The “Great Leap Forward”, Frank Dikötter, and a Blogging Break

It’s time for a few days’ break from blogging, unless Jiang Zemin passes away, Yang Rui gets uncovered as a spy for the CIA, or if similarly sensational news should break. I will be back to blogging by this coming Friday.

Less than an hour before midnight (daylight saving time), June 23, 2012

Less than an hour before midnight (daylight saving time), June 23, 2012

This season involves a lot of work, and what remains of the day should be devoted to family, friends, and contemplation of the midnight sun. It’s not quite that in this region, but the northern fringes of the skies never turn completely dark. You may not see the road at certain times of the night, but you’ll see the light between the treetops.

* * * * * * * *

I have some reservations when it comes to the work of sinologists like Frank Dikötter or Thomas Weyrauch. Weyrauch is German, but when I read one of his books (and I’ve read only one by Weyrauch), it seemed to be a sample of how – old-school – Chinese Republicans abroad are ticking these days.

A lot has been made of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation‘s co-sponsorship of Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine project. It wasn’t serious academics who took issue, as far as I can see, but many fenqings and CCP apologists did. After all, only the victorious must author China’s history. That’s tradition. At court, the good historian praises the powers that be, and denounces defeated previous dynasties. (It may be unthinkable for CCP fans that a funding organization may not necessarily determine the outcome of a project.)

Richard (The Peking Duck) embedded a documentary movie about the Great Leap Forward in one of his most recent posts. It seems to base its message basically on the takes of two academics, Yang Jisheng (杨继绳) and Frank Dikötter (and exclusively on Dikötter when it comes to statistics):

It was the Great Leap Forward. But the crazy dream became a nightmare, and dragged 650 million Chinese people into hell. The country sank into economic chaos, which caused an unprecedented famine. The terrible death toll was around 45 million.

People like Dikötter – and Weyrauch – play an important role, as they question a narrative or historiography which is to an unreasonable extent influenced by the CCP, even among foreign sinologists. But they, in turn, need to be questioned, too. A good article or review to that end, it seems to me, is a piece written by Cormac Ó Gráda, in 2011, on Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine.

A commenter thread on the Peking Duck‘s post starts here. For the dynamics of such threads as I see them, I would recommend to use such threads as some kind of quarry. Different commenters will gain from different chains of discussion within; and the Peking Duck’s threads are famous for starting with lively debates, and descending into dogged exchanges of more or less argumentative broadsides after the first one, two, or three dozens of comments.

In their own way, they are samples of what an anonymous or semi-anonymous discourse (as the late Mark Anthony Jones might have termed it) between CCP critics, apologists and the critics’ angry critics will usually look like.

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Related

» Mao’s Great Famine, documentary movie synopsis, 2011

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2 Comments to “The “Great Leap Forward”, Frank Dikötter, and a Blogging Break”

  1. This comment was previously posted on the Peking Duck, and pasted here. The commenter threads on this blog are for original thoughts and exchange of views. The second-last paragraph of this post contains a link to the Peking-Duck’s commenter thread.

    Like

  2. This comment was previously posted on the Peking Duck, and pasted here. The commenter threads on this blog are for original thoughts and exchange of views. The second-last paragraph of this post contains a link to the Peking-Duck’s commenter thread.

    Like

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