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“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 trans “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.


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“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 trans “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.

30 review for The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957

  1. 5 out of 5

    fourtriplezed

    A very good read by Frank Dikötter. He covers from the time of the civil war up to the Great Leap Forward. Civil wars are rarely anything but brutal, 2.5 million deaths is a figure bandied by various sources. Dikötter covers this early and not with too much length but once past he delves deeply into the early years of CP rule with initial purging of those not connected with the regime, the beginnings of the Bamboo Curtain, collectivisation measures and the attempt to reform thought. Political pr A very good read by Frank Dikötter. He covers from the time of the civil war up to the Great Leap Forward. Civil wars are rarely anything but brutal, 2.5 million deaths is a figure bandied by various sources. Dikötter covers this early and not with too much length but once past he delves deeply into the early years of CP rule with initial purging of those not connected with the regime, the beginnings of the Bamboo Curtain, collectivisation measures and the attempt to reform thought. Political prisoners, made up of not just those that opposed the CP but those that failed to conform, was very interesting reading indeed. For anyone interested in this period of Chinese history this is a must read. In the end I have come out of this book, and also refer back to his brilliant, tragic and griping Mao's Great Famine, wondering if the present day Chinese consider these brutal years of Mao and reflect on the present prosperity under the CP. I look forward to Dikötter's next book on the Cultural Revolution

  2. 5 out of 5

    Arjen

    The Tragedy of Liberation was liberating in the sense that it liberated me of the last bit of respect for the start of the People’s Republic of China. The celebrated academic Frank Dikötter uses anecdotes from detailed archive research across China to show how the communist party dashed them,and broke them and every aspect of Chinese society until every peasant, worker, intellectual, believer and party member hung their hungry heads in submission and toed the inscrutable party line. This was ach The Tragedy of Liberation was liberating in the sense that it liberated me of the last bit of respect for the start of the People’s Republic of China. The celebrated academic Frank Dikötter uses anecdotes from detailed archive research across China to show how the communist party dashed them,and broke them and every aspect of Chinese society until every peasant, worker, intellectual, believer and party member hung their hungry heads in submission and toed the inscrutable party line. This was achieved by starving, brain washing, disowning, taxing, conscripting, scapegoating, beating, and executing millions of ordinary Chinese. The book shows how life standards deteriorated after communist takeover, illustrated by the square meters available for living to the kilograms of rice consumed per person per annum. The era of the civil war, the great leap forward, the cultural revolution have all been extensively researched and written about, but I had always had the impression that there had been a period of calm in between them. This book opened my eyes to the relentlessness of the suffering of the Chinese people since 1937 until far into the seventies, for no other purpose than egomania of a few leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and the vested interested of the party and its members. The state managed to dehumanize its citizens, and now the party openly admonishes its people in relation to food scandals that morality and ethics are lacking. The communist leadership put a few hundred million people through an exercise to prove the point that China was formidable and independent, while the goal of socialism and communism which is to provide justice and fairness to everybody’s life was completely lost from sight, or resolutely denied as irrelevant. Dikötter is not a literary writer, but his clear style aided by a few characters that reappear in the book through the dozen years that form the scope of this book make for captivating reading. This book hit a nerve as it personalized the history, instead of a biography of the leadership, or recounting of campaigns, the book hones in on how history was undergone by the people. What was achieved? Nothing. China never attained communism, nor socialism. Its development was set backwards for decades, and individual lives ruined for generations. The excuse that the Communist Party is necessary for China to obtain continued growth is the perpetuation of a 60 year old lie.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    As in his earlier work, Mao’s Great Famine, Prof. Dikötter has written an exceptionally well-researched history of China, focusing on the period 1945 to 1957. While the depravities of Mao’s regime have been generally known to students of history, many details remained under lock and key. Prof. Dikötter’s diligent effort provides a valuable record for English readers, incorporating significant material from previously closed government archives. Oh, what horrors! To be fair, China’s sad story ha As in his earlier work, Mao’s Great Famine, Prof. Dikötter has written an exceptionally well-researched history of China, focusing on the period 1945 to 1957. While the depravities of Mao’s regime have been generally known to students of history, many details remained under lock and key. Prof. Dikötter’s diligent effort provides a valuable record for English readers, incorporating significant material from previously closed government archives. Oh, what horrors! To be fair, China’s sad story has many chapters before we get to Mao, it’s just that Mao seemed to take repression to a new level, even for China. I’m at a loss to absorb fully the details for the atrocities and brutalities included in this volume, especially when I add them to what occurred in Germany and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century; there’s a few moments in American history we could include, too, lest you thought the good ol’ US of A is immune from reprehensibilities while digesting your Thanksgiving turkey. Should we not recite a short threnody daily in memoriam for the victims’ collective distress? Oh, sorry, my Grande Mocha Frappuchino® is melting, plus Real Housewives of Orange County started three minutes ago. Ciao!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    In this book, Dikotter tries to prosecute a case. He argues that the period of the so-called Chinese Liberation under the Communists was actually an brutal and unmitigated disaster. Far from a peaceful interregnum between the Civil War and the Great Famine, Dikotter posits that the horrors in this period were every bit as stark as these other catastrophes, which only exceeded it in scale, not in scope. Furthermore, just as in his book on the Famine, Dikotter tries to show that this fiasco was no In this book, Dikotter tries to prosecute a case. He argues that the period of the so-called Chinese Liberation under the Communists was actually an brutal and unmitigated disaster. Far from a peaceful interregnum between the Civil War and the Great Famine, Dikotter posits that the horrors in this period were every bit as stark as these other catastrophes, which only exceeded it in scale, not in scope. Furthermore, just as in his book on the Famine, Dikotter tries to show that this fiasco was not the outcome of confusion, chaos, or, that perennial Communist favorite, bad weather, but of the Communist Party's ideological madness and urge to terrorize the populace. One leaves the book convinced that Dikotter is unquestionably correct, but wondering also if framing the book so clearly as an indictment detracts from the history. Two themes seem to emerge perpetually in Dikotter's account: quotas and suicides. As with many Communists, Mao and his Politburo had an obsession with quotas; from grain procurement, to the executions of counter-revolutionaries, every Communist cadre knew to do his utmost to fulfill his quotas as they were delivered from on high. In the "Great Terror" beginning in October 1950, Mao insisted that about 1 per 1000 was the right number of executions of counter-revolutionaries nationwide, and local leaders worked like diligent accountants to measure their progress to this goal. Yet, in typical Communist fashion, the quota was seen as a floor not a ceiling, and ambitious cadres knew they needed to exceed it to demonstrate revolutionary fervor. Guizhou province asked to be allowed to kill three per thousand, Liuzhou five, and others even more. Mao was deliberately vague about how far his underlings could go, which allowed him to posture as the voice of moderation even while urging more death (for Guizhou he suggested two executions per thousand would do, any number over that number should be sent to labor camps). In a typical ambiguous fashion, Mao began to publicly question the extent of the slaughter, and finally suggested that authority to fulfill the quotas should be transferred away from local counties and given to supposedly more responsible provinces, but only after a delay. The county leaders knew this was their last chance and rushed to kill tens of thousands before the deadline. It was all the strange result of killing by numbers. Many of those executed first had to endure days-long "struggle sessions" about their crimes, during which the local populace would be whipped into a homicidal frenzy, each individual competing to show his or her loyalty to the new Communist overlords by further excoriating these enemies of the people. Time and again those targeted would kill themselves rather than endure any more abuse, and these enforced suicides were a constant in the so-called "campaigns" of the era. The struggle sessions and suicides occurred in every walk of life. During the land reform, the fake class of "landlords" (dizhu), a concept foreign to a Chinese economy with few tenants, was invented so as to find an excuse to redistribute land and terrorize wealthier peasants. In the course of the reform, peasants were encouraged and incentivized to denounce and beat former friends and neighbors, as part of the "speak bitterness campaign," often leading to the "landlord's" suicide. (Soon this redistributed land was taken away from those same peasants and collectivized under the state.) During the "Five Antis" campaign against the bourgeois, former factory owners and shopkeepers competed with each other in popular struggle sessions to renounce their former exploitations and pledge undying fealty to the party, often to no avail. In the thought reform campaigns, intellectuals and students who disagreed with the "General Line" had to submit endless written and public confessions of their crimes, until one was finally accepted, but that rarely ended the struggle sessions and the ultimate suicides. The goal was not so much to convince those who remained alive, but to create a society of constant self-doubt and internalized fear. Survivors talked about the process of having their personality hollowed out, so only the concerns and fears of the Party could dominate their thoughts (in classic cultish fashion, loudspeakers blaring propaganda and patriotic songs appeared everywhere). All of this madness should have been obvious both East and West, but the Mao regime found surprising friends everywhere. China's choreographed tourism (after almost all actual foreigners had been expelled as part of the "Bamboo Curtain") convinced many this was a free and prosperous society, and outsiders like India's Jawaharlal Nehru often celebrated China's economic and social achievements. Yet Mao had publicly engaged in such totalitarian quotas and "Rectification Campaigns" long before he had assumed power, and even internal Communist reports time and again showed that collective farms and shops were performing worse than their private progenitors. Even as outsiders praised China's achievements, internal studies proved that the average Chinese farmer and worker was poorer than he was before "Liberation." Dikotter estimates that this economically devastated and internally terrorized society was purchased at the cost of over 4 million lives, with at least 2 million more being sent to brutal bamboo gulags. I wish Dikotter had done a better job comparing the Communist record with the failures of the previous Nationalist regime (minor as they were in comparison) and providing a more even-handed look at general Communist policy, but one leaves this book convinced that maybe a heartrending cri de couer is appropriate in recounting the savage history of the Party that still rules over the country.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pres

