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« Gu Kailai Proffers a Confucian Defense | Main | The Olympics and Selective Westernization »

August 05, 2012


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A more balanced verdict of Mao is China's own: "Two-thirds good, one-third bad".
That two thirds will, I'm guessing, be sufficient for history (which will, as usual, be written by the victors) to elect Mao as the greatest figure of the 20th. century and, possibly, of all time.
A good start for appreciating Mao is to read some of this writings, rather than the nonsense written about him and promoted by capitalist interests terrified of him.
Then think about his military leadership in liberating China and his revlotionary reform of 3,000 years of Chinese history....

Then, think of the millions who died during the Great Leap Forward. After that, think of the millions more who suffered during Cultural Revolution. Then, the picture will be complete.

Then, think of the vast improvements in the living standards of common people which took hold in China between 1950 and 1980, the near-100% literacy rate, the reduction of infant mortality in 1980 to a third of what it had been in 1950 (an indicator of huge improvements in women's health particularly), the development of industry and modern health care systems reaching China's poorest...

No picture of the Mao era will be complete that portrays him as an utter monster or as a god. Mao was, after all, only human; he brought China into the modern age, but at incredibly great cost to the society in human life and in less tangible forms of value.

And let us not pretend that modernity in the West was not built upon the graves of millions upon millions of enslaved, oppressed and colonised people worldwide; the legacies of Mao and of modernity as a whole are the same. Yet I think very few Western liberals would argue that the benefits of modern society are irrevocably tainted as a result.

Err . . . how come the 'near 100% literacy rate' is actually still closer to 9/10ths literacy?

Why is the immediate aftermath of a civil war which Mao himself started a suitable point of reference for economic statistics?

It was Sun and Chiang who brought China into the modern era. Mao, on the other hand, crippled the Chinese economy and stunted its cultural growth.

The view that modernity in the west was somehow created through slavery rather than scientific progress and industrialisation is total bunk. Colonial enterprises were long-term money-losers, slavery delayed industrialisation, and oppressive societies in the end collapsed.

It seems to me that it is really a lot more complex than you let on. There's many reasons why China is now obsessed with gold in sporting events. Part of it may be as you suggest, a reaction against Maoist thought but it is also a reaction against western racism and a display of national pride (like it is in all countries).

Gold is a symbol of money. Money is everywhere in Chinese society - for instance, even by saying good luck, "gongxi facai," you will mention money. "Face" is a sort of currency, and that is in a very literal sense (China invented both face and paper money.) Maybe going out on a limb a little bit here, but there does seem to be a distinctively Chinese conception of money that includes these sorts of things.

Gilman, you will note that a lot of the economic and human development indicators in China have stagnated or even regressed since 1980. Why is this?

And once again, you are ignoring the impetus for industrialisation in examining its effects. Industrialisation, at least as it happened in your country, was dependent upon the mass exploitation of working-class children domestically (hence the need for the child labour laws), upon raw materials which came from colonial holdings in Egypt and India, as well as from slave societies such as our own at the time, and was also dependent upon certain third-world markets, where British, erm, 'products' were given preferential pricing and promotion at the point of a gun.

Just like the Qin Dynasty apologists who point to the Great Wall as a symbol of that era's technical and political prowess, the disciples of 'scientific progress' and 'modernisation' theory ignore that the development of the West is essentially a history of theft.

And I am not arguing the point that Mao crippled China's cultural growth. The Cultural Revolution was one of the most terrible things ever to happen to the Chinese nation - the problem is that nowadays the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution and the excesses of Mao are being used to silence entire segments of public debate within China, which is unacceptable.

I think people like winners. So it's no surprise that Chinese like their athletes to win gold, and they like to be leading the medal count. It's no longer the days of east Germany, the soviets, or maybe even the ccp of 20 years ago when their athletic performance was for the purpose of bringing glory to the communist way.

Mathew F. Cooper said:

"And let us not pretend that modernity in the West was not built upon the graves of millions upon millions of enslaved, oppressed and colonised people worldwide; the legacies of Mao and of modernity as a whole are the same. Yet I think very few Western liberals would argue that the benefits of modern society are irrevocably tainted as a result."

True but the major difference is that most of Mao's major mistakes were just that, inadvertent mistakes due to incompetent understanding of economic and agricultural sciences. While the modern west was built on the backs of the peoples of the world including oppressed westerners in purposeful acts of exploitation.

Peng Dehuai, at the Lushan Plenum in 1959, tried to stop the GLF. Mao purged him. Most of the GLF deaths happened after that. Peng, hero of the Korean War, died in prison after years of persecution. If Peng had prevailed in 1959, many millions of people would have lived. But Mao demanded that the GLF continue.

No one is denying that Mao could have stopped the GLF's resultant famine or at least severely reduced it's scope. He and his other Chinese communist leaders might have even been the primary causeof the tragedy. What is equally true is that all the evidence suggest that he inadvertently caused it and did not understand how to stop it once it started. Not that he maliciously did any of these things. So comparing him with Stalin and Hitler and many other mass murdering wackos throughout history is wrong. This is a case of false comparison. They are morally on a separate level. That's not the say that what Mao did was not blameworthy of something, just not mass murder like Hitler and Stalin, etc.

The CR, too:"Mao set the tone."

I agree it's ridiculous to compare Mao with hitler and Stalin. But was anybody doing that here? But if it needs to be said, then yes, Mao was better than Stalin and hitler. That should adequately constitute exhibit A of 'damning with faint praise'. Even the talk of 2/3-1/3 is ridiculous. How do you quantify something like that? Just so pointlessly arbitrary. I'd actually go with what mfc said: he did some good things, and did some bad things. What I would say instead is that, as supreme leader, it was his fiduciary duty to do good things; as supreme leader, it was not his job to cause "lots" (in order to avoid the usual back and forth about just how many excess deaths we're talking about) of bad things, but he did them anyway. That the glf was perhaps unintentional only slightly mitigates the blow, and also can't be used to excuse the cr.

The CR was not orchestrated by Mao. He might have been responsible for creating much of the conditions that made it possible and even ineluctable but he did not orchestrate the mass persecutions like the top Nazis orchestrated the Holocaust and the many German invasions of other countries or Stalin's orchestration of the extermination of the Kulaks or the Japanese imperial regime's invasion and mass murder of millions throughout Asia. So again, the comparison fails. Mao was bad but he was bad because of his ignorance (perhaps even willful ignorance). But he was no genocidal monster like many others especially in western history.

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