China’s Transition Years – Discovering History through Film

July 18, 2017

Farewell, My Concubine covers more than 50-years of Chinese history from 1924 – 1977.

In 1924, prostitute Yanhong sees no other alternative than leaving her son Douzi at a training school for Chinese opera where the boys are beaten, and tortured for forgetting their lines. The only escape is suicide. China’s decades long Civil War between the Communists and Nationalist rages on and then Japan invades China in 1937 and the challenges to survive become worse. After World War II, the Chinese Civil War continues and doesn’t end until 1949.

Two of the boys at the training school, Douzi and Shitou, become friends destined to be great actors, and they impress audiences by performing together. Through the years, with the political situation in China ever changing and not always for the good, Shitou and Douzi remain close.

Chen Kaige, self-trained as a filmmaker, was the director for this award-winning 1993 film. Prior to “Farewell, My Concubine”, Chen received modest acclaim for the “Yellow Earth” and “The Big Parade”. With “Farewell, My Concubine,” he won the Palme d-or in Cannes.

Although the film is in Mandarin with English subtitles, the story captured me from the beginning. If you are interested in Chinese history, this film spans several decades beginning soon after the end of the Qing Dynasty. On the surface, it is a story of two boys that happen to become famous, but they have difficulties and challenges like most of us do. However, the film takes us from the Qing Dynasty to a warlord dominated, struggling republic, the Japanese invasion of World War II, and through Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

I saw this movie more than a decade ago and I remember this powerful, dramatic story of one man’s life from the day his mother took a knife and chopped off an extra finger on each hand so he would have five instead of the six he was born with.

Discover Anna May Wong, the American actress who died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, Modern China’s Founding Fathers

May 3, 2017

Under Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976), China suffered after he became its leader in 1949, but that isn’t the whole story. During Mao’s Great Leap Forward; what’s known as Mao’s Great Famine (1958 – 62), and the Cultural Revolution, millions died from starvation and purges. What we don’t hear is that China is known as the land of famines. Imperial records show that China has had droughts and famines in one or more of its provinces annually for more than two-thousand years, but there is no mention of the fact that there has not been any famines since the last one in 1962.

In addition, when Mao came to power in 1949, the average lifespan in China was 35. When Mao died, the average lifespan was in the 50s and today it’s in the 70s.

On June 30, 1984, Deng Xiaoping said, “Given that China is still backward, what road can we take to develop the productive forces and raise the people’s standard of living? … Capitalism can only enrich less than 10 percent of the Chinese population; it can never enrich the remaining more than 90 percent. But if we adhere to socialism and apply the principle of distribution to each according to his work, there will not be excessive disparities in wealth. Consequently, no polarization will occur as our productive forces become developed over the next 20 to 30 years.”

Deng Xiaoping was right. Bruce Einhom writing for Business Week, Countries in the Biggest Gaps Between Rich and Poor, October 16, 2009, listed the top countries with the biggest gaps. America was number #3 on the list. China wasn’t on the list.

What does capitalism, Chinese style, look like? Under Deng Xiaoping’s economic policies, China became the world’s factory floor.

Prior to 1979, the year China opened its doors to world trade, it was rare to find anything made in China.

In the last thirty years, something happened that Mao thought he had destroyed. China grew a consumer middle class and that growth hasn’t finished. During a trip to China in 2008, we saw the Chinese middle class everywhere we went. Instead of the majority of tourists being foreigners, they were Chinese traveling to discover their own country.

A middle-class family in China usually owns an apartment, a car, eats out regularly, and takes vacations. National Geographic Magazine in May 2008 said, “They owe their well-being to the government’s (Deng Xiaoping’s) economic policies …”

Current estimates show China’s GDP growth will continue to grow. Since 2000, China’s GDP has grown at an annual average of 9.66 percent. Compare that to the U.S. with a GDP that never breaks 4 percent and was 2.43 percent in 2015. – Google Public Data

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Red Star Over China

February 28, 2017

During one of our trips to Shanghai, China, we saw a film called Mao Zedong and Edgar Snow.

Edgar Snow (1905 – 1972) was an American journalist known for his books and articles on Communism in China and the Chinese Communist revolution. He is believed to be the first Western journalist to interview Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong, and is best known for Red Star Over China (1937) an account of the Chinese Communist movement from its foundation until the late 1930s.

The film was in Mandarin and wasn’t subtitled, so I had to watch carefully to understand what was going on. When I returned home to the United States, I searched Amazon for a DVD copy of the film but couldn’t find one.

However, I discovered that Edgar Snow’s wife threatened to sue China if the movie was released, but that didn’t stop the Chinese.

There’s no doubt that Mao had to have charisma to lead so many in battle for so many years to win a civil war that stretched from 1927 to 1950.

However, Mao changed after he became China’s modern emperor, and the power must have corrupted him. The evidence is the results of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the purges that killed so many.

There were also successes like the Chinese Communist Party’s war against poverty, the increase in life expectancy that almost doubled during Mao’s rule. and the health programs that were implemented such as the bare-foot doctors. The reason so many Chinese still think of Mao as the George Washington of China was because life after 1949 was better than life before the CCP won the Civil War.

