Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World” – Part 3/12

Second Question [Parfitt]: You (Lofthouse) mention Mao Zedong in your first question and reference his statement that women hold up half the sky. The Chinese Communist Party’s official line about Mao’s rule is that it was 70 percent good and 30 percent bad. What’s your assessment of Mao’s reign?

Answer [Lofthouse]:

A Museum of Tragedy near China’s port city of Shantou offers evidence of why most Chinese decided Mao was 30%”bad”.

The “bad” refers to Mao’s Cultural Revolution [1966 – 1976] leading to the many suicides of those that could not cope, as Mao’s teenage Red Guard waged war on Confucianism and persecuted people accused of bourgeois tendencies.

In addition, there were millions of deaths by starvation mostly in 1960 caused by droughts and food shortages during Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

Opinions of how many died of starvation from 1959 into early 1961 vary dramatically, and it is a controversial hot-button issue.  Claims range from 16.5 million to a high of 60 million.

For example, Henry Kissinger on page 184 of “On China” says, “From 1959 to 1962, China experienced one of the worst famines in human history, leading to the deaths of over twenty million people.”

Judith Banister’s work, China’s Changing Population [Stanford University Press – 1987], agrees with Kissinger’s quote.

In fact, Banister shows that the greatest loss of life took place in 1960 and returned closer to normal in 1961.

It didn’t help that the US had a complete embargo of China (1949 – 1963), which was designed to cause suffering among the people leading to an overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party and a return to power of Chiang Kai-shek.

If Australia, Canada and France had not shipped wheat to China in 1961, the loss of life would have been worse.

What Mao did to earn the 70% “good” rating is due to his early land-reform policies ending feudalism in rural China, in addition to improving health care, which led to dramatic improvements in life expectancy.

In 1949, the average life expectancy was 36 years.  By 1970, during the Cultural Revolution, average life expectancy was almost 62 years — a 71% improvement.

Today, life expectancy is 74.68 years.

Facts show that more people benefited from Mao’s “good” policies than those that suffered from the “bad”. However, critics in the West prefer to focus on a glass almost empty instead of admitting the glass was more than half-full.

Response [Parfitt]:

Chinese people believe the reign of the former Communist Party chairman was 70 percent good and 30 percent bad because that’s what the Communist Party tells them.

Historian Jonathan Spence tells a different story, one not muddled by contemporary life-expectancy statistics or charges against America. According to Spence, Mao’s land reform involved the brutal seizure and redistribution of property, with Mao admitting 700,000 “evil gentry” were justly killed.

The program didn’t put a dent in private ownership, but was a violent failure resulting in Party scorn.

Mao responded with his Hundred Flowers Movement and Anti-Rightist Campaign, part one in his trilogy of campaigns, which, along with the Korean War, may have caused 70 million deaths. Since Mao’s death, the Party has made significant strides in material development, the welfare state, national security, and prosperity, but locating a valid academic source concluding Mao’s reign was more beneficial than not is impossible.

Final Word [Lofthouse]:

Proving China prospered [on average] under Mao at the same time it suffered due to his Anti-Rightist Campaigns was easy.

Professor Stephen Thomas [University of Colorado at Denver] wrote for the World Bank’s Forum on Public Policy, “In 1949, the newly established People’s Republic of China designed and carried out economic development policies that led to an annual average economic growth rate of about 4 percent from 1953 to 1978, among the highest in the developing world…

Then, Compton’s Living Encyclopedia says, “After the Communist revolution in 1949… Private ownership of land was abolished, but each peasant family was given a small plot to farm. Health care improved. The fluctuations in the food supply leveled off and life expectancy increased.”

I do not dispute landowners were tried, convicted and executed by the peasants they allegedly abused and exploited.

As for Mao’s policies killing 70 million—”MAY HAVE CAUSED” proves nothing.

