October 7, 2005


Mao & the Maoists (Keith Windschuttle, New Criterion)

[Edgar] Snow’s book [Red Star over China] played a major role in converting public opinion in both America and Europe towards a more favorable view of Mao. Its biggest impact, however, was within China itself, where it had a profound influence on radical youth. Red Star over China and the Mao autobiography were quickly translated into Chinese and widely distributed. Many young, urban, middle-class Chinese men and women who read Snow’s books were converted. They cut their long hair short—still a daring and eyebrow-raising gesture in the 1930s—and joined the Communist Party. By 1941, thanks to the reputation Mao had earned from the Long March, party membership had grown to some 700,000.

Attracting volunteers from urban youth had been an important objective for Mao. His surviving troops were mostly illiterate soldiers drawn from the peasantry. The Communist Party needed young, educated administrators for its future regime. From 1937, they congregated at Yenan, Mao’s new capital in Shaanxi province, eager to emulate the heroism of the veterans.

The story that drew them there, however, was a fiction. The new biography Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday shows that every major claim made by Snow was false.[1] Rather than opposing the Japanese invasion, Mao had welcomed it. He hoped the Japanese would engage and destroy his rival, Chiang Kai-shek, and would also draw Soviet troops into China. Mao avoided armed conflict not only with the Japanese but also with the Nationalists. Rather than being a champion of independence for his country, Mao since the 1920s had been an agent of the Soviet Union, taking its arms and money, doing its bidding, and accepting its control of the Chinese Communist Party. He knew his only hope of gaining power in China was with Soviet support, a belief ultimately confirmed in his takeover of the country in 1949. Mao was no agrarian reformer. He redistributed no land and liberated no peasants. His initial “red base” at Ruijin in Jiangxi province, southern China, had been achieved not by a revolutionary uprising of the masses but through military conquest by the Red Army, armed and funded by Moscow. His rule was identical to that of an occupying army, surviving by plundering the local population and killing anyone who resisted.

Much of Snow’s account of the Long March was also untrue. The march’s objective was to establish a new base in the north, near the Mongolian border, in order to have ready access to Soviet supplies and arms. Many of Snow’s tales of outnumbered Communist forces bravely breaking through Nationalist lines were pure invention. Chiang Kai-shek, in fact, largely determined Mao’s route by giving him free passage through selected regions, while blocking alternative routes. Chiang’s aim was to use the arrival of the Red Army in the territories of otherwise recalcitrant provincial warlords to coerce them into joining him, thereby exploiting the Communist presence to unify the country under Nationalist rule. Some of the most famous battles of the Long March never took place. The celebrated crossing of the suspension bridge over the Dadu River at Luding, for instance, had not been in the face of Nationalist machine gun fire. No Communists were killed there at all. And Mao shared few of the privations of his troops. Instead of trudging over mountains and through swamps, he and the other leaders were borne throughout most of the march in litters, shaded by tarpaulins, carried by long bamboo poles on the shoulders of their bearers. In fact, Mao arrived at the end of his journey in northern Shaanxi province with only 4,000 of his original 80,000 force still intact.

Snow presented his book as the work of an intrepid reporter who had made a risky journey to get his story and to tell it like it was. He wrote in the first edition that no censorship had been imposed on him. The truth, however, was that the initiative for the book came from Mao himself, who in 1936 decided he needed a friendly foreign journalist to give him a more benign and positive image. The party’s Shanghai underground vetted and approved Snow and arranged his passage, accompanied by a secret Comintern agent. Snow had to submit his interview questions for approval in advance. Mao checked everything Snow wrote and amended and rewrote parts himself. After Snow left to arrange publication, his wife, Helen, remained in Yenan, mailing him further corrections to the manuscript made by the Communist leadership.

Snow was the first and the most influential of a long line of Western supporters of Mao Tse-tung and the Communist takeover of China. On the left of politics, Snow is still widely regarded today as a heroic figure, both for his writings in the 1930s and for the persecution he suffered in the 1950s from investigations by J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy, which forced him to flee the United States for Switzerland. He is still held up in schools of journalism as a model practitioner. In the past decade he has been the subject of no few- er than three book-length biographies, all published by American university presses and all favorable. The University of Missouri proudly advertises that it holds his collected papers in its archives.

The Chang and Halliday book demolishes utterly the reputation of Snow and all who have followed him. It is the most exhaustive analysis of its subject yet written and makes especially good use of the Soviet archives to reveal how Mao’s rise to power was large- ly directed by Joseph Stalin. The book’s analysis of the real politics behind the Long March is entirely convincing. It exposes how the small number of Western writers with access to the regime in the 1930s, especially Snow and the American radical feminist Agnes Smedley, became its willing dupes. These writers not only perpetrated a grotesque distortion of reality but also contributed in a very real sense to the successful career of the man who must rank as the greatest monster in human history.

