December 26, 2005

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Mao apologists

Mao Zedong was such a lunatic that even his successors running the Chinese Communist Party saw fit to largely disown his ideology. Even behind the clouded veil of recent Chinese history there is plenty of evidence that Mao is firmly ensconced in the pantheon of modern monsters. Which makes op-ed pieces like Pueng Vongs in today's SCMP almost criminal. The headline reads Still an inspirational leader, and in the spirit of Scrooge here's a Christmas fisking.

Almost 30 years after the death of Mao Zedong, many are still trying to define the controversial leader. But, like China, Mao defies simple classification. And his name still evokes deep respect amonst many Chinese.
That's only partly right. I was able to simply classify Mao in the previous paragrahp. But he does still have deep respect, which is more a testimony to the persistence of Mao's personality cult than anything else.
Today, Beijing officials will honour the 112th anniversary of Mao's birth...
Xinhua summarises the ceremonies and has a most interesting "netizen" feedback forum.
...Outside the country, many Chinese around the world say Mao gave China back its dignity. Yun Shi, 31, who grew up in Shangdong province and now lives in California, recalls the poet, hero and liberator who rescued the Chinese from a "century of humiliation" - the 100 years of foreign domination following the Opium Wars. In founding the people's republic in 1949, "[Mao] annoucned in Tiananmen Square that the Chinese have stood up," Shi said.
More accurately, Mao waited until the Nationalists had fought back the Japanese and with Russian help and blackmail mangled the remaining Nationalists and declared himself liberator. 30 years of indoctination later...
Ms Shi doesn not discount the controversial leader's crimes. Her own family suffered during the communist takeover led by Mao before be became chairman. While she may not agree with Mao's tactics, she still belives in the principles of a fair society, she said.
The latest estimate is Mao was responsible for more than 73 million deaths. In case you're wondering, that's a record. But also note the sophistry at work here. Ms Shi believes in a "fair society". Mao did many things, but did he create a fair society? If you define fair as reducing everyone to the lowest common level while allowing a few cadres to grow rich and fat, including himself, well then I suppose that's one kind of "fairness". It's not what I would consider fair.
Not all Chinese see Mao in a favourable light. In Wild Swans, author Jung Chang chronicled the hardships her family endured as one of millions jailed or sent to the countryside for hard labour during the Cultural Revolution. In her recently release Mao: the Unknown Story, Chang uncovers a far darker side of Mao, much of it never before reported. After the book was released, Chinese came to Mao's defence on internet message boards, citing his contributions to China.
Jung and Halliday's book is banned in China.
Ling-chi Wang, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California at Berkley, said that while Mao's wrongdoings cannot be discounted, he "made an important contribution to Chinese history, as a leader who instilled a great sense of self-reliance and pride in the people.
Self-reliance obviously includes starving and the follies of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Again note the "yes, he was an evil bastard but..." line of logic. 73 million deaths is not the same as chopping a cherry tree and lying about it. Another reason to consider Berkeley the most left-wing place on the planet.
In San Fransisco, where Chinese form the city's single largest ethnic group, a restaurant in the Richmond district called Mao Zedong Village is a living homage to the former leader.
Shame 73 million patrons are food for Chinese worms. I'm looking forward to the review of San Fran's "Adolf's Bunker" and "Stalin's Dacha".
...Beijing has recently been using Mao's influence to advance its own agenda, said Chaohua Wang, editor of One China, Many Paths and a dissident. "As discontent grew in the countryside over the growing disparity betweem rich and poor, in the late 1990s the government began to talk about Mao to comfort those who were complaining," Mr Wang said.
They were being told to shut up or they could have someone similar to Mao come back. I've said this before - the gap between urban and rural people may be growing, but everyone in China is richer than during Mao's time. Some are getting richer faster, but everyone is better off.
Leaders like President Hu Jintao copied Mao, he said, travelling to villages in the countryside [Where else would villages be? - Ed.], and emphasised MAo's achievements in making China strong". The message that they deliver was different from Mao's, however. Instead of speaking about "class struggles" against capitalism, as Mao did, they emphasised a "harmonious society".
That's because China has largely embraced capitalism and is far better for it. Hopefully Mao's spinning in his mausoleum.
Indeed, these days Mao is becoming more intertwined with China's spectacular rise. Shanghai-born Miachel Xin, 42, a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, is in awe of what his country has become. And he says Mao gets a partial nod for laying the foundations.
Note the Chinese born people named in the article are largely too young to have been touched by Mao's madness. This final paragraph makes no sense at all. How has Mao become more "intertwined" with China's spectacular rise? I previously looked at a report on China's fight against poverty. Let me reproduce the first three conclusions:
1. The biggest and easiest gains came from undoing collectivization and giving individuals the responsibility for farming. In other words, Communism doesn't work.

2. Reducing taxes the poor face helps alleviate poverty. In other words, the less the Government interferes, the quicker people get out of poverty.

3. China benefited from a relatively equitable land distribution when collectives were broken up. Given what the country had to go through to get to that point, it's a silver lining in a very black cloud. Nevertheless it emphasises the importance of land reform and distribution in poverty alleviation.

China's rise came about from undoingMao's work. China's recent spectacular rise has occured not because of what Mao did, but because of what Deng Xiapong and others did in reversing Mao's madness. Why the hell does the SCMP print rubbish like this?

It boils down to something very simple: does the means justify the ends? Especially if those ends are so obviously wrong? 73 million dead Chinese say no.

posted by Simon on 12.26.05 at 09:12 PM in the China category.