Continued on November 30, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 4 or return to Part 2.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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49 Responses to Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World” – Part 3/12

  1. […] example of cherry picking and/or confirmation bias appears in Part 3 of our debate when Sid said, “Locating a valid academic source concluding Mao’s reign was more beneficial […]

  2. Roundys says:

    Troy,

    “..but after WWII, when Mao came to power, bullying China was not on the agenda. ”

    Really? So what with all this CIA mickey mouse business with the Dalai Lama?

  3. Troy Parfitt says:

    “I suggest that you be careful what you might say to me in e-mails or just stick to this forum.”

    Very nice indeed.

  4. Troy Parfitt says:

    Lloyd,

    I didn’t recruit Tom Carter for anything. You can ask him if you want. I raised a concern about the comments in the comments section, but have since moved on. You and I have communicated in the comments section; you’ve said we can, so what’s the issue?

    I do like questions, as I told you in our private correspondence. I find them useful for getting answers.

    In this thread you said,

    “you may find Snow’s perspective of Mao interesting since Snow offers a different view of Mao from a different time before the CCP won the Civil War.”

    and then

    “By reading Snow you will learn of another side of Mao before the absolute power he held as the leader of China for twenty-six years took hold of him.”

    How do you reconcile the above quotes with the one below?

    “A few things that I have learned is that one person… cannot judge Mao or China fairly… since he is a product of another era and another time, and China is influenced by a different history and cultural beliefs than other cultures outside East Asia. To judge China and its leaders from a 20th and/or 21st century Western/American cultural perspective is fated to be wrong almost every time regardless of how well is may be accepted as the so-called ‘truth’ in the West.”

    • Troy Parfitt says:

      If your view is that one person cannot judge Mao fairly and that judging China and its leaders from a modern Western perspective is “fated to be wrong almost every time,” how is it that Edgar Snow’s depiction of Mao has merit? (Assuming you think it has merit; you recommended reading it; though one can recommend something without believing it has merit, eh?)

      More importantly, in light of your belief that one person cannot judge Mao fairly, how you have come to your evaluation of Mao?

      If you’d like me to answer my own questions before you answer them, sure, no problem.

      1. Is Edgar Snow’s book any good? I’m thinking of reading it.
      Haven’t read it.

      I’ve never seen it in a bookstore. I’ve heard it’s propaganda (title: Red Star Over China), but one hears all kinds of things that aren’t true. I would like to read it someday.

      2. Are you saying no conclusions may be drawn about Mao?

      Conclusions may be drawn about any subject if one has sufficient information and evidence – if one has done research and applied critical thinking.

      3. What about other 20th century rulers, like Hitler? Is it possible
      to come to conclusions about Hitler’s rule?

      It certainly is. See 2.

      4. Is there such a thing as universal truth?

      Yes, though it may be difficult to determine.
      5. Do you subscribe to cultural relativism?
      No. I see it as the bane of critical thinking. Cultural relativists hold that “truth” varies from one set of cultural circumstances to another. In country X, there’s a widespread belief that if a man has AIDS, he needs to sleep with a virgin; that’s the cure. You can’t say this practice is wrong; if you do, you’re looking at it through the lens of sociocentrism (or ethnocentrism). In country Y, there is no such belief. If a man contracts AIDs, he should go to the local health clinic, get treatment, etc. If one believes in cultural relativism, one believes both “methods” are valid. Cultural relativism holds that there is no universal truth and that analysis is not necessary because it only leads to conclusions, or judgments. Cultural relativism, therefore, advocates the suspension of thought. Moreover, it doesn’t seek improvement or the betterment of human society. It posits that no matter how bad things become, they’re entirely valid.