Chang and Halliday calculate that over the course of his political career from 1920 to 1976, Mao was responsible for the deaths of 70 million Chinese. [...]

The story brought together by Chang and Halliday is so shocking that reading it literally takes your breath away. This is true even for those familiar with the works of other authors who over the past decade have revealed some of the more gruesome aspects of Mao’s career. Chang and Halliday’s book is not merely a tale of the evil done by one man. It is a telling comment on the human condition. In the breakdown of civilization on the scale experienced by China in the 1920s and 1930s, any society could end up being ruled by a ruthless and cunning psychopath like Mao Tse-tung. Those who imagine that the cultural traditions of Western liberal democracy would confer immunity against such an outcome should read this book to see just how many Western intellectuals and politicians were eager to further Mao’s career. Edgar Snow was the first, but he was far from being the only Western writer or artist to succumb to Maoism.

During the Great Leap Forward, a small number of Chinese escaped by swimming across to Hong Kong where they broke the news about the nationwide famine and the brutality of the regime. The press gave them little credence. Instead, the West was fed a steady diet of propaganda from respectable political leaders and writers who asserted the opposite. The future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau visited in 1960 and wrote a starry-eyed, aptly titled book, Two Innocents in Red China, which said nothing about the famine. Britain’s Field Marshal Montgomery visited in both 1960 and 1961 and asserted there was “no large-scale famine, only shortages in certain areas.” He did not regard the shortages as Mao’s fault and urged him to hang on to power: “China needs the chairman. You mustn’t abandon this ship.” The United Nations was completely ineffectual. Its Food and Agricultural Organization made an inspection in 1959, declaring that food production had increased by 50 to 100 percent in the past five years: “China seems capable of feeding [its population] well.” When the French socialist leader, François Mitterand, visited in 1961, Mao told him: “I repeat it, in order to be heard: There is no famine in China.” Mitterand dutifully reported this assurance to a credulous world. At the same time, Mao enlisted three writers he knew he could trust—Edgar Snow, Han Suyin, and Felix Greene—to spread his message through articles, books, and a celebrated BBC television interview between a fawning Greene and Chou En-lai.

Among Western intellectuals, Mao’s most enthusiastic supporters came from the French Left. Simone de Beauvoir visited China in 1955 and declared: “The power he [Mao] exercises is no more dictatorial than, for example, Roosevelt’s was. New China’s Constitution renders impossible the concentration of authority in one man’s hands.” She wrote a lengthy book about her visit entitled The Long March. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, her consort Jean-Paul Sartre praised the “revolutionary violence” of Mao as “profoundly moral.” It is true, as Chang and Halliday argue, that in terms of electoral politics, the Maoist parties China funded in Western countries from the 1950s to the 1970s only ever gained miniscule support. But among intellectuals, the story was very different. [...]

Two characters who do not emerge well from Chang and Halliday’s book are Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. The main reason Nixon went personally to China was to bolster his chances at the 1972 election. Kissinger’s aim was to take strategic advantage of the Sino-Soviet split. In the deals traded between China and the U.S., it was all one-way traffic, with the United States making concession after concession and getting almost nothing in return. Nixon agreed to pull out American troops from Vietnam, thereby abandoning the South Vietnamese regime. Kissinger promised to pull out “most, if not all” American troops from Korea before the end of Nixon’s next term. He failed to extract any guarantee the Chinese would not support another Communist invasion of South Korea. They sold out America’s old ally Taiwan, by getting Peking into the United Nations, with a seat and veto on the Security Council. Looking at the U.N. vote, Mao declared: “Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Canada, Italy—they have all become Red Guards.” In their personal meetings, Mao was haughty towards Nixon and cut him short. Afterwards, he instructed his diplomats to continue to treat the U.S. as Public Enemy No. 1 and to denounce it fiercely in public. Despite Nixon’s overtures, Mao was intent on maintaining his claim to be the global anti-American leader.

It's no coincidence that Richard Nixon's is the most widely regarded intellect of modern Republican presidents. The best since Hoover, in fact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 7, 2005 10:39 PM

While most of the Left makes a fetish of hating Nixon, he was actually one of the most leftist presidents we've ever had: wage and price controls, the EPA, affirmative action, revenue sharing (which is redistribution of wealth), etc.

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 8, 2005 7:17 AM

As a nation, we need to be aware of the Comsymp--peace-creep--folk-enemy--culture-traitor lies of the past, so that we may better evaluate them at present.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 8, 2005 9:28 AM

Of course, given OJ's view of W, he must consider him a second, albeit fortunately much stupider, Nixon.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 8, 2005 11:17 AM

Nixon, like all of the smart Republic presidents--TR & Hoover--believed in the Second Way.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2005 2:12 PM

In the spirit of Lou Gotz's post, I present the following short history of American misperceptions of Chinese Communism. By and large, the United States lost out in its dealings with the Chinese Communists because too many of America's so-called best and brightest misunderstood the nature of the CCP and the virtues of their own country.

During the 1930s and the war years, willing court jesters such as Edgar Snow and pro-Communist diplomats in the State Department falsely celebrated Mao and the Communist Party as altruistic agrarian reformers whose virtuous Red Army towered over a power-hungry Chiang Kai-shek and a hopelessly corrupt KMT. The reality was much more complicated, but who cared about reality in the face of intoxicating dreams about a just revolution?

During the Chinese civil war, George Marshall and the Americans were so naive they really believed they could broker a lasting political compromise between Mao and Chiang Kai-shek, and then abandoned the KMT to surging Chinese Communist power when American naval and political support might have saved Southern China, with incalculable benefits and advantages for the Free World (yes, the Free World). There is no doubt that Chiang was a dictator, but his regime was not totalitarian, was far freer than Mao's government in China's Red areas, and had the very real potential to be transformed into a democracy, much as KMT Taiwan and the military dictatorship in South Korea eventually became democracies. Imagine the existence of a non-Communist Southern China that would very likely be an American ally and that has at least ten times the population of South Korea, an economy as wealthy as Taiwan's and Hong Kong's, and a political system as democratic as Taiwan's. This could have been realized, except for the American elite's political myopia about Chinese Communism back then.

During the Vietnam War, remembering the "lessons" of Korea, President Johnson was so afraid of possible Chinese Communist intervention that America's armies were forbidden to invade North Vietnam. The result was that North Vietnam's divisions had a secure sanctuary in which to mobilize and from which to invade South Vietnam repeatedly and to shatter the image of America's military strength. What Johnson didn't know was that Mao and the Chinese Communists lived in total fear of American air and naval power, and moved massive parts of the country's industry inland, anticipating the inevitable loss of the coastal regions if America should invade China as a spillover from the Vietnam War. Again, overestimating Communist China's strength and resolve and underestimating America's power proved self-defeating.

Then came Nixon and Kissinger, both of whom became enamoured by Communist China, in part by reading the book by the American Sinolgoist Ross Terrill, 800,000,000: The Real China, which was full of as much fantasy as Edgar Snow's earlier book had been. Subsequently, many years later, Terrill would confess he'd written a book packed with illusions and falsehoods, but that would be long after Nixon had already gone to China to pay tribute to Mao.

Today, countless American consulting firms and economists wax eloquently about Communist China's inevitable emergence as the next superpower and about how it's now more capitalist than Communist. Of course, if Americans allow it to, this almost monomaniacal obsession with the economic to the exclusion of the political - you know, such minor matters as human rights, democracy, and political acountability for misgovernance - coupled with the belief that the United States is a nation in decline will serve America as well as previous illusions about Communist China have.

Let's hope that this time, Americans won't fall for the same old con game.

Posted by: X at October 8, 2005 3:38 PM


Would you please email me so I can post your thoughts at the front of the blog--as they're obviously wiser than mine--instead of just in the comments?

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2005 4:33 PM

Now why on Goddess's green earth would you post anything written by Keith Windschuttle at New Criterion as if he had some grasp of what's happening in the world. He's one of the Chomsky critics who evidentally can read and interpret simple English sentences. He was one of the knuckheads who actually thought Chomsky was anti-American. Bwahahahah!!! Why don't you use some of (enter most anyone from the right's name here)writings as they believe they saw Elvis flying around with Big Foot, oh, and Clinton, of course, in a UFO?KB

Posted by: kb at October 8, 2005 6:51 PM

kb, Windschuttle's piece summarizes many of the new revelations about Mao and the Chinese Communist revolution. Regardless of what you personally might think of Windshuttle's ideology, his writing here is backed by rock-solid historical evidence and documentation. If you believe this debunking of the Great Helmsman as a great revolutionary icon is incorrect, perhaps you can demonstrate to us with facts and evidence why it is so.

Posted by: X at October 8, 2005 7:13 PM

KB and "facts and evidence" mix like matter and anti-matter.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2005 8:41 AM