Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Great Leader

Years ago before we had Chinese children, I read Wild Swans by Jung Chang at the recommendation of my son who was reading it in his Asian Studies course at college. It remains one of the most memorable--and horrifying--books I've ever read. It is a memoir about three generations of women in Chang's family and it is also a historical account of China during the 20th century.

After reading Wild Swans, and while waiting for Arielle to come home, I immersed myself in Chinese history. I was stunned by the brutality of the Mao Tse-Tung regime, in part because it was such recent history. Many events happened during my lifetime. In fact, Jung Chang was born the same year I was, so I would relate my life to hers at the same age. I was also stunned by my previous lack of knowledge about China. My history classes in high school and college were quite lacking in content.

Jung Chang has written another book titled Mao: The Unknown Story, co-authored with her husband. When asked why she wrote this book she says, "Mao was responsible for the deaths of well over 70 million Chinese in peacetime, and he was bent on dominating the world. As China is today emerging as an economic and military power, the world can never regard it as a benign force unless Beijing rejects Mao and all his legacies. We hope our book will help push China in this direction by telling the truth about Mao." Of course, the book is banned in China. Mao's portrait still dominates Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital and he still reigns in the hearts of many Chinese.

So why does any of this concern me and why would I take the time to write about it here? Three reasons: 1) I am reading another memoir right now called Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng. This author was imprisoned for years and her daughter murdered by Mao and his cohorts. The great tragedy of the Cultural Revolution is on my mind right now. 2) I am still amazed by the comment made by the White House Communications Director, Anita Dunn, who said that Mao is one of her "favorite political philosophers." Please, someone explain this! And 3) An article in our big city newspaper last week was very disturbing.

The article was titled, "Vows with a dash of Mao: Looking for wedding outfits, young Chinese are reaching back to the Cultural Revolution." Chinese women are getting married in green military outfits with the red stars on the hats--the uniform of the Red Guard! The article says there is "nostalgia about the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution." And then this quote, "Estimates of the number of people killed, starved to death, driven to suicide, and died in acts related to political persecution run from the tens of thousands to around a million." Compare those statistics to those quoted by Jung Chang. Was it tens of thousands or 70 million? In either case, would Mao be your hero?

Supposedly two or three couples a week come in for their Red Guard portraits. The manager of the studio says, "I think it is fun to pose as a Red Guard. That is a special period that most young people do not know about. It definitely makes you feel different when you are in the green army uniform." The young woman responds, "I think it's very cool."

Young people in China have an excuse for their ignorance, living in a media-censored country. But what about us? Read, learn, and speak out! My children will learn about Mao. They will know the history of their country of origin, sad as it is. They will not be fooled by our political leaders or our newspapers that downplay what happened there. Did you know that public education in our own USA practices its own form of censorship? I will write more on that later. History is being re-written and it is absolutely appalling.

I know my friends and family follow this blog to read family news. You probably want to know how Fred is doing! For now I have to write what is on my heart.

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