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The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the…

The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (original 2013; edition 2018)

by Frank Dikötter (Author)

Series: People's Trilogy (1)

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223385,951 (3.97)8
"'The Chinese Communist party refers to its victory in 1949 as a "liberation." In China the story of liberation and the revolution that followed is not one of peace, liberty, and justice. It is first and foremost a story of calculated terror and systematic violence.' So begins Frank Dikötter's stunning and revelatory chronicle of Mao Zedong's ascension and campaign to transform the Chinese into what the party called New People. Following the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, after a bloody civil war, Mao hoisted the red flag over Beijing's Forbidden City, and the world watched as the Communist revolution began to wash away the old order. Due to the secrecy surrounding the country's records, little has been known before now about the eight years that followed, preceding the massive famine and Great Leap Forward. Drawing on hundreds of previously classified documents, secret police reports, unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches, eyewitness accounts of those who survived, and more, The Tragedy of Liberation bears witness to a shocking, largely untold history. Interweaving stories of ordinary citizens with tales of the brutal politics of Mao's court, Frank Dikötter illuminates those who shaped the 'liberation' and the horrific policies they implemented in the name of progress. People of all walks of life were caught up in the tragedy that unfolded, and whether or not they supported the revolution, all of them were asked to write confessions, denounce their friends, and answer queries about their political reliability. One victim of thought reform called it a 'carefully cultivated Auschwitz of the mind.' Told with great narrative sweep, The Tragedy of Liberation is a powerful and important document giving voice at last to the millions who were lost, and casting new light on the foundations of one of the most powerful regimes of the twenty-first century"--… (more)
Title:The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957
Authors:Frank Dikötter (Author)
Info:Bloomsbury Paperbacks (2018), Edition: Reissue, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:chinese history > 1900, totalitarian politics, socialism

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The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957 by Frank Dikötter (2013)


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This book documents in a lot of detail the awful consequences that the communist victory in the Chinese civil war had for the general population. The madness of communist economic policy and propaganda is on full display as the party requisitions fixed quotas of food and leaves the peasants to implicate each other as counter-revolutionaries and starve. The author focuses more on the plight of ordinary people than on how the communist polity was supposed to function. This is a welcome change to some other books on Chinese history which more or less ignore what communist rule meant in practice.

The flipside of the coin is that the author does not devote many pages on Mao's personality cult or the internal dynamics of the party elite. This book will not provide much general guidance if you're looking to compare the Chinese manifestation of totalitarian communism to the Soviet one. But it certainly reminds us that China has progressed a long way since these dark days of communist rule. It also becomes very clear on tehse pages that North Korea's current political system is a direct carbon copy of the one Mao founded. Seventy years after the events of this book, North Korean people are still being stomped upon by their state precisely in the manner which this book describes.
  thcson | Jun 18, 2020 |
Excellent work covering the early years of Mao's rule in China. A crucial work to better understand modern Chinese history and the overwhelming loss of life created by the process of creating the socialist state under Mao. ( )
  Waltersgn | Dec 6, 2017 |
While one always suspected that all those glossy Chinese magazines of the 1950s that depicted endless fields of wheat and happy youths waving oversize red flags wasn't depicting the full story of the early years of Communist rule in China, the years up to the Great Leap Forward were clouded in a calculated cover-up. No more. Author Dikotter has poured over volumes of public and private 'official' records as well as newspaper reports, private memoirs, incorporating many personal interviews and published personal memoirs of its survivors (for example, Jean Pasqualini's Prisoner of Mao). The result is a shocking read; the title says it all in its use of the word 'tragedy'.

In short, "the history of communism in China is...a history of promises made and promises broken" although I would add the qualifier of 'early communism' to this statement as we have not yet heard (to use a popular opera phrase to signify an approaching final act) "the fat lady sing."

"The communists wanted to woo before they tried to control. Like Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Mao achieved power by promising every disaffected group what they wanted most: land for the farmers, independence for all minorities, freedom for intellectuals...." After the early years of wooing, however, came the years of tyranny and "as this book shows, the first decade of Maoism was one of the worst tyrannies in the history of the twentieth century, sending to an early grave at least 5 million civilians and bringing misery to countless more." Dikotter records endless tales of torture, deprivation, random murders based on population percentages Mao personally decided, starvation, suicides. No child was too young to be tortured and publicly executed if branded a 'rightist' and no village elder too respected to be stripped naked, beaten, and even buried alive (as was threatened even Premier Xi Jinping's revolutionary father at one point). The goal being of course to terrorise every citizen into total obedience was achieved and the road clear for Mao's megalomania to run free. When a young writer by the name of Wang Shiwei wrote an essay denouncing "the arrogance of the big shots who were 'indulging in extremely unnecessary and unjustified perks 'while the sick could not even have a sip of noodle soup'" he was killed, "reportedly chopped to pieces and thrown into a well." Religious leaders, academics, industrialists, monks and nuns, poets and artists were similarly dealt with where needed.

Dikotter is currently Chair Professor of Humanities at the U. of Hong Kong (formerly Professor of Modern History of China at SOAS), and a much published author of books on modern China. His classic on the Great Famine in the late 50s/early 60s ([b:Mao's Great Famine: The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62|8410925|Mao's Great Famine The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62|Frank Dikötter|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1330376321s/8410925.jpg|13272217]) was a BBC Non-fiction prizewinner in 2011.

How can one apply the star designations used by Goodreads of 'like' and 'really like' to such a book? It is an excellent coverage of these early years, but its subject matter and the violence that continues page-after-page makes it impossible to "really like" such a work. "Highly recommended" would be a better label, for this excellent ground-breaking book is highly recommended to all interested in Chinese history and/or communism and/or mankind's less noble doings. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
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