I Wonder If Prof. Han Really Wants to Return to those Days

by Don Boudreaux on May 28, 2008

in History, Myths and Fallacies

I’ll add a bit to what Russ says here about the detestable letter-to-the-editor by a history professor (living in North Carolina) on the alleged humanity of China’s Cultural Revolution.

First on the death toll of that tragic episode; I quote here from page 513 of The Black Book of Communism (1999):

By comparison with the terrifying but almost unknown horrors of the agrarian revolution and the Great Leap Forward, the effect of the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revoluion" seems almost modest.  Estimates vary greatly for the number of dead: most authors cite figures between 400,000 and 1 million, although [Jean-Luc] Domenash calculates between 1 million and 3 million.

And here is the great historian Richard Pipes (from page 131 of his 2001 book Communism) on China’s Cultural Revolution:

For several years China, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, was ravaged by barbarian hordes who had been taught to treat everything beyond their understanding as fit for destruction.  At its height, all schools were closed and no books were available except for textbooks and Mao’s own works.  Performances of western music were forbidden.  The Red Guards assaulted intellectuals and forced them to humiliate themselves publicly; they tortured and killed many of them….

Although anyone in China who dared to criticize either the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution risked immediate imprisonment, not a few radical intellectuals in the West sympathized with Mao’s barbarities and sought wisdom in his inspired writings.

Some things — not least some western intellectuals’ gullibility to their own imaginations — remain, regrettably, the same.

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Fabio Franco May 28, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Prof. Han, growing up on a collective farm, probably didn't have too many intellectual relatives and friends: that's why his memories are so cozy and bucolic.

If he had grown up in intellectual circles, he would have surely perished. Lucky for him he now has a nice intellectual job where he can use his intellectual "skills" trying to rewrite history. What he is doing, of course, is attacking freedom, and he can do this because the free society in which he lives has become a democratic suicidal monster:

From Hayek's "Intellectuals and Socialism"
It may be that as a free society as we have known it carries in itself the forces of
its own destruction, that once freedom has been achieved it is taken for granted and
ceases to be valued, and that the free growth of ideas which is the essence of a free
society will bring about the destruction of the foundations on which it depends."

John S. May 28, 2008 at 10:33 pm

Prof. Han's letter brings to mind Orwell's dictum that there are some ideas so ludicrous that only an intellectual could believe them.

Dallas E. Weaver, Ph.D. May 29, 2008 at 1:03 pm

In the early 80's I visited China as part of a group invited by the Chinese Academy of Science. It was strange to discuss what happened with the cultural revolution, but the bottom line is that there was no scientists (except weapons workers who were shielded) produced at that time. All the people we met were old or very young students.

It was clear that they believed that it was all a vast mistake and they would do anything to obtain modern science and technology. They understood that the only reason western culture has dominated the world for the last 400 years was superior science/technology and organizations, not superior religions, philosophy, culture or politics.

sethstorm May 30, 2008 at 5:39 am

Substitute the era of Reagan in, and you have very few differences(poverty if you wish to dissent versus death, unionbusting instead of the Red Guard).

Hammer May 30, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Dr. Weaver: I think if one examined it a little further, they might come to the conclusion that it is in fact the West's philosophies and culture that allowed for the advances in science and the like. Philosophic institutions such as free inquiry and expression go a long way towards creating an environment where advances can be made.

Seth: Even beyond your crude grasp of history, your sense of similarity is appaling. If you really can not differentiate between free exchange and being shot and tortured in the street, you are perhaps so vile and terrible a person that I cringe to think what must have been done to you to cripple your mind such.

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