China is so distant, big, and complex that each Marco Polo nowadays tells a different tale. The authors of the three books under review—a cool Swedish journalist, a passionate Chinese true-believer, and a philosophical Frenchman—give very different impressions of Chairman Mao’s revolution. Unencumbered by first-hand contact ourselves, we Americans can judge only at second-hand whether Mao’s China is working or in deep trouble, expansionist or merely defensive. These questions will become even more interesting if China tries to keep us over the barrel in Vietnam by coming into the war herself.
Hans Granquist has been for many years a correspondent for Swedish newspapers, radio, and television in Hong Kong, and was in China in November and December, 1964, and in April and May, 1966. He finished this book at the beginning of January but has added new material to the English translation from the Swedish, bringing his account up to May of last year. He sees the issues of Mao’s Cultural Revolution as a personal competition for power among interest groups. Following Stuart Schram and others, he sees Mao as “a revolutionary romantic, a utopian,” “an old man in a hurry.” Mao has the idea (which is probably his chief contribution to Marxist-Leninist theory) that “contradictions among the people”—the “non-antagonistic” kind that must be settled by teaching and persuasion—are perpetual and in the nature of things. Therefore they can be resolved only by “permanent revolution,” in effect a continual series of campaigns mobilized to reform one or another aspect of social conduct in one or another part of society.
Granquist proceeds to analyze the various kinds of opposition to Mao’s nostalgic ideal of a decentralized, self-sufficient “guerrilla communism.” Against this opposition, Mao, through Lin Piao, first turned the Army into a political base from which to battle the post-1949 “administrative generation” in the Chinese Communist Party. There then ensued the successive phases of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: the effort, in 1964, to train an elite of “revolutionary inheritors,” youths who could carry on the cause; the creation, in August 1966, of the Red Guards as extra-party shock-troops, millions of them, emerging from the youthful masses (more than half of China’s 750 million people are in their twenties or younger). These, in turn, met the passive resistance of the local Party bureaucrats, who sabotaged efforts to purge them by putting into the field their own rival Red Guards, raising workers’ wages, and generally compounding the confusion. “Mao was stuck in the mire of his own Cultural Revolution…. No one could differentiate reliable Maoists from those who were not.” The result of this confusion has been the emergence of the Army as the only available group with sufficient power to restore order.
But Granquist concludes that “Mao’s final goal is still the creation of a society in which it is impossible for a certain group of people—be they experts, intellectuals, or Party members—to regard themselves as superior to the masses. We see here the principle of equality pushed to its utmost limits…the most extreme experiment in utopianism ever attempted…based on the assumption that man can be re-educated to learn both self-discipline and unselfishness.”
Mr. Granquist’s book is as concrete and perceptive a study as we have in brief compass, but like any observer he brings his own feelings and his own responses to the scene. In appraising his stress on egalitarianism in China today, his readers should keep in mind the cultural and political setting within which Maoism has had to operate: the supreme authority is still the personal teaching of a great individual, a hero-sage who leads by concrete example. There is no transcendent yet personal deity to invoke in the background, and the doctrines of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism seem less abstract principles or laws than immanent natural tendencies or operational norms. Mao’s anti-Confucian egalitarianism may be a modern infusion of Western origin. But whereas the American myth now expanding over the world is one of individualism and affluence, Chinese egalitarianism entails conformity and poverty as far ahead as one can see. The struggle to remake the old China from the inside may be appreciated by Europeans historically accustomed to violent social revolutions, but it is like nothing Americans have ever experienced. It begins with a new orthodoxy even more all-embracing than the old Confucian one.
Mao’s black-and-white orthodoxy is sharply described by the true-believer, Han Suyin. Her book is so full of hopeful exaggerations and bitter distortions that a reader acquainted with the facts of Chinese history would find it shocking However, although many Americans lack even a rudimentary knowledge of China’s history, Dr. Han’s message is so shrill that it will prove salutary even to them. Dr. Han’s book seems to reflect the elemental emotions of pain, hunger, fear, and rage which Peking itself expresses: pain over China’s cruel victimization by imperialism and colonialism, hunger for requital and recognition as the greatest nation on earth, fear of the inevitable American imperialist attack, and rage at enemies in many forms.