Students of China may want to see this film, but the only place one may buy a DVD of this movie is probably China.

When Edgar Snow came down with pancreatic cancer, Zhou Enlai dispatched a team of Chinese doctors to Switzerland to treat him.

Discover Anna May Wong, the woman that died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

2a-242-positive-reviews-hall-of-fame-reviewer-jan-16-2017

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Mao as a Complicated Man

August 2, 2016

Mao was fifty-six when he became China’s leader and seventy-two at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. But who was Mao for the other fifty-five years before he ruled China?

Many outside of China only think of Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976) as a brutal dictator, but he was more than that.

For instance, as a child, his father was a stern disciplinarian who beat him and his three siblings often, and Mao became an avid reader.

And while commanding the Red Army during The Long March (1934-1935), he was a man respected by China’s peasants. Then there was Mao’s move away from Communist Russia after Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, when Mao said to Nixon, “Our common old friend, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, doesn’t approve of this.”

In 1935, Mao’s poem, “The Long March”, reveals an awareness of the sacrifice and the willingness to suffer to accomplish great things.

The Red Army fears not the trials of the March,
Holding light ten thousand crags and torrents.
The Five Ridges wind like gentle ripples
And the majestic Wumeng roll by, globules of clay.
Warm the steep cliffs lapped by the waters of Golden Sand,
Cold the iron chains spanning the Tatu River.
Minshan’s thousand li of snow joyously crossed,
The three Armies march on, each face glowing.

Mao was a complex man, and it wasn’t until after the failure of the The Great Leap Forward (1958 – 1961) that the fatal attraction and power of leadership corrupted him leading to the horrors of The Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), that Mao’s many critics outside of China use to define him.

Anyone who follows all of Mao’s life instead of relying on his last decade would understand that he cared deeply about the common people while punishing the landowners and wealthy, who abused the people he cared about.  On the other hand, his foe, Chiang Kai-shek, supported the landowners and wealthy while crushing the peasants and workers, but few outside of China condemn this brutal dictator who was a U.S. ally.

Mao Zedong Poems reveals what Mao might have been thinking about as President Johnson increased America’s involvement in Vietnam. Was Mao also warning us of what he was about to do in 1966, when he launched The Cultural Revolution?

Two Birds: A Dialogue (1965)

The roc wings fanwise,
Soaring ninety thousand li
And rousing a raging cyclone.
The blue sky on his back, he looks down
To survey Man’s world with its towns and cities.
Gunfire licks the heavens,
Shells pit the earth.
A sparrow in his bush is scared stiff..
“This is one hell of a mess!
O I want to flit and fly away.”
“Where, may I ask?”
The sparrow replies,
“To a jewelled palace in elfland’s hills.
Don’t you know a triple pact was signed
Under the bright autumn moon two years ago?
There’ll be plenty to eat,
Potatoes piping hot,
Beef-filled goulash.”
“Stop your windy nonsense!
Look, the world is being turned upside down.”

Through Mao’s poetry, we learn more about the man beyond the demonized stereotype created in the media outside of China.

And Do the Chinese People Currently Consider Mao Zedong to Be Evil or a Hero. In Forbes, Kaiser Kuo writes, “If I were forced to say there’s a dominant view of Mao among mainlanders, it would be that Mao was ‘good’ up until the very early 1950s — before the Anti-Rightist Campaign got into full swing, and before he set China on a course toward collectivization. Whether or not these beliefs can be supported by fact, it’s widely believed among Chinese that Mao led the Communist Party and its Red Army in effective resistance against the Japanese invaders; that they represented a morally superior vision over that offered by the Guomindang (the Nationalist Party) — a vision that championed egalitarianism, feminism, anti-imperialism, anti-feudalism, nationalism; and that they allowed China to ‘stand up’ after a century of abject humiliation beginning with the Opium War. After 1949, land redistribution and the Marriage Law (which was, by any measure, a very progressive piece of legislation) won them plaudits too.”

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the man that unified China more than 2,000 years ago.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Did Mao Zedong have Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)? – Part 2 of 2

July 13, 2016

Mao born in 1893 grew up during a period of madness in China’s history. To learn more, I suggest reading The Roots of Madness.

The Chinese Civil War lasted from 1926 to 1949 with a few years out to fight the horrors of the Japanese invasion of China during World War II.

The horrors of Mao’s Long March by itself was enough to cause PTSD in all 6,000 of its survivors from the more than 80,000 troops that started the year-long journey of retreat, battle, and severe suffering that was threatened by death on a daily basis.

After Mao was China’s leader, there was an assassination attempt by one of his most trusted generals, Lin Biao, a man Mao had named as his successor after he died.  In addition, during China’s Civil WarChiang Kai-shek ordered more than one failed assassination attempt on Mao.

However, the threats and violence that shaped Mao’s life began before The Long March and before he was a leader in the Chinese Communist Party.

As a child, he grew up among farmers and peasants with an average expected life span in China of 35 years. In the 1920s, as an idealist and a sensitive poet, he believed in helping the worker and led several labor movements that were brutally subdued by the Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek.

