Chinese Whispers

ChinaThe Communist Party led by Mao successfully repelled colonialism and despite being the underdog, scored decisive victories against Japan.

The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57

Author:Frank Dikötter

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 378

Price: Rs 699

The most interesting fact about Frank Dikötter's latest book is that it is available in bookstores in China, where it has been described as a "fabrication". Dikötter has acknowledged this as a "compliment". That gives us a sense of the politics that constitutes the backdrop against which the Maoist period is being assessed, globally and within China. But more on that later.

It is necessary to first understand the challenge one faces in reviewing this book — if one agrees with Dikötter, the review is superfluous, and if one disagrees, one is mischievous (or an "apologist"). This prequel to his Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe 1958-1962, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2011, aims to convincingly establish that the Chinese revolution/liberation was "first and foremost a history of calculated terror and systematic violence."

Using a combination of bottom-up and top-down approaches, and armed with freshly declassified archives from the Chinese provinces maintained by Communist Party officials, in addition to unexpurgated versions of important speeches by leaders, secret police reports, confessions, personal memoirs and eyewitness accounts, Dikötter takes the reader from the siege of Changchun by the People's Liberation Army strategist Lin Biao — the last and most decisive battle between the Communists and Nationalists in 1948 — through the land reforms, the thought reform campaigns and the collectivisation of agriculture to the Hundred Flowers Movement, culminating in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957. It is a veritable trail of blood. Without let-up or pause, the reader is subjected to one horror story after another — violence, torture, cruelty unleashed by the Party, and, worst of all, ordinary people being made complicit to the violence.

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