*The Tragedy of Liberation*

by on September 27, 2013 at 1:27 am in Books, History, Law, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the new book by Frank Dikötter, the subtitle is A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957, and it is a prequel to his earlier Mao’s Great Famine.  His books are superb documents of the tyrannical age he studies.  Here is one excerpt:

In an orgy of false accusations and arbitrary denunciations, few escaped with their reputations intact.  By February no more than 10,000 of a total 50,000 ‘capitalists’ in Beijing were considered honest.  Similar figures came from other parts of the country.  To punish all would wreck the economy.  Mao had a solution to this conundrum.  He came up with a quota, ordering that a few should be killed to set the tone, while exemplary punishment should focus on 5 per cent of the most ‘reactionary’ suspects.  Across most cities, by a rough rule of thumb, about 1 per cent of the accused were shot, a further 1 per cent sent to labour camps for life, and 2 to 3 per cent imprisoned for terms of ten years or more.

This is not easy material to read about, but Dikötter’s books are landmark achievements of their time.

And as I am wont to say, China’s prospects and fundamentals look pretty good if you scrutinize the country’s history over the last 30 or also the last 3000 years.  It’s the time frame of the last 300 years that doesn’t look so good.

1 Ray Lopez September 27, 2013 at 2:41 am

Seems that Mao, an apt student of Stalin (who Stalin gave the cold shoulder to), borrowed a page out of his playbook with quotas.

In mitigation, the West did the same thing to a degree with forced economic decrees, for example (just to pick one famous incident), the Montgomery Ward forced union conversion: (Wikipedia: “In April 1944, four months into a nationwide strike by the company’s 12,000 workers, U.S. Army troops seized the Chicago offices of Montgomery Ward & Company because the president refused to settle the strike, as requested by the Roosevelt administration because of its adverse effect on the delivery of needed goods in wartime. The president of Montgomery Ward had refused to comply with a War Labor Board order to recognize the unions and institute the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Eight months later, with Montgomery Ward continuing to refuse to recognize the unions, President Roosevelt issued an Executive Order seizing all of Montgomery Ward’s property nationwide, citing the War Labor Disputes Act as well as his power under the Constitution as Commander in Chief. In 1945, Truman ended the seizure and the Supreme Court ended the pending appeal as moot.[7]”)

Ah, the carnival of ideologies. But, as the West is fond of saying, nobody is imprisoned for their political beliefs, as if that’s a justification for economic confiscations.

2 dan1111 September 27, 2013 at 3:33 am

Ugh. That is not “the same thing to a degree” as a quota for killing political opponents.

3 dearieme September 27, 2013 at 5:27 am

dan’s righter than Ray. By a country mile.

4 ladderff September 27, 2013 at 8:19 am

Ugh back. FDR didn’t not shoot his political opponents because he was a nice guy, or because he was an American and we Americans are just better than that. He did not shoot them because he felt he didn’t have to. He felt, accurately, that his revolution was in a more secure position than Mao’s revolution. He also had more sophisticated methods on hand for making people irrelevant than did Mao or Stalin. That’s all.

And look how well it has worked, what effective camouflage it’s been! The American government can do anything short of mass exile or summary execution, and the progressive cheerleaders come out and say, well it’s not like we’re communists or anything. Yes, we are.

5 dan1111 September 27, 2013 at 8:27 am

America has been so successful in implementing communism that we didn’t have to kill and enslave millions of people, close the borders, seize all private property, ban religion, abolish free speech, or eliminate democracy to do it! Wow, that was sneaky!

6 ladderff September 27, 2013 at 9:15 am

You’re kidding.

1. easier and more profitable to tax than to kill and “enslave” millions. The CP in both China and Russia figured this out and I think I addressed it already.

2. Borders? The revolution does not respect borders!

3. Semantics.

4. Ban religion? Ban religion! The US and its progressive satellites have been more successful than anyone, anywhere at suppressing religion as an institution that actually matters. Again, it turned out that a ban was too unsubtle. You could shoot all the priests—or you could do way better by casting religious belief as unsophisticated, and making it irrelevant. Bonus points for proclaiming religious freedom in your constitution and grandstanding about it before the next invasion of some “intolerant” country somewhere.

