Sunday, October 23, 2005

Just get the truth...

Yeah, yeah, we all know that Mao was not so much a savior to the Chinese as a butcher. But the NY Times' Kristof doesn't help much when he writes about Jung Chang's biography of Mao that:

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.

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. And at times the authors seem so eager to destroy him that I
wonder if they exclude exculpatory evidence. But more on those cavils

But then goes on to say:

This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was
responsible for more than 70 million deaths. But how accurate is it? A
bibliography and endnotes give a sense of sourcing, and they are
impressive: the authors claim to have talked to everyone from Mao's
daughter, Li Na, to his mistress, Zhang Yufeng, to Presidents George H.
W. Bush and Gerald Ford. But it's not clear how much these people said.
One of those listed as a source is Zhang Hanzhi, Mao's English teacher
and close associate; she's also one of my oldest Chinese friends, so I
checked with her. Zhang Hanzhi said that she had indeed met informally
with Chang two or three times but had declined to be interviewed and
never said anything substantial. I hope that Chang and Halliday will
share some of their source materials, either on the Web or with other
scholars, so that it will be possible to judge how fairly and
accurately they have reached their conclusions...

Take the great famine from 1958 to 1961. The authors declare that
"close to 38 million people died," and in a footnote they cite a
Chinese population analysis of mortality figures in those years. Well,
maybe. But there have been many expert estimates in scholarly books and
journals of the death toll, ranging widely, and in reality no one
really knows for sure - and certainly the mortality data are too crude
to inspire confidence. The most meticulous estimates by demographers
who have researched the famine toll are mostly lower than this book's:
Judith Banister estimated 30 million; Basil Ashton also came up with 30
million; and Xizhe Peng suggested about 23 million. Simply plucking a
high-end estimate out of an article and embracing it as the one true
estimate worries me; if that is stretched, then what else is?

After all this stuff with Judy Miller, you'd think he'd be skeptical. I am, even though I concede that Mao was a murderer.

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