Han Suyin is of course a gifted writer. As her autobiographical books—The Crippled Tree, A Mortal Flower, and even her first success, A Many Splendoured Thing—all attest, she was caught between two cultures. Daughter of a Chinese father and a Belgian mother, she grew up in the 1920s and 1930s at a time when privileged foreigners, as part of China’s ruling class, could still enjoy the best of both worlds, but being neither the one nor the other, she got the worst. She found her salvation by determining from an early age to study medical science and get the secure status of a doctor. She seems to have few happy memories of the warlord and Kuomintang China of her childhood, but after eleven visits to the mainland in recent years has given up medical practice and become an eloquent interpreter of China’s revolution to English readers—in Peking’s corner, but not under Peking’s control and thus free to express herself. I attempt this crude analysis because Dr. Han’s sense of grievance over China’s raw deal at the hands of America, like her Marxist-Leninist dramatization of modern history, seems to echo that of the Maoists in general.
Her simplistic view of the 2500 years of “feudal bureaucratism” and “antiquated exploitation” before 1949 denigrates China’s past and sells the old culture short. The old “literocracy” had its roots “in the very language, the ideograms (many of which are based on feudal concepts), the system of education, the (still very active) notions of ‘face’ and many other attitudes. Two millennia of government by the Divine Right of Reading are not easily abolished in less than two decades; the Cultural Revolution of 1966 is attempting once more to uproot the deep stalks of this oligarchic mentality.” Han Suyin gives the back of her hand to Western Sinology and shows little interest in the facts, including even the dates, of history. Yet her main complaint is quite intelligible: with the nineteenth century, China’s traditional civilization let her down. The old ways were indeed inadequate to modern times.
We face here a pattern that leads toward wishful thinking and unreality: China was a civilization, and proud accordingly. The civilization collapsed, the pride has not only remained but intensified: demanding at least equivalence with the West, superiority if possible. This requires militant struggle to destroy the old China and build it anew. Mao’s success in this makes him the leader of the world revolution, and thus responsible for China’s renewed importance in the world.
HAN SUYIN’S ACCOUNT of this is full of pathos and self-pity. The century 1840-1949 was an “accumulation of anguish…bitter struggle against occidental exploitation…bitter servitude, misery and exploitation…repetitive violence…occupation by foreign troops, massacres, and the sacking of Chinese cities,” and so on. Japan’s success in modernizing under rather similar handicaps in the same period is simply brushed aside. Self-pity also fosters the fatalistic conviction that America will destroy Mao’s creation. This theme crops up repeatedly: Vietnam is “the prelude” to an attack on China; the decentralized communes will be, “in the event of massive bombing, unconquerable”; “the grand design to ‘bomb China back to the Stone Age’ ” will be thwarted by locating industry so as “to mitigate the bombing that is to come”; industrial planning “takes the coming attack by the USA into account”; scientific research has been “overshadowed by the…almost certain attack, within the foreseeable future, by the USA.” She says that “ideological education is essential” against “the threat of nuclear annihilation”; and “nuclear and bacteriological attacks to put down the population”; and also “to prepare the masses for the coming onslaught.” “In the ever-deepening shadow of a largescale attack on China…that…would contain and keep down the growth of China”; “China has become the…beacon of revolution for the whole world. China is ready, therefore, for ‘any national sacrifice’ to fulfill this great duty to humanity”; “to shoulder ‘the heaviest burden’…that is, the burden of being attacked and fighting a long war of attrition alone…direct collision between China and the USA is now almost inevitable…the Cultural Revolution today is an expression of…total preparation”; “for a long protracted war upon Chinese soil“; “with nuclear strikes on densely populated areas to ‘kill off’ as many millions as possible”; an “almost inevitable war that is being imposed upon China through escalation in Vietnam.” These references are scattered through chapters on agriculture, industry, science, education, ideology, and Mao’s program generally, leading to a chapter on “War and Peace.”
Thus Han Suyin finds Mao’s leadership valiant and his success almost superhuman in view of China’s victimization in the past and her victimization in the future. Dr. Han pictures a resurgent self-reliant China that is nevertheless victimization-prone, resigned to the worst, expecting it.
