change, I am in almost complete agreement with you. The only thing that I think was a bit simplistic is:
    I doubt very much that the guys in power were not aware of it. They were intelligent enough. What prevented them to avoid that disaster?
    These guys was initially driven by revolutionary fervor which was blinding, and when they realized the evil they were paralyzed by fear of Mao’s terror campaigns.

    I consider myself belonging to the semi-wasted generation. The partial salvation was the resumption university examination in 1977. If I have wasted any part of the rest of my life, it is purely my own fault.

  7. Flags of the republic Says:

    Hey ecodelta, #5

    When you talk about crimes, in this case, you have think about who is the perpetrator.

    So, let me put it to you. When you say “huge overpopulation” is a crime, who is the perpetrator of this crime? Who is responsible for it? Was it the people, the government, or Aliens?

  8. Steve Says:

    @ Flags of the republic #7: From what I’ve read (and please correct me if I’m wrong), Mao launched a birth campaign near the beginning of the PRC. His reasoning was that in case of a conflict with a foreign power (primarily the USSR) if the population was huge enough, the country could overwhelm the enemy with sheer numbers. I believe mothers who had 8+ children even received an award back then. Elaborate plans were drawn up to move the government far from Beijing in case of war because of its proximity to the USSR.

  9. Brad Says:

    To me, an ordinary Chinese,

    Mao ended the dark history of the semi-colonial, semi-feudal China.
    Mao unified the country, is the funding father of the People’s Republic of China.
    Mao declared “the Chinese people have stood up!”
    Mao liberated Tibet from feudal serfdom theocracy, aborted serfdom and slavery.
    Mao failed in his Great Leap Forward, which is a major economic and humanitarian disaster.
    Mao failed in his Culture Revolution, which is a major political, culture, ideology and humanitarian disaster.
    Mao is one of the most powerful, masterful and romantic poet in Chinese literary history.

    Mao is a human, who make mistakes.
    Mao is a great man, a hero of China.

  10. Flags of the republic Says:

    Hey Steve, #8

    It wasn’t quite accurate that Mao launched a birth campaign. What he did say was that, “China’s vast population should be viewed as an asset”.

    Massimo Livi Bacci’s book “A Concise History of World Population” sums up the history of the family programs in China rather nicely. Concerns about the problems posed by a vast and growing population came as early as 1953 — just a few years after the founding of the second and concurrent republic.

    Yeah, a lot of times we have to be sure what we are saying is accurate before throwing it out there as fact.

  11. Steve Says:

    @ Flags of the republic #10:

    Thanks for the response. I was going on memory when I wrote that and it’s why I put the caveat in there. I could have sworn Mao made certain statements concerning a large population, so I googled and this is what I found from two different sites, but I saw the same information on other sites:

    “China’s population started to increase dramatically after World War II. In 1949, Mao encouraged Chinese families to have as many children as possible. This is because the government thought the population increase would bring money to the country and help China produce more food, build a better army, develop water control, and establish communication systems (Chinese Population). For the next ten years China’s population increased in millions every year. In 1949 the population was around 118 million, which increased to 540 million in 1960’s. In 1970 the population increased again by 290 million, making it a massive increase of 712 million in just 20 years (Issue of Overpopulation).From 1950 to 1978, no action to reduce overpopulation was taken by the government (China Education).”

    “Mao’s stated China’s position in 1958 as follows: “China’s 600 million people, have two remarkable peculiarities: they are, first of all, poor, and secondly blank. That may seem like a bad thing, but it is really a good thing. Poor people want change, want to do things, want revolution. A clean sheet of paper has no blotches, and so the newest and most beautiful words can be written on it…”

    I remember having a lot of “one child family” friends in Shanghai who used to call their cousins “brothers” or “sisters” because they had none of their own. They were always talking about this cousin or that cousin, so I’d ask them how many aunts and uncles they had. Most had 6-8 of them on each side of their family. I’m from a reasonably large family (2 brothers and 2 sisters) but we were on the high side compared to others.

    So by those numbers, China’s population went from 118 million in 1949 to 830 million in 1970, all under Mao’s government, and in which he had complete control. Mao died in 1976 and population reform was started in 1978 when Deng took over. For me, those numbers are hard to argue with.

  12. ecodelta Says:

    @Flags of the republic
    The perpetrator of that… “crime” was… the government. Either by promoting births, not providing birth control means, preventing people to get the information, preventing plans to be implemented or…… preventing the economic/social development of the country.

    In China birth control program was eventually implemented, and economic development too, but too late so it has to recourse to somewhat brutal/extreme methods to (try to) correct the imbalance.
    For example, one child policy, forced abortions, not recognizing “hidden” children, and over accelerated economic development.

    Still, I think the current situation an improvement than the hukou system, chaining people to the land, condemning many of them to a wasted life.

    Another problem is the improvement of health conditions. If conditions improve enough to reduce child (and birthing women) deaths or trimming the number of fertile adults, then population will shoot out.
    It is a similar problem when you eliminate predators from an ecosystem, the prey population will shoot up. Diseases and health problems are our predators, when they disappear then the birth overproduction has to be controlled… in a way that still allows to have some fun ;-).
    Improvement in health conditions must always go together with economic and social progress.

    One person from developing country in Asia told me that the best birth control she knew was electricity, television and.. entertaining enough programs.
    When none of these “progresses” are available,…. a young men and women, at home, at night, it is cold, there is nothing to do,… well… you know what happens.

  13. ecodelta Says:

    “So by those numbers, China’s population went from 118 million…. ”

    Can you imagine how many problems would be easier for China today if the population were just.
    200, 300, 400, 500, 600 or even 700 millions?

    Officially I think it is now around +1.300 millions…. non officially around +1.600 millions.

    One foreign diplomat used to joke with his friends in CH, who were also government officials.
    “Are you sure you are just 1.300 millions? Each time I come to CH I keep counting more than that!”
    The officials always smiled at the joke…

  14. ecodelta Says:

    “Mao is a great man, a hero of China.”

    Beware of heros. I prefer normal men, they are easier to deal with, and not so.. difficult to argue with.

  15. admin Says:

    Hi, Steve,

    The first web resource you cited apparently contains errors, since it was not possible to increase population from 118 million to 830 million in 21 years (unless every single fertile Chinese woman was given birth to a child every year) . 😉

    The best data available is that China had about 520 million people in 1949. A detailed discussion can be found here ( http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/china/geog/population.htm ) and for those who don’t have time to read, a figure is worth a thousand words ( http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/china/geog/poptrend.gif ).

  16. Steve Says:

    @ admin: Thanks! I actually saw those same figures on a few sites. If I had only seen it on one, I would have thought the same thing. I remember seeing population numbers a few years ago covering Chinese history and the number was much higher than 118 million even as far back as the early Ming dynasty. I knew a lot of people had died in the famines of the 1800s but glad to know it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

  17. William Says:

    My father is now 67, he was born 澳门 but raised on the mainland (广东) since he was 3. At the time, you can all imagine, most people were very poor and my father was no exception. In addition to that, he lost his father during the civil war, and his mother ran off after his father had died. So left as an orphan, he was taken in by his aunt up until his early teen years. Even through the struggles, he managed to be accepted to 北京矿业学院, which I think has since changed its name to 中国矿业学院, and graduated with a degree in mining engineering after which he was sent all over the country, by the government, to various projects. My parents met, and I’m making an educated guess, after he graduated university. They were introduced through a mutual friend.

    In contrast to my fathers achievements, my mother, who is 5 years younger than my father, was like the majority of the people in China at the time, education no higher than at the high school level (Maos fault?), if that at all. My mother was sewing for a living, in conditions which she hated, which made her dream of a better life. Even with my father off working around the country, they were still just managing to get by. Having been married for 7 years with two children and another on the way (which they wouldn’t find out until later), my mother asked my father to immigrate to Canada, where his aunt had already settled and could sponsor us over. Being the loving man he was, he obliged.

    I was born and raised in Toronto and for the life of me, I cannot remember a time which my mother or father spoke ill of Mao, in fact, they never mentioned him. I suppose they didn’t have to as we were living in a different world in which they grew up in. But it just struck me as odd while I was reading steve’s post because as it seems, there are many reasons to hate Mao and many people do, however my parents never harboured or at least never spoken or shown any anger towards him.

    Sorry to be OT, just wanted to share. Heres a photo of my father and his university school mates. I’m not sure if this was the graduating class or the entire student body, i’d have to ask. Enjoy. (hes at the back row fourth from the left).

  18. Steve Says:

    @ William: Thanks for sharing your family story and the photo of your dad’s school mates. Your father is a very distinguished looking gentleman who took a big chance in life to make things better for his family. I’m sure you are very proud to be his son.

    My grandparents on my mom’s side were both born in Italy but came to the States as kids. They never called themselves Italians, or even Italian Americans. They were just Americans and both spoke English with no accent. They never talked about Italy. My grandfather felt that once you came to a new country, the old country didn’t matter and you needed to adopt the new customs. Unlike many at the time, he also felt that it was good to marry outside your ethnic group since mixing genes is good and the kids would also be smarter. Unfortunately, he died before I met my wife but he would definitely have approved. 😀

  19. wuming Says:

    I think “hating Mao” is more often an intellectual reaction than an emotional one. If that is true, I don’t think most of the Chinese will voluntarily profess that they hate Mao, even in private, like the old gentleman Steve talked to. For those of us who experienced Mao years, it is part of us. Now he is long dead, I can only judge him in historical and sociological perspectives. I can see the the destructions wrought by GLF and CR. I know too many people who were wasted like the old gentlemen not to understand the consequences of Mao’s and his followers actions. But I also know that we were also his followers, during the CR, victims and victimizers can change their roles overnight.

    In this we are very different than people in Eastern European countries, although communism was a western philosophy, we couldn’t honestly feel that it was imposed on us from the outside. For 30 years, China did go mad and almost destroyed itself, Mao was chiefly responsible, but those of us who were alive then went mad with him, this is an inescapable fact.

    The good thing from my perspective is that a very deep lesson was taught to Chinese. The last 30 years has shown the effect of the lesson. I only hope that younger Chinese will not ignore this lesson.

  20. Allen Says:

    @wuming #19,

    I may be a little dense. But what is the “lesson”?

  21. FOARP Says:

    Does Jung Chang hate Mao? I don’t think you can read her writing without agreeing that she does. Does she at least have one source for each of her accusations? Again, yes. Could anyone put together an argument making Mao out to be better than Jung Chang portrayed him? Certainly, but that still doesn’t mean that Chang’s criticism wasn’t justified, or understandable given what happened to her parents.

    Let us put this simply – other than the mass deportation of entire nations, there is nothing that Stalin did which Mao did not do, indeed Mao engaged in a mass emptying of the cities which had almost the same effect as Stalin’s deportations. Mao’s record is certainly worse than that of Lenin, Mussolini, and Chiang Kai-Shek. Say what you like about his accomplishments, if you think his accomplishments outweigh his crimes, then you at least have to explain why the majority of his accomplishments could not have been accomplished in a less harmful way.

  22. Steve Says:

    @ wuming: I’ve heard a lot of stories dealing with the CR since all my colleagues were between 21 and 50 and most of them could remember those times, but this older man was the only person I ever really talked to in China of his generation who could remember the war with Japan. In the States, I’ve met some very old Chinese who left for Taiwan with the KMT and had the same feelings for Mao as this guy, but I put them in a different category since that is political and nationalistic. They practically worshipped CKS. They weren’t in China after the revolution. But it was always amazing to me how strong their emotions ran when talking about those times. Even someone like Teresa Teng, born and raised in Taiwan, had very strong emotions all her life regarding the situation in China.

    I think today, especially in the coastal cities, the Chinese living there are more like world citizens. They’ve traveled, many have studied abroad, and their attitudes about life, international issues, politics, philosophy, are very different than their parents and grandparents. It’s really no different than my generation; when I was small very few Americans traveled abroad and the ones that did went to the UK or Paris. Even Rome was considered very exotic. So the entire world has shrunk and people really do have a better understanding of other cultures.

    Many on this blog have said that westerners can’t understand Chinese. There’s truth to that for many Americans, but you’d be surprised to know how many Americans have already been to China and I can’t remember even one person who’d been there who didn’t really enjoy the trip. Today’s China gets better ‘press’ than people imagine.

  23. Flags of the republic Says:

    @ admin # 15

    Thanx for setting things straight with Steve’s cut and paste job #11, at least part of it.

    @ Steve # 11

    I am an academic. My requirement for references is a bit higher. Thanx for the Planet Essay and movingcities.org cut and paste job. Although Tauseef would be quite happy that you cut and pasted his stuff as fact, but, hey dude, you should really use higher quality essays to justify your arguments. Better yet, please use published data.

  24. Flags of the republic Says:

    @ admin and all

    To setting the record straight with Steve’s (#11) and ecodelta’s (#13) bogus numbers, here’s a bit of info on the population of China in different periods.


  25. wuming Says:

    @Allen But what is the “lesson”?

    You caught me here. Because the lesson evolves with time and from person to person. What Chinese didn’t want at the end of CR was very clearly: no more political movement (where CR is the extreme case;) no more chaos; and no more extreme left-wing politics”. I think Hu Jintao’s “不折腾” was the condensed version of that sentiment.

    BTW, I found another translation of 不折腾. Here they coined the phrase “No Drama Obama”, I think 不折腾 also means “No Drama”

  26. Steve Says:

    @ Flags of the republic #24: mea culpa. I was working so didn’t have much time to check things and got burned by the phony stuff on the net. I’m normally more careful. I don’t mind a deserved comment but I don’t need a lecture.

    Using your figures, the population under Mao went from 455M to near 975M (I realize he had been dead for a few years in 1979 so the number is somewhat higher) but that’s still more than doubling of the population during one man’s administration. I still find the numbers pretty convincing.

    Incidentally, I’m not trying to paint Mao as a monster. I think he was good in some ways and bad in others. I just think he missed the boat on this particular issue. Since he was the undisputed leader of his country, I’d say the buck stops at his desk.