    Quotas after quotas, purge after purge, these are the collective stories present in the tragedy of liberation. Initially I was shocked. Then I felt sad. In the end I went numb.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dmitri

    Frank Dikotter's books are often frightening, and frequently they are depressing. His best work was on the Cultural Revolution, which entered intimately into the lives of those who lived through it. My least favorite was about the Great Leap Forward, which read like a statistical list of the death toll. Could the book have been that bad, if it had won the Samuel Johnson prize? This volume covers the birth of the Peoples Republic during '45-'57, and falls somewhere between. Like other works in the Frank Dikotter's books are often frightening, and frequently they are depressing. His best work was on the Cultural Revolution, which entered intimately into the lives of those who lived through it. My least favorite was about the Great Leap Forward, which read like a statistical list of the death toll. Could the book have been that bad, if it had won the Samuel Johnson prize? This volume covers the birth of the Peoples Republic during '45-'57, and falls somewhere between. Like other works in the trilogy it has a lot of archival detail and provides a clear image of the events. It was surprising after his "Great Famine" ('58-'62 ) was banned in China he was allowed access to the archives to research this book, and also the "Cultural Revolution" ('62-'76). The story opens with the discovery of a mass grave in Manchuria. Changchun had been the capital of the puppet Puyi, last emperor of China. It was occupied by the Japanese, then the Soviets and finally by Chang Kai Shek's Nationalists. Half a million Chinese civilians were within its precincts when the Peoples Army blockaded and bombarded the city, starving some 150,000 to death. Following the surrender of Japan, the US cut support to the Nationalists, while the Soviet Union armed and aided Mao and the Communists. Beyond Changchun, Beijing and cities throughout the north fell, and the Nationalists were defeated. Mao moved quickly to capture Shanghai, Nanjing, the rest of the south, and then onward to subjugate Xinjiang and Tibet, former Qing Dynasty lands. After Mao's victory, retribution against Nationalists, collaborators, imperialists, spies, and landowners swept the country and cities. Public denunciation of class enemies was punctuated with beatings, executions, and the redistribution of land, money and personal property. Between one and two million people died. Most of this is ugly, and much of it is told in graphic detail. The book goes on to discuss the cultural destruction, state terrorism, death quotas, party purges, labor camps, thought reform and other totalitarian activities, as told by the author to be devoid of human redemption. Reading like this taps your spirit, and makes you want to turn away. There is no happy ending unless you can see beyond this time period and into the future of China. Frank Dikotter is a good writer in the sense that you can hear and feel the events he describes. There is, however,​ a kind of breathless excitement in the litany of misery, and at times the account seems to descend into the chaos it portrays. This book makes you ask why? Unfortunately, the question goes unanswered. It may never be answered, beyond a brutal quest for power. As Chair of Humanities at Hong Kong University, it will be interesting to see if Professor Dikotter retains his position given the recent tightening of academic freedom. His biography states that he is on leave from the University of London. At this point that job must seem a very long time ago and half a world away. It may be beckoning more each and every day.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Omar Ali