We Americans say of course that we have no intention of bombing China. But before 1965 we had no intention of bombing North Vietnam either. One can only conclude from Dr. Han’s book that our bombing south of China’s border—believe it or not—has had psychological repercussions to the north. Outwardly prudent and non-provocative, the Chinese response has been inwardly one of fear, humiliation, rage, and, finally, undying hatred. It is difficult to think of 750 million people storing up a slow-burning resentment of us day by day, because the resentment is so intangible. Even so perhaps such intangibles should begin to enter our calculations. In the end this enmity may indeed give the Chinese world leadership, against a people who find themselves called upon to live by the sword.
François Geoffroy-Dechaume spent the years between 1937 and 1943 as an officer in Indo-China training Vietnamese infantry. He visited China in 1937, and “in 1943 he did consular work in Peking for the French Foreign Service.” He subsequently worked for the United Nations and has recently revisited China. He views China’s revolution as a “revulsive crisis,” a rejection of the West. He urges us to head off a world conflict by trying to understand China’s culture in the broadest and deepest sense, seeing ourselves and China in perspective; this would make Sino-Western relations more manageable. This excellent aim he pursues in a number of essays on aspects of Chinese life and civilization, written during the years between 1963 and 1966. Unfortunately they are too discursive and over-reflective to have much interest for those American readers who do not keep Descartes, Pascal, Buffon, Lévi-Strauss, Fénelon, Renan, Teilhard, Brunetière, and the Taoist classics at hand for bedside reading.
The book concludes with the following sentence, which summarizes its eight chapters:
China is undergoing a revulsive crisis (I) because this Civilization-State (II) in order to overcome its internal crisis and its humiliation (III) wants to invent (IV) and thus recover its cohesion (V) and its inspiration (VI) thorugh its educators (VII) who mobilize it against cultural oppresion (VIII).
To call Mao a mere “educator” suggests the degree of the author’s general imprecision; but to see our problem as culture-wide is surely the beginning of wisdom. There is no other way to comprehend what we and the Chinese are up against.
ALL THREE STUDIES leave one wondering. How can two peoples of such self-assurance and righteousness—America’s all-conquering image, China’s image of invincibility—ever manage to avoid eventual conflict? A Gallup Poll published last February 6 asked a national sample of American adults how much they liked twenty-eight countries. On a scale of 100, Canada was rated the highest at 94, Japan 72, Russia 19, North Vietnam 7, and, at the very bottom, Communist China 5. Before we express this disenchantment in any further action, prudence and our Vietnam experience suggest that we seek some perspective on China and ourselves. We must ask why there is so much mutual animosity?
We may ruefully conclude that we were in some degree sucked into Vietnam because the enemy’s cultural differences provoked our virtue: we saw him as the heathen who might be converted. But hostilities come from interaction: both sides contribute. We might well consider now how we may by-pass the role in China which Mao assigns us, and which observers like Han Suyin foresee. I suggest, in short, that the Sino-American confrontation—“anti-imperialism” and “containment” each begetting the other—is likely to be stopped only if we Americans stop it. This we can do only if we understand the roots of this confrontation.
The story of Sino-American love and hate, or toleration and rejection, has been little studied and less understood. Quite aside from the as yet minimal use history has made of social psychology, we know too much about ourselves and too little about the Chinese. Richard Solomon has noted how China’s hostility is powered by Mao’s need for a foreign oppressor. America, he suggests, is actually in a “revolutionary alliance” with Communist China “in the sense of being one of a series of hated oppressive authorities used by Mao Tse-tung as a foil in his efforts to mobilize support” (Asian Survey, December 1967). We have all seen how necessary we have become as a target of China’s own peculiar revolutionary process. It is almost like being victims of a madman’s fixation, except that we have responded by playing our assigned role all too realistically.
Each of the three observers—none of them American—touches on this psychological pattern: the oppressiveness of the old regime in China, and the Westerners’ support of it to the point of becoming foreign oppressors. Sober historical fact and analysis might suggest the opposite: that the old regime collapsed less from its oppressiveness than from mere inanition, and the Westerners did far more to tear it all down than they ever did to prop it up. Never mind: revolutionary fanaticism and foreign guilt feelings propagate the myth, thereby meeting a need in Maoist cosmology.
