Three pieces on Chang and Halliday's new Mao book
Saul Thomas <email@example.com>
Wed, 15 Jun 2005 10:48:03 -0500
Forwarded from Dirk Nimmegeers <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the following you will find two reviews of Jung Chang's and Jon
Halliday's book against Mao. There is also an opinion article which tries to
make use of the publishing of this book. The documents show more or less
what we are in for, the coming months.
Countering the drift and the purposes of this book seems an urgent task. We
will have to use facts and arguments to be effective though.
The following sentences from one of the reviews may offer some inspiration:
>There is no discussion of the quality of the sources or how they were used.
>The motives of people in general and of Mao in particular are asserted
rather than evaluated.
I sincerely hope that counter-attacks will come from both Maoists and people
who sympathize with or are loyal to the current leadership in China.
If you, members of the study group or visitors to the China Study Group
website, are able to contribute to this, please do so.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
Wild Swans author sets out to explode the myth of Mao
ALISTER MCMILLAN, Books Editor
Mao: The Unknown Story is an no-holds-barred account of Mao Zedong's life.
Wild Swans author Jung Chang and her husband, Jon Halliday, set the tone of
their new book from the firs t sentence: "Mao Zedong, who for decades held
absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world's population, was
responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any
other 20th century leader."
The next 654 pages of Mao: The Unknown Story, officially released in Hong
Kong today, are devoted to proving that the Great Helmsman "was as evil as
Hitler or Stalin, and did as much damage to mankind as they did".
Chang started researching Mao almost as soon as she released Wild Swans in
1992. As sales for the memoir of Chang, her mother and grandmother reached
10 million - making Wild Swans the biggest-selling non-fiction paperback
ever - the author interviewed world leaders, senior figures in the Chinese
Communist Party and members of Mao's close circle. Halliday scoured
archives around the world, particularly in Russia.
Among the targets in the $375 book is the Long March, "the most enduring
myth in modern Chinese history, and one of the biggest myths of the 20th
While tens of thousands of communists perished, Mao was carried in a litter
for most of the march, according to the authors. Despised by almost
everyone on the march, he sent troops and rivals to their deaths to further
his own rise in the party.
Instead of hunting down the communists, Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek
let them finish the march in the hope of securing the release of his son,
who was being held in Russia. The Nationalists even left a truck with food
and maps for the communists, the book claims.
The 1935 crossing of the Dadu Bridge - promoted by the central government
as the pivotal moment of the march - was a "complete invention". The book
denies the communists defeated the Nationalists by crawling through flames,
along suspension chains and above a raging torrent, with a machine-gun nest
facing them on the other side.
"Chiang had left the passage open for the Reds", the authors claim, citing
their discussion with a 93-year-old woman who owned a shop beside the
bridge and other sources.
Mao welcomed fighting between the Japanese and Nationalists, and avoided
conflict with the invaders. A Japanese victory would force Russia to help him.
Mao spurred the Korean war, believing he had enough Chinese soldiers to use
as cannon fodder, bogging down the US army. The first two Taiwan Strait
crises were orchestrated by Mao to encourage Moscow to hand over nuclear
weapons, the book claims.
From the 1950s, Mao's push to dominate the world created the worst famine
"of recorded human history". Chang and Halliday claim US$4.1 billion (in
1957 prices) was devoted to China's bid to make an atomic bomb - money
raised by exporting food.
"This amount in hard currency could have bought enough wheat ... to save
the lives of every one of the nearly 38 million people who died in the
By the time of his death in 1976, Mao had betrayed everyone in his close
circle. Most of his family - and the chairman himself - had suffered
Chang will promote the book in Hong Kong on June 28. With little chance of
selling the book on the mainland, Chang reportedly hopes large quantities
will be smuggled in from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
A Chinese-language edition is due by the end of the year and poorly
translated pirate copies are likely to appear within weeks.
