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Monday, October 24, 2005

Every Dictator Does Some Good

Nicholas Kristoff reviewed the new book on Mao written by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. "Mao-"The Unknown Story" is a heavily researched book on the "charismatic" Chinese dictator (where can I find a T-shirt?) estimated to have killed through execution or starvation (and throw in some torture) 70 million Chinese citizens.

Kristoff writes:

Yet this is a magisterial work. True, much of Mao's brutality has already emerged over the years, but this biography supplies substantial new information and presents it all in a stylish way that will put it on bedside tables around the world. No wonder the Chinese government has banned not only this book but issues of magazines with reviews of it, for Mao emerges from these pages as another Hitler or Stalin.

But to be balanced, Kistoff hedges:

In that regard, I have reservations about the book's judgments, for my own sense is that Mao, however monstrous, also brought useful changes to China.

Balance is needed regarding the accuracy of the 70 million death estimate per Kristoff. And he helped in women's rights (see BizzyBlog on that whopper). Krsitoff says the lack of balance is a weakness in the book. He writes:

Mao comes across as such a villain that he never really becomes three-dimensional. As readers, we recoil from him but don't really understand him. He is presented as such a bumbling psychopath that it's hard to comprehend how he bested all his rivals to lead China and emerge as one of the most worshipped figures of the last century.

Finally, there is Mao's place in history. I agree that Mao was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Mao's legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao's entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world's new economic dragon.

Don't we hear about how horrible those Chinese sweat shops are these days? When people are actually working and bettering their lives, that is just crass commercialism and materialism. When their torture and death is due to improper ideological deference to the Chairman and his system (think of state-enforced abortions- I thought women had a right over their own bodies), then we should look toward the lofty goals of society as a whole and find the silver lining in such barbarism.

Maybe the NYT can help save Saddam. Watch their Saddam trial reporting. Remember there were some good things happening during his reign.

7 Comments:

At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Move on to some policy issues. Don't need the daily interplay of petty (and idiotic) politics. Focus on substantive issues.

 
At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When a major piece of historical analysis is published, we may learn something applicable to today's events. Is that political pandering?

What is the offense?

 
At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the posting imploring this blog to move on to policy issues was menat to be posted in the one entitle "Bush . . .ayatollah." who cares about howard dean. the posting here is fine. i agree. again, the first one was erroneously placed here.

then again, you have to look at the target audience. if you're shooting to attract folks from springer or hannity crowds, that's a different story.

 
At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the posting imploring this blog to move on to policy issues was menat to be posted in the one entitle "Bush . . .ayatollah." who cares about howard dean. the posting here is fine. i agree. again, the first one was erroneously placed here.

then again, you have to look at the target audience. if you're shooting to attract folks from springer or hannity crowds, that's a different story.

 
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