Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Perhaps one day even China's history will become known

Back in the days when Communist fellow traveller Owen Lattimore (here is a link to the FBI file and here is Wikipedia, which tries to put him in the best possible light) was professor then professor-emeritus of Chinese studies at the University of Leeds with many people horrified by the fact that he had had to leave his American position because of ... shock, horror ... McCarthyism, there were many people who repeated his ecstatic descriptions of the glories of Chinese Communism and the wonderful benefits that accrued to the people of that country.

It was easy to work out that Lattimore was talking poisonous rubbish - he had been just as guilty about the Soviet Union during and after his notorious trip to some of the worst camps in the Gulag at Magadan and Kolyma. He had defended the horrors of Stalinism and was, in the sixties and seventies, defending the horrors of Maoism.

Other supporters of Mao were newcomers to the field. But even to my young ears they sounded utterly wrong. The fact that the language and arguments they used about China, of which I knew little, were the same they had used about the Soviet Union, made them very suspect.

Time has moved on and many people have accepted, more or less, that Mao was the greatest mass murderer in a century that was replete with them. Not everyone has done so. Notoriously, one of President Obama's short-lived aides, Anita Dunn, told not so long ago an assembled audience that Mao Tse-tung was one of her favourite political thinkers (along with Mother Theresa).

Above all, the people of China are still being denied the truth about their own history. It is slowly coming out, at least in the West. Ronald Radosh writes on Pajamas Media about a book that ought to become as well known as all the ones about the Holocaust: Frank Dikötter's Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962.

Interestingly enough, the Independent has written about the book and its author.
Mr Dikötter is the only author to have delved into the Chinese archives since they were reopened four years ago. He argued that this devastating period of history – which has until now remained hidden – has international resonance. "It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century.... It was like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot's genocide multiplied 20 times over," he said.

Between 1958 and 1962, a war raged between the peasants and the state; it was a period when a third of all homes in China were destroyed to produce fertiliser and when the nation descended into famine and starvation, Mr Dikötter said.

His book, Mao's Great Famine; The Story of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, reveals that while this is a part of history that has been "quite forgotten" in the official memory of the People's Republic of China, there was a "staggering degree of violence" that was, remarkably, carefully catalogued in Public Security Bureau reports, which featured among the provincial archives he studied. In them, he found that the members of the rural farming communities were seen by the Party merely as "digits", or a faceless workforce. For those who committed any acts of disobedience, however minor, the punishments were huge.

State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.
Mr Dikötter's next book will be on the Communist Party's bloody take-over of China after World War II.


  1. I'm going to be daring and make a prediction: This information will make no difference what so ever to the left-wing intelligentsia who will continue to advocate socialist solutions to all of societies' woes.

  2. Probably you are right but there are other people out there who have been bamboozled and may well listen to the truth.