  27. Flags of the republic Says:

    Hey Steve, #26

    It is always good to see someone who can own up to their mistakes.

    Anyhow, here’s a math question for you. If you have $1000 and earns 2% interest per annum, how long would it take for your money to double?

  28. Steve Says:

    Tell you what, Flags, I’m not one of your students so why don’t you let them solve it and while you’re at it, let them know if it’s simple or compounded and if compounded, how often. Or maybe there’s a math blog you can visit. This is a blog about China when last I looked.

    Incidentally, I appreciated your link to that population graph but after your silly math question, I’m beginning to wonder about you.

  29. Allen Says:

    @Flags of the republic #27,

    36 years.

    And suppose China’s population really had increased from 455.6 million to 975.4 million in 30 years btw 1949 and 1979, that would translate to an average annual growth of 2.57%.

    In comparison, the population of India grew between 1951 and 1981 by an average of 2.15% per year.

    Source for India calculation: http://www.indianchild.com/population_of_india.htm

  30. Allen Says:


    Leave the silly math and hot-headed arguments to me. I’ll leave the level headed arguments for you! 🙂

  31. WillF Says:

    According to the CCP, Mao was 70% right, 30% wrong. But if we want to see the post-Mao CCP’s true verdict on Mao, look at the leaders of the PRC since 1978. Deng, Jiang, and Hu are the opposites of Mao in so many respects. Each has eschewed developing a personality cult, championed economic and social agendas radically different from Mao’s, and striven to produce an orderly, sustainable government based on policies rather than personalities. And from what I can gather, most Chinese seem to prefer this system to the old one. Mao may be a potent symbol of New China’s values, but neither his party nor his people longs for his return.

  32. Steve Says:

    @ Allen: I think Flags was looking for a simple interest calculation of 50 years, but you did it the more realistic way. If I had answered it, I would have had to give him a gas flow calculation problem, which I used to teach to equipment engineers in Chinese fabs. They’re a little tougher than simple interest. 🙂

    Also, very good point about India. I was thinking about mentioning it but because this is a China blog, I kept quiet. I had the same idea as you and also looked it up. Amazing! The problem is, China did something about it (of which I’ve always been a big admirer!) and Indian has done nothing. It’s their ticking time bomb. It’s also a not very often mentioned geopolitical reason for Tibet to be a part of China. Population pressures historically have vented into neighboring countries, so that’s a susceptible border.

  33. Wukailong Says:

    Strange, just yesterday I read about the publication of a Swedish book that’s only countering the claims of another book, and a couple of months ago, there was a book countering Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”.

    I have Jung Chang’s Mao biography in my bookshelf, but I haven’t gotten into reading it. The one Mao biography that I’ve stomached is Philip Short’s “Mao – A life,” and it also paints a grim picture of the man, though a much more apologetic one. My impressions after reading Short’s book was that Mao was completely unreliable as a boss, if you will – he was as likely to put you in a better position as throwing you in jail or starting a mass campaign against you.

    While I haven’t read Chang’s book, listening to a BBC documentary with her I know she claims the following:

    * Chiang Kai-shek gave large swaths of territory to the communists because Stalin held his son hostage in Moscow.
    * A famous battle during the civil war didn’t happen. Evidence: an old lady in the area remembers nothing out of the ordinary happened that day.

    Also, the book ends by saying that the PRC still upholds absolute worship in Mao, if I remember correctly. From that sentence alone, it seems like little changed in the PRC after he died. In short, the book as a whole just doesn’t seem very reliable.

  34. Flags of the republic Says:

    Yeah Steve, #28

    The world is so confusing for those who doesn’t understand simple math, or more precisely, can’t interpret the data correctly.

    The math problem is very simple. It takes roughly 35 years for you to double your original investment ($1000). This is a direct response to you comment (# 26) that “Using your figures, the population under Mao went from 455M to near 975M (I realize he had been dead for a few years in 1979 so the number is somewhat higher) but that’s still more than doubling of the population.”

    Steve, I don’t mean to be parochial, but how many years difference are there between 1945 and 1979? And why did I pick 2%? Well, China’s rate of natural of increase on average for that period is roughly 20 per 1000. You can check the graph below.


    And here’s something else that you might have also noticed. The birth rate was already freakishly high in 1949 and probably before that too. All those things that abound in the popular media, and even some of the less rigorous academic literature, about the “exponential” growth of the Chinese population as a result of direct encouragement from Chairman Mao himself is complete BULLSHIT — pure and simple.

    How come there wasn’t any “exponential” increase in birth rate under Mao’s tenure? It is easy crap for the intellectually lazy (or uninformed) to swallow — that is, it was all Mao’s fault.

    Do you know what, the world is totally different when numbers begin to make sense.

    I am sorry, Steve. This really shouldn’t be directed at you, but rather “ecodelta” righteous proclamations. It is just happens that you are the one that took the bait. 🙂

  35. Steve Says:

    I just went online and looked up some of the old reviews for Mao: The Unknown Story. It was an interesting read. As snow said, most of the literary critics loved it, a few literary academics praised it, but most serious Chinese historical scholars panned it. The authors must have been happy because it was a bestseller.

    I thought the funniest one was from David S. G. Goodman, Professor of Contemporary China Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, who said its facts were about as reliable as the facts in The DaVinci Code. 😀

    The biggest problem is that I doubt very many will read this new book. I used to check John K. Fairbanks’ books out of the library to improve my background on China. They were always available and rarely checked out. However, James Clavell’s Taipan was checked out all the time. That’s what you’re fighting when a popular writer takes on a historical subject. I never read Mao: The Unknown Story since Chang’s writing style isn’t my thing, so I never realized it was so negative.

    Don’t even get me started on Gore Vidal’s Burr. 😛

  36. Flags of the republic Says:

    @ Allen, #29

    I was holding the answer for dramatic effect. Should have hit the refresh button sooner.

  37. Wukailong Says:

    I recommend Andrew Nathan’s take on the book:


    His conclusion:

    “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.”

  38. Allen Says:

    @Flags of the republic #34,

    Interesting graphics…

    I’m not assigning blame for anything. But 1958-1963 was sad… 🙁

  39. Steve Says:

    @ Flags of the republic #34: No problem. I wasn’t sure why you were so strong with me but now it’s clear. I’m actually pretty good at probabilities (used to be an expert backgammon player) and never considered it an exponential increase.

    However, let’s look at it another way. We’ll use your $1000 and use the 2% interest compounded annually and 35 years later, we have $2000, not really enough to retire on. Now we take Bill Gates and his $100,000,000,000 and give that 2%. Same rate but a wholly different number. That’s the problem with doubling. You double from one to two in backgammon and no big deal. You double from eight to sixteen and it’s a big problem if you lose. The growth rate on this bet isn’t exponential, but it is a problem since I didn’t bring that much money with me. 😀

    Many people in the west have criticized China for their population control measures. I admire them for it, especially Deng since he was the one that got it started, and that’s the hardest part. Telling a culture that has the strongest family structure I’ve ever seen that they can only have one child took conojes, and enforcing it wasn’t easy. I have a friend from south China with several brothers and sisters and she told me how their parents finagled it, so there’s always ways to do so but outside of the economic reforms, I firmly believe the greatest accomplishment of the CCP has been to bring down the rate of population growth.

    You don’t fault Mao for the population growth since the rate was a continuation of previous years, I fault him as the leader for not doing something about the population growth because the overall number of people was getting out of hand. Both viewpoints have some truth in them.

  40. Flags of the republic Says:

    @ Allen,

    Yeah, the great famine. Although officially it was 3 years, but some areas it was decades. I remember as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s that there was always food and clothing drives for the “less fortunate” areas.

    Personally, I think Mao’s policies were to blame in parts, but more realistically there is a confluence of factors that conspired to bring forth those awful “three” years.

  41. Flags of the republic Says:

    Hey Steve,

    Yeah, that’s one of those things with Mao underestimating the scope of the thing. Mao really didn’t see the vast numbers he inherited as a problem, but rather as an asset. Even if the population increased several folds, Mao’s solution to is increase production. That is where he really went wrong in my opinion — some of the things that he done to increase production. An unfortunate effect is those “three” god awful years.

    Although Mao didn’t see a large population as a problem, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any concerns and family planning programs. One of the earlier one were in 1956, a couple years before the shit hit the fan. Of course it fell apart when things got really bad. So, we can’t really say that the government didn’t try in earnest till 1979. It just happens that bunch of things happened in the intervening 20 years or so. 🙂

    I know that the current solutions to the population question is a bit draconian. But when you look at it, there’s very little alternatives.

  42. Steve Says:

    @ Flags of the republic: We certainly agree on the solution. And the solution would definitely have not been carried out in a democracy, but only by an authoritarian government.

    Speaking of books about Mao, what did you think of Li Zhusui’s?

  43. Flags of the republic Says:

    Hey Steve,

    I don’t know Li Zhusui personally, but I think his book is beyond juicy. Don’t know about much of his claims, but the teeth things is definitely true. There are collaborating testimonies from American dignitaries.

    As for the solution to the population thing, there are actually three. All three of the have been tried, one is discontinued, and two are still active.

    1. Distribute the population evenly.
    2. Family planning laws and birth control
    3. Industrialize

    The only solution real solution is # 3, but what will you do in the mean time? People can say that the first two would only be carried out under authoritarian governments, but none of the industrialized nation have ever faced a similar population problem in their pre-industrialized days. Of course, there is India. Yeah, why don’t we sit on this one for 20 – 30 years, and see what happens.

  44. Steve Says:

    @ Flags OTR: I think the leadership realizes exactly what you just said. #1 and #2 are to “hold the fort”, so to speak, until #3 can kick in and that will naturally bring the population near ZPG, as has happened in all industrialized countries.

    India has the worst of worlds, socialism before democracy and what might be the worst, most inept bureaucracy in the world. Indian people are very successful once they get out of India, though lately things are getting better over there. But I don’t think the bureaucracy has really been reformed.

    I once watched a TV show about India where this manufacturer received a contract to produce blue jeans. They built a factory, brought in machinery, hired workers, got everything ready. All they needed was to hook up the power, and the power generating station was only about 1 km down the road. Well, they waited and waited, tried everything, and finally gave up, closed the plant and let everyone go, simply because they were unable to connect to the power grid. In China that connection would have been made before the machinery even arrived. That’s what Indian businessmen are up against.

    In my last company, we looked at selling our product in India but the import tariffs were so high it would have tripled the true price of the product, so we never tried. We were contacted many times by Indian businessmen wanting to sell our product there, but once I explained the tariff situation, they could see the light. I’ve never been there, but I think it’s just about the last place I’d want to do business.

  45. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Was Mao a monster? Jeez, this seems like an extension of Allen’s post on sensationalized terminology. Did the guy eat his young, or somebody else’s? Of course not. Was he the guy in charge when some misdeeds were concocted and enacted? Yep.

    On the other hand, was Mao a hero? Did he leap tall buildings in a single bound? Nope. Did he eliminate much of what ailed China before 1949? Possibly. Did he leave China better off than when he started? Depends who you ask. Is China today better than what he founded in 1949? Yep. Should Mao be credited with the CHina of today? Depends who you ask.

    So on the monster-hero continuum, where does he fit? Depends who you ask. But regardless of one person’s (or a million people’s) opinion, does it really matter?

    I’d be more interested if someone came up with a 2-part series: 101 Things to Learn About Running a Country- Lessons from the Mao Years, and 101 Mistakes to Avoid While Running a Country – Lessons from the Mao Years. Would there be 101 items you could find to put into either book? Depends who you ask.

  46. Cissy Says:

    Steve @4,

    I used to live across the street from Fuxing Park in Shanghai in a building called “Apartment Paris”. There was an old man named John Zhang (张约翰)in my building who should be in his mid/late 60s in 2002. That man you descibed sounds like him. An american fetish; often spent the day in the park since there was an English Corner there; speak english but not from a western education background, unlike many people of his generation did in old Shanghai; excited to see everybody speak English and eager to show his rare kindness to them, even to me a school girl at that time who was painfully doing my English homework; trying to talk to everybody who has some oversea background. If it was that Mr. Zhang, hmm, I hope you are not taking his words seriously. He’s that kind of chinese who’s dreaming of painting his face white. And his gesture on your back might have other profound meanings too:–)

  47. snow Says:

    I am reading the book half through and really enjoyed the well-balanced, fair-minded and often concise and poignant arguments made by its contributors, a group of real experts on the subject. They provide good answers to many of the questions being discussed on this thread so far (and the discussion would be going be deeper if we all read the book, or at least the prologue and epilogue).

    One thing I feel strongly about this new book is that it not only seriously challenged views held by Zhang and Halliday and gave Mao a rightful place in the history of modern China without failing to acknowledge his mistakes and personal flaws which brought tragedies to the nation, but also raised a meaningful issue to Mao’s ardent defenders and readers at large in reflecting on Mao and his time: basically, a proper, objective and just way to criticize and pass judgment on a person as complex and complicated and contradictory as Mao within the socio-economic, political and cultural context of China’s nation-building struggle in past 150 years. It would not be too much to say that the difficulties in seeing Mao a historical figure of huge significance in his full complexity in this approach largely reflected that of understanding and appreciating anything happened and is happening in China’s rise from a country of being called the “sick men of East Asia” to a world power.

    One impressive notion made by a contributor of this new book is that the strong bias and absolutism pervasive in Zhang’s book recalls the similar style so oftenly used by Mao and CCP, as well as by the Red Guard (Zhang was a former member) during the CR in treating their enemies and oppositions for which the entire nation suffered horrible consequence.

    Any Chinese person who upon reading Zhang’s book could detect her problem immediately can do much bettern than Zhang in reflecting on Mao’s legacy and mistakes. There is progress and hope after all.

  48. FOARP Says:

    @Wukailong – Surely you know better than to criticise any book without having read it first – the impression you received from the BBC interview was nothing like that I received from the book, nor were thos points made either as positively or on as sakey grounds as the ones you mention.