    A very compelling account of the "liberation" of China by the CCP and its aftermath. It is well researched and quotes heavily from the CCPs archives to describe the vast campaign of mass murder that followed the communist victory in China. How the party organized the killing of "rich peasants" (usually anyone in the village slightly more prosperous than the rest, sometimes not even that) to establish its control and impose its (frequently imaginary) social categories on the Chinese population. T A very compelling account of the "liberation" of China by the CCP and its aftermath. It is well researched and quotes heavily from the CCPs archives to describe the vast campaign of mass murder that followed the communist victory in China. How the party organized the killing of "rich peasants" (usually anyone in the village slightly more prosperous than the rest, sometimes not even that) to establish its control and impose its (frequently imaginary) social categories on the Chinese population. There are chapters on the process that unfoleded in the cities, against foreigners, against religious institutions, against pests and even against pet dogs. And there is some detail about Mao's various internal purges and thought-control campaigns. What is NOT there is any real attempt at explaining the larger context. In the early chapters Dikotter does touch on the various (contingent and by no means inevitable) factors that led to the communist victory in the civil war (with brief mention of the role played by well-meaning American representatives, including George Marshall himself) but thereafter there is relatively little discussion of how the revolution consolidated and took control on a national scale. There is a wealth of detail about the atrocities and oppressions, but not enough about the overall picture. Still, well worth reading. PS: Those brought up in the third world Left may not get into the book that easily because it makes few allowances for their preconceptions. A different book (perhaps by someone like Ian Buruma) may be needed to gently change their minds about the great helmsman.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jonny

    Frank Dikotter's history of the "liberation" of the Chinese people pulls no punches. Wearing its belief that Mao's communism was an unparalleled disaster for the country firmly on its sleeve, the book details the Chinese communist party's seizure of power (in a brief but effective overview of the cruelties of the civil war and the confusion reigning on the CCP's victorious entry into China's major cities. The book really takes off in the period of consolidation of power, as the Chinese are taugh Frank Dikotter's history of the "liberation" of the Chinese people pulls no punches. Wearing its belief that Mao's communism was an unparalleled disaster for the country firmly on its sleeve, the book details the Chinese communist party's seizure of power (in a brief but effective overview of the cruelties of the civil war and the confusion reigning on the CCP's victorious entry into China's major cities. The book really takes off in the period of consolidation of power, as the Chinese are taught to think properly, learn their place in this new country and seize the land from the evil landlords. Most of whom are not even really landlords, just in the wrong place, or who haven't learned which way the wind blows. The subsequent attempts to obtain parity in the Communist world with Stalin, the fall of the bamboo curtain and the growth in the number of political prisoners are are laid out and by the end of the book you're left with no doubt that the average man on the street had been broken and remoulded in Mao's flawed image. Exactly how flawed is a matter for the next book in the trilogy... Interesting for showing how China became so closed off, and for giving examples of the birth of the doublespeak that's (arguably) led to our lives becoming a lot more "interesting" of late. Plus ca change...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Scriptor Ignotus

    An accessible and heavily anecdotal history of the Chinese Civil War and the first decade of the People’s Republic, chronicling the unlikely rise of a relatively small but dedicated band of revolutionary guerillas from the Manchurian countryside to totalitarian power over a quarter of the world’s population, and the perpetual political violence employed by Mao Zedong to eliminate potential threats to his power, reduce the machinery of the state to a utensil of his oracular will, and harden the z An accessible and heavily anecdotal history of the Chinese Civil War and the first decade of the People’s Republic, chronicling the unlikely rise of a relatively small but dedicated band of revolutionary guerillas from the Manchurian countryside to totalitarian power over a quarter of the world’s population, and the perpetual political violence employed by Mao Zedong to eliminate potential threats to his power, reduce the machinery of the state to a utensil of his oracular will, and harden the zealotries of the Party rank-and-file. In wake of the Nationalist collapse, many Chinese cities submitted to communist rule in the hope that a unified country would finally know peace after twenty gruesome years of warfare, but the precariousness of the Party’s authority over the masses, the looming threat of invasion by Chiang Kai-shek from Taiwan, and Mao’s inferiority complex vis-à-vis Stalin prompted an unprecedented campaign of revolutionary terror. Party cadres whipped peasant villages into a homicidal fervor against a largely-fictive “landlord” class; mobs were made to denounce, humiliate, rob, assault, and sometimes kill their neighbors in public spectacles. Private business owners in the cities, who were promised toleration in 1949, were likewise summarily subjected to rituals of degradation and the state expropriation of their assets. Agricultural collectivization created widespread famine and economic disarray even before the introduction of the Great Leap Forward in 1958. Provinces were given quotas for the killing and imprisonment of “counter-revolutionaries”, real and imagined, and their leaders competed frantically with one another to stack enough bodies to satisfy Mao’s vague ideological prescriptions and to safeguard themselves from intermittent purges that culled the wavering from the Party ranks. Every element of Chinese society was made to participate in the regime of murder and denunciation, the betrayal of families and neighbors; everyone was to be implicated in the blood guilt. The progeny of one of the world’s great civilizations took on the properties of a cult. All complexities were reduced to the nihilistic imperatives of “Liberation” and the destruction of all inherited ways of being. I wish I could say that I don’t understand how it happened.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joefranks69

    Tragedy Porn: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 by Frank Dikötter Ultimately, Dikötter comes across as a typical member of his generation, steeped in anti-communism and the glories of the free market from birth, and seeking to amass as much evidence as he can that the CCP is guilty of terrible crimes. (It's pretty depressing when you read him condemning the CCP for being a police state, evinced by the incredible number of people the evil commies packed their Tragedy Porn: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 by Frank Dikötter Ultimately, Dikötter comes across as a typical member of his generation, steeped in anti-communism and the glories of the free market from birth, and seeking to amass as much evidence as he can that the CCP is guilty of terrible crimes. (It's pretty depressing when you read him condemning the CCP for being a police state, evinced by the incredible number of people the evil commies packed their prisons with - and then realizing that even in absolute terms, there were fewer prisoners in the Chinese gulag at its height in the '50s than in the United States' er, "correctional facilities" today. And in relative terms, the Land of the Free has over twice as many people in cages than China had during these years of shame.) He succeeds at amassing the evidence; he fails, however, at making the case for condemnation. I remain in agreement with Macaulay: "We deplore the outrages which accompany revolutions. But the more violent the outrage, the more assured we feel that a revolution was necessary. The violence of these outrages will always be proportioned to the ferocity and ignorance of the people; and the ferocity and ignorance of the people will be proportioned by the oppression and degradation under which they have been accustomed to live." Dikötter's research strategy seems to have been to scour the Chinese archives for tragedies, and lay them out in neatly ordered, bloody piles. As Sceptique500 observes in an excellent review, the book seems more like a criminal prosecution than an attempt to provide historical understanding. For those who understand the CCP as a bumbling Satan or an evil Three Stooges, this book will provide ample, even thrilling reinforcement for their views. But those who would like to hear a full trial, where the defense gets to make a case (even if it ultimately fails), will be disappointed. Dikötter doesn't openly state it, but he's nonetheless clear where his ideological sympathies lie. (For instance, this marvel of a sentence: "People who had managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps thanks to a combination of initiative, diligence, and perseverance became outcasts.") We all have ideological sympathies, there's nothing wrong with that, but in combination with some vague argumentation it makes for a frustrating read. For instance, in "The Hurricane" we are given the admission that "[t]here is little question that absent landowners abused their power, while malpractices were rife in the countryside", but in this - uniquely in the book - we are not treated to any gory detail. Instead, the overall argument of the chapter seems to be that rural life in China pre-revolution was pretty egalitarian, and that the CCP - inept at everything save pure evil - tricked hundreds of millions of peasants into believing that there was inequality, and that those (supposedly) at the top of the (nonexistent) hierarchy needed to be brought low, so that rural life would be so thoroughly disrupted that all would become slaves to the Party. It's an audacious argument, and Dikötter doesn't actually make it: he vaguely implies it in fusillade after fusillade of anecdotes. Most glaring in its absence is an account of economic successes during this period immediately after decades of war and during a nationalist blockade - successes which may have had something to do with public support for the CCP. Yes, China in the '50s was communist, and we all know that communism is an inefficient form of economic organization that swims against the stream of human nature, and therefore never works as well as capitalism. Except somehow communist economies were able to industrialize backward, underdeveloped parts of the world significantly faster than comparable capitalist economies, and register greater gains in basic quality of life indicators (e.g., compare China and India, Cuba and the Dominican Republic or Haiti). Dikötter tips his hat to this reality in the "Behind the Scenes" chapter, but then drowns it in a lake of anecdotes about shoddy construction. (A hotel where the faucets drip, staining the sinks? Egads!) Yet for some reason, when China opened to foreign investment in the '80s, the capital to exploit low-wage labor poured in; it could have gone anywhere in the world with low-wage labor to exploit, which is pretty much everywhere; so why China? Especially after thirty years of rule by a Party whose economic ineptitude was matched only by its sadism? Reading only Dikötter's account, it would be a mystery.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    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 pu 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 (Mao's Great Famine: The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62) 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    catriona (reads)

    A time in history I knew nothing about and am very glad to learn about. This book is less than 300 pages but took me some time to get through because it is very densely packed with details, lots of statistics and data. I would have appreciated more broad strokes being interspersed with the details, I feel that way greater understanding would have been conveyed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian Song

    A single death is a tragedy. A million is but statistics.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tobias

    This is a well-written, well-sourced history of the horrors of 1950s China that seeks to further dismantle the founding myths of the Chinese Communist Party which rules China to this day by stressing its terroristic and Stalinist roots. The first decade of the People's Republic of China is often seen as the golden age of Chinese Maoism before it all went wrong in the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution. The received opinion always used that land reform was a broadly positive legacy of early This is a well-written, well-sourced history of the horrors of 1950s China that seeks to further dismantle the founding myths of the Chinese Communist Party which rules China to this day by stressing its terroristic and Stalinist roots. The first decade of the People's Republic of China is often seen as the golden age of Chinese Maoism before it all went wrong in the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution. The received opinion always used that land reform was a broadly positive legacy of early Chinese communism. Frank Dikotter's new book shows how unnecessarily brutal and arbitrary land reform and the Campaign against Counter-Revolutionaries were with millions dying deliberately putting blood on the hands of villagers and all of the leading Communist cadres including the ones who later formed the core of the second generation of Chinese leaders around Deng Xiaoping which held power in the 1980s (including Peng Zhen and Li Xiannian). There is a telling quote from Deng Xiaoping about his experience of land reform in Anhui province: "One place in western Anhui the masses hated several landlords and demanded that they be killed, so we followed their wishes and killed them. After they had been killed, the masses feared reprisals from the relatives of the victims, so they drew up an even longer list of names, saying that if they could also be killed, everything would be fine. So again we followed their wishes and killed those people. After they had been killed the masses thought that even more people would seek revenge, so again they came up with a list of names. And again we killed according to their wishes. We kept on killing and the masses kept on feeling more and more insecure, taking fright and fleeing. In the end we killed two hundred people, and all the work we did in 12 villages was ruined." Peng Zhen, who returned to political power in the 1980s under Deng, was at the forefront of the Campaign to Supress Counter-Revolutionaries which immediately followed land reform in 1951: "Mass executions were held in every city. In Beijing they were chaired by the Mayor. Peng Zhen shouted at a mass meeting in Beijing: 'How should we deal with this herd of beastly tyrants, bandits, traitors and spies who are guilty of the most heinous crimes?' Answered a crowd of followers: 'Execute them by firing squad!' Peng: 'We have already disposed of a number of counter-revolutionaries, but there are still some in prison. Besides there are still spies and special agents hiding in Beijing. What shall we do with them?' The crowd: 'Suppress the counter-revolutionaries resolutely!' Peng: 'Among the accused today, there are despots in the markets, among fishmongers, real estate brokers, water carriers and night soil scavengers. How should we deal with these feudal remnants?' The crowd: "Execute them by firing squad Some of the individual killings are described in quite graphic detail, but what is more shocking is the coldness and the calculating nature of the campaigns with death quotas being set much in the same vein that production quotas for industrial production were set. This was state terrorism as much as the settling of grass root vendettas. The Campaign To Suppress Counter -Revolutionaries is described as The Great Terror (upper case 'G' and 'T') in this book. I have not heard it called this before. I think that the term comes from Robert Conquest's 1968 book in which he used The Great Terror to refer to Stalin's 1930s purges Dikotter's book is based on a large number of recently released provincial archives which are giving new credibility to eye witness accounts published in the 1950s and 1960s previously dismissed as tainted or biased. Beyond exposing the brutality of the campaigns of these years, he goes further to suggest that the land reform was attacking an injustice that had little basis in reality in the Chinese countryside and that there was no such thing as a landlord class. I'm not if he quite makes his case here. Some of his sources here (S.T Tung and John L Buck) had strong ties with the Nationalist regime. I think he is on firmer ground when he argues that land reform need not have been accompanied by mass killings. He points to the land reform carried out in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan which was largely peaceful. One letter from a Hunan farmer was published in the People's Daily in March 1951 written by farmers from Hunan province: Why doesn't Chairman Mao just print some banknotes, buy the land from the landlords and then give us our share?". As Dikotter notes it was a good question and it remained unanswered.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Karen Kao

    革(gé) is the character emblazoned on my copy of The Tragedy of Liberation. One of the many meanings for this character is “to reform”. That sounds like a mild word for such a turbulent period in Chinese history. But Dikötter makes clear from the very first page that the history of the Chinese revolution is anything but bland. He quotes Mao Zedong. "[W]in over the majority, oppose the minority and crush all enemies separately." This is Chinese reform in its bloodiest form. the people’s trilogy Chrono 革(gé) is the character emblazoned on my copy of The Tragedy of Liberation. One of the many meanings for this character is “to reform”. That sounds like a mild word for such a turbulent period in Chinese history. But Dikötter makes clear from the very first page that the history of the Chinese revolution is anything but bland. He quotes Mao Zedong. "[W]in over the majority, oppose the minority and crush all enemies separately." This is Chinese reform in its bloodiest form. the people’s trilogy Chronologically speaking, The Tragedy of Liberation is the first volume of The People’s Trilogy. The triad of books starts with the revolution (1945-1957) and moves through the Great Leap Forward and its result, Mao’s Great Famine (1958-1962). It closes with the darkest chapter of Mao’s reign, The Cultural Revolution (1962-1976). All three books rely on evidence found in the Communist Party archives in China. Dikötter compares party archives with eyewitness accounts. Sometimes, he contrasts the official Party line at the time with what the Party knew was happening on the ground. This is the mission of The Tragedy of Liberation: "to probe beyond the shiny surface of propaganda and retrieve the stories of the ordinary men and women who were both the main protagonists and the main victims of the revolution." thought reform The first time I read The Tragedy of Liberation, it was more of a skim, a way to orient myself in 1950s China before starting to write my next novel, Peace Court. I have no family records for this period in Chinese history, no eyewitness accounts to feed my imagination. This time, I would have to rely entirely on secondary sources. This second time around, I’m using The Tragedy of Liberation to catch errors of fact. At the same time, I’m on the look-out for details that could enrich the texture of my tale. For example, the system of household registration fascinates me. That registration was the key to obtaining housing, food, health care and education. Moreover, each household had a designated head. It might be the father of a family, the principal of a school or the abbot of a monastery. And that person had his own individual classification: good or bad, red or black. Ultimately, the classification of one individual would determine the fate of the entire household. There was yet another purpose to the household registration. It tied each Chinese citizen to his or her birthplace. For the first time in Chinese history, the state restricted freedom of movement. "a migration certificate was required for anyone thinking of changing residence. […] Those who moved in search of a better life were now called mangliu, or ‘blind migrants’. It was a reverse homophone of liumang, meaning hooligan." This may sound like ancient history but the household registration is still alive and kicking today. While the state has grudgingly implemented some reform, the freedom of movement within China remains restricted. new shanghai Until now, I’ve focused on Old Shanghai, the backdrop for my debut novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. I’ve written about the glittering lights of Bubbling Well Road and the jazz music streaming out the doors. How then did my beloved Paris of the East fare during the days of liberation? Dikötter makes short shrift of all my illusions. "within weeks after the fall of Shanghai [25 May 1949] nightclubs were boarded up or converted into factories." Soon after, casinos, opium dens and banquet halls all followed suit. Prostitution, however, was harder to eradicate. The state took draconian measures. It executed brothel keepers and sent prostitutes to re-education camps. Yet the women kept coming back to their old trade. "A few even wore party uniforms and carried badges. They stood in the doorways openly soliciting customers: ‘Come in for a cup of tea!’" Schoolchildren sang revolutionary songs. Loudspeakers blared propaganda day and night. Cadres paraded enemies of the state through the streets of China. All this took place long before the Cultural Revolution. Mao had promised the people a respite from the long years of war. Now the masses could throw off their yoke of economic exploitation and political oppression. "in China the story of liberation and the revolution that followed is not one of peace. It is first and foremost a history of calculated terror and systematic violence." For me, The Tragedy of Liberation was the gateway into an era and a way of life. If you want to understand today’s China, then read this book. Watch Mao plant the seeds of his totalitarian society into the blood-soaked soil of China. All in the name of reform.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joe Sampson

