Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Legacy of Mao

In a recent visit to Beijing earlier this year, my business partner decided to  conduct a poll with every Chinese we met along the way.  The question is a  rather difficult one to answer: How would you rate Mao on a  scale of 1 to  10 baking in everything he has done over the cause of his  life?

The answer of this crude poll was a tight range from 6 to 8.  The answers    generally started with the perspective that Mao did a lot of great things in  his  early years (advancing the rights of women, promoting  modernization  of  industrial production, etc.), followed by some mistakes.

The interpretation of his mistakes fell under several camps.  1) That Mao  was  so far up on top, he had no idea about what was happening at the ground level.  In other words, he had no way of knowing the turmoil that his decisions/commands had caused; hence, we cannot hold him responsible; 2) A few sacrificed for the benefit of the whole.  Yes, tens of millions died, but the country as a whole attained stability and progress and emerged stronger than before; or 3) We got to analyze him in the historical context.  China had been invaded and controlled by foreigners for decades, including the Qing occupation, civil war, korean war, WWII and the Japanese invasion.  Mao unified the country and that was what the peasants wanted at the time.

One comment is universal – it is a complicated matter.  How should one judge a leader who has done a lot of good things but made one or two huge mistakes?  Should we judge Mao’s legacy based on the aggregate result?    Or, were the damages and turmoil caused in his later years simply unforgivable?


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Too complex of a topic to blog about, so…  let’s go to the pictures. 


Participants dance with fans during a massive parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China

The phalanx of national flag receives inspection in a parade of the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, on Chang'an Street in central Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 1, 2009. (Xinhua/Yang Lei)

Female members of a Chinese military reserve unit march.  During the two-hour-plus festivities, more than 100 helicopters and jets flew over the city in formation.

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Here is a  reflective piece on the Tiananmen Square incident 20 years ago. 

On that note, I am planning to read Zhao Ziyang’s memoir just recently released called Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang.

Update: there are some good coverage this year.  Here are a couple from the Financial Times: West miscasts Tiananmen protesters, and Netizens use strength in numbers.  And here’s one from the Asia Times: Forget Tiananmen, thus spake Confucius

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I might have mentioned before… Wang JianShuo is my favorite Chinese blogger.  He is truely unique in that he writes a blog for westerners, but he’s a native himself.  Wang also heads up kijiji.com (eBay’s classifieds effort) and have worked in Miscrosoft for many years before.  Wang is in his late 20s and lives with his wife and (very) young son in Shanghai. 

Among many of his fabulous posts, here’s a couple of quotes from his latest post about “Grace and Beauty“:

“I may be too quick or too generalized to say that people in China are afraid of beautiful things. This is obviously wrong. Look at the beautiful furnitures, calligraphy, gardens, silk, and millions of great things we created in the past. China is so beautiful (although it takes time for us to re-discover it).

However, nowadays, people still didn’t recover from the lack of (material) resources in the 20th century. People hate luxury things (there are national wide propagandas against being luxurious). The famous saying for socks and cloths are: “New for three years; old for three years; patched and fixed, they last for another three years”. It seems to wear the same socks for 9 years is the virtue of Chinese people. So people face the moral conflict between being grace and beautiful, and saving money.”

And, in ending:

“I believe when people in China end the centuries of hunger, and war, we get back to the original track to pursue happiness, grace, beauty, and all kinds of great things, just as our ancestor did in the last few thousands years.”

Grace and beauty is not as superficial as it sounds.  It does not mean huge mansions and plastic surgeries.  Rather, it implies slowing down to breathe in the air and embrace humanity.  It reminds us that there is more to life than working 24/7.  Whether you agree or not, Wang’s posts are always thought provoking and insightful.

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The Herald Tribune has an interesting letter from Howard French titled “What if Beijing is Right?”  It is a letter about a topic widely debated: Is democracy necessarily the best way to govern?  Can an authoritarian regime be good?

The same as for investing, you never know how good you are as an investor until you weather the downturn.  Mao did a lot of good until the Cultural Revolution, which many thought of as a plan for Mao to retain power.  Deng is known as the father of economic development, but also widely believed to be a powerful force behind June 4th massacre.  

We will know whether this time will be different when the current regime faces a challenge to power.   

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Saturday Entertainment…

Here’s an article from the NYTs from December of 1908, when the last emperor Pu Yi was enthroned when he was 3 yrs old.   I think everyone can view these articles now with TimeSelect gone?  Well, if not, let me know and I can produce a link. 

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on Mao

maoMao Tsedong is certainly a powerful character.  And quite an intriguing one as well.  Most people outside of China will remember Mao for one thing: the Cultural Revolution and the sufferings he imposed on many.  Most intellectuals will certainly despise Mao for destroying thousands of years of history and culture overnight.  Perhaps you’d have heard about how he liberated women… but on balance, the western world views him as negative.

I have yet to meet a native Chinese who will tell me that they despise Mao.  Apparently Mao was a man of many talents, one whom many has and still revere as “God”.    For decades, people see Mao as a protector.  And for many, he was.  As a friend explained to me, the Chinese do not see things as black, or white.  There’s always room for the gray.  Mao is a clear gray. 

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