    A senior Labour politician, Roy Hattersley, wrote a review of the Chang’s book, In which he said:

    “Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have not, in the whole of their narrative, a good word to say about Mao. In a normal biography, such an unequivocal denunciation would be both suspect and tedious. But the clear scholarship, and careful notes, of The Unknown Story provoke another reaction. Mao Tse-tung’s evil, undoubted and well documented, is unequalled throughout modern history.”

    this was pretty much my feeling on the book. You can read the rest of the review here:


  49. Raj Says:

    I find the publication of this book slightly amusing, because it causes a dilemma for a number of Jung Chang’s critics. These people often refuse to call her a historian, asserting that she only writes “biographies”. Fine, but in that case why would a book like this be written? Biographies are not supposed to be “balanced”. So why write this? In my mind if Jung Chang is not a historian, the book is a waste of time and inappropriate. If it is an appropriate response, that would acknowledge that she is a historian. I don’t think her critics can have it both ways.

    I agree with FOARP that you shouldn’t trash a book without reading it. One could say that they’ve avoided buying it because of reviews, but no more. Personally I think that there’s nothing wrong with Chang and Halliday focusing on Mao’s down-sides because I think that there was little to speak of him that was good anyway. If someone is an a-hole, why do you have to search around for nice things to say about him, or explain away behaviour? With people like Mao I think it’s quite right that we should have “cases for the prosecution” in terms of published works. The authors didn’t pretend that they were setting out to provide a completely impartial and balanced book. They did their research, they published it.

    For further understanding of what the book is “all about” in my view you should read Perry Link’s review of it.


    The authors were setting out to put all of Mao’s crimes out on public display with no attempt to make them appear less abhorant. Until Mao is properly viewed inside China and without, “balanced” books will do nothing to rectify the delusions many have about what he was like because they’ll always find something to justify their views. However, if you put a dog turd on a table there’s not much you can do to lessen its impact. People might complain it smells and ask for it to be thrown away, but it’s the real truth.

    Snow, no offence but next time you wish to discuss a book I think we would all enjoy it more if you wrote what you thought about it in post rather than copy-and-paste the advert as you seem to have done here.

  50. Steve Says:

    @ Cissy #46: Hi Cissy! It might be the same guy but the one I talked to seemed to be older than mid 60s and your guy would have been too young for some of the stories he told me about the war, so I’m not sure if it’s the same person. He didn’t seem to have an American fetish from our conversation, but you never know. He also didn’t come across as a “banana”, so to speak. I’ve met a few of those in my time. 🙂

    What do you mean by “gesture on your back”? I’m not following you there. He didn’t do any gesture to my back.

  51. TonyP4 Says:


    Thanks for sharing your experience at #4. Some posters from mainland could post their experience of their parents who did not have the opportunity of good education and/or destroyed Chinese cultures during CR and/or starved during Mao’s bad policies. Find out how they felt then and feel now. Your posts and the responses make this thread interesting. 50 posts in a day is nothing small.


    I am not in academic too. I like to use common sense and simple logic to explain my world and China in particular being an oversea Chinese. Sometimes I’m totally naive and totally wrong but totally original/sincere and sometimes funny, but it is just my background and ability.

    I just finished reading a commentary on Romance of Three Kingdoms (translated from Japanese), Mao did not have the characteristics of a good leader if I compare to the 3 leaders in the 3 kingdoms: (1) he has to care about the citizens under his governance, (2) he has to set up himself as a good example, (3) trust/accept ideas from wise folks around him…

    Mao brain washed his citizens and the effect is still there even today to some extend. In his era without internet, he could build a bamboo wall to separate his citizens from the outside world. That’s why you think you’re the ‘strongest’ nation on earth even you’re starving to death. Against the strongest nation (US) on earth is nothing to boast about, just stupid to me. When the country is weak in most measures, you’re just a paper tiger and nothing more.

    There are many lessons to be learned from Mao. Worshiping a dictator that did so much harm to his country is not one of them – it is from my POV and I know most mainlanders have different POV. If we do not learn, there will be another Mao in the future.

  52. Wahaha Says:

    To all westerners on this board ;

    The reason some or a lot of Chinese still respect Mao is the same reason you dislike 大山.

  53. FOARP Says:

    @Whahaha – Because he’s a total dork? Somehow that’s not the first thing that comes into my mind when I think of Mao, but it is when I think of Dashan.

    No, Chang’s book was a polemic against Mao, it was not a balnced work of history, but she did support her argument and she did argue effectively in my opinion. The title was a bit off – most of the things in the book were things I heard before.

    I always thought that the reason people liked Mao was because he was a powerful revolutionary figure, and that they essentially didn’t care about the bad things he did.

  54. FOARP Says:

    @Raj – Stalin’s crimes are well known, both inside the former USSR and outside, however, a good number of Russians either don’t care about the bad things he did or make up excuses for them. He is liked because he was a powerful figure, and people find power attractive.

    One thing though, I have never heard much in the way of patriotic talk from Mao, when he spoke about traditional Chinese culture, he usually did so disdainfully. When he spoke about Chinese history, he didn’t actually seem to care that much about ‘national shame’. Most of what I’ve read from him seems to be on the subject of class struggle and fighting against ‘imperialism’. It is therefore a bit surprising how popular he is amongst the nationalists.

  55. snow Says:


    Don’t you think that those China scholars who contributed articles in this new book, the ones with decades of researching experience on Mao, CCP, and history of Chinese revolution (including some long time harsh critics of Mao and CCP) have a better position to say if Zhang’s book is “undoubted and well documented” scholarship on the subject than a labor politician does?

    Since you’ve read Zhang’s book, I suggest you read this one as well. It’s so intellectually gratifying to read both books carefully with an open and critical mind so as to draw your own conclusion and thought. I do feel this book, in contrary to Zhang’s flawed style and method, so much closer to historical truth in most arguments backed up by well documented materials, The book also has a lot to teach about how to maintain a fair-minded and objective attitude and high academic standard in dealing with extremely complicated and complex cases that often sharply and bitterly divide people and their views such as Mao and Chinese revolution.

  56. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi admin, how come I can vote for my own post?

  57. Raj Says:

    FOARP, it depends who you talk to. It’s very easy to say “so-and-so’s crimes are well known”, but sometimes people do not believe that they occured, rest safe in the belief that they were “necessary”, the individual did things that outweighed them, they were exaggerated, etc.

    Those Chinese nationalists who like Mao purely do so because of his “strength” and the belief that he was somehow acting in China’s best interests. The fact he was Communist wouldn’t be an issue because many of them won’t care about political ideology of that sort. The destruction of Chinese culture should concern everyone, but some people will explain anything away if it suits their prejudices.

  58. ChinkTalk Says:

    William#17 – Like William I am Canadian born and I grew up near a reservation. My father leased 3 acres of land and we farmed Chinese vegetables. The only building on the leased land was a horse barn so my bedroom was one of the stalls. I didn’t feel poor because the Natives on the reservation were much worst off. As a kid, during winter months, I worked in a restaurant. And the workers there included newly arrived immigrants from Hong Kong and China; older timers who’s been in Canada for a long time and a few CBCs like myself. They talked about China often and I think S.K.Cheung #45 defined their sentitments the best. Mao is not as black and white as the Western interpretation. The general consensus was that Mao had a herculean task of reversing the free fall of China and that no other human being at that time would have been able to do it. I remember suggesting that maybe Winston Churchill would have been able to do it. Everybody just laughed at me and looked at me kindly with the understanding that western influenced CBCs are so sheltered from reality. Geez, I thought I was being smart since everybody at school thought of Churchill as the greatest man. Putting it in today’s perspective, I wonder how Stephen Harper as President of China would have handled the Tibet situation; the potential civil unrest due to massive unemployment; government corruptions; terrorism; democracy and human rights; etc.

    Up to now, I have met just one person who hates the communists but not Mao in particular. He told me that his family tried to escape from China in the early 50’s with a few hundred gold bars but was stopped. Apparently his family owned a lot of land and his grandfather was a village elder. He said the communists put the poor villagers up to accusing his grandfather of mistreating them and the villagers tied him to a chair and fed him human feces and made him kneel on crushed glass. His grandfather died from this torture. All of their possesions were pilfered by the poor villagers with the blessings of the communist soldiers. I think almost all of the workers in the restaurant were from the poor villager background so I could understand why they didn’t have any animosity towards Mao. But is Mao really responsible for their fortunes………………… or the misfortunes of the gentleman whose grandfather was killed by the communists. Just like can I blame the Canadian Prime Minister for my father’s inabilty to obtain employment due to exclusion of Chinese from the mainstream work force so that he had to survive by creating his own employment. It was no fun living in a barn with an outside well.

  59. Wahaha Says:


    Mao’s wrongdoing or crime was completely exposed during 80s in China, which is the main reason that why the “right” in the party was able to take over “left”. Everyone in China knew Mao killed Peng Dehuan, the PLA genearl who exposed the GLF.

    Please dont talk about China with your own agenda.

  60. Raj Says:

    @ 58

    But is Mao really responsible for their fortunes or the misfortunes of the gentleman whose grandfather was killed by the communists. Just like can I blame the Canadian Prime Minister for my father’s inabilty to obtain employment due to exclusion of Chinese from the mainstream work force so that he had to survive by creating his own employment.

    The comparisons are completely wrong at least how you put them across. You imply that the Canadian PM failed to change the status-quo that he inherited/was created by forces other than himself, not that he made a change in the law that caused the problem. Mao was the boss when many of his largest failures took place – he was not some bystander.

    Indeed he was often pushing for the very things that caused so much trouble, like the Cultural Revolution. It wasn’t an “accident” it was him trying to snatch power because he had lost control to leaders who had an IQ above that of Homer Simpson’s and weren’t power-hungry a-holes.

    Mao is not criticised simply because he was a top politician at the time people suffered, it’s because his critics say he had a hand in it or indeed was the main cause.



    Mao’s wrongdoing or crime was completely exposed during 80s in China, which is the main reason that why the “right” in the party was able to take over “left”.

    Really, you were a senior mover-and-shaker in the CCP at that time? Come off it, you’re making an assumption. I might as well retort that all that happened was that one group was able to win the argument that economic reform was needed. If Mao had anything to do with it it’s because his economic policies and those of his followers ravaged China and that was obvious to anyone who was not a retard. His crimes against humanity had nothing to do with his economic failings.

    Otherwise why on earth would the CCP still push the rubbish that Mao was 30% bad and 70% good? Or are you going to tell us that he really was only 30% bad, lol!

    Everyone in China knew Mao killed Peng Dehuan, the PLA genearl who exposed the GLF.

    Really, every single person – you’ve talked to all of them? I think what you mean is that everyone was “able” to learn because it was widely discussed. But who cares if he killed one person? That is a drop in the ocean compared to what he did and indeed what people must know about him if they really are to decide what he was like.

    Please dont talk about China with your own agenda.

    Oh please stop talking rubbish. I might as well alleged you have an agenda in saying I have one. Why don’t you confess – why are you spreading lies?

  61. Wahaha Says:

    “Because he’s a total dork? Somehow that’s not the first thing that comes into my mind when I think of Mao, but it is when I think of Dashan.”


    Why do you dislike Dashan ?

    Well, in your eyes, he was sort of humiliated …. by chinese, am I right ?

    Get what I mean ?

  62. Wahaha Says:

    The comparisons are completely wrong at least how you put them across. You imply that the Canadian PM failed to change the status-quo that he inherited/was created by forces other than himself, not that he made a change in the law that caused the problem. Mao was the boss when many of his largest failures took place – he was not some bystander.


    Are you an indian ? if so, what would you think if an indian figure completely destoryed the caste system ? what would those “untouchable” in india think of this person ? Deep in your heart, do you wish one day, that some indians will stand up and say no to superpower ?

    and you should know there are hundreds of millions of “untouchable” in China before 1949.

  63. Raj Says:

    Wahaha, I’m not Indian and have said that about a dozen times on this blog. But the fact you think it relevant in a discussion about Mao Zedong shows how cynically you’re trying to break up the subject by bringing up red-herrings.

    This is a blog about China, not India – this is a blog entry about Mao Zedong, not Indian society. Either get back on topic or go troll somewhere else.

  64. ChinkTalk Says:

    Raj #60 – Have you ever heard of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and the Chinese Head Taxes. These were laws passed by the Canadian Parliament.

  65. Raj Says:

    # 64 No, I haven’t.

    If they were passed at the behest of the PM you refer to, or he did not try to have them repealed (either in private or public), any effect they had is a reason for criticising him. Not that I can see how that’s relevant to letting Mao off the hook – as I said his critics say he was behind much of the misery that happened under his “watch”.

  66. Steve Says:

    @ ChinkTalk #58: Thank you so much for your story. For me, hearing about your life experiences and those of William teach me more about life than any political discourse.

    When I was in China, Mao’s name came up pretty regularly but rarely did anyone hate him. Feelings were always mixed. He was admired for his revolutionary leadership, his insight as to the importance of the peasants rather than factory workers as leading the revolution, and he did that against the dictates of Soviet advisors, which took a lot of guts. Most felt he did a good job as leader after the revolution for the first few years, but just didn’t know when to give up power.

    If I look at my own country, most presidents do well their first term and screw up in their second. It seems if you lead a powerful country, you can only be at the top of your game for a certain amount of time before things start falling apart. There might be a certain fatigue that just sets in over time.

    One of my Shanghai friends’ grandfather was from Shaoxing and was one of the wealthier people in the city. Around the time of the GLF, they arrested him for the crime of being a “capitalist” and put him in jail for 12 years (beating him for the first three), then taking all his possessions. Her grandmother took her six sons to Shanghai where they could live off the “iron rice bowl” and at least survive. This grandfather is still alive but he is a very bitter old man.

    Another friend of ours in Phoenix’s family originally came from Guiyang, Guizhou where they were also pretty wealthy. Right after the revolution, they took all her family’s possessions and murdered both her grandparents and their children. Fortunately, friends were able to sneak their newborn baby (her mother) out of the country and over to Taiwan, where she was raised and our friend was born. She’s tried to take her mom back to Guiyang to see her ancestral homeland but her mom refuses to go while the CCP is running China. With memories that strong, it is impossible for some to disconnect between one era and another.