      And that’s the problem with Sinophiles (China is impossible to understand, say Sinophiles – unless they are the ones explaining it). Sinophiles believe they’re protecting and standing up for China, its culture, its people, etc., but often, they’re only doing harm. In addition to “China is wonderful,” if Sinophiles had a slogan, it might be “Stop saying bad things about China.” Like the Chinese say, ‘That only hurts the feelings of 1.3 billion Chinese.’ But a lot of criticism about China – and a lot of question-asking – stems from a humanist perspective. Chinese intellectuals are a good example. When dissident, Liu Xiaobo, criticizes China’s authoritarianism, he doesn’t do so out of malice. When he attacks Confucianism and says it’s a philosophy lacking in empathy, he’s trying to illustrate that his compatriots have issues with morality, and that they need to ask why – they need to do some thinking. Liu Xiaobo is sort of like Lu Xun and Bo Yang, two other writers and intellectuals trying to show their brethren that there was something fundamentally wrong with the national culture and mindset. It takes guts to stand up and say to your own countrymen: ‘Look, we’ve got some serious problems.’ Lu Xun and Bo Yang should be required reading for anyone who claims to care about China. Like Liu Xiaobo (Nobel Peace Prize winner, 2010), Bo Yang also ended up in the slammer, though he later came to head the Taiwan chapter of Amnesty International, proof that things can get better – provided there are people who advocate for change. And advocating for change begins with criticism.

      By the way, Lloyd, would be it all right if we kept our personal correspondences personal? I would appreciate that.
      Thank you,
      Troy

      • Mr. Parfitt asked, “By the way, Lloyd, would be it all right if we kept our personal correspondences personal? I would appreciate that.”

      • No, I will not agree to that. However, I want to make it clear that I do not plan to publish any of our personal correspondence unless I feel a need to use it to clarify who you are. I was trained as a journalist. I taught journalism and at no point until after the fact did you say you wanted anything you wrote “off the record”. I suggest that you be careful what you might say to me in e-mails or just stick to this forum. I will not agree to “off the record” for anything anyone wrote here or in e-mails. If I deem it necessary for clarity’s sake, everything related to this debate is fair game.

        I’m sure anything I might write in this forum will just draw another series of questions from you.

    • Mr. Parfitt asked, “How do you reconcile the above quotes with the one below?”

      Easy, learning what Snow had to say of Mao offers a different perspective of the man. His doctor offers another one. In addition, each of his biographers offers other perspectives. From Snow, we get an up close and personal account of Mao before he become the leader of China and led the CCP to victory in the Civil War.

      Would Snow’s book be biased? Probably but then I’m sure that all of Mao’s biographers came to the table with some bias more or less. For example, your opinions of Mao and China and the Chinese appear to be littered with bias. But that is only natural. Studies have been done on this topic that indicates bias is a natural result of what people choose to remember, forget happened or believe.

  5. Troy Parfitt says:

    Lloyd,

    “A few things that I have learned is that one person or even a group
    of people cannot judge Mao or China fairly either way since he is a product of another era and another time, and China is influenced by a different history and cultural beliefs than other cultures outside East Asia. To judge China and its leaders from a 20th and/or 21st century Western/American cultural perspective is fated to be wrong almost every time regardelss of how well is may be accepted as the so-called “truth” in the West.”

    I have five questions:

    1. Is Edgar Snow’s book any good? I’m thinking of reading it.

    2. Are you saying no conclusions may be drawn about Mao?

    3. What about other 20th century rulers, like Hitler? Is it possible to come to conclusions about Hitler’s rule?

    4. Is there such a thing as universal truth?

    5. Do you subscribe to cultural relativism?

    Thank you,

    • Troy,

      Another string of questions, huh?

      You already revealed your tactic to me in a recent e-mail when you wrote how you were having fun using what you call a Socratic questioning method [which I’m well aware of because as a teacher for thirty years I was trained to use it in the classroom and I used it all of those years to draw meaning from my students out of what we were reading and studying].

      However, as I pointed out in my response e-mail, asking questions that are not related to the topic and lead nowhere, has nothing to do with the Socratic method. They are just questions and diversions.

      Instead, I wrote in my e-mail, that you were using these questions to distract and make it sound as if you have all the answers so why don’t you answer all your own questions and then I’ll decide to respond or not. Let’s find out how much you actually know and how accurate and unbiased it is. In fact, I may not have to respond to your answers to your own questions, because I’m sure some of the others taking part in the comment section of this debate will have something to say and I may not need to respond.