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In full agreement, even about the restaurant being in poor taste. Although I did eat at Singapore's House of Mao many times - so I admit that I can be a complete hypocrite when a good buffet is involved. For that matter, I also ate at the Hello Kitty cafe. While the mouthless one isn't nearly as bad a Mao, she's still evil.

posted by: myrick on 12.26.05 at 11:02 PM [permalink]

There's a Hello Kitty Cafe? I really don't want to know...but, what on earth does it serve?

posted by: dishuiguanyin on 12.26.05 at 11:54 PM [permalink]

It has been a while - haven't been in HK since 2001 - but mostly Hello Kitty-imprinted food. Pure evil. It may, god willing, have gone out of business.

posted by: myrick on 12.27.05 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

More wisdom from the Berkeley Daily Planet:

"Mao is also a kitsch favorite among designers. Canton-born New York designer Vivienne Tam sells T-shirts of Mao in pigtails and says she admires a leader who can dictate the fashion of a billion people."

Yes, I suppose Mao's admirable knack of collective fashion sense was one of his greatest gifts foisted upon China's loving people. Second only to the inspirational collective farming movement that he also "dictated".

"Xin says he was once approached by a Taiwanese vice-president of an American high-tech company who told him that he owed his business success to Mao’s books on the “Sword” and “Practice” theories of dealing with conflict and motivating people."

I can't imagine what a gratifying pleasure it would be to work for that guy's company. I suppose the HR employees would go by the moniker of "Red Guards".

" Ling-chi Wang, professor of ethnic studies at U.C. Berkeley, says that while Mao’s wrongdoings cannot be discounted, “Mao made an important contribution in Chinese history, as a leader who instilled a great sense of self-reliance and pride in the people.”"

I wish too that my country, the United States, would go back to the spirit of hard work and self reliance that Mao himself exhibited daily, swimming 9 miles across the Yangtze River at age 73. His instillment of these honorable virtues, as well as a sense of pride in being a nation with such an enlightened Leader, through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution helped his people break the ties of slavery that had bound them to the West. In fact, the Great Leader never suffered from that Western affliction known as hypocrisy and suffered along with his people during the noble Times Of Transition. Still, very few actual deaths occurred during these prideful years, and the claims of "73 million" are simply examples of the mendacity of the reprobate Taiwanese. In fact, Mao can be applauded for laying the foundations for the current Chinese boom, attributable to innovative Cultural Revolution programs such as the re-education of the Bourgeoisie and groundbreaking reform of the Chinese school system.

posted by: Sean on 12.27.05 at 03:07 AM [permalink]

The only thing I would change here is calling Mao a 'lunatic.'

Lunacy is synonymous with insanity. Hitler is often given the title of 'lunatic' or 'madman.' I think these descriptions intend to describe the insanity that these men wrought; but as a description of their personalities, I think they were really quite sane.

Leading a country -- whatever system it is -- is like directing a movie. There are many balls that you have to keep in the air. There's a lot of management and balance required. A lunatic could not run a country any more than he could make a great movie.

I don't mean to quibble over such a small thing. But I think seing people like Mao and Hitler as sane people, not lunatics, underscores their true enduring quality: evil.

Lunatics cannot be truly evil, because they have no real control over themselves. Evil is the work of sane people who have deep hatred and the skills necessary to lead people into the abyss.

Mao should be remembered as evil, not crazy.

posted by: Marcus Cicero on 12.27.05 at 07:29 AM [permalink]

Marcus, excellent point and well taken. I suppose "madness" in this context is not to excuse Mao's actions, for they were meticulously planned and not random. It is a measure that by our common, decent standards what he did was mad - outside our typical frames of reference.

posted by: Simon on 12.27.05 at 09:35 AM [permalink]

Bravo, Marcus. It often seems to me that branding an especially despicable person a "lunatic" diminishes that person's evil. And evil it is - if you cannot use the term to describe Hitler and Stalin and Mao, then you cannot use it at all. Sane human beings make choices, and they are responsible for what they do. Lunatics are not.

posted by: Steve Skubinna on 12.28.05 at 01:21 PM [permalink]

i have no intention to defend mao or great leap forward. but there were much bigger evils to Chinese people from 1840 to 1945.
let's look at the population numbers from 1940-1976

1834 401
1844 419
1887 378
1901 426
1911 341
1913 432
1928 475
1931 421
1935 462
1947 461
1949 541
1954 603
1964 705
1969 807
1974 909
1981 1,001

total pop increase about 80% from 1949-1976 (27 years), even after 32M lost between 1959-1961 and a couple more millions in early 1950s and various internal struggles.

from 1940 to 1949 only 30% growth in 110 years.

there are a lot more culprits who deserve similar condemnation but were mostly forgotten, among them, Hong Xiuquan of Taiping, CKS's bigger fisaco, Qing's corrupted management, warlords, Japanese invaders...

the apologists do have a point. despite all the crimes of Mao. he did bring peace to China. and peace (with wealth redistribution), led to pop growth from 1949-1980.

posted by: sun bin on 12.29.05 at 07:10 AM [permalink]

Mao was reckless in allowing the population surge to world-leading levels. He was completly ignorant about demographics and economics etc.

posted by: slim on 12.31.05 at 03:35 AM [permalink]

Mao was reckless in allowing the population to surge to world-leading levels. He was completly ignorant about demographics and economics etc.

posted by: slim on 12.31.05 at 03:35 AM [permalink]

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