Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book review: Was Mao really a monster?

(Above: "Mao Zedong will live forever in our hearts!")

The continued attacks by anti-Communist academics and authors on the reputation and standing of Mao Zedong continue unabated. Indeed, they will last as long as there is a bourgeois class trying to prevent socialist revolution, or having failed to prevent it, trying to undermine it in order to restore capitalism.

Mao Zedong’s standing reached its highest point in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He advocated a selfless life of service to the people, and required Party and government officials to periodically spend time working alongside the masses in order to remould outlooks that expressed bureaucratic and elitist attitudes towards the poor.

He utilised the method of proletarian cultural revolution in an effort to continue the revolution under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

His standing recognised his special efforts to avoid the ossification of the revolutionary spirit after 1949 and the personal and political degeneration that had characterised the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin.

All of this had a world-wide influence on working class activists and youthful rebels of that time.

Jung Chang’s book Wild Swans was among the first of a plethora of anti-communist writings by disaffected Chinese authors.

After a while, the market for this sort of literature was so well established in the West that any hack writer of the Mills and Boon variety could have written a Cultural Revolution sob-story to formula.

But such writings did not entirely diminish the standing of Mao Zedong.

So two big guns have been aimed specifically in his direction.

The first was Li Zhisui’s ghost-written “insider” account The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao's Personal Physician. Li had worked for a time as one of Mao’s doctors and wrote the book after defecting to the US.

The gutter press of the capitalist class carried lurid extracts from Li’s book purporting to show that Mao was a vile, sex-obsessed tyrant responsible for the murder of untold millions of his country men and women.

Jung Chang thought that the blackening of Mao’s reputation did not go far enough.

Together with her ex-Trotskyite husband Jon Halliday she concocted a hate-filled diatribe called Mao: The Unknown Story.

The book became a best-seller and once again, the capitalist press went into a feeding frenzy on its salacious and contemptible rantings.

So lacking in any objectivity - even from a bourgeois perspective – were these rantings that academic journals and literary reviews began distancing themselves from the book and its authors.

In fact, capitalist publishing house Routledge has put together a collection of these critiques under the title Was Mao Really a Monster? The academic response toChang and Halliday’s “Mao: The Unknown Story”.

The problem with this collection (with a few honourable exceptions) is that whilst the authors undertake the comparatively easy task of demolishing The Unknown Story as a concocted and dishonest presentation, they largely do so from the point of view of restoring credibility to attacks on Mao. By and large they do not defend Mao from attack. By and large they try to convince readers that there is a convincing and credible bourgeois attack on Mao that can only be damaged by association with the endless torrent of vomit that spews forth from the pages of Chang and Halliday’s poison pens.

Consider these statements from some of the authors in the Routledge collection (and note that they are all critical of aspects of the Unknown Story:

Delia Davin writes: “no honest person… would wish to be cast as an apologist for him. ..terrible human suffering” p. 20

Andrew Nathan (and we will come back to him!) writes: “we already knew that Mao was selfish and ruthless” p. 22

Jonathon D. Spence, usually a person who writes with considerable interest and insight about China, states in relation to Li Zhisui’s “more measured” presentation of Mao: “Dr Li presented a Mao who was …erratic and dictatorial…not especially talented intellectually.. .(with) cruelties…sprung sometimes from random whims…The comparatively measured tone of Li’s book encouraged acceptance of its main claims.” P. 37

Gregor Benton and Steven Tsang write: “We do not disagree that Mao authored atrocities and suffering and that he bullied and murdered party members and others to advance his or the party’s cause.” P. 54

Timothy Cheek states that Unknown Story is “a Maoist denunciation of Mao himself..(in the ) florid style of the Cultural Revolution” p. 55. He adds “Chang and Halliday sound a clarion call to bring Mao to account for his crimes”.

Geremie R Barme observes that “anyone…can sympathise with the authors’ outrage over the atrocities of the time…” p. 75. He, like Spence, is also taken in by Li Zhisui’s falsehoods: “I would recommend rather the work of a true insider, the treat-and-tell account produced a decade ago by Mao Zedong’s physician, Dr Li Zhisui.” P. 79

Alfred Chan, in an otherwise reasonable essay, writes: “No sensible person would want to act as an apologist for Mao and his autocratic and paranoid ways…” p. 108

Chen Yungfa adopts Cheek’s viewpoint: “Like Mao himself, they explain historical facts immoderately, falsely, and with distortion….” P. 115

Finally, Arthur Waldron writes that “Mao delighted in personal cruelty…Mao was the greatest mass murderer of the twentieth century…this is the book that will wreck Mao’s reputation beyond salvage…it is long past time for such an airing…the Chinese people…serve as Mao’s slaves…an honest reconsideration of Mao Zedong and his poisonous legacy…” pp170-175

Lowell Dittmer and Bill Willmott have essays that don’t set out to attack Mao by attacking The Unknown Story for its embarrassing lack of credibility.

And Mobo Gao and Jin Xiaoding alone of the contributors actually present coherent defences of Mao Zedong in their respective contributions.

Now, to go back to Andrew Nathan and Li Zhisui. Nathan wrote the introduction to Li Zhisui’s book. He was involved in the shaping of Li’s disgusting attacks on the integrity and character of Chairman Mao. For that reason alone, it is simply amazing to find him in this collection.

Historical justice really demands that Nathan and Li be placed in the same dock of literary judgement as Chang and Halliday.

Li’s book is as equally vicious and concocted a slander of Mao Zedong as the Chang and Halliday book.

For those interested to do so, access this critique of Li’s assisted scribblings here and make your own judgement:

1 comment:

nickglais said...

thanks for this review I will post on my sites

and good work on the previous translations on the communist party of china maoist