    Very detailed account of the early days of the Chinese Communist regime. Millions suffered needlessly for Mao Tse Tung's harebrained ideology.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Traces the series of campaigns and programs executed by the Chinese Communist Party over the course of the period in question. It runs up until 1958, when Dikötter's book on the Great Leap Forward and the Great Famine (published prior to this book) picks up the chronology. The book has a lot of information in it, but it often feels piecemeal and I was overwhelmed by it. There are few characters to follow, but when some of them show up later, it is often hard to remember what they had done earlier Traces the series of campaigns and programs executed by the Chinese Communist Party over the course of the period in question. It runs up until 1958, when Dikötter's book on the Great Leap Forward and the Great Famine (published prior to this book) picks up the chronology. The book has a lot of information in it, but it often feels piecemeal and I was overwhelmed by it. There are few characters to follow, but when some of them show up later, it is often hard to remember what they had done earlier. I am speaking here less of Mao or Liu Shaoqi than the minor offenders and intellectuals who brought up as examples over and over. The text goes back and forth between policy promulgation in the upper echelons of the party and the experiences of people on the ground (this is stated focus of this "People's History"), but there is a clear dissonance between the two. The former reads more narratively, as an assessment of Mao's character as a political chameleon attempting to consolidate his rule, while the latter sprawls chronologically as the pain of foolish policy implementation. So the structure of each chapter is: Mao find himself in a new situation - policy is changed, people suffer. I found myself wishing there was more of a narrative or even an argument to hold the book together. There isn't a conclusion or epilogue, the book simply has a closing paragraph that teases the next volume in the series. I did enjoy reading about the General Line, the Socialist High Tide, the Rectification Campaign, and other often over-looked political winds. The discussions of Manchuria were also fascinating, as it the region turns from a Japanese colony to Soviet sphere of influence to the "Great Northern Wilderness." Also the book was highly readable.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    A brutal book, sometimes to the point of being repetitive, about the Chinese liberation--the triumph of Mao over the Chiang Kai-shek and the first year's of the People's Republic of China including the consolidation of the Communist party's control, land reform, thought reform, and briefly at the end the "hundred flowers bloom" period setting up the Great Leap Forward that is covered in the next volume of the trilogy. The book focuses on the consequences of all of this for the people of China--t A brutal book, sometimes to the point of being repetitive, about the Chinese liberation--the triumph of Mao over the Chiang Kai-shek and the first year's of the People's Republic of China including the consolidation of the Communist party's control, land reform, thought reform, and briefly at the end the "hundred flowers bloom" period setting up the Great Leap Forward that is covered in the next volume of the trilogy. The book focuses on the consequences of all of this for the people of China--the ways in which the communists set quotas for killing (which were more often floors than ceilings), their network of concentration camps, how collectivization became serfdom, etc. He argues that while China appeared to progress enormously through 1956 the people themselves were materially much worse off in terms of food, healthcare, living accommodations, etc. Frank Dikötter traces all of this directly to Mao's desire to be more Stalinist than Stalin, documenting the ways in which Mao became worse after Stalin's restraint was gone after 1953. The Tragedy of Liberation depicts nothing at all redeeming about the communist control of China, all of the violence is directly attributed to the ignorance and vainglory of Mao, with little role for broader political or social developments--beyond a describioption of Mao's love/hate relationship with Stalin and the impact that events in the Eastern Bloc had on China--including Kruschev's secret speech and Hungary's revolt. This is the first in a trilogy--the next volume covers the Great Leap Forward and associated famine. The last volume covers The Cultural Revolution. I will certainly be reading them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kelley

    A very readable history of revolutionary China, The Tragedy of Liberation is a comprehensive look at the events and profound effects of that era in Chinese history, referred to as the Liberation. The author has done solid research using a variety of sources, accounts and statistics to support his assertions. I liked that he used Chinese sources to document this history, not just foreign accounts of it. His writing style was very accessible, for even though this was potentially a very challenging A very readable history of revolutionary China, The Tragedy of Liberation is a comprehensive look at the events and profound effects of that era in Chinese history, referred to as the Liberation. The author has done solid research using a variety of sources, accounts and statistics to support his assertions. I liked that he used Chinese sources to document this history, not just foreign accounts of it. His writing style was very accessible, for even though this was potentially a very challenging topic, I still found it very easy to read and his presentation style was very approachable. Additionally as a Kindle edition, I really enjoyed this ebook's format. The X-ray feature of the book was fantastic, because as a person was mentioned in the book, the reader can immediately look that person up through X-ray to learn more about them. Overall, I was very excited to purchase and read this book as I feel it will definitely help anyone who is serious about wanting to understand the evolution of contemporary day China.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Justus

    I think a lot of my disappointment with this book is that it doesn't feel like it can stand alone. By that I mean, if you don't already know a fair amount about the Chinese Revolution, I think you are going to be poorly served by this book. It feels like this book is a reply to some other book about the Chinese Revolution. A lot of history books are myopically focused on The Great Man of History and the huge sweeping arcs of history. That helps us, an audience far removed from that point in time I think a lot of my disappointment with this book is that it doesn't feel like it can stand alone. By that I mean, if you don't already know a fair amount about the Chinese Revolution, I think you are going to be poorly served by this book. It feels like this book is a reply to some other book about the Chinese Revolution. A lot of history books are myopically focused on The Great Man of History and the huge sweeping arcs of history. That helps us, an audience far removed from that point in time, understand the general movements of history, but it also means we lose sight of the the struggles, miseries, and triumphs of the common man. Dikotter's great strength is he brings all of that into focus (and he makes clear there were precious few triumphs for the common man during this period). But along the way he provides essentially none of the broader sweep. The result is that much of the book feels like there is no context. The first way you notice this is that, until the last 2 chapters, what Mao is doing, thinking, or planning is virtually non-existent. Yet here's a 12-year sweep of history where surely we should get more than the few glances Dikotter offers? In the early parts of the book it feels like Deng Xiaopeng is mentioned more than Mao Zedong, which just feels weird. But I think that goes back to how this book is a "reply" rather than a standalone. I'll come back to this "lack of context" once again at the end of my review.... From reading other reviews, I get the impression that this book was written, in large part, to rebut the notion that the period 1945-1957 was "good" and, by extension, that Deng Xiaopeng, is blameless. I know virtually nothing about China, so I never had that impression. The result is that it feels like Dikotter is beating me over the head to give up an opinion I never held. Dikotter is at such pains to present the evils & horrors of this period that it sometimes feels that nothing the regime did could ever be positive. I actually made a note about 80% in when he wrote "But there were real gains" because it was, I think, the first hint in the entire book that the communists did a single thing that was even slightly beneficial. Sometimes his "anything the Communists did was wrong" stance leads him to write sentences that are, at best, worthy of an eye-roll. Soon even the continued use of English on electricity bills in Shanghai was stridently denounced as betraying ‘a strong sense of colonial influence’. But, I mean...weren't they right? Can you imagine if your utility bill came in, say, Spanish? And Dikotter clearly believes that language can be used for colonial & imperialist purposes because later on when the Communists do it against ethnic minorities in far-flung provinces, it is wrong. He seems to want to have it both ways. It isn't colonial influence when the British do it. But it is colonial influence when the Communists do it. But small missteps like that can be forgiven, especially if -- as I suspect -- Dikotter's main aim is a reply to more glowing portrayals of the time period. Because Dikotter makes abundantly clear that the Communists were a terrible combination of inept, corrupt, and brutal. Dikotter gives us a tremendous view of the terror of "the common man" with his crushing number of vignettes and small statistics. But it is all undermined by, again, his lack of context. Nearly every page is strewn with academic weasel words like "many", "most", and "some". What do any of those mean? They leave so much room for interpretation -- and given the general tone of Dikotter's book, it seems clear he wants us to always assume the worst. When talking about the oppression of Christian missionaries in China he tries to convince us that they were "good" missionaries by integrating in the communities and learning the local language, not merely imperialists. Missionaries were also present, as early as 1919, in all but a hundred of the 1,704 counties in China and Manchuria, many speaking the local dialect and living in close contact with the local population What does "many speaking the local dialect" mean? Does it mean 100 missionaries in all of China? Does it 50% of them? Does it mean 10 or 20? When talking about immigrants into China -- primarily White Russians and eastern-European Jews -- he writes, "Some acquired Chinese citizenship", trying to paint a picture of how well assimilated they are (and thus how unfair later persecution was). But was does "some" mean? That there were, like, 5 in all of China? This happens a dozen times on every page and eventually it feels...unpleasant. Instead of interpreting the statistics for that, tell us what the statistics are. This same lack of context shows up whenever Dikotter talks about numbers. He tells us that Christians in China were the 3rd largest religion and numbered 4 million. But, wait a second, didn't China have a population of 500 million during this time period? So they made up 0.8%? So there are more followers of Islam in American than Christians in China. Similarly, Dikotter writes that China had imprisoned one million people, a number clearly meant to terrify us. But wait, the US currently has 2.2 million people in prison. And, again, China had a population of over 500 million at that time. So the US puts people in prison at 4x the rate of Communist China during all these purges? In other cases he mentions something like "In May 1952 alone, over 6,000 cadres in Guangdong were demoted or persecuted". But...how big is Guangdong? How many people does it have? How many cadres did they have before this? (Today Guangdong has a population of 113 million.) Is 6,000 a lot or not? China is so big -- and our knowledge about the sizes of its various towns & provinces so small -- that our intuitive notions of scale leave us poorly equipped to put all of his numbers in context. Dikotter demonstrates a tremendous depth of archival material. But this constant lack of context at so many levels, left me hoping that some day a better writer is able to put it all together for us.