5. Free speech—see above

6. Democracy: that has to be the best one. Reality TV as a form of government. You don’t think that the interview segments they do on Jersey Shore aren’t scripted, do you?

This is sneaky. And it’s working.

7 Noah Yetter September 27, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Scratch that, we do summary executions all the time, just not here.

8 Jim September 27, 2013 at 4:50 pm

“In mitigation, the West did the same thing to a degree with forced economic decrees,”

No. The West did this with plutocratic agreements among oligarchs and the co-option of state military force to augment their own commercial goon squads (Pinkertons, for example)

But even in Germany the cultural structures never permitted the kind of repression mao Zedong was able to leverage.

9 Jim September 27, 2013 at 5:02 pm

“Seems that Mao, an apt student of Stalin ”

Stalin had nothing to teach Mao Zedong. Stalinism insists on the primacy of the urban proletariat in the revolution, and Mao dumped that article of faith and used the peasantry instead.

Mao Zedong was a student of Qin Shi Huang. That’s the historical parallel that people draw.

“To punish all would wreck the economy. Mao had a solution to this conundrum. He came up with a quota, ordering that a few should be killed to set the tone, while exemplary punishment should focus on 5 per cent of the most ‘reactionary’ suspects. ”

Mao didn’t invent this himself; it’s standard practice. There’s even an expression that refers to this tacitc: 殺一警百 – Kill one to scare a hundred. It’s a standard tactic in public policy and always has been.

It also happens to be the norm in the US Army when there is some widespread problematic behavior that has to be stopped. You can’t afford to court martial or throw out every who’s being problematic, so you make a few “bloody examples” to “encourage the others”. Those are the expressions used. This was how they ground down opposition in the enforce to racial integration. It’s justified because the unit and the collective matter more than the individual soldier. Getting canned is the one last sacrifice you can make, in these cases, one last way to serve.

10 widmerpool September 27, 2013 at 5:52 am

I’m not sure how China’s prospects do not look good in the context of the last 300 years.

11 Millian September 27, 2013 at 6:07 am

I would have chosen 3,000 years rather than 300 years. The Qing had many of the elements of a decadent and anti-individualist monarchy that would explain its subsequent stagnation quite well.

12 Seth Roberts September 27, 2013 at 6:28 am

China is a country that its residents want to leave — at least, the residents I have contact with. Chinese parents who can send their children abroad for education overwhelmingly do so. They want to leave because the food is dirty, the air is dirty, and for a dozen other reasons. That is a fundamental — whether talented people stay or leave — that isn’t good.

13 Enrique September 27, 2013 at 7:17 am

So Mao was an asshole … what else is new? Didn’t the US execute the Rosenbergs around the same time to also set an example? And what about now: the US has a larger fraction of its population in prison than does China (see http://priorprobability.com/2013/09/27/1-in-100-americans-are-in-prison/) Also, one wonders whether China has any secret courts, like the FISA court in the USA, and whether the various NSA surveillance programs are more sophisticated and invasive than China’s electronic surveillance methods?

14 So Much For Subtlety September 27, 2013 at 7:39 am

Trolling? Not very well if you are.

No, the US did not execute the Rosenbergs to set an example. They did so because the Rosenbergs were spies and traitors who deserved to die – and actually wanted to die on order of the Party so that their case could be a cause celebre.

The entire population of China is in prison. A large one called China.

All Chinese courts are secret. And also meaningless as the real decision is made in the relevant Party committee not in the Court. And yes, the Chinese electronic surveillance is massively bigger than the Americans. The makers of a Chinese anti-virus software has had a massive feud with the makers of the Chinese equivalent of MSN Messenger. During the course of which they pointed out that the MSN clone allowed the Chinese government to search the hard drives of anyone who used it.

