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August 15, 2006
American reporting on China
I'm in the middle of reading Chang/Halliday's Mao: One hell of a prick. So far the book has shown Mao to be a ruthless, heartless and opportunistic son-of-a-bitch who was politically savvy and was fortunate enough to be protected and coddled by another son-of-a-bitch, Joe Stalin.
It is the 40th anniversary of the launching of one the biggest pieces of state-run lunacy in history: the Cultural Revolution. While Communists generally love their anniversaries, even Beijing can't bring itself to commemerate the beginning of "great disorder under heaven". Which leads to an interesting remenicence from AP hack John Roderick on how American reporters covered China in those days and the somewhat surprising revelation that one of their key sources of information was the U.S. Government.posted by Simon on 08.15.06 at 08:24 AM in the China history, education & culture category.
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Don't believe everything you read.posted by: Jonathan Dresner on 08.15.06 at 11:25 AM [permalink]
Thanks I'll follow those leads. I know the book has been critically reviewed elsewhere. I wonder if it's proved popular because of the position it takes, because it is well written, because it is well marketed or some combination of all?posted by: Simon on 08.15.06 at 12:59 PM [permalink]
It's a combination, to be sure. The writing is.... well, you can judge for yourself, but it's certainly got more energy and moral outrage than your averge history book. It's been marketed like crazy: Regnery is a significant American conservative echo chamber, which means that they've gotten lots of free good press from conservative commentators (and a few "open-minded" liberals who don't know anything about China), and the marketing has highlighted the "original" aspects of the book, making it seem like more than it is. (I put "original" in quotation marks because, while there is substantial new material in the book, a lot of what's being touted are really findings which have been in the English-language scholarship on Mao for years, and the new material is contentious territory due to the difficulty of confirming their research)
For all the hype, it's an important book: confirming or rebuting their points will probably be a recurring theme of modern Chinese historical scholarship in English for a decade. But it's not definitive, by any means.posted by: Jonathan Dresner on 08.16.06 at 10:34 AM [permalink]
Indeed, it would be a more important book in the Western academies if its sources were more transparent than they appear to be. But those who do not write history do not require footnotes. The impact of its mere existence has already been felt.
Surely this book has been reviewed in China at the highest levels in an effort to discover and discredit its alleged sources. Where is the news leakage from within China on this?
Rich Kuslan, Editor
the book sounds more like a propaganda + marketing deed. but we trust simon has a more critical mind than the other 90% who bought the book. :)posted by: sun bin on 08.17.06 at 02:31 PM [permalink]
Chang may not be able to add marks to her career this time as a novelist although her previous story has won overwhelming success.
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