Reaching beyond the myth of Mao
Communist party leaders must tell the truth about Tiananmen
Saturday June 4, 2005
Sixteen years ago, on the night of June 4 1989, tanks moved into Tiananmen
Square in Beijing and began the violent dispersal of the longest-running
student demonstration the People's Republic of China had seen. The students
had been in occupation of the square since April. There had been rallies,
speeches, hunger strikes and, in the final weeks, as the occupation began
to falter, the defiant installation of a statue - the goddess of democracy
- created by a group of art students.
The demonstrations had been chaotic but peaceful and had touched profound
emotions in Chinese society. Their actions drew on a long tradition of
student protest in China - from the May 4 Movement of 1919 through the
Democracy Wall Movement of the late 70s. By the end of the occupation of
Tiananmen, demonstrations were taking place in more than 80 cities across
China. Sympathisers lent support. Most alarming to the regime, workers
began to take an interest.
In the weeks after the violence, untold numbers fled abroad. To this day,
others remain in prison. In the party itself, thousands were purged for
their sympathy with the demonstrators. Today, relatives of the victims
continue to ask for justice and - perhaps more importantly for the
long-term health of the People's Republic of China - for a truthful account
of the events of that night and the bloody days that followed.
But the Chinese government continues to repress the truth and those who ask
for it. Amnesty International recently highlighted the case of Shi Tao, a
writer sentenced on April 30 to 10 years' imprisonment for providing an
overseas website with an official document alerting journalists to possible
social instability around the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen. He had been
charged with "illegally revealing state secrets abroad". Last year Kong
Youping, a former trade union activist, was sentenced to 15 years'
imprisonment for posting articles and poems on the internet calling for a
The warm reception Beijing recently gave a neighbouring tyrant - Islam
Karimov of Uzbekistan, only days after Karimov had ordered troops to fire
on unarmed Uzbek demonstrators - signalled to China's people that the truth
about Tiananmen will be a long time coming. Ching Cheong, a journalist for
the Singapore newspaper the Straits Times, allegedly "confessed" last
Tuesday to being a paid spy for foreign intelligence services. According to
his wife, he had been working on a story about Zhao Ziyang, the party
leader who was purged for taking a sympathetic line with the students of
Tiananmen. Zhao Ziyang's death in January triggered an extraordinary
security operation, lest his funeral inspire popular sympathy. The Chinese
government claims publicly that the issue is past, but the evidence is
Tiananmen Square was the moment that finally destroyed the tattered myth
that the two key institutions of the party-state, the Communist party and
the People's Liberation Army, stood shoulder to shoulder with the people.
When that myth was destroyed these two iconic organisations lost their
moral claim to leadership.
Before Tiananmen, the founding story of the People's Republic - that the
party and the PLA had liberated the suffering masses and set China to the
building of a new society - was essentially intact. The generation that
demonstrated had been brought up in party-dominated schools, had spent
their early years in party-led organisations and had lived with the
portrait of Chairman Mao in every classroom. What they asked of their
leaders in 1989 was an end to the corruption that was plainly in sight
within the party and democracy.
The students played a dangerous game. But they had been willing to talk.
Had the leadership shown flexibility, the situation could have been
defused. When Deng Xiaoping gave the order to shoot, those hopes died.
But once the tanks had rolled over the tents of the hunger strikers and
once the bodies had been removed and the blood washed away, what was left
was a breach between party and people that would never heal. No longer
would the party be able to call for sacrifice for a common goal, or to
mobilise the population around slogans that promised a socialist utopia.
After Tiananmen the party relied on two things to justify its position: on
the steadily rising prosperity promised by Deng's economic reforms, and on
the appeal of a crude nationalism, the only vestige of Maoism that was
still deployable as a political weapon.
There were new demonstrations in China recently, this time with government
approval. They were the product of a government-sanctioned indignation
against Japan and they illustrate two of the legacies of Tiananmen:
nationalism and the continuing imperative to falsify history. For
nationalism to work as a narrow instrument of policy, the party must place
itself at the centre of the national story.
