Sunday, October 09, 2005

Re-examining Mao's legacy

I also write regularly for Commentary, one of America's most influential intellectual journals. Prompted by the appearance of a block busting new biography of Mao Zedong by the celebrated Chinese novelist Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband, former New Left Review editor Jon Halliday, I have written the following article: "Mao Lives." Chang and Halliday estimate on the basis of good sources that Mao was responsible for the deaths of perhaps seventy million Chinese, in peacetime, through his purges and campaigns. This places him in the same league as Stalin and Hitler, as one of the greatest murderers of the bloody twentieth century. But I note that Mao is still respectable in a way that Hitler certainly is not: no one in his right mind would display a photo of the Fuhrer in his home or office, for example, or quote him in a speech. (Stalin of course was criticized by Khrushchev and removed from the Soviet pantheon). Why is Mao not recognized for what he was? Not least because he is still officially revered in China, where his embalmed body, in Tiananmen Square, is visited by thousands daily. Furthermore, the Chinese government and society, though greatly changed in many ways since Mao died in 1976, remains fundamentally Maoist in character: lacking governmental institutions, laws, rights, and so forth, and dominated entirely by personal politics. At a time when the rest of the world is starting to take note of India's remarkable democracy and freedom, now joined by economic development, reappraisal of Mao--long overdue in any case--becomes even more relevant to inhabitants of the subcontinent.

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