Once, Mao barely escaped with his life.

In 1930, Yang Kaihu, his wife at the time — Mao was married four times — was arrested and executed. In addition, Mao had two younger brothers and an adopted sister executed by Chiang Kai-shek’s troops.

If you had several close calls with death; lost a wife, two younger brothers and an adopted sister in this way, how would that affect you?

To judge Mao by today’s Politically Correct Western values is wrong, because he grew up in a world ruled by a completely different set of values that shaped him to be tough enough to survive.

Anyone that survived and went on to rule China at that time would have been judged as brutal by today’s Politically Correct Western values. In fact, Chiang Kai-shek was a brutal dictator who ruled Taiwan — after he fled mainland China in 1949 — under military marshal law until his death in 1976. But Chiang didn’t have as many people to rule over so the death count he caused was smaller but no less significant.

The History of Humanitarianism shows us that this concept was born and nurtured in the West and developed slowly over centuries with the result that the individual was made more important than the whole.

However, in China, the whole is still more important than one person as it was during Mao’s time. If you were to click on the link to the History of Humanitarianism and read it, you would discover that China was not part of this movement while Mao lived. (Discover more about China’s Collective Culture)

PTSD as a war wound and a trauma was not recognized or treated until well after America’s Vietnam War.  Prior to its discovery, it was known as shell shock. The diagnosis of PTSD first appeared in the 1980s, and Mao died in 1976.

In fact, if Mao were alive today he would not be alone. In the United States, it is estimated that 7.8% of all Americans suffer from PTSD, and among that segment of the population, more than 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans have PTSD in addition to 1.7 million Vietnam veterans.

Return to or start with Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam combat vet, is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Did Mao Zedong have Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)? – Part 1 of 2

July 12, 2016

Was Mao the monster that the Western media often makes him out to be, or was he just a product of his environment and life?

Mao has been judged by a Western value system that did not exist in China or the United States during his lifetime. In addition, it is now known that who we grow up to become as adults is partially due to genetics but mostly from environmental and lifestyle influences.

Mao grew up in a world nothing like most in the West have ever experienced.  He was born into China’s collective culture where the individual was not more important than the whole.

There is a strong possibility that Mao also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and this may have influenced his behavior and decisions during the years he ruled China [1949 – 1976].

Helping Psychology reports, “PTSD victims tend to be in a continuous state of heightened alertness. The trauma that precipitates the disorder essentially conditions them to be ever-ready for a life threatening situation to arise at any moment … But the continuous releases of brain chemicals that accompany this reaction time – and their inability to control when this heightened reactivity will occur – take psychological and biological tolls on PTSD victims over time.”

Then Medicine Net.com reports, “Complex posttraumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) usually results from prolonged exposure to a traumatic event or series thereof and is characterized by long-lasting problems with many aspects of emotional and social functioning.”

American combat veterans are not the only people on this planet to suffer from PTSD. Every person is susceptible to the ravages of a violent trauma, and if we examine Mao’s life, it could be argued that PTSD played a strong role in the decisions he made as he aged.

We will examine Mao’s long history as a victim of violence in Part 2

Continued on July 13, 2016 in Part 2

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam combat vet, is the best-selling, award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

A1 on March 13 - 2016 Cover Image with BLurbs to promote novel

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A History Lesson from Mao on How to Win the War on Drugs in 24 Hours

June 8, 2016

From The Opium Monopoly by Ellen N. La Motte, we learn how opium addiction became an epidemic in China. Although The Chinese knew about opium for more than a thousand years, it wasn’t until the Portuguese arrived in the 18th century that the Chinese used it as a drug by smoking it. Merchants from Britain, France, Portugal, America and other nations became the drug cartels that plagued China into the 20th century.

In 1729, the emperor issued the first anti-opium edict, but the supply of opium flooding China went from 220 chests in 1729 to 70,000 in 1858.

It is estimated that before 1950, as many as 20 million Chinese were drug addicts. To solve this problem, Mao had the People’s Liberation Army execute the drug dealers and forced millions of addicts into compulsory treatment in a twenty-four hour period. — How Maoist Revolution Wiped Out Drug Addiction in China

Opium growers, who did not want to comply, fled into the Golden Triangle Region of Southeast Asia where many of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist troops had gone to escape defeat. Those generals also did business with the CIA, and American soldiers in Vietnam became the new customers. It is estimated that at least 20% of the almost nine million American troops that served in Vietnam became addicted.

China remained free of drugs until Deng Xiaoping declared, “Getting Rich is Glorious” and opened China to world trade. In 2003, it was estimated that China had four million regular drug users—even with China’s strict laws concerning illegal drug use.

And in America, where human rights are king and fear of Communism by Capitalists is supreme, drug users and sellers often end up in prison costing taxpayers an average of $47,000 annually explaining why America has more people serving time in prisons than any other country on the planet; that price tag is more than $90-billion a year. Where are the protests and the accusations? Instead, the U.S. has a presidential candidate, a billionaire called Donald who wants to build the Great Wall of Trump between the United States and Mexico.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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