September 15, 2013
MASS MURDER WAS THE POINT OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTIONS:
Mao's Willing Executioners : a review of The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57 By Frank Dikötter (Jonathan Mirsky, September 2013, Literary Review)
The Chinese famine was indeed one of the worst in world history, but the real disaster for China, until his death in 1976, was Mao himself, the man whose gigantic portrait still gazes down from Beijing's Forbidden City onto Tiananmen Square.This is clearer than ever in Dikötter's path-breaking new book on the years 1945 to 1957, the period that the Chinese call 'Liberation'. Beyond everything else, he shows us that Mao 'liked killing', as Li Rui, one of his secretaries, put it some years ago to a Harvard symposium on the Chairman. From the 1930s, Mao began persecuting and killing his adversaries; once he was snug in his guerrilla headquarters in Yan'an, intellectuals were left in no doubt about what the Great Teacher expected and what would happen to them if they deviated, to use one of the Communist Party's favourite terms for disagreement.The Tragedy of Liberation, writes Dikötter, 'is first and foremost a history of calculated terror and systematic violence'. Calculated and systematic, indeed: very soon after 1949 Mao set a quota for executions of 'class enemies', 'counter-revolutionaries' and 'black elements'. With the help of henchmen such as Deng Xiaoping (than whom no one was more keen to kill), these ratios - sometimes fewer than two per thousand, sometimes rather more - were extended throughout the country. Since there were already over half a billion Chinese, the number of deaths in the first years of Liberation, even before the famine of 1958-62, was enormous.First there were the so-called landlords. In the 1920s the agronomist John Lossing Buck (Pearl Buck's first husband) showed, in Dikötter's words, that 'over half of all farmers were owners, many were part-owners, and fewer than 6 per cent were tenants ... Tenants were not generally much poorer than owners.' But Mao learned from Stalin, who had slaughtered the kulaks, and outdid him. 'In a pact sealed in blood between the party and poor, close to 2 million so-called "landlords", often hardly any better off than their neighbours, were liquidated.' I say 'outdid him' because, as Dikötter shows throughout his chilling narrative, whereas Stalin usually relied on 'the organs' to do his bloody work, Mao induced the Chinese to turn on each other, something well documented during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, but already common from 1950. During the Great Terror of 1951, 'close to 2 million people had been murdered, sometimes during public rallies in stadiums, but more often than not away from the public eye, in forests, ravines, besides rivers, alone or in batches'.
Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2013 9:46 AM