The party continues to cling to the many fictions that Mao spun around his
own - and by extension the party's - actions: that the communists fought
the Japanese; that Mao had avenged a century of Chinese humiliation at the
hands of foreigners; that Mao had placed the Chinese people in the
forefront of history. But Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's long-awaited
biography, Mao: The Unknown Story, published this week, turns the official
history upside down. The authors explode the myth of Mao as a guerrilla
leader, a Marxist theorist, a friend of the peasantry and a political
visionary. In place of this founding father of Chinese communism is a
ruthless schemer who did not hesitate to sacrifice others to his personal
pursuit of power and who, in the service of his own ambition, caused the
deaths of some 70 million Chinese civilians in peacetime.
To admit that Mao had depended heavily on Russian support (indeed that the
party itself had only been founded at Russian instigation), to acknowledge
that Mao had been responsible for many more Chinese deaths than either
Japan or any other foreign invader, and that his prime purpose was not to
build a socialist utopia but to hold on to his own position, poses a deadly
challenge to the party's effort to co-opt Chinese nationalism in its
service. Beijing is a long way from admitting any of this, but suppressing
the alternative narrative grows steadily harder.
China is poised to become a major economic power whose influence affects us
all. But there are signs of a new generation in the party that understands
that for that trajectory to be stable and peaceful will demand profound
changes in the way China is governed - changes that must begin with a
re-examination of history and the role of the Communist party in that
history. Tiananmen is an ideal place to start.
Isabel Hilton is author of The Search for the Panchen Lama
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have revealed Mao as one of the 20th century's
greatest monsters, says Michael Yahuda
Saturday June 4, 2005
Mao: The Unknown Story
by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
832pp, Cape, £25
The author of Wild Swans and her historian husband, Jon Halliday, have torn
away the many masks and falsehoods with which Mao and the Communist party
of China to this day have hidden the true picture of Mao the man and Mao
the ruler. Mao now stands revealed as one of the greatest monsters of the
20th century alongside Hitler and Stalin. Indeed, in terms of sheer numbers
of deaths for which he responsible, Mao, with some 70 million, exceeded both.
Far from being the first Chinese communist leader to stand up for the
Chinese peasantry and to respond to their needs and lead them out of
exploitation, Mao is exposed as a man who disdained the peasants, despite
his protestations to the contrary. He is shown during his command of armed
forces in the countryside in the late 1920s and early 30s to have lived off
the produce of the local peasants to the extent of leaving them destitute.
He consciously used terror as a means to enforce his will on the party and
on the people who came under his rule. In the course of the Long March, Mao
is shown to have had no qualms in sacrificing thousands of scarce fighting
men in fruitless diversions to serve no other purpose than to advance his
bid for leadership.
His callous disregard for the lives of comrades and fellow Chinese became
more evident once he commanded the larger stage of China itself. Against
the advice of his commanders on the ground, Mao persisted in prolonging the
Korean war in the expectation of tying down hundreds of thousands of
American troops, regardless of the disproportionate sacrifice of far
greater Chinese casualties. The livelihood of China's peasants was tightly
squeezed through most of Mao's rule, not simply to meet the needs of
industry and the urban population, but also to pay the Soviet Union and the
east Europeans for the development of advanced weapons - especially for the
development of nuclear weapons.
The suffering of the peasants plumbed new depths during Mao's hare-brained
scheme to overtake Britain and the United States in the disaster known as
the Great Leap Forward, which led to the starvation and premature deaths of
30-40 million people. To the end of his life Mao continued to sacrifice the
Chinese people in his search for superpower status.
Chang and Halliday cast new and revealing light on nearly every episode in
Mao's tumultuous life. Among the most significant of their discoveries is
that the myth of the Long March was a sham. Chiang Kai-shek in effect made
a safe passage for the Reds through particular provinces where his rule was
weak, so that his pursuing forces could overcome the local warlords.