15 ladderff September 27, 2013 at 8:24 am

See that’s what I’m talking about. I appreciate SMFS’s sentiment, but what causes exactly were the Rosenbergs working for that haven’t since been passed by the US Congress?

16 dan1111 September 27, 2013 at 8:29 am

The Soviet Union.

17 dan1111 September 27, 2013 at 8:32 am

Frequently asked questions about this comment:

Q: But aren’t we the same as the Soviet Union now?

A: No.

Q: But what did they want to do that Congress hasn’t done?

A: Share the secrets of nuclear weapons technology with our enemy who has a stated goal of taking over the entire world.

18 ladderff September 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

our enemy who has a stated goal of taking over the entire world.

Does this goal become more acceptable when it goes unstated? I say it becomes less so.

19 TuringTest September 27, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Hey, SMFS, who’s the troll? Your ass is!

20 dan1111 September 27, 2013 at 8:08 am

What is it that makes you angry about this post?

21 derek September 27, 2013 at 10:42 am

Mao meant well. The US is evil.

22 AC September 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

“Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” persuaded me to the following view:

1. Mao’s regime is best understood as a transitional dynasty, which were a fairly common feature of Chinese history; examples include the Qin or Sui dynasties. These regimes were optimized for conquering and consolidating China after a long period of disunion and warlordism, but not for long-lastingness – Qin and Sui collapsed after a generation or two, to be followed by two of the greatest, long-lasting dynasties; Han and Tang, respectively.

2. Reform after Mao’s death was actually fairly inevitable. It did not turn on Deng Xiaoping or any other few individuals; there was a strong groundswell of opposition to Mao’s policies and in favor of reform and economic liberalization. During this period there was massive turnover of officials as pro-Maoist people who only came to power in the Cultural Revolution were sacked, as well as significant intra-party maneuvering.

3. Deng’s great contribution was to prevent the chaos of dynastic collapse, by guiding the CCP through this transitional period firmly enough that the continuity of the institution could paper over was was essentially a change of dynasties. Not to do this would have meant chaos and civil war.

4. The downside of his achievement is that lots of people now model China’s government as “Basically Mao’s regime, but now with mysterious market magic propelling growth.” Instead it’s better understood as a very new dynasty that is fundamentally separate from Mao’s, despite inheriting the same territory and regalia.

23 dan1111 September 27, 2013 at 8:16 am

Some interesting stuff, but I find it hard to buy into the idea of Mao’s rule as a traditional dynasty, when events in China followed a pattern that happened in pretty much every communist country.

I’m sure there were some distinctively Chinese elements, but is dynasty really the best primary framework for understanding what happened?

24 Jim September 27, 2013 at 4:47 pm

“Some interesting stuff, but I find it hard to buy into the idea of Mao’s rule as a traditional dynasty, when events in China followed a pattern that happened in pretty much every communist country.”

In every other formerly Communist country the Party was thrown out of power and often had to re-form in order to survive at all. So not much of a parallel there.

And in nearly every formerly Communist country the economies limp along waiting to die. No real parallel there ither.

And most formerly Coomunist countries are looking at shrinking populations. Russia is looking at a demographic collapse. No parallel at all there.

25 T. Shaw September 27, 2013 at 12:15 pm

One murder is a tragedy. A million is a statistic.

“The policies of the Communist Party in China caused more than 76 million people to starve between 1958 and 1961. Called the Three Years of Great Chinese Famine, the government had ruled that changes in farming techniques were the law. People were not allowed private plots to grow their own food and all farms were arranged into communes (collectivism strikes again). Yang Jisheng, a Chinese historian wrote in his book Tombstone, ‘In Xinyang, people starved at the doors of the grain warehouses. As they died, they shouted, “Communist Party, Chairman Mao, save us”. If the granaries of Henan and Hebei had been opened, no one need have died. As people were dying in large numbers around them, officials did not think to save them. Their only concern was how to fulfill the delivery of grain.’ To this day, Yang Jisheng’s book about the famine is banned on Mainland China.”
From a Daisy Luther piece published in “The Organic Prepper.”