    Was Mao responsible? Did “the buck stop here”, as Truman used to say? You can make a case either way, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. What’s done is done. China has joined the rest of the world.

    I really don’t think China can go back to the “bad old days” for a couple of reasons. People know too much about the rest of the world, many are already successful but more importantly, the ones that are not have hope that they can become successful, and that their children have an even better chance of creating a good life for themselves. They will not allow those dreams to be taken from them, and I think the leadership knows what they need to do to maintain power. All the old revolutionary heroes have passed.

    These days, fewer and fewer people remember the revolution, GLF or even the CR. There is a huge generation that was raised after that so those memories don’t mean much to them. All they know is that a sequence of events has brought the country to the present times, which seem a whole lot better than when they were younger. When times are good, it’s easier to defend the sequence that got you there, and Mao is a major part of that sequence.

  67. Wahaha Says:


    I brought up the fact, as ChinaTalk said : Mao had a herculean task of reversing the free fall of China and that no other human being at that time would have been able to do it.

    Why is JFK loved by all the Americans ? can you find an american who give a damn that he slept with marilyn monroe ? Why ? cuz he brought the dignity and honor to USA.

    We are all human, so dont try to sell ridiculous theory that Mao is loved by some chinese cuz of nationalism.

  68. admin Says:

    @TonyP4 #56

    Yes, you can cast a vote for yourself just like in any other elections. 🙂

  69. Raj Says:


    I brought up the fact, as ChinaTalk said : Mao had a herculean task of reversing the free fall of China and that no other human being at that time would have been able to do it.

    It is not a fact that China was in “free-fall” in 1949 at all, and Mao did more to harm China in my view than he did to help it. If the task was too hard for him he should have left it to competant leaders like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. Yet despite the fact he was kicked out of power after the balls-up of the Great Leap Forward, he looked to regain control via the Cultural Revolution. Thus he should be doubly condemned for not just making a mess of things once but also causing mayhem to grab power again.

    can you find an american who give a damn that he slept with marilyn monroe ?

    If JFK had a hand in causing a nation-wide famine, wide-spread economic failure, a problematic population boom, the persecution of millions of Americans, etc I doubt he’d be regarded that well. But you see Americans don’t equate that to an affair, though I guess you do for some bizzare reason.

    cuz he brought the dignity and honor to USA

    He did? Wow, I learn something new every day. Before JFK the US had no dignity or honour. I’ll write that one down….

    dont try to sell ridiculous theory that Mao is loved by some chinese cuz of nationalism.

    Lol, you know the thoughts of all Chinese do you?

    Wahaha: “WE ARE BORG!”

    If you knew the definition of nationalism you would know that it is quite possible for that to be a reason for Chinese to liking Mao.

    “Nationalism” according to the free online dictionary (don’t have my Chambers one with me):

    1. national spirit or aspirations.
    2. devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation; patriotism.
    3. excessive patriotism; chauvinism.
    4. the desire for national advancement or independence.
    5. the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation, viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.
    6. an idiom or trait peculiar to a nation.
    7. a movement, as in the arts, based upon the folk idioms, history, aspirations, etc., of a nation.

    Now are you seriously going to sit there and say none of those could apply to why a Chinese person might like Mao?

  70. Wahaha Says:


    Go ask an American “how the F@#$ can you love a man who was dishonest to his wife when she was pregnant ?” remember, make sure an ambulance is within 20 feet of you, OK ?

    After getting off hospital after 6 months, kindly ask an american why they love JFK.

    BTW, dont say you are not indian if your parents were from India.

  71. Steve Says:

    @ Wahaha: Bringing up Kennedy is actually a pretty good example. At the time he was president (which I can remember firsthand), he wasn’t as popular as many might think. His chances for re-election in 1964 were iffy. He made several blunders in his first year, especially on the foreign policy side, but learned from them and was more credible after that. His escalation of the Vietnam War (I had a friend who fought there as an “advisor” during his administration. When his unit was sent, none of them had ever even heard of Vietnam) proved pretty disastrous in the long run. He was the one who brought Robert McNamara onboard. He was very popular with liberals and very unpopular with conservatives. When he was president, no one knew he slept with Marilyn Monroe.

    Having said that, I liked Kennedy a lot back then and still do today. He was a good leader. He initiated many excellent reforms that were completed in LBJ’s term. He was a quick learner. I can still remember exactly where I was when he died, like most my age. But looking back, if Nixon rather than Kennedy had been elected in 1960, I doubt there would have been a Cuban Missile Crisis or Bay of Pigs. Krushchev thought of Kennedy as an amateur that he could manipulate but had more respect for Nixon. So I can’t say that no other human being besides Kennedy could have led the country successfully. But when a president is assassinated when young, the reality fades and the legend begins to take over.

    I’d say the same with Mao. There were other leaders in the party at that time. Who’s to say one of them couldn’t have done a better job? No one will ever know, since no one else got the chance while he was alive. But Deng had the chance after he died and seemed to do a pretty good job of it. What if Deng had taken over in 1958 and Mao had been a two term president? No GLF and no CR, right? If Mao had died in the Long March, would the movement have died? Zhou would have probably taken over and he was a pretty sharp guy. But no one can ever know, so it’s speculation either way.

  72. Jed Yoong Says:

    Hi all
    From a faraway overseas Chinese and historical perspective, it will appear Mao + his era will go down in history as another “Warring Era” before the establishment of a new dynasty.
    Although the bourgeoisie, aristocracy suffered, it appears that perhaps corruption and complacency needed to be dramatically purged for new blood and fresh ideas.
    Such things sound nice in writing but is gruesome, bloody and cruel in reality.
    The irony is of course, communism has morphed into imperialism, as George Orwell described in animal farm.
    What more now we read of the new capitalists, “feudal” lords, and children of party leaders dominating the government.

  73. Raj Says:


    Wahaha, I suggest you go ask an American what the thinks is worse – an affair or causing misery to tens of millions of people. That will put things in perspective.

    BTW, dont say you are not indian if your parents were from India.

    Now you see enlightened and modern people do not equate identity to a simple matter of ethnicity. They allow people to choose between things like ethnicity and nationality. Only intolerant prats like yourself would insist no one has the right to choose how they see themselves.

    But my parents aren’t from India, so there you go. Now let’s have some information from you. Where are your parents from? Where were you born? Where do you live now? What is your nationality?

  74. Cissy Says:

    Steve #50,

    I am not too sure about Mr. Zhang’s age, but as far as I remembered, he was already an old man in the late 80s/early 90s. He was about 175cm or taller, and quite thin. But both height and weight can change with aging. I remember he looked like those “old gentleman” type, cold and discreet, at least before he found out you can speak English:-) My mom warned me not to talk to him because he has past history of sexual offense. In the states, they publish this kind of thing on websites. In China, it is spread by mouth.

  75. Steve Says:

    @ Cissy: Hmm… I have a feeling it wasn’t the same guy. This guy wasn’t thin. That was actually the only time I wandered into that particular park, excepting a couple of nights where the Taiwanese guys took me over to the California Club at Park 97, which I didn’t care for… just a pick up place with a lousy dance floor. I also remember going once with my colleagues from work to a karaoke club across the street from the park.

    How long did you live at that location? I liked the neighborhoods south of there.

  76. Brad Says:

    @ecodelta #14

    “Beware of heros. I prefer normal men, they are easier to deal with, and not so.. difficult to argue with.”

    We are talking about a leader of a country here. If he were a normal men and easy to argue with, you would have a puppy government of China. China would have gone back to semi-colonial state. China would have more Hongkongs and Macaus.

  77. Raj Says:


    If he were a normal men and easy to argue with, you would have a puppy government of China. China would have gone back to semi-colonial state.

    So you’re saying that someone has to be a bully and unreasonable/stubborn to stop their country being marginalised? Quite the reverse. Tolerant and flexible people often secure the best deals for their nations because they are able to obtain and accept compromises. “Strongmen” like Mao and Stalin only get their nations marginalised and isolated. But of course that’s what Mao wanted, because he didn’t want Chinese people getting “nasty foreign ideas” that would upset his propaganda/cultist apple-cart.

  78. Wahaha Says:


    I was born in China, that must tell you a lot, right ?

    Read again and carefully, I didnt defend Mao’s wrongdoing or crime, clear ? What I am saying is that it is absolutely understandable that lot of Chinese respect Mao, just like other people in other country, even they know what he did in GLF and CR, not like you have blahed blahed that so many chinese people are so stupid and brainwashed to respect Mao.

    So what I am saying is dont try to sell your theory here that CCP can still brainwash us.



    Deng followed rules, Maos didnt follow rules. (have a look of his calligraphy.) To my limited knowledge about Mao, he had no respect to old rules set by those Chou Lao Jiu (smelly old scholars), so he was the only one who could completely destory the old system.

    About “Chinese stand up from now.” by Mao, there was a story : Mao once met Krushchev next to a swimming pool … with only his swimming pants. Also who on earth in 1950s dared to call USA a paper Tiger ? There is no way to prove he was the only one who could do that, but I cant think of anyone in China who couldve done what he did, …. including GLF and CR.

  79. Jed Yoong Says:

    @ Wahaha

    “Maos didnt follow rules. (have a look of his calligraphy.) ”

    Well his calligraphy does sure look a lot like some of the older imperial scholars’…Can’t remember who now…But give me some time to find it….

    “Also who on earth in 1950s dared to call USA a paper Tiger ? ”

    So what? Now the Chinese has been colonised by Western culture….
    Was Mao really a tool of the West to culturally + economically colonise China?
    What’s the difference from China and the previous colonies of HK + Macau?

    “Chou Lao Jiu (smelly old scholars),”

    Chou Lao Jiu — smelly old dogs, referring to scholars….I think lots of ppl refer to Mao or the CCP with this term too…..

  80. FOARP Says:

    @Snow – I haven’t read the book yet, but I will say that to state that Mao was not a monster and yet recognise all of Mao’s crimes against the Chinese people is no contradiction. As for Roy Hattersley, he at least has some practical experience of the exercise of power, and was involved in international affairs during the later part of Mao’s reign as deputy spokesman for foreign affairs, so he does at least have some direct experience of the events in question. I would not say he is unqualified to speak on the subject.

    Like I said, Chang’s work was not a balanced work of history, I do not think it was meant to be. There were parts in which she engaged in speculation – but where she did speculate it was presented as such and not as proven fact. It can be criticised for not attempting to give a balanced view, but Chang did support everything she said with persuasive sources. I do not think that Chang engaged in sensationalism.

    On a side note, Jon Halliday is a professional historian, although his main area of study is the history of the Soviet Union, but I think the central message of the book was decided by Jung Chang, who is not a professional historian.

    @Raj – My point was not that Mao’s crimes are well known in China, in fact I believe they are not, as you will meet many people who have no idea of who was behind the cultural revolution, but that even if they were well known a good number of people wouldn’t care. This is not because there is something inherently evil about the people who think this way, but because they have grown up within a tradition in which the wrongdoings of the communist party are to be treated as though they never exist, and because of the amount of change that has occurred since then. To the majority of people alive now in China, the CR might as well have happened a million years ago.

    @Whahaha – No, I dislike Dashan because he is an obvious dork. The meaning of the word ‘dork’ is similar to ‘nerd’ – think of the child at school who was most disliked and picked on, but obviously thought that he was very intelligent.

  81. Jed Yoong Says:

    @ Wahaha

    Also he killed, tortured, etc all the scholars so all the people with better calligraphy and poetry were “eliminated” for various reasons…”capitalists”, etc, etc
    ANd now we are stuck with his “masterpieces” and he thinks he is some HERO of CHINA for destroying the intelligentsia to hold on to power?
    So sorry man! Stop marketing Mao as some great scholar!

  82. Steve Says:

    @ Wahaha: I agree with you about how he destroyed the old system. It seems not just the system but even many aspects of Chinese culture were also destroyed. I wonder if those cultural patterns will begin to assert themselves as time goes on.

    One thing I noticed and also had others remark upon was that when going back and forth between China and Taiwan, the cultural differences were pretty startling. Taiwan seemed more “Chinese” than China. What I mean is that if you go to a Buddhist temple in China, it’s a temple with very few people inside and most of those are just looking around. To contrast, in my neighborhood in Taipei was Longshan Temple, and wandering in there at any time of day or night, the place would be packed with worshippers engaging in all kinds of rituals. It was fascinating for me to watch. This was but one example of many that I saw.

    Do you think that China will resurrect those same cultural traits that Mao tried to destroy, or do you think that Mao did such a good job of it for a long time that Chinese culture has been permanently altered? I guess it’d be hard to really understand this question unless you’ve lived both on the mainland and either in Taiwan or Hong Kong. Because of the English influence in HK, I”ve always felt Taiwan to be the more traditional place, but that’s just my impression.

  83. Wahaha Says:

    Jed Yoong,

    You dont know what “Chou Lao Jiu” means, it just proves that you know very little about Chinese.

    You wont find a single calligrapher in chinese history whose calligraph is like Mao’s.


    “because they have grown up within a tradition in which the wrongdoings of the communist party are to be treated as though they never exist,”


    You mean like Japanese dont know what their emperor did during WWII ?


    I agree with you about how he destroyed the old system. It seems not just the system but even many aspects of Chinese culture were also destroyed.


    That is true.

  84. Jed Yoong Says:

    @ wahaha

    “You dont know what “Chou Lao Jiu” means, it just proves that you know very little about Chinese.”
    You are right I can’t read/write PINYIN properly! Can you please write Chinese!

    “You wont find a single calligrapher in chinese history whose calligraph is like Mao’s.”
    There are plenty! He is such a CON JOB. He and his darn poetry…WOW…So great….

  85. Jed Yoong Says:

    @ Wahaha

    Mao should be renamed “China’s Father of American Imperialism”!

  86. Wahaha Says:

    Jed Yoong,

    I dont know how to type chinese on this board.