Moreover, Chiang was constrained from destroying the Reds because his son
was held hostage in Moscow. Even the fabled crossing of the Dadu chain
bridge, when, according to Mao, his heroic soldiers managed to cross the
narrow bridge against heavy machine-gun fire, is shown to be a complete
invention. The indefatigable authors consulted Nationalist sources,
interviewed local historians and even visited the scene.
Mao is shown to have been completely dependent on Soviet support and to
have taken the view that the Chinese communists would succeed only if they
were able to link up with the Soviet Union and receive massive assistance.
This eventually happened in Manchuria in 1946-47. The American General
Marshall, who had attempted to mediate in the civil war, had unwittingly
saved the communist armies by imposing a truce in the summer of 1946 that
lasted for four months. It was this truce that prevented Chiang's armies
from crushing the retreating Reds. The ceasefire enabled the latter to be
massively replenished by the Soviet side and then reverse the tide to win
in Manchuria and then gain the rest of China.
Some of the distortions of history perpetrated by Mao and the Communist
party have already been exposed by western and Chinese scholars. They have
had access to writings and documents released by Chinese party historians,
and their studies have also been enriched by access to archives from the
former communist bloc, notably those in Moscow.
Chang and Halliday have not only made full use of this literature, but
judging from their notes, they have spent the past 11 years going through
the archives themselves, some of them in countries whose records had not
been examined for this purpose before. They have also used their contacts
in China to interview an extraordinary array of people who were close to
Mao and other leaders. These range from family members to friends,
colleagues, secretaries, witnesses and even a woman who once washed Mao's
underwear. Consequently, the authors are able to shed new light on
virtually every episode of Mao's life. For example, it has been known for
some time that one of the dirty secrets of Yenan was that opium was
produced and marketed from there. The authors show how this enriched those
at the top and built up the reserves of the local government, and
alleviated some the depredations made on the peasantry - but they also show
how the inflation caused by the opium money made things worse, too.
Mao himself comes across as a uniquely self-centred man whose strength was
his utter disregard for others, his pitilessness, his single-mindedness,
his capacity for intrigue and his ability to exploit weakness. He neglected
his wives, whom he treated cruelly, and had no time for his children. He
loved food and reading and had an infinite supply of young women. Mao
lacked personal courage and had some 50 villas built for him in different
parts of China, which were constructed to withstand bombing and even
Mao had none of the skills usually associated with a successful
revolutionary leader. He was no orator and he lacked either idealism or a
clear ideology. He was not even a particularly good organiser. But he was
driven by a personal lust for power. He came to dominate his colleagues
through a mixture of blackmail and terror. And he seems to have enjoyed
every minute of it. Indeed what he learned from his witnessing of a peasant
uprising in his home province of Hunan in 1927 was that he derived a
sadistic pleasure from seeing people put to death in horrible ways and
generally being terrified. During the Cultural Revolution he watched films
of the violence and of colleagues being tortured.
The use of terror typified Mao's rule. Although he had his equivalent of
the KGB, Mao's distinctive form of terror was to get people to use it
against each other. This was the model that he perfected in Yenan, when
everybody was coerced into the exercise of criticism and self-criticism by
which they were forced to confess and implicate each other in terrible
"wrongs". It was a method that was then extended to the whole of China, as
people were confined to their work units in the cities and their villages
in the countryside.
This magnificent book is not without its blemishes. There is no discussion
of the quality of the sources or how they were used. The motives of people
in general and of Mao in particular are asserted rather than evaluated.
There is no introduction or concluding chapter to bring together the key
themes of the book. Nevertheless it is a stupendous work and one hopes that
it will be brought before the Chinese people, who still claim to venerate
the man and who have yet to come to terms with their own history, even as
they require others to do so.
• Michael Yahuda is professor emeritus at the London School of Economics
and visiting scholar, George Washington University