      In fact, you didn’t want me to take part in this section of the debate and even recruited Tom Carter [who sent me an e-mail voicing the opinion that I should not continue the debate in the comment section] to get me to back off and stay out of the comment section, which baffles me because you have the same right as I do to leave comments to anyone that leaves comments. You are not restrictied from leaving comments as you wanted to restrict me from leaving comments.

      Snow’s book shows Mao before he become the ruler of China when he was considered the hero of the Civil War and well before Mao took charge in 1949. What Snow’s book shows us is Mao before he ruled China from the perspective of someone who was there on the ground with him during the Civil War. You won’t find all of the research and facts found in books after Mao’s death.

      However, you may find Snow’s perspective of Mao interesting since Snow offers a different view of Mao from a different time before the CCP won the Civil War. As I said in one of my e-mails, individuals are complex and not easily defined by a black and white statement. By reading Snow you will learn of another side of Mao before the absolute power he held as the leader of China for twenty-six years took hold of him.

  6. Terry K Chen says:

    Mr.Parfitt,

    It appears as if you only look at one side of the story, only acknowledging sources that do nothing but defame Mao. You seem to think as if Mao wanted to murder tens of millions of people.

  7. Troy Parfitt says:

    Alessandro said,

    “most western biographies of Mao are just jokes…”

    From that statement, we can conclude that some western Mao biographies are not jokes.

    Which ones are not jokes? Titles please.

  8. Alessandro says:

    I found funny that mr. Partiff wants to teach Terry K Chen his own history…He reasons by the number of books, not by the quality of them, or the quality or reasoning, or the objectivity…or, less than everything, facts.
    Maybe it could help Mr. Partiff to know, that the emperor Nero have recently been reevaluated by scholars, that found out the the “dark” story built upon him, was mostly the work of later christian writers and historians, prejudicially and ideologically against him and the old order he represented….Considering how strong and powerful western propaganda is against Mao and CCP in general (for historical and political – as well as economical – reasons that probably mister Partiff likes to ignore) and what enormous amount of ideological prejudice and bias it has created, it’s not surprising most western biographies of Mao are just jokes…

  9. Terry K Chen says:

    Mr.Parfitt,

    While there is certainly a degree of propaganda involved, the party had many reasons to give a more objective view of Mao. When Deng took the reins, the maoists were still the majority within the party and painting a perfect picture of Mao would have made it nearly impossible for him to carry out his reforms.

    General Mac.Arthur had specially asked his superiors for permission to invade China. Seeing how imperialistic the US has been since WWI, only a coward would not have retaliated to the agression.

    During the korean war, Chiang kai sheks spy program was still raging in mainland China. To ensure that they wouldn’t take advantage of the korean war, Mao sent many of the troops that had previously served the KMT. Its not surprising that some of these troops defected to taiwan at the first oppurtunity.

    I have never talked to my grandparents about this so I do not know their personal view. I agree that life was extremely tough under Mao’s rule and many were wrongly persecuted and killed, but for most of the Chinese life improved.

    I do not see any disconnect with my logic. Millions of russians died under Stalins rule, but to say that he was not an improvement over the bolsheviks would be ridiculous.

    • Troy Parfitt says:

      Terry,

      “I do not see any disconnect with my logic. Millions of russians died under Stalins rule, but to say that he was not an improvement over the bolsheviks would be ridiculous.”

      Thank you. That’s precisely the answer I was looking for.

  10. Troy Parfitt says:

    Terry,

    You asked if you had your facts wrong. Yes, you do have your facts wrong, or at least one fact.

    You said Mao, “reunited the country and… stood up to western powers who wanted to bully China into submission.”

    The West bullied China quite a lot, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a sorry epoch in colonial history, but after WWII, when Mao came to power, bullying China was not on the agenda.

    The West had assisted China in its fight against the Japanese. The US, especially, provided the Nationalists (the sole legitimate government at the time, rotten though they were) with an airforce, tanks, supplies, aid, money, advice, and other equipment. The Americans even arranged for a meeting between Chiang and Mao so the two could cease hostilities and work toward fighting a common enemy. Was American involvement purely altruistic? Of course not, but America gave heaps of support to China during this time. China was hyped as an alley, and dubbed Free China.

