Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The gun and the pen

A very interesting article about one of those areas where China has definitely not liberalised: History. There are dissenting voices, but the determination of the Communist Party to hold on to, and impose, their version of history remains absolute. All of it is worth reading, but my eye was caught by the words of one historian.

Xia Chun-tao is vice-director of the Deng Xiaoping Thought Research Centre, one of the guardian institutions of the Party's History of china. He is speaking about Mao, who obviously causes the Party historians a few headaches.

In the early 1980s, the party developed an authoritative, scientific document on his achievements and flaws. No matter how many years pass, I don't think this definition will change.

A little later.

But Deng Xiaoping said we can't throw dirt on Mao's image because to do so would also dirty the party's image. We think history is our treasure and history stresses the need for domestic stability. Because of our stability, this has become the golden era for China in the past 150 years. The need for academics to have a strong sense of responsibility means a strong sense of the need for such stability, and not providing absurd opinions that disturb people's minds.

Our version of Mao is right because it's scientific.
Our version of Mao is right because we need it to be.

Which is the stronger imperative? The second, surely, based on experience and pragmaticism. The Marxist/Maoist (or whatever) "scientific" reading will last for as long as it can be maintained. When it falls into the dustbin of history, the central fact of power will remain.

The writer, Rowan Callick, also speaks to Yu Jie, a popular writer who nevertheless doesn't bother applying for any official position. He uses Mao to say the same thing, though a little more colourfully.

Mao, he says, described the party's rule as based "on the gun and the pen", thus on force and a lie.

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