The starting point of this fixation is the old, authoritarian Chinese social structure. This was the structure that survived into the twentieth century after 4,000 years of evolution. It put each Chinese in his proper hierarchic place (pen-fen), using all possible means to differentiate between superior and inferior, literate and illiterate, mental labor and manual labor, landlord-scholar-official and artisan-peasant, the privileged governors and the unprivileged governed. At the top of this structure of privilege, the old ruling class carried on the great tradition of Chinese culture, its role sanctified by the Confucian ethical teachings.
This ruling class was a joy to be part of for those who made it. The Mongols and Manchus who conquered China in the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries found upper-class life irresistible. So did the Westerners of modern times, whether missionaries or merchants, diplomats or educators. Privileged status was thrust upon them by extraterritoriality. The American love of old Peking and the treaty ports can hardly be divorced from the personal service, polite deference, freedom from police, and psychological satisfaction that went with honorary membership in the Chinese upper class. For the privileged few in old China consciously floated on the huge sea of peasants, who might be hard-working and intelligent, but nevertheless went through life illiterate and immobile in the village, absorbed in family relationships, with a rich lore of superstition in their heads and, all too often, worms in their bowels.
TO REMAKE a two-level social structure, imbedded for centuries, in a country so enormous and self-contained, so walled off by its peculiar writing system, so proud of its long history, has naturally required a great destructive effort. So far as social revolution is concerned, the distance between Confucius’s hierarchy of unequal relationships and Mao Tsetung’s politics of mass participation is far greater than the distance between European feudalism and modern multiclass democracy. China since 1895 has had to attempt political changes even more drastic than those achieved in Europe since 1789. On our side, Americans have had no real experience of the frustrations and hatreds, the destructiveness and the utopianism, involved in social revolution. Never having been peasants, we have trouble understanding Mao. From the beginning his movement has been fueled by resentment of the restraints imposed and the symbols used by the old order. Strict filial obedience had always entailed some conscious fear and some suppressed hatred of the parent, and the old virtues of loyalty, chastity, and duty-before-self had been preserved only at the price of harsh self-discipline. Amid the altered circumstances and new options of modern times, these old restraints and their symbols could be destroyed and thrown away.
The first target was the monarchy, keystone of the ruling class, and then the study of the Confucian classics, which had for so long produced the scholar-official rulers. Yet in every village, the same system of social harmony enforced through inequality was inherent in the family and clan, with their subjection of youth and women. Once started, the revolution found no stopping place. Three generations have attacked the images of emperor, father, and foreigner as their oppressors. K’ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch’i-ch’ao undermined the classics at the turn of the century. Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shih-k’ai between them brought down the Manchu monarchy. The May Fourth Movement of 1919 attacked the family. Mao Tse-tung has tried to finish the job, including his attack on the last segment of the old ruling class: foreign participation in Chinese life. Yet, having destroyed the oppression of “colonialism and imperialism” within China, he still encounters a policy of “containment” outside.
It is not easy to remake a people’s traditional ideals and habits. The desire to wear a long gown and escape manual labor, to read Chinese characters and give orders to others, to study for examinations and rise in the world, to “be an official and get rich” (tso-kuan fa-ts’ai), is seductive and natural, as natural as our tendency to accumulate personal property. (Making use of a foreign menace is also an old custom in Chinese politics.) These inherited antisocialist tendencies are still Mao’s real enemy, though to call them “capitalist tendencies” is unenlightening jargon to American readers. Revival of ruling-class privilege, personal favoritism, bureaucratic cliquism, and nepotistic corruption is a more intelligible way to put it. We can also see the revival of regionalism against too tight central controls and of pragmatism against policies too drastically utopian. (Reliance on Soviet aid has been one form of pragmatism.)
As a result of all this, we find ourselves “American imperialists,” caught in a role which has been partly thrust upon us and which we do not want: that of the outside oppressor, last target of Mao’s revolution, tied in with the evils of China’s past, cause of her inadequacies and obstacle to her rise.
Instead of responding to this Chinese sense of wrong with our usual countervailing emotions of outraged indignation or guilt-ridden sympathy, we must now take an interest in the facts and cut our fear of China down to realistic size. We saw in 1966 how crazy Mao was to close all Chinese schools for a year—how can a country possibly modernize without education? Now in 1968 we ourselves have abolished draft deferment for, among many others, the few hundred talented and carefully selected American graduate students specializing in Chinese studies. Who’s crazy now?
March 28, 1968