Sunday, 10 July 2011

Judging Mao as a Man

This is an article that was posted on the Wall Street Journal website a few days ago. Hopefully the author's premise will gain momentum so that China can come to terms with what has happened over the past 60 years and finally move away from political ideology.

Judging Mao as a Man

Only when Chinese strip away the mythology surrounding Mao Zedong will we understand his terrible legacy.


Editor's note: This article is adapted from a longer essay that has now been removed from the website of Caixin magazine. After it was published, pro-Maoist groups have called for the author to be prosecuted for sedition and treason. The translation is by Jude Blanchette.

Mao Zedong was once a god. With the uncovering of more and more documents and information, he is gradually returning to human form.

Some still view Chairman Mao as a god, however, and view any critical discussion of him as blasphemous. If these people have their way, we will never be able to analyze him, never directly face his legacy, never question his spirit. Fortunately, the average person is now able to form their own understanding of his legacy.

In the 1950s, Mao resisted criticism of his policies by Peng Dehuai for fear that Peng would usurp his authority. Even though his leftist policies had created disaster, he continued to push forward. He initiated the reality-defying Great Leap Forward with its backyard steel production, its People's Communes, and its Three Flags campaign. Thirty million Chinese starved during this period, a number that surpasses any previous period in human history. As this was a time of peace for China, there is no way to place the blame for this event on anyone else.

To evade responsibility for this destruction and retain power, Mao then launched the Cultural Revolution. He attempted to destroy all of his political opponents and pass his power on to his most trusted partner, his wife Jiang Qing.

His method for acquiring power was class struggle. The original meaning of class struggle was the proletariat's fight against the capitalist class. For Mao, however, the term capitalist was used to describe anyone he disliked, many of whom had little or no property.

The campaign against Hu Feng, the Anti-Rightist Movement, the Four Cleanups Movement and the Cultural Revolution all revolved around class struggle. Mao's use of this concept resulted in the deaths of an untold number of Chinese. Especially during the Cultural Revolution, many of China's most famous public figures died by their own hands. Some were even Mao's friends. Mao, of course, was aware of these events, but never showed any sympathy for their plight.

Not only did he exhaust the means at his disposal to cause pain, he also mobilized the entire country to fight against itself. Mao even destroyed some of the world's most wonderful treasures. For thousands of years, China had accumulated culture, ideals, morality and art. All of this Mao rejected.

Mao not only created suffering for China, he exported his theory to the world so that all could share in his cruelty. He encouraged armed revolution in Malaysia, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Perhaps Mao's greatest student was Pol Pot, who stands as the most ruthless killer in recent history. More than 30 years after his death, the world is still dealing with Mao's legacy.

When Mao sat on his throne, no one dared speak of his more beastly instincts, but after his descent from that position the truth has been laid bare. His cold-bloodedness is a matter of public record. Many say that Mao's wisdom was unsurpassable, but it is more accurate to say that few can attain his level of callousness.

During the last few years of Mao's life, his body had lost its former vitality but his mind remained active. He knew he was in the winter of his life, and so the question arose of to whom power should be given upon his death. In his heart, the only worthy candidate was Jiang Qing. And yet she would never be accepted by the majority, and so he was forced to enlist the aid of Hua Guofeng. He famously said to Hua, "With you in charge, my heart will rest easy." And yet he went on, "With any problem, consult Jiang Qing." In the final year before his death, Mao's plans for China's political future were made known. The Communist Party chief would be Jiang Qing.

Yet, during the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Qing proved herself to be the consummate shrew without the slightest insight or ability. After the destruction of the Gang of Four, she was convicted of being a counter-revolutionary and sentenced to a deferred death sentence, which I believe was eminently fair. Mao, it appears, wanted to turn over political power to a counter-revolutionary. In his mind, the only consideration was how to keep political power in the family. It had nothing to do with class struggle.

After Mao's death, Hua Guofeng and Ye Jianying seized the Gang of Four, and China's Supreme Court sentenced them to death. Yet the leader of the Gang of Four can still be glimpsed hanging above the Gate of Heavenly Peace and his picture is printed on the money we use every day.

In China, this farce still hasn't come to a close. We have yet to fully acknowledge that Mao was a man, not a god. Only when we strip away the mythology and superstition that once surrounded him can he finally be judged.

Mr. Mao is an economist and the chairman of the Unirule Institute.

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