New website tracks flaws identified in Chang and Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story

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Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Storyis an international best-seller, unusual for a work of historical biography, and an aggressively revisionist history of Mao Zedong, unquestionably the single most important person in 20th century Chinese history. There have been quite a few reviews, positive and negative, and some discussion of whether the book is appropriate for classroom use.

Joseph Esherick, UCSD Hsiu Professor of Chinese Studies, ran an undergraduate seminar in which students"read The Unknown Story with some care, and then attempted to trace the sources of Chang and Halliday’s account, and compare them with other books and articles on modern Chinese history." Six of the essays produced by three of the students are posted in their entirety, complete with endnotes and e-mail addresses for feedback. In Divide and Conquer, for example, Tony Wan checks Chang and Halliday's claim that Mao planned for a Soviet-CCP partition of China against the interviews and other sources they cited as evidence, and found in every case"a flagrant distortion of Mao’s personal perceptions of the international scenario during World War II."

One of the most frequently cited results of Chang and Halliday is Mao's status as the greatest mass murdering autocrat of modern history, with over seventy million deaths to his discredit. Tom Worger looks closely at those figures and finds substantial room for doubt, including double-counting, demographic implausibilities, selective use of questionable statistics, and contradictions with existing scholarship. It is obvious from this, as from the other discussions, that the UCSD project is not intended to be a defense of Mao -- the number of deaths resulting from Mao's policies is still in the millions -- but a defense of responsible historical research.

The Mao site is part of the UCSD Chinese History Resources site.

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Jason KEuter - 5/5/2006

A few things:

1. I said "when I ask my students" to demonstrate that their is a common recognition that Hitler and the Nazis were mass murderers. The point of this is not to share what I teach, but to let the reader know that, in my experience, students are at least not ignorant of Hitler and the catastrophes associated with him.

2. That is not the case with MAO.

3. And you are delusional in classing Bush, Cheney or Sharon in with Hitler and Mao. Such delusional thinking is part of what paves the way for modern dictatorship and its psychotic horrors. False equivalence (Mao and Bush are qualitatively the same) normalizes and rationalizes the dangerously insane. Further, in order to maintain their delusion, they must conflate normal into insane and deflate insane into normal. This involves use of distorted hyperbole.

Prolonged systematic slaughter and starvation of millions of people has no equivalence with any policy of any Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Clinton, Carter, Roosevelt, etc.

chris l pettit - 5/4/2006

you (or people who make the same inane argument you do) are more than willing to support Bush, Cheney, Israel or any othre despot or sociopath that fits their ideological purposes.

I feel sorry for your students. Yes, Hitler was a smear on the face of humanity...but one needs to understand the historical and cultural factors that enabled him to come to power...ones that directly stem from the oppressive nature of the Treaty of Versailles and the rampant nationalism (the same blind faith nonsense many countries including ours still suffer from) that arose that allowed for the National Socialists to seize on the fear and oppressed feelings of the German public and take advantage of it. Sort of like Bush taking advantage of 9/11 to basically destroy the international legal and human rights framework.

Your understanding of history...and the way you evidently teach your rudimentary at best...and a dangerous ideological thing.


Jason KEuter - 5/4/2006

Why pick a book that seeks to correct the falseness underlying all parts of the legend of the Mao icon in order to make a stand for responsible historical research?

When I ask students what Hitler did, they said he killed the Jews - a historically imperfect statement that nonetheless comforts because it shows that the general attitude is that Hitler was a psychopath. No such response about Mao.

What did Mao do? He killed Chinese people by the millions.

When students ask how people like Hitler could come to power, I show them pictures of people carrying pictures of Chairman Mao and bookreviews that ask that Mao be addressed in the same tone and dispassion with which a PhD student would talk about the interior architecture of a Colonial home.