    Do you know what “Lao Jiu” means ? it means you are # 9, the last in the sequence 1,2,..,9, which is behind workers, peasants, etc.

    “Smelly” means something that had last for hundreds of years in Chinese history.

    and you use “Smelly old scholar ” to discrible CCP ?

    BTW, calligraphy tells lot about his personality, at least for Chinese. You dont know that and you claim you know chinese culture ?


    I can care less what you think of Mao, but dont sound like we are brainwashed.

  87. Ted Says:

    @Wahaha #52

    “To all westerners on this board ;
    The reason some or a lot of Chinese still respect Mao is the same reason you dislike 大山”

    Lol, irrational yet understandable is a totally acceptable explanation to me.

  88. FOARP Says:

    @Wahaha –

    “You mean like Japanese dont know what their emperor did during WWII ?”


  89. Wahaha Says:

    To Ted and FOARP,

    I saw a lot of “Dashan” on American Idols, no1 minds.

    maybe people from certain town on certain area on earth in solar system in our galaxy are different, for that, I am sorry.




    If so, there wouldve been NO 6/4.


  90. wuming Says:

    Labels aside, I think Mao was mainly a product of his time. The role he was born to play was that of a peasant rebel turned emperor. Even a cursory scan of Chinese history you will find a few of this kind. He was a rare combination of a skilled political infighter and a romantic poet. At the end, he became the poster-boy of the saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    Historically, similar peasant who turned emperor was almost always as brutal and destructive. If the Chinese dynasties had not usually lasted a few hundred years each, the civilization would have been long destroyed. I sincerely hope that he was the last one of this breed.

    I also think that he was never much of a communist. In his work you probably find more references to past emperors than Marx or Engeles. He was probably more familiar with 资治通鉴 than with Das Capital. If I have to compare him with any other communist leaders, it will be a combination of Lenin and Stalin (the political skill and brutality of Stalin and the Romanticism of Lenin.) I can’t prove it, but I think had Lenin lived longer, he and Mao would be more similar.

    Jed and Wahaha: chou lao jiu = 臭老九

  91. Dan Says:

    I did a poll on this a while back and got 433 responses. I urge everyone to go there and vote: http://www.chinalawblog.com/2008/03/mao_zedong_mean_or_nice.html

  92. Hong Konger Says:

    Though the following is a love song by ABBA, the sentiments sound familiar with many mature folks
    I’ve talked to on this subject. One of my best friends in China, a brilliant man, speaks perfect English, worked in the USA in his 20s, and is now in his 40s. His father is an educator, though a retired school principle, remains active in the field. This is what my friends says of his father, ” He / I don’t wanna talk. About the things we’ve gone through. Though it’s hurting me. Now it’s history. I’ve played all my cards. And that’s what you’ve done too. Nothing more to say. No more ace to play.”

    Here’s the rest of the song:

    The winner takes it all. The loser standing small
    Beside the victory. That’s her destiny

    I was in your arms. Thinking I belonged there
    I figured it made sense. Building me a fence
    Building me a home. Thinking I’d be strong there
    But I was a fool. Playing by the rules

    The gods may throw a dice. Their minds as cold as ice
    And someone way down here. Loses someone dear
    The winner takes it all. The loser has to fall
    It’s simple and it’s plain. Why should I complain.

    The judges will decide. The likes of me abide
    Spectators of the show. Always staying low
    The game is on again. A lover or a friend
    A big thing or a small. The winner takes it all

    I don’t wanna talk. If it makes you feel sad
    And I understand. You’ve come to shake my hand
    I apologize. If it makes you feel bad
    Seeing me so tense. No self-confidence
    But you see.The winner takes it all
    The winner takes it all…

    The following are all true (to me):

    -Mao and Mahathir, Despised by the West, adored by their own people…
    -SKC: “It depends on who you ask

  93. BMY Says:

    @wuming #90

    “Historically, similar peasant who turned emperor was almost always as brutal and destructive”

    I agree with that. But those emperors were only brutal to their generals,ministers . They didn’t create mass destruction to the whole country/population after they already won the wars. None of the emperors dared to try to destroy Confucian culture after QinShiHuang.

    “In his work you probably find more references to past emperors than Marx or Engeles. ”

    my version is “In his work you probably find more references to past emperors plus Stalin than Marx or Engeles. “

  94. kui Says:

    Within the old generation of leaders of CCP, there were better military strategists such as Lin Biao and Pend De Huai. These people could lead PLA to secure China’s sovereignty. For peaceful time Deng Xiao Ping, Liu Shao Qi, Zhou En Lai were much better policy makers. Chinese people were better off without Mao.

    China did achieve in some areas during Mao’s time such as basic healthcare, women’s rights, improved literacy and life span…… But this was not Mao’s personal achievement. This was the achievement of Chinese people, the government and CCP.

  95. BMY Says:

    Kui #94

    Totally agree.
    Are you the comrade who lives in Narwee?:)

  96. kui Says:

    Forgot to mention the funding of PRC. That was not Mao’s personal achievement either.

  97. Stink Tofu Says:

    1. I’m in Beijing and had to use a proxy to read this post. This a recent development, though not much of a surprise considering the subject.

    2. The Chang and Halliday’s book is not a rigorous academic study of Mao. The copious endnotes give it the veneer of respectability. Even so, I can think of no serious Western scholar doing work in the field of PRC history who recommends this book. I recall the Yale professor Jonathan Spence’s review in the NY Review of Books – he was not impressed. On the other hand, the NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s review was very postitive. The difference between a China-hand and a China scholar, I suppose. In any case, the book was not well received by the American scholarly community. In fact, Chang and Halliday’s book may have actually hurt debate on the subject of Mao.

    3. That said, Mao was one of the worst leaders of the 20th century. No doubt, China (and the world) would have been better without him. He was neither the inspired revolutionary nor the deep theoretician that many Chinese would have us believe. Rather, he had a certain charisma, gift for politics, and a talent for survival. In the end, Mao was an egomaniacal ideologue with a very modest intellect and poor problem solving skills. Jonathan Spence refers to Mao as the “Lord of Misrule.” Generous description, if you ask me.

    4. I’m looking forward to the day when Mao’s body is removed from Tiananmen, his mausoleum torn down, and Chinese scholars (working in China) allowed to publish honest studies about his rule without political interference. Sad to say, this day is probably a long way off as the CCP’s legitimacy continues to be linked, in part, to Mao’s image. The fact that Mao’s face appears on Chinese paper money of every denomination is a bitter reminder of how far China still has to go to become a great modern nation.

    5. This book was published years ago. A little late to the party, huh?

  98. wuming Says:


    It’s true that those people you enumerated were better at doing the actual works either in the civil war or when they were running the country. But without Mao, the Chinese communist movement could not have succeeded, he was the glue, he willed it to its conclusion. Therefore, to twist your conjecture a little bit, CCP would not have been better off without Mao.

    Would China be better off without Mao? I certainly think so. My point in the previous posts was that Mao was a quintessential revolutionary, the destruction he brought was almost an inevitable consequence of a revolution, given the condition of China at the time. Therefore I wish the Chinese communist revolution had not succeeded. This is how I understand the final lesson of CR — say no to revolutions, and say no to ideologies.

  99. wuming Says:

    @steve 82
    What I mean is that if you go to a Buddhist temple in China, it’s a temple with very few people inside and most of those are just looking around. …

    I think that has already changed from just several years ago. I observe more pilgrims and fewer tourists (like me) in Chinese temples each time I visited. Some of the well known temples have become extremely rich.

    The force that has bigger effect on traditional Chinese culture is not communism, but the globalism.

  100. Old Tales Retold Says:

    @ Wuming,

    I wouldn’t say no to ideologies, just put them in their proper place. They provide a good framework, but they only do so together, where we can compare and contrast them and pick and choose—when there’s only one, even if it’s pretty good, it can be destructive. Without ideologies, decisions seem flavorless and a little too much is unspoken.

    Your take on Lenin rings true (I imagine it would be even more true of Trotsky if he hadn’t had to flee, though I like the guy). My opinion of Mao swings with my mood. When I am frustrated at pretension or the pace of progress in the world, I feel guiltily sympathetic to Mao and his desire burn it all down and start over. When I sober up, I wonder why that would seem appealing, as change is most meaningful when it’s rooted in an the funny ins and outs of the world, rather than clean and imposed.

  101. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To HKer #92:
    that’s a good abba tune, even though it was before my time.

    Is it a great song?
    It depends on who you ask.
    If I thought it was a great song, and someone disagreed, would that change my opinion?
    Does my fervent support of that song make it great?
    So how is a person to decide if that abba tune is a great song?
    By listening to it and deciding for themselves.

    Man, if I ever need help with a play-list, or beer selection, you’ll be one of the first people I ask. 🙂

  102. Wukailong Says:

    @Stink Tofu: Indeed, I found out yesterday that the national firewall has gobbled up this site too. I can see it at work since we’re using a Singaporean network, but I’ll have to use some proxy to see it from home.

  103. wuming Says:


    Little I know of Trotsky, he seems to be a romantic revolutionary without the brutal infighting skills of Mao or Stalin. Come to think of it, I am not sure Lenin would have been able to long subdue Stalin even if he was healthy.

    My problem with ideology is the same as my problem with religion, I can see why people need it, but I can’t see the reason for it myself. I regard myself as being too dumb to avoid the trap doors hidden in any ideological framework. So I reject them outright.

    As for revolutions that smack everything to pieces, beside the destruction, the main problem is that revolution rarely achieve any of the goals except for the destruction itself.

  104. Zonk Says:

    I like what S.K. Cheung has to say on this. A rare cold and unbiased analysis. Like all of us, Mao was the product of the society in which he lived. I haven’t read Chang’s and Halliday’s book and don’t intend to. I think sometimes one can have too much information (not that I’d deny anyone else the opportunity to read it if they wish). So all I want to say is let’s not demonise Mao, but at the same time resist any temptation to idolise him. Leaders are only laobaixing who’ve had extraordinary luck. They’re not special. By the way, remove that picture from the entrance to Forbidden City. Let’s move on.

  105. Wukailong Says:

    @OTR, wuming: I think the problem is that the word “ideology” in Chinese has a negative ring to it, just like “propaganda” has in the West (in China the term seems quite neutral). Actually, without this feeling we might be more inclined to think of positive effects of both, that is to say, sometimes ideology or propaganda are both needed.

    As an aside, in Swedish the word “radical” is positive, though I’ve understood people tend to avoid it in the US or think of it as a Chinese would think of “ideologist”.

    Everyone adheres to some sort of ideology, be it pragmatism (“make the country strong”), legalism (“strengthen the rule of law”), democracy or what else. The problem is when the moral principles of a certain ideology is seen as more important than the results it produces, or when you can’t discuss the foundations of an ideology.

  106. snow Says:

    Wuming #103,

    “the main problem is that revolution rarely achieve any of the goals except for the destruction itself.”

    Despite all its bloodiness what did the French revolution achieve, directly or indirectly in human history? what a world would be today without it?

  107. snow Says:

    Wuming #103,

    “the main problem is that revolution rarely achieve any of the goals except for the destruction itself.”

    Also, could you think of a USA today without American revolution ever happened in human history?

  108. snow Says:

    Stink Tofu,

    “The fact that Mao’s face appears on Chinese paper money of every denomination is a bitter reminder of how far China still has to go to become a great modern nation.”

    I suppose you’d agree that USA is a great modern nation. But how would you explain that Jackson’s face still appears on a twenty dollar bill (one of the founding fathers whose presidency was linked with a case of bloody genocide of native American)? I am quoting Professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s book, China’s Brave New World: And Other Tales for Global Times, when he thus asked an American who had asked him why the Chinese still have Mao’s face on their 100 RMB bill.

  109. FOARP Says:

    @Snow – Easily. All major British colonies have now become independent countries, only the USA became independent as the direct result of an uprising. Had the North American colonies remained under UK control, they would have probably followed the same journey towards independence that Canada, Australia, and New Zealand travelled.

  110. wuming Says:


    As for the case of French revolution. Had it not happened, France might become a constitutional monarchy. Several other bloody revolutions worldwide (including the communist revolutions) subsequently would have not occurred as a result.

  111. BMY Says:

    @snow #108,

    There is no comparison between a case of bloody genocide with decades of destruction of the lives of hundreds of millions.

    Do you want to explain more about what the French revolution achieved in deed, directly or indirectly in human history?

  112. wuming Says:


    I agree with that. But those emperors were only brutal to their generals,ministers . They didn’t create mass destruction to the whole country/population after they already won the wars. None of the emperors dared to try to destroy Confucian culture after QinShiHuang.

    Many of the emperors, like Mao, caused severe destruction during the war that won them the empire. After the war, they would cleans the establishment (without and within) which will result in lack of expertise in running the country. The cycle of famine/rebellion/cleansing would still churn several more rounds before they finally become the establishment. But in the process, millions of lives were destroyed. Therefore I think Mao is not that unique in the historical context. China was always on the margin of being able to feed itself, too often the errors got magnified to tip the balance toward starvation.

    Though I agree that Mao did something extra. First, as you pointed out, he proceed to destroy the cultural foundation of nation. Second, he engaged in continuous revolution for his Utopian dreams, further plunged the nation into destitute.

  113. BMY Says:


    I agree. 鸟尽弓藏,兔死狗烹 is not unique to Mao. Things like CR really made him stand out .

  114. Steve Says:

    @ wuming #99: I haven’t been in a Chinese temple for awhile, so my info is certainly out of date since I’m not one to frequent Buddhist or Taoist temples on a regular basis. But what I’d be curious about is what goes on these days inside the temples. How are people worshipping? Is it the same as in Taiwan? Do they use the fortune sticks, put the incense to their foreheads, etc? One aspect of temples in Taiwan is how noisy they are in certain areas. The fervent bustle is fascinating to me. In China, the people inside seemed more curious than religious.

