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Many other popular books about China are based on volumes of evidence. For example, Tombstone: Documentation of the Chinese famine in 1960s by Yang Jisheng is based on interviews, surveys and documents that the author gathered for a decade. Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday are based on large volumes of declassified documents of the USSR and the authors' field survey. To the contrast, this book is largely derived from analytical thinking. The thesis is constructed in a way similar to how Einstein's relativity theory was formed.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to reach convincing conclusions in most social matters by analytical thinking. For example, the Iraq War still divides people 8 years after it started. Those, including me, who believe it is a counterproductive war wasting more than a trillion dollars of our taxpayers' money still cannot scientifically prove our belief, and vice versa. This book's effort to construct a thesis on a social event by analytical reasoning is bound to leave many holes. I think the thesis is intriguing, but disagree with it.
Career bureaucrats, most of whom were ex-military officers, were a problem in China, but the main problem was Mao who started one campaign after another leading to the deaths of tens of millions of people. Of course, Mao did not believe this, but he apparently knew many of those bureaucrats who had knowledge of the CCP's internal politics were realizing he was the problem, and Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai were gaining popularity among them at the cost of Mao's reputation. That is why the vast majority of people believe Mao started GCR to protect his dictating authority. The people who were hit the hardest by GCR were not corrupted or incompetent bureaucrats. They usually were talented, popular and independently thinking officials and intellectuals. This did not happen by accident. It is intentional because they posed the greatest threat to Mao's authority.
It is very hard to accept the author's view that Mao was trying to create the conditions for Deng and his lieutenants like Zhao Ziyang to start the remarkable reforms that happened after Mao's death. Firstly, Deng was purged by him during GCR. If Mao had lived a few years longer, the Gang of Four might have had the chance to exterminate him one way or another. Secondly, Deng immediately started a process of reversing everything of GCR upon regaining power after Mao's death - restoring the systems (e.g. the education system) destroyed by GCR, rehabilitating those (officials intellectuals) purged by GCR. It is hard to believe this is what Mao foresaw and wanted.
The book asserts GCR allows promoting reformers like Deng and Zhao fast. This contradicts facts. Deng became General Secretary of the Secretariat of the CCP back in 1957. That position allowed him to run daily affairs with more influence than anybody else. Eighteen years later during GCR, he was made the First-ranking Vice Premier. This was not a promotion. Zhao was the Secretary of the CPC Guangdong Committee before GCR, and was appointed the Secretary of the CPC Sichuan Committee after being purged for a period during GCR. It was not a promotion at all.
If Mao had not been the dictator after the CCP took over China, the CCP would have had enough conscientious and competent pragmatists to avoid all the political campaigns killing tens of millions of people and driving the economy to the brink of collapse. China would have a good shot to become a developed country with the largest economy in the world by now.
Like another book of the author, this one has strong characteristics of Mainland Chinese intellectuals. They may be so strong that it may defeat the purpose of the book in some sense. This book is written in English, not a translation from a Chinese version. One would assume it targets English speaking audience. I am afraid that its Chinese language or non-standard English flavor is so strong that readers without Chinese language background may have difficulty in understand many expressions. This is the case through out the entire book. For example, "cool and real fact" instead of "cold fact", "medias" as the plural form of medium instead of media.
After all, this book provides a unique view of one of the most important events in modern Chinese history. The author's attitude toward Mao represents that of a large number (though a small portion) of Mainland Chinese. This book provides a window to their thinking.
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