The Mark of Cain

The Origins of the Cultural Revolution 3: The Coming of the Cataclysm 1961-1966

by Roderick MacFarquhar
Columbia University Press, 733 pp., $47.50

Mao's Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949 Vol. IV: The Rise and Fall of the Chinese Soviet Republic 1931-1934

edited by Stuart R. Schram and Nancy J. Hodes Associate Editor and Stephen C. Averill Guest Associate Editor
M.E. Sharpe, 1006 pp., $150.00


In Hong Kong’s China Club, fashionable people have lunch beneath pictures of Mao Zedong after a drink in the Long March Bar. Most of the members are refugees from Mao or the children of refugees. In Russia, or Germany, or Cambodia, there is surely no equally fashionable place which displays likenesses of Stalin, Hitler, or Pol Pot.

Not far from the China Club other images of Mao, similar to those by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, hang in art galleries, where well-off local people can buy them. In one painting, Consumer Icons 25 by Qi Zhilong, a pretty young woman in a swimsuit poses surrounded by Mao faces. The dealer says, “It’s like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. It’s been used so many times we have become used to it. Mao evolved from a political leader to a godlike figure to a religious icon. His image has lost its meaning, but it’s fun to use him in different contexts over time and place.”

This could not happen across the border, where Mao is more vividly remembered. His gigantic portrait hangs above the gate into Peking’s Forbidden City, in front of which, on the night of June 3-4, 1989, I saw many citizens being shot down. It is true that in 1981 an official resolution on Communist Party history stated that Mao was responsible for the Cultural Revolution, the worst tragedy to befall the country, its people, and the Party. The tragedy did not begin in 1966, however, and the resolution does not mention what happened a few years before. With their silver chopsticks, the members of Hong Kong’s China Club have dinner beneath portraits of the man whose policies caused what Roderick MacFarquhar calls “the worst man-made famine in history…a human catastrophe…. There were 30 million excess deaths between 1958 and 1961.”

The Party, despite its damning reference to Mao as “chiefly responsible for the grave ‘Left’ error of the ‘cultural revolution”‘ in its 1981 “Resolution,” which was personally edited by Deng Xiaoping to keep the condemnation from being too strong, has never admitted explicitly and publicly Mao’s responsibility for the famine—although many Chinese alive today suffered during the “three terrible years.” Perhaps this is why in Hong Kong, where the proprietor of the China Club also sells wristwatches with a waving Mao on their faces, Mao can be a joke figure.

Mao is not a joke for Roderick MacFarquhar, Professor of Government and History at Harvard. Author of many books, a former Labour member of Parliament, and before that a journalist, he was for many years persona non grata in China. The editor (with the late John King Fairbank) of the final two volumes of The Cambridge History of China, his reputation as the leading Western scholar of modern Chinese politics rests on his trilogy The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, which the volume reviewed here concludes. A mighty and eloquent work, it demonstrates a grasp of the Chinese sources to which only someone working at Harvard could have…

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