A Critique of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Book (Mao, the Unknown Story) Part 4

Part 4


15. Three Million Deaths in 1966-76

The last occurrence of deaths on a large scale under Mao took place during the Cultural Revolution. JC adds three million to Mao’s record. Her number is not based on professional research. Her evidence points to Mao’s general responsibility for launching the Cultural Revolution, but not direct involvement or encouragement of violence and brutality, which caused most deaths in some, mostly remote, provinces.


In the ten years from when Mao started the Purge until his death in 1976, at least 3 million people died violent deaths. . . . The killings were sponsored by the state” (p. 569). 


The number of 3 million is much higher than the official estimate. Jung Chang’s main reference for this number was from an article published in China Spring, a fervent anti-Chinese government magazine in the U.S., not well known for its neutrality and objectiveness.


There were 29 provinces/regions in China at that time. The worst case on Jung Chang’s list is Guangxi, where “killing claimed some 100,000 lives” (p. 566). To get a total 3 million nationwide we must have the same figure for all provinces following Guangxi. In Jung Chang’s second and third positions, however, we find Yunnan where some “seventeen thousand of them were executed or beaten to death, or driven to suicide”, and Inner Mongolia where “16,222 died” (p. 567). If we count every province except Guangxi with 20,000 deaths, the total number would be 0.66 million. The rest of the 2.34 million claimed by JC, have to remain her “unknown story”.


Now let us consider Mao’s responsibility. Jung Chang’s No. 1 case of Guangxi indeed offers “the clearest illustration”, where “one faction refused to recognize the authority of Mao’s point man, General (Wei) Guo-qing” (p. 565). So the killing was mainly due to faction fighting. JC provides the following evidence for Mao’s attitude towards such violence. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, “Mao had Chou En-lai announce to a Red Guard rally on Tiananmen on 31 August (1966): ‘Denounce by words, and not by violence’” (p. 540). “In 1968, factional clashes with firearms had shown little sign of abating, despite a flood of commands from Peking. One man who was being conspicuously unruly was Kuai Da-fu, the Qinghua University student whom Mao had used to torment Liu Shao-chi and his wife. Kuai had by now become the most famous ‘leftist’ in the country, and he was determined to bring his opponents in the university to their knees. He ignored repeated orders to stop. . . Mao had to step in personally to get him to toe the line, and simultaneously made an example of him to send a warning to the whole country that faction wars had to stop” (pp. 564-5). Since Mao personally stopped his most favorite ‘leftist’ using violence in faction fighting, he would unlikely have supported other provincial leftists doing so.


The real story was probably what JC tells us: “Mao had unleashed a dynamic that was undermining his own power. He had to abandon his attempt to identify factions as Left and Conservative, and called for all groups to unite. But his orders were ignored” (p. 564).


According to Jung Chang’s evidence, Mao was guilty of miscalculation, without evil intention.


16. Mao’s Aim of the Cultural Revolution

This issue is important as Mao considered the Cultural Revolution one of the two major achievements in his life. JC claims that Mao “had intended the Great Purge to install much more merciless enforcers” for his Superpower Program (p. 558), his real target “was the old enforcers who had shown distaste for Mao’s extremist policies. Mao aimed to get rid of them en masse” (p. 543). However, her evidence not only contrasts to her claim, but also supports Mao’s proclaimed aim of the Cultural Revolution, i.e., “a move to rid China of Soviet-style ‘revisionists’” (p. 570).


In particular, we will show how her evidence demonstrates: (i) Mao did not need to replace merciful officials to enforce his plan for JC called Superpower Programme. (ii) Mao neither targeted merciful officials nor promoted merciless ones during the Cultural Revolution. (iii) Mao’s approach of mobilizing the masses to topple officials seriously damaged the very basis of any enforcement, and was totally unnecessary if his goal was “to install much more merciless enforcers”. (iv) JC believes that there was a pro-Russian faction within the Chinese government before the Cultural Revolution. We will explain each of these points in details below.


(i) Jung Chang’s evidence shows Mao did not need the Cultural Revolution to “install much more merciless enforcers”, because there existed no serious resistance to his so called Superpower Programme at the top level. In 1964 Mao started his biggest project after the Great Leap Forward, the Third Front. “It cost an astronomical 200 billion-plus yuan, and at its peak it sucked in at least two-third of the entire nation’s investment. The waste it created was more than the total material losses caused by the Great Leap Forward” (p. 503). In spite of that, “Liu Shao-chi and Mao’s other colleagues put up no resistance to this lunacy. . . . For Mao to forgo deaths and political victimization seems to have been the best his colleagues thought they could expect – and enough to make them feel they might as well go along with him” (p. 504).


