This is the “international” version of the essay Windschuttle published in this month’s Quadrant, and I am not going to quarrel with his assessment of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, which the two were already working on when I met them in Sydney in the early 1990s. I have not read the book, but I hope to. I think it will prove to be a valuable addition to the literature on the subject. The groundwork was done years ago, in fact, by clearly honest observers of China like Simon Leys.
Even Sydney’s lonely Maoist, Bob Gould of Newtown book barn fame, admits that Leys was right. Or so he told me some years ago when I bought a couple of Leys’s books from him. Amuse yourself with Bob Gould’s “Deconstructing the 1960s and 1970s — An open letter to Keith and Liz Windschuttle”.
Sadly for both Bob and Keith (and Liz), I thought in the relevant period they were all bonkers, and found the Chinese Cultural Revolution darkly amusing, except that it killed so many and caused such pain to the Chinese people. I used to listen to Chinese propaganda at the time on Radio Peking and found it horribly hilarious: “After studying the Thought of Chairman Mao, an illiterate peasant suddenly became a brain surgeon…” Almost as bad as that.
I am sorry Bob and Keith and Liz were all sucked in at the time, and I am sorry they really thought, or in Bob’s case think, Humphrey McQueen was a great historian. But there you go. Now Keith tends to use the same propagandist techniques on the other side of politics, even if the sober truth is that, to quote a conservative I do go along with, historian Richard J Evans, Windschuttle is “exaggeratedly alarmist.”
My own embrace (proudly too) of “political correctness”, that awful tendentious phrase, has everything to do with a sense of justice and pragmatic reaction to actualities, and almost nothing to do with the perversely self-aggrandising account of Australian intellectual life to be found in the Australian version of Windschuttle’s latest Quadrant offering.
Maoism was crap in the 1960s and 1970s, and still is. The horrible truth about such workers’ paradises is pretty much what Foreign Correspondent revealed last night about North Korea.
China, of course, is no longer Maoist, although it still is a repressive one-party state. The sad truth too is that the alternatives China had post 1945 were not all that encouraging either. Chiang Kai Shek’s lot were corrupt and hardly democratic; Taiwan has evolved an interesting democracy since, one where events like those in the NSW parliament last night appear quite ordinary…