  21. 4 out of 5

    David

    If you've ever thought about what the worst time and place to be alive would be, China under Mao would have to be in the top 5. This is the second book in an eminently readable trilogy about China during the 50 years before the modern reforms we now observe. Famine, state-sanctioned silencing of the opposition, forced thought conversion, destruction of science and thought, re-writing of history and culture, and millions dead. Terror is the word that comes to mind.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Devin Gilbert

    Not an uplifting book, but well written and full of interesting anecdotes. Author also writes very well and it's not too long or overly detailed. His book on the Great Leap Forward was excellent as well, and I look forward to the final book of the trilogy on the Cultural Revolution.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gareth Evans

    Precursor to the same author's work on Mao's Great Famine. Given the subject matter, the book is amazingly clear - a very easy read. Top class popular history that provides a number of interesting insights.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Zu

    Everybody needs to read this, the banality of evil.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Douglas Rowland

    Solid account of the 8 years following China's "liberation." Dikötter is not the world's most engaging writer but his research is commendable and this book is necessary.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Wilhelm Weber

    This is not for the feint hearted, but should definitely be on the "must read" list for students in the 3rd world and everybody else tempted by the hollow promises of socialism and other utopian fantasies. "Communism ... was all things to all men." (257). That's the deceptive alure. It's only through time and experience, that the absolute depravity of this ideology becomes blantantly clear - after ruining personal, community and national lives and societies. "There was no end to statements of go This is not for the feint hearted, but should definitely be on the "must read" list for students in the 3rd world and everybody else tempted by the hollow promises of socialism and other utopian fantasies. "Communism ... was all things to all men." (257). That's the deceptive alure. It's only through time and experience, that the absolute depravity of this ideology becomes blantantly clear - after ruining personal, community and national lives and societies. "There was no end to statements of good intent, accompanied by ever more decrees, rules and regulations that would nudge China forward on the road to communism." (259) In reality it went over the edge and into destruction. A terrible catastrophe of unimmaginable horror and terror to countless people. Especially in times and places where there is talk about "radical transformation" like in SA today, it's time to reconsider the Chinese lesson in failed human experiments in building their own "tower of Babel". Just think of these slogans of yesteryear and consider how they are being used even today to blacklist entire communities, tribes and classes: "Anyone who has land is a tyrant, and all gentry are bad." (63) The revolutionary zealots, were too ready to break the bonds of family and friendship for the cause. They would willingly turn experience of hardship into hatred. In so-called "speak bitterness" meetings, participants were encouraged to tap into a resevoir of grievances. Some vented genuine frustrations that had long been bottled up; others were coerced into inventing accusations against their richer neighbours. Greed became a powerful tool in whipping up class hatred ... seeking compensation for past misdeeds.... The pact between the party and the poor was sealed in blood as all the land and assets of the victims were distributed to the crowd." (67). Remember "necklacing" here? Or Remember Dostojevsky's murder scene in the park in the "Idiots"? Dikötter writes soberly on a very emotional topic. Liberation is a precious price and I really do pity those, who're deprived of it. The Chinese tragedy however is, that they, who were a relatively free and independent people lost all and everything - even their soul, civility, cultural diversity and profound tradition - for a hollow idea - the dominance and tyranny of a godless, grey and vain fancy, passing storm and destructive typhoon: "Resolutely, thoroughly, completely and exhausitevely uproot all hidden counter-revolutionaries." (187) They who were free owners of their land, homes and villages became destitute serfs and hopeless vassals of the state and party. The horrendous numbers are to big to fathom, the individual tragedies to many to relate: "Tens of thousands of victims ended up in the gulag for no reason, even by the standards of the regime itself, as 'innocent people are arrested, imprisoned or shot, families are broken up and lives are destroyed.' In some counties ... as many as 28 % of inmates had been wrongly accussed of a crime." (247) The innumberalbe suicides are a devastating witness to the inhuman system, that pulled China into the abyss. "Thousands committed suicide." (189) "Silence and distress were the outcome. Every bit of human dignity was stripped away as victims tried to survice by killing their former selves. Wang Tsunming ... came to the conclussion that thought reform was nothing less than the 'physical and mental liquidation of oneself by oneself.' Those who resisted the process committed suicide. Those who survived it renounced being themselves." (248) ... "The country became one enourmous labour camp." (252) And remember later on people said: "Life in a co-operative is worse than in a labour camp." (280) A reminder to my American friends: "A smile in China as in other parts of Asia (and also in Africa! WW) did not always mean joy; it could convey embarrassment or hide pain and anger... Ordinary people may not all have been great heroes, but many were great actors." (261). The story of religion - especially the protestant and catholic missions, but also of the Buddhist and Taoist faiths - is heartbreaking. Especially because it was replaced with such a "Menschen verachtendes System", which didn't hesitate to walk over multitudes of corpses to proceed towards its utopia, which was by definition unattainable. Everybody, who did not fit was "eradicated" - like those hundreds of lepers set alight, because that was the cheapest "solution." And that was only the start. "Over the next 4 years, tens of millions of people would be worked, starved or beaten to death in the greatest man-made catastophe the country (world? WW) had ever seen." (295). Well, this book is a treasure trove and should be very much made compulsary reading in schools and even at university level. A important lesson, how one of the biggest nations of the world was killed off systematically - and not just physically, but especially spiritually and ideologically. If it can happen in China, there is no nation in Africa that is immune to this danger. That's why I read this book with some trepidation and scarcely dare to wonder, what is still in store for us on this continent and in the world. We know, that in the end, things will be terrible. N.Korea should be a constant warning - and so should Zimbabwe, although they are but small and seemingly insignificant, but China with its global outreach program, which is so enticing to Africa is so much more threatening, because of its enormity and dangerous eruptive power too. They've just go so many zealots and nuclear bombs too! Only in Shanghai 237 tonnes of books were destroyed - in just 2 months 1951. That's a lot of book burning! Even Russian classics like Rugenev, Dostoevsky and Gorki were dismissed as obsolete (192) The same abstinential iconoclasm and "Bilderstürmerein" holds true for music - jazz and classics. This real socialistitc ideology is dangerous truly, mind killing and suffocating liberty and human rights. All the more reason to not let it control universities and schools. I fear, we're passed that point already now. Hopefully the incompetence and inaptitude will prevent this ideology from being implemented quickly and efficiently. In "cinema, as in other art forms, the tremendous bursts of creativity that was supposed inevitably to follow revolution, as artists were freed from the fetters of feudalism and imperalism, never materialised." (198)

