Not for nothing, as the Soviets would have put it, has China published a book blaming the United States for its economic woes in the 1960s. The book, released Tuesday by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is first in a series of strategically selected, state-sponsored works--from essays to television documentaries--which will reach into the past to draw lessons for the present in light of foreign pressures for political and economic reform.
The underlying message of this intellectual and creative outpouring: let China be, because outside pressures have historically made matters worse.
But "The Research Report on China's 10 Five-Year Plans" does more than blame America, arguing as it does that the urgent threat of a planned US military attack drove Mao Zedong to abandon plans to boost and restructure China's economy and instead allocate precious resources to preparing for "all-out war with the imperialists." The book also makes an important contribution toward supporting the official view of Mao's rule.
Unlike the denunciations of Stalin and (Stalanism) by Soviet leaders, the Chinese government has never officially repudiated Mao's methods. Instead, the state has stuck to its 70/30 theory--which holds that 70 percent of the Great Helmsman's achievements were good and 30 percent were bad.
Given the horrors of the 1958 Great Leap Forward and the '60s Cultural Revolution--two of history's greatest man-made disasters, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 30 million Chinese--or a million victims for every one percent of officially acknowledged bad works--government-approved academicians and writers have had to work long and hard over the years to rationalize the famous ratio.
The book about the five-year plans could help to ease their burden. Recalling US and European revisionist histories of the Cold War that blamed Washington for feeding Stalin's paranoia, "The Research Report" may lead people at home and abroad to wonder: If not for the US, could things have turned out in a radically different way--for Mao and all of China?
This in part explains the timing of the book's publication, around three months ahead of the 30th anniverary of Mao's death on September 9, 1976. While Westerners typically see a sharp break between the stagnation and chaos of the Mao era and today's booming economy, the continuity-conscious Communist Party line is that Mao paved the way for progress by transforming a backward, pre-capitalist agrarian society into a modern industrial state, albeit at a great cost.
The book cites alleged declassified US documents and discussions among US policymakers to make the case that Washington was plotting air strikes against China in December 1964, just two months after the country's first successful testing of an atomic bomb at a desert location in Xinjiang.
Upon learning of the plan, the book says, Mao changed the focus of China's 1966-'70 five-year plan, relocating important factories, government offices, and research institutions to secret sites in the mountains of China's Southwest. As a result, nothing was done to address shortages of food, clothing and daily necessities; economic development was delayed; and living conditions for the overwhelming majority of Chinese remained unchanged.
The new revelation and analysis conflicts with Western scholarship, which has attributed China's 1960s defensive buildup to fears of a Russian attack after the so-called Sino-Soviet split divided world Communism. (The split had its roots in Stalin's betrayal of the 1927 Communist uprising that was crushed by the nationalist Koumintang, with whom the Communists had been allied).
Reporting on the book, the official Xinhua News Agency said that while Mao's decision to refocus on the battle against imperialism dealt a blow to the economy, the relocation of factories had an unintended positive effect in that it laid a solid foundation for contemporary efforts to revive the economy in China's far western region.
In other Mao-related news ... the portrait that served as the model for the Mao painting that hung above Tianammen Square was reportedly removed from the auction block this week after a public outcry by thousands of Internet users. The painting by artist Zhang Zhenshi was scheduled to be auctioned on June 3rd and expected to bring its Chinese-American owner as much as 1.2 million yuan (around $150,000). The auction was cancelled "according to the views of relevant government authorities," Beijing Huachen Auctions said.
For many Chinese, apparently, the 70/30 theory is quite credible.
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