    On my first trip to Taiwan many years ago, my wife and I were driving with her cousin in the country east of Miaoli when I saw a small, colorful temple on top of a mountain. I asked her cousin what it was and he hadn’t noticed it before, so we drove as close as we could, then walked the rest of the way (first time I ever saw houses with dirt floors and chickens walking in and out) until we got to the top. It was a Taoist temple dedicated to Guan Yu and the most colorful temple I’ve ever seen, in the absolute middle of nowhere.

    Are there a lot of these types of temples in China these days? Or were most of them destroyed in the CR?

  115. Steve Says:

    @ snow #106, 107, 108: The French Revolution overthrew a decadent monarchy that was living a luxurious lifestyle while the people were literally starving. Unfortunately, revolutionaries are good at destruction but normally not so good at creation, and the French Revolution took that path. But with the rise of Napoleon and the wars across Europe, the absolute monarchy system was pretty much destroyed and replaced by constitutional monarchy. Would this have happened without the French Revolution? Who can say?

    The American Revolution was very unique because of one man. George Washington (along with Ben Franklin) was the leader of the revolt, and when the Constitution was written, the office of the President was left deliberately vague because everyone knew Washington would be President and would figure it out. He created the entire executive apparatus which for the most part exists to this day. He set the government in motion and after eight years, voluntarily left the office. The founders had expected him to serve as President for life, and Europeans were shocked that anyone would give up power voluntarily. He became the most famous man in the world for that act alone. So the USA was damned lucky for having George Washington as its first leader. No other word could describe it.

    As for Andrew Jackson, I’m not a Jackson admirer and would prefer someone else’s picture on the $20 bill. My oldest son is part Cherokee and I know the story only too well. However, it was not genocide. Genocide would be if all the Cherokee were exterminated rather than relocated. As my son can attest, that didn’t happen. But it was a sordid affair, to say the least. Jackson was not a founding father, he came a generation later. He’s probably on the $20 for a variety of other reasons; he changed the nature of the office of the presidency (along with Washington and Teddy Roosevelt), he created the two party system as the first Democratic president (Jefferson’s party was called the Democratic-Republican Party and had no opposition after he won his first election), and was the first president elected with the majority of his support from the western states (today’s midwest).

    I remember Mao’s face on the RMB100 bill but is he on every other bill? I can understand why he’d be on one bill but being on all of them would be a bit much.

    Question for the group, especially the mainland Chinese: What do you think of Mao’s portrait at the entrance of the Forbidden City? If up to you, would you keep it there or take it down?

  116. Steve Says:

    @ wuming #112: Your assessment makes sense to me. Mao was the first to figure out that success for the revolution depended on the peasants and not the urban factory workers, which gave him his initial power. He was ruthless in maintaining that power with various party purges to remove rivals going all the way back to the Long March. As leader, he was able to find and utilize effective generals under him to win battles and eventually take power. Because of these factors, I would say he was a revolutionary hero and for that he deserves to be honored within the country.

    If he had died at that point or simply retired, maybe serving as president for a few years, his legacy today would be unsurpassed in modern Chinese history. But like most revolutionaries, he liked being “the king” and didn’t know how to relinquish power gracefully. He continued to have party purges, suppressing all rivals to maintain his grip on power at the expense of the nation. For me, that’s where he deserves his condemnation and is what forms the “30% wrong” label. It seems especially in today’s world, leaders can only govern effectively for a certain amount of years before they lose the ability and begin to make mistakes. Mao was no exception.

    He only cared if the cat were black or white. He had no interest in whether it could catch mice.

  117. wuming Says:


    There are always many worshipers among people at the temples. They do all the activities you talked about. For example, I saw in Pu Tuo Shang that a family was in a prayer session (which I assume was praying for some deceased relative) in a smaller room next to the main one.

    I have not been to any Taoist temple recently. My guess is like Buddhist temples, many of them were destroyed or damaged, but many also since been rebuilt.

    There are always significant number of non-worshiping tourists, since many of these temples are well known tourist sites, much like the cathedrals in Rome and else where in Europe. Probably if you visit a non-tourist temple, you will see mostly xiang ke

  118. CHINAYOUREN Says:

    Oh, no, I’m late again for the discussion. A few points, hope I am not repeating too much what has already been said:

    1- Xujun Eberlein did a great review of J.Chang’s book that you can find on amazon, it has an interesting point of view from someone who suffered directly the CR. http://www.insideoutchina.com/2007/12/mao-unknown-story-by-jung-chang-and-jon.html

    2- There are many people in China who hate Mao and there are many who like him, I don’t think there is any reliable statistics about that. In particular, one curious observation I have made (but it is by no means scientific) is that there seems to be a section of the population composed of middle aged women who were kids in the times of Mao, who have kept an unbreakable love for him. I have encountered quite a few of them, and no matter how you convince them of the horrors of the regime, they will always answer something like: “Oh, it is all the fault of that Shanghai wife of his, you know, that was Mao’s only flaw, that he was too succesful with women, etc etc.”)

  119. Wahaha Says:

    …. I don’t think there is any reliable statistics about that…..


    The following poll is not about Mao,


    Again, I dont want to defend Mao, I just illustrate the reason so many chinese still admire Mao, like every other race and people.

    Hopefully, I didnt touch the nerve of the one who downgraded all of my posts in this thread.

  120. Steve Says:

    @ wuming: Thanks for the descriptions. What did you think of Pu Tuo Shan? Was it a worthwhile destination to you? Did you do it as a one day trip or spend some time there? I’m always curious about possible travel destinations.

    The next time I’m in China, I’m going to make the time to visit a temple or two. I’m still curious as to how the style of worship compares to what I saw in Taiwan; to observe different ways of doing the same thing. For me, that’s one of travel’s greatest pleasures.

    @ chinayouren: I read that review and agree with you that his point of view was perceptive and those specific passages he mentioned incriminating towards Chang. I wonder how much of her view of Mao is driven by her past actions and own personal demons?

    Oh, those poor Shanghai women! They’re always getting bad press and being blamed for everything. When I was about to go to China for the first time, many of my wife’s Taiwan American friends thought it very important to warn me about “Shanghai women”. They never mentioned any other place but Shanghai in terms of evil women to watch out for. 🙂

  121. Steve Says:

    @ Wahaha #119: Interesting poll. I can understand Nevsky at #1. If you ever get a chance to see Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film “Alexander Nevsky”, don’t miss it. It’s one of the all time greats if you’re into movie history, storytelling and cinematic technique. I wasn’t familiar with Stolypin but know Pushkin.

    It reminded me of an old story told by Joe Garagiola, the former baseball player. He said that when he was an active player, he’d do the sports circuit in the offseason, talking to kids at schools and churches, etc. Back then he’d be introduced as “Joe Garagiola, major league baseball player”. After he retired, he was introduced as “former major league star”, then a few years later as “former major league great” and a few years after that as “one of baseball’s immortals”. He said, “Hell, if I knew it worked that way, I would have retired years earlier!” 🙂

    The point being, once a person dies or retires, the bad stuff tends to fade in people’s memories and the good stuff comes to the fore. It’s no different than 50 year olds playing the same old music from their youth. Hearing those songs reminds them of when they were young. For many people, Stalin’s time was their youth, Mao’s time was their youth, and the memories of youth are idealistic, mostly positive and softened by time.

  122. FOARP Says:

    @Steve – As far as I know, Taiwan is a special case in the way that Buddhist and Taoism are often contained in the same temple, this does not happen so much on the mainland. The CR did destroy many temples, and the communist government discouraged people from worship, and as only atheists may join the communist party, religious faith is a bar on personal development in mainland China.

    However, you will still find people worshipping in the temples on the mainland, students go there to pray for good exam scores, businessmen go to pray for success in the exams etc. You just won’t find people consulting geomancers before moving house or starting a business the way you do on Taiwan. Of course, even within Taiwan, Miaoli was a special case, as it is famous for the number of temples it contains.

  123. TonyP4 Says:

    * After 2 weeks in Europe in a tour, I got sick and tired of old churches. Same for old temples in China. Same for Paris Hilton every night. 🙂

    * I seriously think a good portion of Chinese in mainland are brain washed by Mao. We need to send them to NYC for re-education. 🙂

    I really want to know the feelings then and now of those Red Guards who destroyed our cultures. Do they think they’re manipulated by Mao or they’re just plain stupid? Did Mao think he would not go down in history as the one who destroyed the most Chinese culture in recent history?

    * I do not agree with ‘revolutions are always necessary’. French revolution and Dr Sun’s revolution are necessary to overthrow bad governments. Last 50 years I do not see any major wars in developed countries besides the Middle East. Vietnam and Korean could be exceptions but could be argued that they should not be drawn into 2 countries to start with. Did ‘developed countries’ with the educated citizens have the wisdom in avoiding wars?

    * After 1949, China was united and it was not a warring state. All sufferings and destruction were due to bad governance. Mao had to bear a lot of blames. We should have a holiday to celebrate Mao’s death and took out his ugly face from Tiananmen Square and the currency. 🙂

    Sorry to offend some Mao’s fans/followers/citizens with dumb nationalism. I try my best to understand your POV but fail miserably.

  124. wuming Says:


    The CR did destroy many temples, and the communist government discouraged people from worship, and as only atheists may join the communist party, religious faith is a bar on personal development in mainland China.

    The statement is a bit curious coming from you. The first 2 sentences was in past tense therefore I would agree. But you should know very well there are plenty of religious believers in all levels of the party hierarchy now and they are openly practicing their religions (FLG is of course the exception.) Chinese in mainland does the same Buddhist and Taoist practices as Chinese in Taiwan and Hong Kong, perhaps in somewhat smaller numbers. Don’t you think your knowledge about China is due for update?

    I am an atheist. I think religions, if not handled well in China, could be very destructive. I admit that I am a little surprised that the government does not seem to be concerned about the fast expansions of mainline traditional religions in China.

  125. FOARP Says:

    @Wuming – When I lived in the mainland, this is what I was told by the locals, they seemed to be of the opinion that communist party members did include those with religious belief , but that these people were not openly religious. If things have changed since 2007, perhaps you would like to show me in what way they have changed, because I know most certainly that there were not people who are openly religious at ‘all levels of party hierarchy’ in 2007, and have heard nothing to indicate that circumstances have changed. I am especially interested to hear which politburo member are non-atheists, which of the provincial governors, which of the county-level and prefecture-level party bosses.

    Here is the duty under which people of openly religious faith were excluded under the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party:

    “(8) To promote new socialist ways and customs and advocate communist ethics. To step forward and fight bravely in times of difficulty or danger, daring to make any sacrifice to defend the interests of the country and the people.”

    As well as this section on membership:

    “Article 2 Members of the Communist Party of China are vanguard fighters of the Chinese working class imbued with communist consciousness.

    Members of the Communist Party of China must serve the people wholeheartedly, dedicate their whole lives to the realization of communism, and be ready to make any personal sacrifices.

    Members of the Communist Party of China are at all times ordinary members of the working people. Communist Party members must not seek personal gain or privileges, although the relevant laws and policies provide them with personal benefits and job-related functions and powers. “

    I am also very curious as to which religious leaders the communist party has decided to take into its ranks. Have the cardinals of the patriotic catholic church now become party members? The leaders of the patriotic protestant chruches? Are regional Imams now being inducted into the party? I must admit, China is a country which changes quickly, it was only four years ago that my boss was telling me how he could never become a communist party member as everyone knew that he was a Buddhist, indeed, he had written a book on the subject of religious faith, but I guess all that is out of date now.

  126. wuming Says:

    OK, let me retract a little bit, I don’t know of any openly religious poliburo members. But this article is interesting.

    Here is an article with some numbers that I can’t independently confirm. Communist Party in crisis: 20 million members go to church or temple — seems not regarded by the CCP as a real crisis.

    The Charter of Communist Party contains many things, such as the dictatorship of proletarian, prohibition against the private property ownership … but it does not mean there is any enforcement of them.

    If a provincial governor participating in some activity in a Buddhist temple and made offerings while he was there, as far as I know, nobody would blink an eye about the matter. And this is indeed how religion is most often practiced in China.

  127. Leo Says:


    No, it is not a special case for Taiwan. It is just a Southern Chinese Buddhist Tradition, found more in Fujian, Guangdong. It is actually a more crude form of Chinese Buddhism, in which the Indian religion tried to mix with indigenous one to appeal to the locals.

    The major difference I noticed is that the Buddhism in Taiwan has assumed a more Christianized form – very organized congregation, very Christianised rituals, a church management reminding people of American evangelists. Talking about Taiwan preserving more Chinese tradition.

  128. FOARP Says:

    @Wuming – So no change since 2007 then. And, unless we are willing to take The Epoch Times as our guide, no religious movement in the communist party.

    Indeed the party constitution does contain many things that are not meant or enforced, but the prohibition on anything which might permit the formation of cliques within the party is something that they take seriously, hence, for example, the bar on tattoos when entering the PLA (people forget that the PLA is a party body, not a national one), as these can be symbols of clique membership. The formation of religious cliques within the party that might threaten the centre is exactly what the party leadership wishes to avoid. Hence, whilst dabbling in Buddhism by putting in the odd prayer for good luck is not as frowned on as it used to be, open membership of, for example, the Islamic faith, or of a Buddhist monastery, most certainly is a bar on party membership.

    @Leo – That’s what I get for believing the Lonely Planet guide to Taiwan. The guy who wrote it is now officially full of crap. Other things in it that I found out weren’t true after living in Taiwan:

    – Taiwanese drive with their headlights off to save fuel even in major cities

    – Miaoli county is famous for its snakes and for its fog

    – KTV is fun

    I did hear that the congregationalised element had something to do with the Japanese disapproving of the Taoist/Buddhist temples, but since my source for this was also the Lonely Planet guide, I now no longer believe it. As for Taiwanese Buddhism being ‘Christianised’, well, I’m not sure about that, the marching of idols through the streets (something I never saw on the mainland, but which is a regular occurrence in Taiwan) might be reminiscent of the catholic practice of marching relics through the streets on saint’s days, but it seemed very un-Christian to me (as someone from a protestant background). Likewise, the militancy of religious belief, the way in which temple and church serve as community centres as well as places of worship – none of this should surprise in a society in which religion is allowed free rein.

  129. Steve Says:

    @ Leo: I feel the more Christianized organization with Fo Guang Shan in California but where FOARP and I lived in Miaoli, those big organizations didn’t have much influence. There was also a Taiwan folk religion influence that I doubt was on the mainland. I haven’t been to Fujian or any temples in Guangdong but I’m sure there’s a strong relationship there. I know that Mazu worship came from the Fujianese immigrants.

    In my time there, I didn’t see any Christianized rituals, or at least they didn’t seem Christian to me. Could that have been something more prevalent in certain parts of the island but not in others? I went to Yi Guan Dao rituals a few times and I didn’t feel a Christian influence at all, though they feel Christianity is a part of their beliefs and that Jesus was a Buddha. They seemed mostly Buddhist/Confucist to me.

    From what I’ve seen and been told, the most respected Buddhist master among Taiwanese is Cheng Yen of the Tzu Chi Foundation.

    My original remark was contrasting the style of worship of the people themselves, not necessarily the similarities or differences in belief, or organization of the different sects. I never felt any Christian influence in Taiwan. In fact, I had more mainland Chinese than Taiwanese tell me they were Christian. I never met anyone in Taiwan who wasn’t Buddhist/Daoist/Confucist.

  130. Steve Says:

    @ FOARP #128: If your Lonely Planet guidebook was from 2000, that guy was definitely full of crap. I found dozens of mistakes along with opinions he had (presented as facts) that just weren’t true. It’s been the only LP guidebook that ever really let me down.

  131. Old Tales Retold Says:

    I read an article a while back—I’ll try to dig it up—that claimed that the Party was actively pushing Buddhism, not quite in the same way that they’ve revived Confucius, but significantly nonetheless. According to the author, there has been a real change of heart at the top level about the value of faith in society—to contain greed, strengthen a sense of responsibility, etc.—not uncontrolled faith, but faith kept in a certain place. This jives with the big Guanyin statues and temples being built with state money.

    In addition (this is all starting to sound vague and hearsay-ish, I realize) I have unconfirmed reports from a buddy that worked in the TAR of Christians being given a free pass to evangelize Buddhists, presumably to break up Tibetan solidarity or something (at least in his interpretation).

    So, what’s my point? I suppose that religion is a slippery thing with the CCP. I don’t think it’s the same clear line it used to be, though maybe in terms of Party membership, at least during the application process. The Party realizes that religion, like plenty of other things, serves multiple ends.

    Then, of course, there’s also a genuine popular upsurge of religiosity. In response to Steve’s question, I’ve seen a few recent temples built (or rebuilt) way up in the mountains that are extremely lively, not only with the curiosity seekers he mentions, but also with old people and new converts. At least one of the places I’ve been was paid for in large part with pensioners’ money, though, again, I imagine the local government kicked in a fair amount.

    This is clearly an area where Mao and the post-Mao leadership differ sharply. But then, even down in Beijing’s underground city, which was built in the 1960s or 1970s (does anyone have the precise dates?), there are little shrines.

  132. Steve Says:

    @ OTR: Are the temples built up in the mountains mostly pilgrimage sites? Or are they used primarily by locals?

    I was chatting on MSN Messenger a few years ago with a former Shanghai colleague while she was at work around the holidays when things were slow there. She said one of the guys in her office wanted to practice his English and would I mind chatting with him? I agreed and in the beginning he was fine, but then he started to talk about his Christianity and the more he got into it, the more obvious it became that his “sect” was really a personality cult and his beliefs were emotional, superficial and quite childish. I finally had enough and told my friend he was a little too much.

    I can understand why the government would be nervous about his style of worship or any style based on a local personality cult. It’s too easy for the believer to be manipulated in a negative way. When you have no religious foundation, it can be difficult to judge the various religions you are exposed to and more likely you could choose poorly.

  133. William Huang Says:

    @ Steve #116

    Very well written and I am very impressed!

  134. Old Tales Retold Says:

    @ Steve,

    My impression was that the people who attended the temples were locals, though there was one Tibetan who had come all the way up to Northeastern China to carve statues for a new shrine. The places just weren’t famous or special enough (though I thought they were plenty special) to warrant pilgrims.

    I think you’re right about new Christian sects. There was a NY Times piece a couple years back about how far some of these religious groups will go to recruit followers and attack their rivals. It seems like a strange scene, but then some of the sects in the States and elsewhere are pretty strange, at least if you don’t have any prior experience with them, any sense of where they’re coming from, as I don’t.

  135. Steve Says:

    @ OTR: I’m with you; I think the most special temples are the ones that aren’t famous. I’ve found the famous ones to lack charm and feel more like museums.

    East of Miaoli there was a Buddhist temple located on top of a mountain where you’d take a one lane road over a river, then make a left and up to the temple. I never saw many visitors but I was told that busloads of Japanese would go there, yet not many Taiwanese ever heard of the place. It was famous for having a beautiful jade Buddha; I believe the largest one in existence, and a great view.

  136. FOARP Says:

    I have to say that one of the saddest things about religion in China is the way in which people seem totally unequipped to deal with it, it just seemed like nobody had ever bothered to talk to people about religious belief so the first time they encountered the usual techniques of proselytisation they fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I have nothing against the spread of religious faith, but I can’t say I thought much of the people who were in China seeking converts. They seem to target the most gullible and vulnerable people, the Mormons were the worst, as most of them were the typical fresh-faced student type over from Brigham Young University (or whatever Utah hell-hole they all come from) that I had gotten so used to seeing in Taiwan. Of course, in Taiwan they wear their uniform of black ties, white shirts, black trousers, and ride around on bicycles generally annoying the hell out of the local population, but on the mainland this would be illegal, so a lot of them come over to take language courses and use this as a cover. YOu could always tell who they were because they were A) excessively healthy-looking B) Americans who C) never drank or smoke and D) never learned much in the way of Chinese because E) they were too busy trying to convert the local womenfolk.

  137. wuming Says:


    I have to say that one of the saddest things about religion in China is the way in which people seem totally unequipped to deal with it, it just seemed like nobody had ever bothered to talk to people about religious belief so the first time they encountered the usual techniques of proselytisation they fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

    Just for that, I will whole-heartedly take back everything I said about your needing a update on China. This is a keen observation. Throughout its history, Chinese have not been exposed to systematic religious teaching or consistently organized religious social rituals. Confucianism performed some of the functions of religion, but in the end, it lacks the transcendence of a religion.

    Therefore Chinese in general are vulnerable to religious cults, the newer, the stranger, the better. From Zhang Jiao (of the late Han) to Mao Zedong, revolutionaries had taken advantage of this pent up zeal to stage their rebellions. The Maoism I experienced in late 60s and early 70s was purely a religious cult.

    If any thing worries me about China, it is some kind of religious cult (old or new) spreading like wildfires. FLG and the Christian fundamentalism in South Korea are the contemporary object lessons. The only solace for me is that cults in China tend to thrive on extreme poverty and famine.

  138. chinayouren Says:

    By the way, guys, at the risk of sounding paranoid: those of you connecting from mainland China, can you confirm that this thread is censored?

    I have got the ResetConnection block 4 times in a row and finally I am back through proxy. RC seems to affect only this thread, and all the others work fine. I still don’t understand very well how or what trips the RC block (I guess noone does) but it could very well be an automated reaction to the URL.

    “Mao”, “monster”, “chang” “halliday”, etc.check it out below, this URL contains about as many counter-revolutionary term as can fit in one line. Perhaps a good tip for the future would be to edit URLs when the title of the post is sensitive.


  139. shel Says:

    Mao is no better or worst than say George Washington, Queen Victoria, or Empeor Meiji. They brought their nation to prosperity and influence and their citizen should respect these contribution. As for fail policy there are many and almost all due to the circumstances and the evironment of that time.
    George Washington will be considered a hypocrite in our time when he said all men are born equal while keeping African slaves in his home.

  140. BMY Says:

    Wuming &FOARP

    When I was watching some Chinese ladies dancing “cross dance”跳十字舞“ during a religion seminar I was thinking the same you talked in #136&#137.

  141. Old Tales Retold Says:

    Ah, here’s that article on the Party’s new take on religion or an article like it (several comments too late): http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/19/AR2008011902465_pf.html.

  142. wuming Says:

    Personally I don’t agree with shel’s comment 139. However, in my opinion, at least for this blog, a thumb up/down vote is not intended to express your agreement/disagreement with the comment.

  143. Steve Says:

    @ wuming and shel: I agree with wuming; the purpose of the thumb’s up and thumb’s down was to try and reduce the nasty back and forth comments, not to discourage opposing opinions. I also don’t agree with shel’s comment, but the better method is to respond to it, not collapse it.

  144. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Shel:
    I agree that historical figures should have their actions judged by the appropriate historical standard, and not by today’s contemporary metric. And there’s no question that their policies (good and bad) were a product of their time and circumstance. However, Mao made his own “bad” policies, and those were worse than just being hypocritical. Washington didn’t “invent” slavery. His keeping slaves wasn’t his governing policy. And I thought your whole point was to judge him in the realities of his era, not ours. So to apply your standard, you should ask if Mao’s policies were considered wrong at that time. And to answer that, you’d probably have to ask a bunch of people who lived (and survived) it.

  145. FOARP Says:

    @Shel –

    “Mao is no better or worst than say George Washington, Queen Victoria, or Empeor Meiji.”

    You’re nuts. Emperor Meiji I don’t really know, Queen Victoria was NOT the leader of the British government at any point during her reign – in case you have forgotten, Britain was a parliamentary democracy at the time. George Washington only served for eight years, and did so with honour. Comparing Mao to either of these is freakishly insane.

  146. Charles Liu Says:

    Shel, George Washington is rumored to have contracted syphilis from sex with male slaves. Maybe somebody should write a book about it.

    Foarp, was the Irish potato famin blamed on the British government or colonialism? British ships brought the spores that caused the wet rot from North America to Ireland.

    SK, slavery was already considered wrong by George Washington’s contemporaries. The Quakers opposed slavery as un-Christian. France abolished slavery in 1794.

  147. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Charles:
    “SK, slavery was already considered wrong by George Washington’s contemporaries” – that’s fantastic. I’m thrilled that his “contemporaries” were so enlightened. Which contemporaries are you referring to? French ones? The Quakers? Should we say that Truman was Mao’s contemporary, and the Americans didn’t have a CR, so it’s ridiculous that the Chinese had one? And what does Washington keeping slaves have to do with his work as a leader of a nation? Should we delve into Mao’s personal life now too, and see what skeletons he might have had dangling around? A fancy for farm animals, perhaps? Would that be informative on how we view Mao’s body of work as the Chinese leader? Did Washington outlaw slavery, yet keep slaves for himself? If not, then where does Shel arrive at the conclusion that he was hypocritical? And how does “George Washington will be considered a hypocrite in our time” mesh with her point that leaders should be viewed in the context of their time?

  148. Steve Says:

    @ Charles Liu: “George Washington is rumored to have contracted syphilis from sex with male slaves. Maybe somebody should write a book about it.”

    Rumored? By whom? I never heard of this rumor and I’ve read a lot about Washington. Rumor sounds about right.

    “Foarp, was the Irish potato famin blamed on the British government or colonialism? British ships brought the spores that caused the wet rot from North America to Ireland.”

    The Irish potato famine was rightly blamed on the stupidity of the British estates planting only one variety of potato in all of Ireland. The blight that destroyed the potato crop only affected one variety of potato, which happened to be the one planted in Ireland.

    “SK, slavery was already considered wrong by George Washington’s contemporaries. The Quakers opposed slavery as un-Christian. France abolished slavery in 1794.”

    Not true. His southern contemporaries were adamantly for slavery. At the time, to support the national abolition of slavery would not have been accepted by the South and the union would never have been born. Quaker beliefs were not shared by anyone except Quakers, and their numbers in Pennsylvania were instrumental in that state being the first to abolish slavery.

    Washington was the only founding father who freed his slaves after his death. He put in his will that his slaves would be free upon the death of his wife. In 1786, Washington wrote to Robert Morris that “there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery.”

    Slavery in France was never an economic necessity as they were used as servants. In America, because of the small populations, slaves were instrumental in the economic process. If slavery had been abolished, the plantations of that time would have been financially unfeasible.

    More slaves from Africa ended up in Asia as compared to the Americas. In Asia, they were used as servants and concubines, not as agricultural workers.

  149. Charles Liu Says:

    Steve, just wanted to make a point on how would we feel if somebody dissed George Washington. Doesn’t feel too good when the table is turned isn’t it?

    If a piece of fiction like Chang and Halliday’s can sell like hotcakes in America, a book on George Washington’s wooden teeth and syphilis will do well in China. Or perhaps such book won’t sell because the Chinese don’t have the kind of distain towards us like we have towards them.

  150. Charles Liu Says:

    Since the book won’t be out for a while, maybe it’s worth it to take look at the sources from the collection:

    Review by Delia Davin, professor emeritus, Leeds University:

    “True to their title, Chang and Halliday claim that astonishingly little is known about Mao and frequently assert that they are reporting previously unknown incidents or facts. These claims are overstated. Other recent biographies have also dealt with the many discreditable facts of Mao’s political history…

    What is original in the Chang/Halliday biography is its unrelenting demonisation of its subject…

    Chang and Halliday’s hostility to Mao affects not only their interpretation of the man but also their historical narrative…

    Their bibliography is impressive – but what is lacking is any attempt to evaluate sources and their relative reliability…

    It seems a pity that what is likely to be the most widely read biography of Mao should offer an entirely negative assessment of his life and an inadequate account of the historical background.”

  151. FOARP Says:

    @Charles Liu – I believe the potato famine was blamed on the potato blight – funny hey?

  152. FOARP Says:

    “Doesn’t feel too good when the table is turned isn’t it? ”

    Yeah, I guess too many Americans forget about the millions of political opponents Washington had done to death, and the vast famines and economic disasters he inflicted on America. So yeah, comparing Washington to Mao is entirely reasonable, and not proof that you are a stone-cold nutter.