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julian Douglass

    People read and hear about the horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and see what a freak show Mao truly was. Mr. Dikotter shows that China in the early stages of becoming the People's Republic was just as gruesome. Vivid details about how people died and the horrors of communist rule really shed light on how difficult life in China was from 1945-1957. The book gives the details of what happened, however it does not give a good why, as he glosses over the civil war and ne People read and hear about the horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and see what a freak show Mao truly was. Mr. Dikotter shows that China in the early stages of becoming the People's Republic was just as gruesome. Vivid details about how people died and the horrors of communist rule really shed light on how difficult life in China was from 1945-1957. The book gives the details of what happened, however it does not give a good why, as he glosses over the civil war and never explains how corrupt or incompetent the nationalist government was. A more detailed account of the can be seen in Rana Mitter's book Forgotten Ally. Other than that, very good read that sheds light on the horrors of Mao Zedong's China.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brian Norlander

    Great overview of China's civil war and the subsequent years of chaos and madness under Mao. A criminally underappreceiated part of world history.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Owen

    This is the second of Mr Dikötter’s ‘People’s Trilogy’, in which he traces the early development of the People’s Republic of China. The first volume, ‘Mao’s Great Famine’, is about the ‘Great Leap Forward’, which was a disastrous ego-driven policy of Mao’s in the early 1950s that led to starvation for millions. I have read that it was the largest anthropogenic famine in history. Which is some accolade. 'The Tragedy of Liberation' recounts the establishment of the PRC in the immediate aftermath of This is the second of Mr Dikötter’s ‘People’s Trilogy’, in which he traces the early development of the People’s Republic of China. The first volume, ‘Mao’s Great Famine’, is about the ‘Great Leap Forward’, which was a disastrous ego-driven policy of Mao’s in the early 1950s that led to starvation for millions. I have read that it was the largest anthropogenic famine in history. Which is some accolade. 'The Tragedy of Liberation' recounts the establishment of the PRC in the immediate aftermath of World War II. It is very well researched, drawing on archives and evidence only released relatively recently. It is detailed, and this sometimes overwhelms the narrative, as the same point is illustrated with successive examples. But it is nonetheless a very strong piece of work that really does remind us that the China we see today has some extremely unappealing origins. Countless thousands of people were killed, exiled or tortured, as the Chinese Communist Party took control and imposed its ideology on peasants, workers and everybody else. The social structures of centuries were ripped apart in the name of Marxist-Leninist - Mao Zedong thought. Injustice was entirely commonplace and suffering was immense. It is not unreasonable, having read this book, to make comparisons with Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, in terms of numbers killed and the inhuman application of ideology. I suppose the obvious difference is that those two regimes are entirely consigned to history, while the Communist Party remains in power in China. Is there any real connection between the regime of the late 1940s and early 1950s and the China of today? I’m not sure. Perhaps there is and we should persuade Mr Dikötter to examine it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    James

    The second volume in Frank Dikötter's history of the Chinese revolution, The Tragedy of Revolution focuses on the formative years of the People's Republic from 1945 to 1957 and how the Communists consolidated their hold over the most populous country on earth. Considering its subject matter, Dikötter's account does not make for light or cheerful reading: he chronicles the grim process by which China was socialised and collectivised, in which countless thousands were executed, imprisoned, or comm The second volume in Frank Dikötter's history of the Chinese revolution, The Tragedy of Revolution focuses on the formative years of the People's Republic from 1945 to 1957 and how the Communists consolidated their hold over the most populous country on earth. Considering its subject matter, Dikötter's account does not make for light or cheerful reading: he chronicles the grim process by which China was socialised and collectivised, in which countless thousands were executed, imprisoned, or committed suicide. Farmers routinely slaughtered their livestock and destroyed tools to avoid collectivisation; intellectuals had to perform all manner of mental gymnastics to avoid censure and punishment for perceived thought crimes; Foreigners were persecuted and forcibly expelled. Considering the grand scale of events, Dikötter is able to humanise the terror, telling individual stories of farmers, students, workers, capitalists, priests, and party cadres and their responses to this great upheaval. As in Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 , Dikötter uses his unprecedented access to State and provincial archives in Mainland China to fully tell the story of the Revolution. This is an excellent, scholarly and accessible book concerning the early days of Communist China and alongside his previous book (and his forthcoming one concerning the Cultural Revolution) tell an important part of China's and Asia's history.

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