    As a thank-you, Mao attacked American forces in Korea, with the CCP claiming that America was using Korea as a gateway to conquer China and then – and I’m not making this up – the rest of the world. We don’t know how many Chinese soldiers were killed in Korea, but it was a lot. Hundreds of thousands is what you’ll usually read, including, as you mentioned, one of Mao’s sons. Many of the Chinese soldiers were’t trained or given weapons. For my book, I went to the Yalu River and saw the bullet holes on the bridge. There’s no denying America got much too close to China for comfort, but to send in a million soldiers at a time when China was in ruin from the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War? It was unwise, and it set the tone for Mao’s rule. Mao was more interested in grand campaigns and uniting the nation spiritually than fixing it physically.

    I interviewed a soldier from Sichuan who was captured by the Americans before defecting to Taiwan. The things he told me were very interesting.

    Connected with the Korean War were Chinese accusations about America’s use of bacteriological warfare on villages in North Korea and China. In fact, the CCP maintains that charge to this day. It’s a topic often associated with China and the Korean War, so I assume you’re aware of it. What’s your opinion of it? Do you think China’s claims about America employing germ warfare on China during the Korean War are valid?

    Thanks

    • School 5 Alum says:

      Hello Troy,

      We once worked across dingy tables at the same buxiban in Taipei. I applaud the time and will you have invested into your writing on this topic. That said, what I have to say may come off as quite harsh. I still strive to be fair, but perhaps it’s as fair as I find your findings.

      1) I find your decisive attributions to Mao of all the suffering and hardship of the Chinese people somewhat uneven. We have to remember that Mao did age and grow old during his reign. While the Great Leap tragedy is most certainly his own, I don’t think he owns the Cultural Revolution, which was more a Gang of Four product during his Reagan-esque old age.

      2) As a thank you, Mao attacked the US in Korea…I know you were in Korea before Taiwan, yet it dismays me to see you portray the Chinese involvement in that war in such a way. History is quite clear that MacArthur abused his command and disobeyed orders in a belligerent attempt to start a war with China. His thank you was being relieved of command. His almost thank you’s include nuclear strikes on China and “creating a trench of radioactive waste” to separate borders. I’ll come back to this in the question section.

      3) You’ve written a book called “Why China Will Never Rule the World”. Now, I agree that SOME hype about China might be exaggerated, but speaking in terms of logical fallacies, is this not just one big straw man? Who is going to rule the world? What does it mean to rule the world? On the other hand, taken as travel writing and not scholarly, it might be awesome to write a whole string of cynical books called “Why _____ will never rule the world”. You could start with Tonga and end with Canada.

      4) If you spent 10 years in Basque country, then took a 6-month tour of Spain before deciding to write a serious critique of the Iberian Peninsula, you’d be laughed at. What exactly led you to the idea that a holiday in the “mainland” was sufficient for you to conclusively arrive at all of your judgments?

      5) You ground your observations in logic, Aristotle and the like. How bout grounding them in a peer-reviewed academic journal of Asian/Chinese studies?

      6) Because really, I’ve watched and read. As an ESL teacher in Asia, this all smacks of ill-adjusted westerners talking smack in a staff-room somewhere in Asia. Been there, done that, heard it all in 3 Far Eastern countries, 1 Middle Eastern, and 2 European.

      7) Specifically, by 6 above I mean that I could take one Chinese teacher, plunk him in Hawaii for ten years, then send him out on a holiday to “discover America” (preferably on a chopper with Dennis Hopper) to go “find” what he already discerned in year 1.

      8) China may not rule the world, but try living without China for a year.

      Now, for the questions:

      a) Do you yourself find your observations to be fair and balanced?

      b) In China’s absence, who is going to rule the world?

      c) If confucianism is the wrong way to go, what do you recommend as an alternative?

      d) What school of thought/learning do you think is typified by your own writings?

      e) Considering the time you’ve invested in scholarly trappings, when, if ever, will these “scholarly findings” be featured in a scholarly journal?

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