I have no hope for anyone that believes that the only difference was that FDR had better PR than Mao. It’s not that I love FDR more. It’s that I love Mao less.

26 Roy September 27, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Lenin did this too, he assessed killing quotas for bourgoise at the very beginning of the civil war. It was a method of seizing power from the various semi independent soviets, the one’s who didn’t make quota would be eliminated. Commisars were regularily required to produce figures of how many “enemies” were to be killed with various tables created solely by the mass number. This was typical communist behaviour, it happened repeatedly.

27 Ray Lopez September 27, 2013 at 11:50 pm

I find it interesting that most in this thread, save ladderff, I, and a few others, buy into the argument that Mao and Stalin were radically different in outlook and effect than FDR and the Progressives/Liberals who brought Big Government into the USA. But if you read Mancur Olson of the U of MD and some others on Public Choice, you’ll find that Stalin and Mao killed people because that’s the way centrally planned (CP) economies work (indeed, how any corporation works–if there is only one firm, people are ‘fired’ or terminated, literally, in the case of China, Inc. or the USSR, Inc., since there’s no other firm to take them short of letting them emigrate–the poorly functioning CP economy could not support more nor allocate efficiently the extra); FDR did not have to kill people to get his way, as ladderff and I point out.

Thought experiment that Libertarians like I are found of making:

consider an economy totally laissez faire where there is a tyrant king who arbitrarily will confiscate 10% of your income, a sort of roving tyrant. In addition, this tyrant forbids free speech that’s political and forbids free elections (think Singapore). To make the thought experiment work, let’s say the tyrant cannot kill or rape you arbitrarily (since it makes the thought experiment more difficult, since for most people a 10% chance of death is too high, however, in principle, you can say the tyrant can kill on occasion if you decrease the percent to say 0.001% and give the victim a chance, possibly, of fleeing the country and living in exile, but I digress). Now consider a stationary bandit that takes 40% of your income in taxes, and regulates your business cradle-to-grave, but promises free speech and free elections (unless you advocate conspiracy theories including tax law violations like Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. or if you advocate aggressive tax avoidance schemes (check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KPMG_tax_shelter_fraud , and notice in particular the defendants charged who later were acquitted )

Would you care to live to live in the country with the roving bandit who ‘taxes’ you 10% but demands you shut your mouth and not vote, or the stationary bandit who taxes you 40% and allows free speech and free elections? Yes, no surprise where most Libertarians of the economic mindset vote to live. It used to be called Singapore, Panama or Hong Kong, but they too have become soft and stationary over the years.

28 dan1111 September 28, 2013 at 1:57 am

NONE of what you say is a justification for implying equivalence between a regime that killed tens of millions of people and FDR or contemporary America. That is the problem here, and I just don’t see how you can miss that.

FDR may have had ideological sympathy with socialism, but he did not slaughter his political opponents. To say that this was because “he did not have to” implies that he would have done so under other circumstances. There is no evidence for that.

Your thought experiment is wholly irrelevant to the issue at hand, because neither regime you describe is anything like China under Mao.

The debate about the size of government in America matters, but you would be much better equipped to have that debate if you were able to understand its proper place in history. And if you were able to contemplate historical events on the other side of the world on their own terms, without immediately using them as a platform for your own political hobby horse, which is frankly petty in comparison to the deaths of millions under Mao and the suffering of hundreds of millions today under dictators and in failed states. In other words: get some perspective. America under Obama is one of the best places to live in the history of the world. I don’t like his politics either, but that debate is very small in the grand scheme of things.

29 Jimm September 28, 2013 at 1:24 am

The fundamentals may not be as good as you think. Authoritarian governments, which are essentially large scale criminal organizations with no real popular mandate, tend to become inefficient and increasingly corrupt as time moves on, until another revolution occurs installing another more or less competent criminal organization/authoritarian government. It would be interesting to know the half life of these Chinese governments over the last 300 years.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: