August 31, 2006


China's revolutionary myth (GWYNNE DYER, 9/01/06, Japan Times)

Back in the late 1980s, when mocking the few remaining Communist believers had become a popular indoor sport in the former Soviet Union, one of my favorite gambits was to point out that Russia would have done far better economically if the Communist revolution of 1917 had never happened at all. No matter how pessimistic your assumptions about the way that a non-Communist Russia would have developed, it simply couldn't have done as badly as the Communists did.

To prove your point, all you had to do was to pick some other country that had been at about the same stage of industrial development as Russia just before World War I -- Italy was the most obvious candidate -- and to compare the outcomes in the present.

Italy went through the Great Depression in the 1930s (which the Soviet Union escaped), and was on the losing side in World War II. Nobody would claim that post-1945 Italian governments (all 50-odd of them) have been models of good governance, and Italy is far poorer in natural resources than Russia. And yet, by the late 20th century Italians were four or five times richer than Russians, purely because they had avoided Communist rule. They were a lot freer, too.

The Soviet Communists always compared the circumstances before the revolution (which were pretty dreadful) with the situation 70 years later, and gave "the Revolution" full credit for all the changes for the better -- as if other Russians, using less violent and oppressive means, could never have changed the country. Even in the late 1980s, they effectively claimed that it would still be like 1917 in Russia if the Communist revolution had not happened.

So here we are again, with the Chinese Communist regime taking credit for all the improvements in China since they won the civil war in 1949, and foreign leftists like Hugo Chavez holding out China as an example of what wonderful things can be accomplished under "socialism." But what would China be like now if the Communists had not won power in 1949? Much richer, much freer, and not much less equal, either.

The right comparison is not between China in 1949 and China now. It is between China's economic progress since 1949 and that achieved by its neighbors that were in a roughly similar state of development at that time. The two closest parallels are South Korea and the "other China," Taiwan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 31, 2006 8:53 PM

Neither South Korea or Tiawan did it alone on their own steam. I don't mean to diminish their efforts but we have fingerprints all over those two Countries.

Posted by: Tom Wall at August 31, 2006 9:56 PM

and China.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2006 10:06 PM

Maybe a thumb print or two. China was left standing at the gate because of it's age old problem. Not knowing the meaning of time or scheduling. Stalling is the preferred tactic. Only in the past decade and half has their thinking taking on any sort of urgency towards economic development. They have more or less drifted that direction far slower than necessary and it cost them dearly.

Posted by: Tom Wall at August 31, 2006 10:40 PM

We know who would have led them, Chiang Kai Shek. He was revered by everyone, including the Chicoms who wanted to replace him. He was the George Washington who failed.

As for the USSR, Tsarist Russia exported grain. The USSR imported grain. Present day Russia exports grain. That says it all.

Posted by: Pete at August 31, 2006 11:08 PM

We buy their goods and sell them securities.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2006 11:15 PM

Hugo should cite Cuba as an example of communist utopia: Land of rum and rumba,20867,20251894-7583,00.html

Posted by: ic at August 31, 2006 11:51 PM

"Chiang Kai Shek. He was revered by everyone, including the Chicoms who wanted to replace him. He was the George Washington who failed." Don't demonize George Washington. How much do you know about Chiang? He was a real fascist. He was one of the reasons why Mao succeeded. "He was revered by everyone" That is crap. The reason he lost to Mao was not enough people outside or even inside his Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) revered him. He's corrupt and indecisive, he and his socialite wife, her family and their cronies embezzled most of the American aids. He ran China as a family business. He was a failed dictator, a less blood-thirsty Mao. The person comparable to George Washington in his idealism was Dr. Sun Yat-sen who led the democratic revolution against the Ching Dynasty. But he was naive and idealistic, was eaten alive by the war lords. Like Jesse Jackson living off Martin Luther King's glory, Chiang lived off Sun's. Chiang's 2nd wife was one of three Soong sisters. The oldest married Sun and stayed in China because she did not support Chiang. The Soong brother was China's treasurer. While most Chinese lost everything in the war, the Chiang's amassed a sizable fortune to retreat to Taiwan.

Posted by: ic at September 1, 2006 12:28 AM

You know your history, ic. Not sure, but think one of the sisters is still alive and living up in Guangzhou.

Truman called Chiang, "General Cash my Check."

Posted by: Tom Wall at September 1, 2006 4:11 AM


In that case, how do you explain the success of Taiwan, which was run by Kuomintang?


Truman's opinion of Chiang is instructive, but it tells us more about Truman than Chiang.

Posted by: h-man at September 1, 2006 4:43 AM

H-man, point taken, but it was Truman's daughter who confirmed his disdain for the Chiangs, particularly Madam Chiang. He remarked that he had never met them without them asking for more money and aid. Mostly money and most of the time Madam was the one asking.

I can't answer for ic, but Kaomingtang were the ones left standing. Devil or not, Chang was the one standing in front of the US with his hand out when the smoke cleared. Tiawan, or Formosa at the time, was the prize because of the proximity to the Mainland. Too valuable to pass up. Eisenhauer knew this knew too.

Posted by: Tom Wall at September 1, 2006 5:46 AM

Real fascists have been quite successful and very good for their countries--the only bulwark against communism.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2006 7:33 AM

Taiwan succeeded in spite of Chiang, not because of him.

While we're collecting derogatory Chiang nicknames, Stilwell called him "The Little Peanut."

Posted by: Bryan at September 1, 2006 7:39 AM

I wondered how long it would be before Orrin chimed in with his undying love of fascism. Hey, Orrin, I saw a bust of Il Duce for sale at an estate auction - should I have picked it up for you?

Posted by: Bryan at September 1, 2006 7:42 AM

No, but if you see Pilsudski, Chiang, Franco, Pinochet, Trujillo, Marcos, etc. we have room on the statuary shelf.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2006 7:56 AM

Stilwell lost China and was banging his wife. He hated him for the same reason that Churchill hated the Polish government in exile.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2006 8:03 AM

Chiang's viewed the "warlord" Mao and his Soviet sponsors as the major enemy of China and that the western barbarians could handle the Japanese. Stilwell was concerned only with the defeat of the Japanese. Chiang was right.

Posted by: h-man at September 1, 2006 8:06 AM

Unfortunately, sometimes, history isn't that simple. Chiang Kai-shek was a complex man. He wasn't all angel, and he wasn't all devil.

He was a military dictator, but he was also seen by many Chinese, including Sun Yat-sen, as indispensible because of his undeniable warmaking skills at a time when it was military power that would determine who ruled China.

During the 1930s, some of Chiang's political supporters, most infamously the Blue Shirt movement, believed that fascism, with its reputation then for instilling in youth a strong discipline and a vibrant love of nation, was just what a badly divided China needed, but he himself was a traditional Confucianist and was not a fascist.

During Chiang's fight from the 20s to 1949 for political ascendacy on the Chinese mainland, he did not enjoy undisputed power. He faced active and powerful opposition from local warlords who had their own independent armies, Kuomintang dissidents who enjoyed greater political support in the party rank and file, and the Communists who controlled their own political, government, and military forces. In a very real sense, he was first among equals, but he did not and could not wield absolute power in the way that Stalin and Hitler did and that Mao later would. He had to grapple with many competing political interests in China, something that Truman, Marshall, and Stillwell never understood since they simplistically thought of him as a pure dictator.

Many of his own family were corrupt, but he himself was not corrupt.

Because he ultimately lost the Chinese mainland to the Communists, Chiang was seen as weak and indecisive, but by the beginning of the 1930s he had come close to bringing in almost all of China proper under the Kuomintang government's nominal rule. Within China, only the Communists remained as a significant opposition, and they were on the verge of extinction when the Japanese invaded and destroyed Chiang's political achievements. This was something Mao himself acknowledged after the Communist had won in 1949 and a Japanese delegation apologized to him for having invaded China. Mao replied they had nothing to apologize for. If Japan hadn't invaded China, he said, the Communists would've been wiped out by Chiang's armies and Chiang would've won.

During the war years, Chiang was criticized by the Chinese anti-government press and by key State Department officials for oppressive rule, but his Kuomintang ran a government where public criticism could exist in contrast to the press in Communist-controlled areas which was a creature of the Communist Party and which tolerated only the Party line.

In Taiwan, he carried out a little-known, but bloodless land reform that was one of the foundations of the island's subsequent economic takeoff, while his Communist rivals carried out a land reform that was highly praised, but cost the lives of millions of Chinese in the short run and ended up in a utopian fantasy costing the lives of tens of millions more in the long run.

During the late 1940s, in Taiwan, while fighting a massive civil war with the Communists on the mainland, Chiang's government killed tens of thousands of native Taiwanese, but created a political system that, while a military dictatorship, would eventually allow non-Kuomintang political candidates to run and win office in local elections, many of whom went on to become the leaders of the island's new political parties.

Perhaps Chiang's greatest political legacy is that he chose as his successor his son Chiang Ching-kuo. Chiang Kai-shek was indeed a military dictator, but his son would go on to liberalize the island's politics and become the grandfather of democracy on Taiwan. In contrast, on the mainland, Chiang Kai-shek's great rival Mao bequeathed a political system that remains under the absolute domination of one party to this day.

Truly, history - and life - is not simple. Chiang did many terrible things, and he had many failings and failures. But he was not a monster, and he was not an incompetent fool.

Posted by: X at September 1, 2006 9:38 AM

You can tell much about a person by comparing him to others. Compare Chiang to Mao. If Chaing had political opponents killed, they numbered in the thousands. Mao's victim were in the tens of millions. Mao is the graetest killer in history.

It is a mistake to say "Fascist" as a end of analysis. There are degrees of behavior. Franco and Pinochet saved Spain and Chile from following into the Soviet mode of say Cuba. In the end, Spain and Chile are better off, far better off,

As bad as Americans think of Franco, his treatment of Jews was, and is, far better than the average "democratic" European leader.

Posted by: Bob at September 1, 2006 10:17 AM