(ii) If Mao’s aim was to replace merciful enforcers with merciless ones, he would have targeted the former and promoted the latter during the Cultural Revolution. But Jung Chang’s evidence shows the opposite. She first gives an example: one of the outspoken opponents of the Cultural Revolution was “Mao’s old follower Tan Zhen-lin, who had been in charge of agriculture during the famine (showing how far he was prepared to go along with Mao)” (p. 546). Later, JC puts it more flatly: “Mao did not differentiate between disaffected officials and those who were actually totally loyal to him and had not wavered even during the famine. In fact, there was no way he could tell who was which. So he resolved to overthrow them all first, and then have them investigated by his new enforcers” (p. 543). This is not the way to find merciless enforcers. If Mao could not “tell who was which” among his old followers after years of scrutiny, how could he trust those totally unknown rebels out of his party system? In fact, merciless enforcers were more likely to be thrown out first by rebels, who might have suffered under them for years. For instance, the Sichuan boss Li Jingquan and his associates (including “Public Affair” officials), who cooperated quite well to cover the famine, could not escape this time.


(iii) Mao’s approach of mobilizing masses to push the party apparatus into chaos contradicts Jung Chang’s theory. If Mao’s goal was merciless enforcement, the last thing he wanted should have been to destroy the very basis of any enforcement, the authority of his government, without which no enforcers can enforce anything regardless of how merciless they are. Mao’s approach can only be consistent with Jung Chang’s theory if it was necessary “to install much more merciless enforcers”. Unfortunately, Jung Chang’s evidence convincingly rules this possibility out.


JC shows Mao could get rid of his enemies without mobilizing masses. For instance, let’s consider “the first list of victims of the Great Purge, four big names described as an ‘anti-Party clique’: Mayor Peng, Chief of Staff Luo, Yang Shang-kun, the liaison with Russia and the tape-recording suspect, and old media chief Lu Ding-yi. Mao did not bother to come to the occasion”. The meeting “was actually chaired by Liu Shao-chi, who knew he was chairing an event that was ultimately going to bring him to ruin”. “Liu then asked all in favor to raise their hands. All did, including Mayor Peng and Liu” (p. 531).


The Red Guards were involved in toppling the President Liu Shao-chi, but JC shows their contribution was merely nominal. After citing the words of Kuai Da-fu, who was the Rebel leader in condemning Liu, JC writes: “This is a good self-confession of how the Rebels really worked; they were tools, and cowards, and they knew it” (p. 550). To formally purge Liu, “Mao had Chou En-lai telephone Liu and tell him to stop meeting foreigners, or appearing in public, unless told to do so. That day, Mao wrote a tirade against Liu which he himself read out to the Central Committee two days later, in Liu’s presence, breaking the news of Liu’s downfall” (p. 548).

Out of his remaining top echelon, there came only one burst of defiance. In February 1967, some of the Politburo members who had not fallen spoke up, voicing rage at what was happening to their fellow Party cadres” (p. 546). “But these elite survivors were either devoted veteran followers of Mao’s, or men already broken by him. Faced with his wrath, they folded. . . . The mini-revolt was easily quelled” (p. 547). Masses were not needed against the challenge which involved some of the country’s top military leaders. Clearly JC cannot explain the essential feature of the Cultural Revolution.

(iv) Now let’s look at how JC’s evidence supports a totally different goal of the Cultural Revolution, proclaimed by Mao himself, who “had presented the Cultural Revolution as a move to rid China of Soviet-style ‘revisionists’” (p. 570).

On 14 October 1964, Khrushchev was ousted in a palace coup. . . Within days, Chou was telling Soviet ambassador Chervonenko that it was Mao’s ‘utmost wish’ to have a better relationship. Chou requested an invitation to the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Moscow on 7 November” (p. 510). “At the reception in the Kremlin on 7 November, . . . Soviet defense minister Rodion Malinovsky approached Chou. . . . Out of the blue, Malinovsky said to Chou: ‘We don’t want any Mao, or any Khrushchev, to stand in the way of our relationship’. . . . Malinovsky then turned to Marshal Ho Lung, China’s acting army chief: ‘We’ve got rid of our fool Khrushchev, now you get rid of yours, Mao’” (p. 511).


