July 2, 2007

Maonster Raving Loony Party

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kim @ 12:57 pm

One of my students surprised me the other day by asking if I could pick out one big difference between Westerners and Chinese. The answer I gave her was a typical one along the lines of West = liberal + individualist, China = authoritarian + conformist, and I also mumbled something about how much difference it makes that China has a massively higher proportion of peasants.

Anyroad, I was reminded of this the other day when I was reading the – newly unblocked in China – Wikipaedia entry on Mao. It made me think that one of the big differences between most westerners and most Chinese is that Chinese still respect and admire Mao, whereas most westerners hate him and are baffled about his popularity in China.

The official verdict by the wily Deng Xiaoping, shortly after Mao’s death, had been to make it the party line that Mao had been 30% wrong and 70% right. A neat way to avoid too much controversy.

Well, how about 30% wrong and 70% absolutely disastrous?

In American right wing circles Mao is often mentioned in the same breath as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. I don’t much care for right wing America, but that seems fair to me.

And in Europe the recent hatchet job by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday has done an awful lot to make Mao a despised figure. The book, called MAO: The Untold Story, has been called “a mesmerising portrait of tyranny, degeneracy, mass murder and promiscuity”. There has been some criticism of its relentless savaging of Mao and of the accuracy or reliability of some of the sources, but not much disagreement with its broad thrust that under Mao millions and millions of people died unnecessarily. And there is not much disagreement that many many Chinese people’s dignity and opportunities for a decent fulfilling life were destroyed during Mao’s Cultural Revolution…together with a lot of Chinese culture and cultural artefacts.

In a recent pub argument I got onto the subject of Mao – and the Chang/Halliday book – with a colleague who is relentlessly and bitterly cynical about almost all things Chinese. It gets a bit wearing after a while and anyway just to shake things up a bit I found myself defending Mao…”Yes, but at least he fought well against the Japanese”, to which my sparring partner vigorously objected, and I was about to go on arguing but I suddenly remembered myself and thought “What on earth am I doing defending Mao?” He has enough Chinese defenders already!

And I hate Mao and am personally convinced that he was inhumane, arrogant, indulgent, dangerously selfish, murderous and, yes, evil. But a couple of passages I’ve recently read have made me wonder whether or not he was also a raving loony.

How about this from Wiki

during the Great Leap forward most of the dams, canals and other infrastructure projects, which millions of peasants and prisoners had been forced to toil on and in many cases die for, proved useless as they had been built without the input of trained engineers, whom Mao had rejected on ideological grounds.

And then there’s this from A student’s Asian history

In the 1960s China and Russia had a big ideological dispute about the correct way of extending world communism. China argued that “A nuclear war would not necessarily destroy the world…and it could be successful if there were enough Chinese left to rebuild a communist world.”

Both those passages speak for themselves. The man was a nutter.

In Britain there used to be “The Monster Raving Loony Party” whose slogan was “Vote for insanity. You know it makes sense.”

They were a joke party with a satirical edge, and almost nobody voted for them. Shame the Chinese weren’t able to vote out the Maonster Raving Loony while he was wrecking the country.


  1. The thing I love telling Chinese about is Mao’s penchants for young peasant girls to cook his hong shao rou (wink wink, nudge nudge).

    Comment by The Humanaught — July 3, 2007 @ 3:02 am

  2. Incidentally, another good book on Mao is The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li ZhiSui (Mao’s private doctor).

    It’s in that book that Li confesses Mao’s current likeness to candles (yet another thing I’m always happy to tell Chinese for the gasps and cries of “blasphemy!”).

    Comment by The Humanaught — July 3, 2007 @ 3:05 am

  3. Hey, why didn’t you call your blog “East Meets West”? That would have been an awesome name!

    Comment by Sean — July 3, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

  4. @Humanaught – Yes, I have both the book, and the Halliday/Chang one. Both excellent reads, both spot on the money, and both written by Chinese authors. To lengthen the list, I would add ‘My Country, My People’ by Lin Yutang.

    Comment by MyLaowai — July 4, 2007 @ 12:47 am

  5. The best line I’ve heard about Mao is from Philip Short’s ‘Mao, A Life” as follows:

    “Had Mao died in 1956, his achievements would have been immortal. Had he died in 1966, he would still have been a great man. But he died in 1976. Alas, what can one say? — Chen Yun

    Comment by The Legendary Tubby Custard Episode — July 10, 2007 @ 8:40 am

  6. i am a young chinese, and i dont think younger generation in china still admire Mao nowdays. although it’s sensitive to mention the “Cultural Revolution” in the public, everyone hates it. personally, i don’t like Mao, but all those are histories for us, i do not think people have the interest to talk about it anymore.

    Comment by xiaofanshu — July 16, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  7. What can be said about Mao that hasn’t been said by millions before? He was a champion conker player and had a complete illustrated collection of The Chronicles of Narnia?

    Comment by Meursault — July 18, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  8. […] would the police do about that I wonder? After all, Mao is on all the bank notes and is still widely revered here, and China is actually a Communist country, run by a Communist party. Isn’t […]

    Pingback by East-West Station » Davos does Dalian — September 4, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

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