  153. chinayouren Says:

    Mhh. I can positively confirm now: this thread is blocked in China (See my previous note #138). I have tried yesterday at different times and today twice again. At least we are lucky that it is only affecting one thread and not the whole site. It would be a pity to get the whole thing blocked as this would leave us without the valuable contributions of the Chinese commentators. @Admin: it might be a good idea to keep an eye on those URLs in the future, just in case.

    PS. I assume also that there is noone else connecting from China on this thread, since I didn’t get any feedback from #138.

  154. Ted Says:

    @Chinayouren: I’m having the same problems. Now you’re making me paranoid. 😉

  155. Steve Says:

    @ Charles Liu #149: Charles, I’m sympathetic to your point but in this case, I think you’re blaming the wrong group. Chang and Halliday’s book was a bestseller from what I’ve gathered. So put yourself in the shoes of an American or Brit who knows little about Mao except what they’ve read here and there. They decide they want to learn more about the man. So they go to their local Borders or Barnes & Noble and see this book by “acclaimed Chinese author Jung Chang”. Hmm… she’s Chinese so why would they expect she’s biased towards Mao? The endorsements on the inside cover are all positive. They think they’re getting a scholastic work. Most of the other authors writing about Mao are westerners so shouldn’t a Chinese author be a better source? I think that’s how most would see it. And when they bought it, they would not know what it contained until after they read it.

    I think the blame here is on Chang than on westerners. Most westerners don’t have the proper background on Mao to make an informed judgment about the book. On this blog, we tend to have very informed westerners who could make a pretty fair evaluation but they are far above average when it comes to China. But in the end, a Chinese national wrote a book about China, albeit for a western audience. Now you’ve made me VERY suspicious about anything written by Chinese expats! 😉

    “Steve, just wanted to make a point on how would we feel if somebody dissed George Washington. Doesn’t feel too good when the table is turned isn’t it?”

    If you want to read about founding fathers getting dissed, a good example would be Gore Vidal’s “Burr”. It was also a bestseller and might be the trashiest book I’ve ever read with very little truth contained between its pages. Yet millions of Americans who read it probably believe most of what was written. I’m sure the publisher would be more than happy if there was a market for a Chinese translation, but I expect few Chinese have ever heard of Aaron Burr.

  156. TonyP4 Says:

    Steve, my theory on temple/tourist: Most tourists (both foreign and local) are taken to temples as attractions, so we see each other, the tourists. Do you think folks would travel miles to worship? No, but yes for tourists for sightseeing. The TV news on temple scenes in HK and Taiwan are full of local worshipers, but not much on the mainland. From this, I suspect Buddhism is less popular in China.

    It is tough to have a temple in Tier I cities in China. Even it is approved (after a lot of red envelopes), you cannot find open space. No one in China wants to build a building taller than a temple next to it and/or live in one. If you find one, it is built by mistake – either with few tenants or low rents. It is superstition.

  157. admin Says:

    @chinayouren #153

    Thank you for checking this. So if you use the post id# to access this thread ( http://blog.foolsmountain.com/?p=2425 ), will the GFW still block it?

  158. chinayouren Says:

    @admin –

    Actually no, it doesn’t work either. I thought it might be related to the URL, but obviously the block is more sophisticated than that. It must run on the content of the page, so it doesn’t really matter which URL you use.

    A coment on my blog recently said that the GFW uses bots or crawlers to read content and earmark the pages with sensitive content. As I said, not many people really understand how this works, and especially what makes the difference between a total block of a website and the block of a single thread.

    I would imagine to get a total block it must be a human operator that decides, with the approval of his boss. But who knows.

  159. Charles Liu Says:

    FM is not site blocked in China, here a Baidu search :


    The specific page may be, but I can’t find a logic. Tried adding post/age number as search keywords but inconclusive.

  160. Charles Liu Says:

    Well, Steve @ 155, I can reassure you I’m not a “Chinese expat” – ain’t from mainland China, ain’t never been citizen of the PRC a day in my life. Just an American calling a spade a spade.

    “We may disagree on policy, but what we can not question is his patriotism and service to our country.”
    – Raum Emmanuel on George W. Bush, Meet The Press, 1/18/2009

    If we can be so generous with our own transgressions, what right to we have to be less generous with others’?

    IMHO it’s completely duplicitus to, on one hand claim the Irish potato famin had no political blame, only the blight (thus a natural disaster) – yet assert China’s famin is entirely political (thus an atrocity), and the the drought had nothing to do with it.

  161. kui Says:


    No. I have never lived in Narwee.

  162. FOARP Says:

    @Charles Liu – Try learning some history, or better yet, some geography. Go look at a map – see Ireland? Good. Now look at China – see it? Right, now, which is larger? That’s right, China is about 100 times larger than Ireland, and for your information, in no part of Asia, not even in the former Soviet Union, was there a famine such as the one in Mainland China at that time. Hong Kong and Taiwan recorded mildly below-average crop growth, but nothing worse. Korean crop growth was normal. It simply amazes me that you are trying to make excuses based on what was said at the time, which even modern communist scholars no longer try to maintain. The Irish potato famine was caused by the potato blight – fact. Now, there is a lot of debate as to whether the Britsh government could have done more, but there was not the wilful insanity of allowing political leaders to dictate agricultural methods that was involved in Maoist policies.

    Please, stop posting this ill-informed rubbish.

  163. FOARP Says:

    As for what people in their 60’s and 70’s think of Mao, somebody I knew in Shenzhen, a guy who had been born in Shanghai in the late 30’s and remembered the PLA (or was it the red army at the time?) marching into Shanghai and burning the papers at the stock exchange, and who had been sent down to the countryside (he had studied astronomy at university) during the latter part of the Mao years, pretty much told me what he thought of him. He hated Mao, with a passion, his younger brother was the same – worse in fact as he only got to go to university after the end of the CR. Of course, since they were both sons of a money-changer (he still had the insurance document his father had taken out with a British firm, too bad they didn’t pay out for acts of war) would naturally not look favourably on the communists, but pretty much everyone who I met in China over the age of 50 hated Mao. Sure, these were a self-selecting bunch, but there was no shortage of them.

  164. Steve Says:

    @ Charles Liu #160: I was referring to Jung Chang as a Chinese expat and others of that ilk. It was a joke! You seem to be a bit defensive today. 🙂

    Rahm Emanual’s quote is typical political BS as one party takes power from another. Don’t read too much into it; it’s the magnimous winner consoling the despondent loser. It happens all the time in American politics. The Democrats have been flaming GWB for the last eight years. Many have called him the worst president in the history of the USA. Doesn’t sound so generous to me.

    You’re way off on comparing the Irish famine with the GLF famine. There is great consistency in the academic community, both in China and the rest of the world, that creation of people’s communes, making farmers work on massive infrastructure projects rather than in the fields, idiotic backyard furnaces that not only didn’t make usable steel but also ruined existing steel, usage of unproven agricultural techniques and the actual exporting of grain during the famine were the main causes that resulted in the disaster.

    The Irish potato famine was caused by a blight and worsened because they had unwittingly planted only one variety of crop. The two are simply not comparable.

    If you want to compare the GLF famine to the famines in North Korea in the 1990s, I can accept that as valid. That was another famine that was mostly artificial.

  165. Ted Says:

    @Charles Liu:

    ““We may disagree on policy, but what we can not question is his patriotism and service to our country.” – Raum Emmanuel on George W. Bush, Meet The Press, 1/18/2009

    If we can be so generous with our own transgressions, what right to we have to be less generous with others’?””

    Unless you have a mouse in your pocket, please stop using “we”. Instead use either “I”, “they”, “he”, “she” or “some Americans”. I and plenty of other people are not as forgiving of Bush as you seem to be.

    Emanuel’s comment, reminded me of Thucydides “the advocate of extreme measures is always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected.” I’m happy to see that kind of rhetoric go out the back window. But here we talking about loyalty to country or policy? Bush –may– be loved by some for his loyalty, but he’ll be tossed into the dustbin for his actions.

  166. Charles Liu Says:

    Here’s a quote from the Chinese version of the book’s foward, by Gregor Benton:

    “事實上,要為近現代歷史上世界上最嚴重的死亡事件負責的,不只是毛澤東,大英帝國有過之而無不及。1896~1900年,在英屬印度有兩千萬人死於本可避免的饑荒和暴行。在1943年的孟加拉饑荒中,由於英國的冷漠與無能,六千萬人口中有超過三百萬人餓死,遠遠超過張戎、哈利戴提到的1960年中國的人口死亡比例。1943年的饑荒不過是英屬印度殖民地的一系列危機之一,它們共同導致千百萬人死去,而這些死亡本可避免。1845~1846年,在英國統治下的愛爾蘭,其人口死亡比例甚至更高。在澳大利亞,土著居民幾乎被滅絕。美國的印地安人也是如此。能夠與張戎、哈利戴估計的1960年中國的人口死亡相提並論的最新例證,就是今天發生在伊拉克的暴行。根據歐洲頂級醫學雜誌《柳葉刀》(The Lancet)的說法,由於美英兩國的入侵,截至2006年有65萬伊拉克人被殺死,幾乎都死於暴力。”

    – The British Empire surpassed Mao in causing death; between 1896~1900 20 million in India died from famin and violence that are avoidable.

    – 1943 Bangladesh famin casued by British indifference and incompentence, surpassed the percentage cited by Chang and Halliday (3 million of 60 million Bangladeshis died.) This is but one of the series of crisis in the British colonies. Between 1845~1846, Irish casulty under Britian was even higher percentage wise.

    – In Australia the indiginuous popuplation was nearly eliminated.Same thing happened in the Americas.

    – The most recent parallel to the 1960 casualty cited by Chang and Halliday is the violence imposed on Iraq by US and Britian. According to the Lancet, as of 2006, the 650,000 Iraqi civilian death are almost exclusively due to violence.

  167. dan Says:

    oops. Nevermind.

  168. admin Says:

    @Steve #115,

    Mao’s face first appeared on RMB 100 bill in 1987 along with the portraits of Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi and Zhu De. The newest series (1999) of RMB, however, has only Mao’s face on all denominations. A sample image can be viewed here ( http://www.here2china.com/images/china_currency1.jpg )

  169. FOARP Says:

    @Charles Liu – But you won’t see Lord Curzon on the money here in the UK, or people being punished and prevented from talking about the wrongs of the British Empire, or school history books which do not mention the negative aspects of the British Empire. The farming practices of the Bengal region were not under the control of the colonial government – all they did was react too late and with too little to the crisis – they didn’t instigate it.

    You still have to face up to the fact that there is a direct causal link between policies chosen by Mao himself and the famine, whereas few actually blame Mengistu for the Ethiopian famine (although he sure as hell made it worse), the famine 1958-63 was caused directly by Mao thinking he knew better than his advisors, and then refusing to change his mind. And you still have to explain the year-zero policies of 1966-76 as anything but the insane ravings of a crazed dictator. Only Pol Pot and Stalin were worse, although Kim comes close.

  170. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Charles Liu #149:
    “Doesn’t feel too good when the table is turned isn’t it?” – well, it would be fine if the “dissing” was actually legitimate. But made-up stuff, or irrelevant comparisons, those definitely wear on you after a while.

    Chang and Halliday may have cherry-picked their history, but I don’t think they’re accused of creative writing. If Chinese would buy “a book on George Washington’s wooden teeth and syphilis”, then they’ve got much farther to go than I ever imagined. And I’ve got a bridge in Portland for which they would be perfect owners.

  171. Old Tales Retold Says:

    If the choice is between choosing one famine as bad out of two (and then letting the other off the hook) versus saying that since there were two (or three or four) manmade famines they should all be considered equally bad… then that’s a silly choice. It should be possible to declare one atrocity especially severe, yet still hold leaders responsible for the others.

    The same goes for leaders. George Washington deserves criticism for holding slaves and, like the more liberal Jefferson, for personally and publicly perpetuating a system that even he thought was wrong. These examples, though, aren’t quite as fitting as the example of Andrew Jackson that someone else on this thread brought up, I think. At any rate, though, judgments of U.S. leaders should not be diminished by the fact that we’ve found Mao guilty of the deaths of millions—nor should it lessen Mao’s responsibility. It is possible, unfortunately, for humans to do lots of horrible things.

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is, keeping horrible things to an artificial equality seems disrespectful of the dead, as does parsing too much the various levels of cruelty. I think we just have to take each atrocity on its own terms and look for global patterns only in order to find solutions (as Amartya Sen, for example, has done with famines)—not to play with relativity, on the one hand, or selective outrage, on the other.

  172. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To OTR:
    I agree. If American founders had shortcomings, make that point. But don’t use those to minimize Mao’s own faults. Or worse yet, to use such a comparison to somehow suggest that Mao was singularly great.

  173. Old Tales Retold Says:

    @ S.K. Cheung,

    I also think that the comparison between Mao’s blunder with the Great Leap Forward and the personal failings of past American leaders is a bit of an indirect comparison. A more useful comparison is the one that others have advanced, namely between the Irish famine, Bengali famines, and the GLF.

    The mistakes in each case are different—a certain strain of potato, misguided attempts at small scale industrialization, etc.—but there is a common, underlying distance between those with power and their subjects, a certain immunity from suffering. In the cases of British rule, the British were obviously safe on their island, away from the horrors occurring in their colonies. In the case of China, urban workers and officials experienced the famine to a much lesser degree than farmers. Of course, Liu Shaoqi and others made daring attempts to get at the truth and the PLA probably spread a lot of information about what was really going on through its soldiers stationed in different places, but the distance was there nonetheless.

    If you want a contemporary example of this sort of thing, I think Hurricane Katrina fits the bill. That same distancing was on display there. What shocked the U.S. public the most about the disaster (really an ongoing disaster, as little recovery has been made) was not just the incompetence of the government, but what different worlds black residents of New Orleans and suburban whites—now a national majority, I believe—inhabit.


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