Moreover, JC reveals secret moves within the Chinese leadership. In “February (1966), with the backing of Liu Shao-chi, Mayor Peng issued a ‘national guideline’ forbidding the use of political accusations to trample on culture and the custodians of culture. Moreover, he went further, and actually suppressed Mao’s instructions aimed at starting a persecution campaign. . . . As soon as he issued the guideline, Mayor Peng flew to Sichuan, ostensibly to inspect arms industries relocated in this mountainous province. There he did something truly astonishing. He had a secret tete-a-tete with Marshal Peng. . . . judging from the timing, and the colossal risk Mayor Peng took in visiting a major foe of Mao’s, without permission, in secret, it is highly likely that they discussed the feasibility of using the army to stop Mao. . . Marshal Ho Lung, the man to whom Soviet defense minister Malinovsky had said ‘Get rid of Mao’, soon also went to Sichuan, also in the name of inspecting the arms industries. . . . And there was more that was gnawing at Mao’s mind. It seems that Mayor Peng was contemplating getting in touch with the Russians, and may have thought of seeking Russian help to avert Mao’s Purge” (p. 528).


After seeing JC’s evidence, one has hardly any choice but to view Mao’s “Cultural Revolution as a move to rid China of Soviet-style ‘revisionists’”.


(v) The mass mobilization not only contradicts JC’s theory, it also fits Mao’s declaration of “denouncing those power-holders inside the Party pursuing a capitalist road”. Mao believed that the capitalism would benefit officials at expense of ordinary people. His proclaimed goal is also consistent with China’s reality today. Few people doubt China is capitalist, at least economically. The transformation was coincidently guided by the then No. 2 capitalist-roader Deng Xiao-ping (p. 553). Since Mao foresaw capitalist forthcoming, and even anticipated its top campaigner, it seems logical that he would launch the Cultural Revolution to prevent that from happening.


17. Mao Compared with Hitler

Finally, we discuss JC’s central theme in the book: Mao is at least as bad as Hitler. Based on JC’s book, we will show the following conclusions: (i) Mao did not invade many nations and kill their people en masse as Hitler did. (ii) There was no evidence that Mao intentionally killed millions of civilians under his rule as Hitler did. (iii) Mao had more serious political opponents than Hitler did, but he did not kill any one of them, while Hitler killed all of his. Hence, a person with a reasonable mind may not agree with JC’s comparison of Mao with Hitler. We now give a more detailed comparison between Mao and Hitler in these three aspects.


(i) Their offence against other countries: Hitler invaded the major part of Europe in the WWII in which tens of millions of people perished.

Let’s look at Mao’s record. Mao sent Chinese troops to Korea in the 1950s and Vietnam in the 1960s, invited by the North Korean and North Vietnamese governments to fight a superpower from thousands miles away. In 1962, China had a brief war with India, because “China had refused to recognize the boundary that had been delineated by the British in colonial times” (p. 486). “As border clashes worsened” (p. 486), Mao sent troops into India. Then after a quick victory, he ordered all the troops to return home in days. JC’s words also imply that China was adjacent to the British India (the boundary “had been delineated by the British in” 1903) well before Mao sent troops to Tibet in 1950. Hence Mao’s troops did not invade Tibet (it was the Ching Dynasty’s army who did so two hundred years earlier and made Tibet a part of China). In 1969, China clashed with the Soviet Union. On “a small uninhabited island . . . Chinese laid an ambush that left 32 Russians dead”, while “Russia’s claim to the island was far from established” (p. 570). During his reign Mao never annexed any piece of land into Chinese territory.


(ii) Brutality against their subjects: Hitler intentionally killed millions of Jews, communists and leftists, homosexuals, Jehovah witnesses, Gypsies, and others. 

The last mass killing under Mao took place in 1950–51 and led to 700,000 executions. However, this was at the end of the civil war and during the Korean War. Many, if not most, victims were executed for their military roles as we explained in section 11. During his reign, many must have died in prisons, but no evidence suggests this was nearly bad as Gulag in the Soviet Union, as discussed in section 12. Millions of people died during the famine because of Mao’s mismanagement, but there was no proof of his intention or indifference to let people die, as seen in section 14. Several political campaigns, such as the Cultural Revolution, caused many deaths due to persecution or maltreatment, but no direct order came from Mao, as we argued in section 15.

(iii) Treating political challengers: This is probably the most relevant comparison because both dictators’ personal responsibilities are irrefutable. There are few examples of how Hitler treated his political rivals because he hardly had any. But we do know that he ordered his fellow Nazi leader Roehn to be killed for alleged homosexual behavior and forced the best German general Rommel to commit suicide for his role in a suspected coup. Of course he also executed von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators for the assassination attempt.


Now let’s look at Mao’s record. According to the book, Mao’s first challenger was Chang Kuo-tao, who defected to the Nationalist side in 1938 (pp. 220-221). The second rival Wang Ming stayed in the CCP and even praised Mao after being defeated (p. 357), and later died in Russia in 1974. The third victim was Gao Gang, who committed suicide in 1954 (p. 405). The fourth un-cowed man, Peng De-huai “was put under house arrest” (p. 470) after his fight with Mao in 1959, and died of a rectum cancer in 1974 (p. 557). The fifth was Liu Shao-chi, who died in 1969 in much neglected conditions due to persecution (p. 556). The sixth, Lin Biao died in an airplane crash in Mongolia in 1971 (p. 582). The last one was Deng Xiao-ping to whom “Mao had had to give in and let him live in the comfort of his own home, among his family” (pp. 649-650) till his own death in 1976. None of his political challengers was executed. Nor were any of the co-conspirators associated with each case in this long list executed either. In the case of the most deadly and militant coup plot of Lin Biao, “incredibly, given that an attempted assassination – of Mao, no less – was involved, not a single person was executed” (p. 586).


Among those cases, let’s look at “Mao’s persecution of the man he hated most” (p. 548), Liu Shao-chi. The “report, which was delivered to the Central Committee by Mao’s faithful slave, Chou En-lai, called Liu a ‘traitor, enemy agent and scab’, and recommended the death sentence. But Mao rejected it, as he did for Mme Liu. He preferred a slow, lingering death” (pp. 555-556). However, it was “in April 1969, when the 9th Congress convened”, and Liu’s “death came . . . on 12 November 1969” (p. 556).


It was not very slow. On the other hand, Mme Liu, Wang Guang-mei’s “slow, lingering death” not only lasted 10 years under Mao, but has still not been completed today, nearly 40 years later. A little bit too slow. If Mao really wanted her dead, whatever form that took, her health after 10 years of prison would not have allowed her such longevity.

Now let’s see how Mao obtained his evidence against Liu. “Mao had told it (Liu’s case team) he wanted a spy charge. . . . A large number of other people were imprisoned and interrogated, to try to turn up evidence against him. . . . Shi Zhe, who had interpreted for Liu with Stalin . . . was pressed to say that Liu was a Russian spy. . . American Sidney Rittenberg, . . . had known Mme Liu in the 1940s. Pressure was put on him to say that he had recruited her, and Liu, for American intelligence.” (p. 555).


JC does not mention any torture being used. “The team . . . found itself in a Catch-22 situation, as concocting evidence could be as dangerous as failing to unearth it. On one occasion, the team claimed that Liu had wanted American troops to invade China in 1946, and that Liu had wanted to see President Truman about this. ‘Making such a claim’, Mao said, ‘is . . . to treat us like fools. America sending in troops en masse: even the Nationalists did not want that’” (p. 555).  The result: Liu was not charged as a spy.


JC does not show in any case Mao allowed his team use torture to obtain evidence or imposed his charge without evidence, though his evidence was often proven to be wrong.

The points made in this section are sufficient to refute JC’s comparison of Mao with Hitler. In fact, it is easy to find counter-arguments to most, if not all, of JC’s claims in the entire book. It just takes careful reading and reasoning. We leave them as interested readers’ exercises, for fun.


In revealing the numerous contradictions and inconsistencies in JC’s book, we do not need any specific knowledge or information regarding China. Now the question is: why cannot those Western journalists and those China experts see? It is hard to believe that none of them is capable of logic thinking, or has read the book carefully. The most plausible explanation is their profound pride and prejudice towards China.




The first version, Aug. 7, 2005, the newest revision, Dec. 4, 2005.




About kchew

an occasional culturalist
This entry was posted in Chairman Mao. Bookmark the permalink.

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