In 2011, released in conjunction with 90th anniversary celebration of the founding the Chinese Communist Party, the Central Party History Research Office has produced a compendium of the party's history from 1949 to 1978 (post-1978 apparently remains too politically sensitive because many of the officials involved are still in power). While the tome provides many new details of sensitive events during the Mao era, it is still highly selective and largely in step with the master narrative laid down in the 1982 publication: Certain Questions in Our Party's History.
Source: David Shambaugh, New York Times June 30, 2011
Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, China's Communist Party has finally got its story straight. It took 16 years of editing and four extensive rewrites. Chinese leaders, otherwise preoccupied with running a rising superpower, weighed in throughout. I never thought it would take so long, said Shi Zhongquan, who helped craft what the party hopes will be the final word on some of the most politically sensitive and also bloodiest episodes of China's recent history a new 1,074-page account of the party's early decades in power. It gets particularly hard when it includes not only two of the past century's most lethal man-made catastrophes the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution but also a modest yet now ticklish upset back in 1962 the disgrace of Xi Zhongxun, the father of Xi Jinping, China's current vice president and leader-in-waiting.
Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, May 26 2011
It's an old communist joke that Marxists can predict the future, but the past is more difficult, Roderick Macfarquhar, a Harvard University scholar and leading authority on Chinese politics under Mao Zedong, told the Washington Post. The past, added Macfarquhar, is important because it legitimates the present and what went wrong then has to be justified now.
The party published its first official history 20 years ago but ended the story with Mao's conquest of China in 1949. It has now ventured into far more treacherous territory with the January publication of History of the Chinese Communist Party, Volume 2 (1949-1978), which continues the saga until the year Deng Xiaoping started undoing much of Mao's legacy.
The leadership's close attention has at least helped boost sales: The two-volume text topped the Beijing News bestseller list for more than a month, due in large part to bulk orders from party units, which have been ordered to study the work. Regular historians sniff at the whole venture: This is politics and propaganda, said Yang Kuisong, a prominent history professor in Beijing. I have no interest in the topic.
Difficulty in Assembling the Official Version of the Communist Party's History
Shi, a former deputy director of the Party History Research Center, acknowledged wide differences of opinion among scholars, both Chinese and foreign, but said the party was not budging from the line it first fixed in 1981 that Mao made gross mistakes but, overall, did far more good than harm. You can’t attack Mao and not attack the Chinese Communist Party, Shi said.
Xi, the Politburo member who is due to take over as leader of the party next year and whose father was purged by Mao in 1962, has been particularly active in stressing the need to get history right. In a keynote address at a history work conference last summer, he called on all party members numbering nearly 80 million to resolutely combat the wrong tendency to distort and smear the party's history. He didn’t comment on his father.) Also weighing history has been Liu Yuan, the son of Liu Shaoqi, a former Chinese president who died in 1969 after being denied medical treatment, having been purged by Mao during the Cultural Revolution.
So touchy is the party about its past that the new history Shi helped edit had to be vetted by 64 party and state bodies, including the People's Liberation Army. An initial draft took four years to finish, but that didn’t pass muster with the leadership. It took 12 more years before the Politburo finally signed off on a finished text. This, according to an editor's note, followed clear demands regarding revisions from party chief Hu Jintao, his heir apparent, Xi, and vice president Zeng Qinghong. The whole process lasted so long that more than a dozen of the scholars involved at the start died before publication. Of an original trio of three senior editors, Shi, now 73, is the only one still alive.
Hayes, Jeffery. Early Communist Rule Under Mao, 2008, http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat2/sub6/item73.html
Content of the Official Version of the Communist Party's History
David Shambaugh of George Washington University wrote in the New York Times, Nowhere mentioned is the violence of political campaigns during the 195's that cost the lives of tens of millions (some of the campaigns are discussed, but not the persecutions and killings). The 1956 Hundred Flowers Movement, in which intellectuals launched broadside critiques of party rule (many which remain apt today), is totally absent. Only the subsequent Anti-Rightist purge is covered (in a sanitized fashion) but not Deng Xiaoping's role in directing it.
Source: David Shambaugh, New York Times June 30, 2011
Mao himself does come in for criticism, but overall the blame is shifted to others. Mao's successor Hua Guofeng does benefit from a posthumous rehabilitation, but no such luck for the disgraced Zhao Ziyang. The official treatment of these events is clear: maintain a strong institutional apparatus and remain vigilant against inner-party usurpers and foreign saboteurs. Thus, even in the midst of an anniversary celebration, the party's continuing inability to honestly and fully confront its past speaks volumes about its present and future. It is symptomatic of existing insecurities.
Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, in a lengthy discussion of the Great Leap Forward, a ruinous crash program of industrialization and rural collectivization launched in 1958, the party history acknowledges great suffering and even notes that because of food shortages and illness, China's population in 1960 fell by 10 million. But, claiming that Mao's goal throughout was basically the same as that of China's current leadership, it says he was driven by a desire to change a picture of poverty and backwardness and make China grow rich and strong so it could use its own strength to stand tall in the forest of nations.
Peter Foster of The Telegraph wrote: “Mr Hu acknowledged in vague terms the mistakes of the Party's past which include the 'Great Starvation' of 1959-62 in which 30m-40m Chinese died, and the political civil war that was the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. "In some historical periods, we once made mistakes and even suffered severe setbacks, the root cause of which was that the guiding thought then was divorced from China's reality," he said.”
Mao, according to the party's version of events, realized relatively early through preliminary investigation and research that there were problems in [the Great Leap] movement and worked hard to correct them. Frank Dikotter, a Dutch scholar who last year published a study of the period, Mao's Great Famine, dismissed this as a barefaced lie. Mao, he said, was indeed aware of the starvation caused by his policies but pressed on, with the result that as many as 45 million people died. Not recorded in the official history is a 1959 comment by Mao that Dikotter unearthed from a Chinese provincial archive: It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.
How does this information impact your knowledge (and use) of Chinese history and historiography?
For Slideshows and Images of the 90th Anniversary of the CCP:
The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2011/jul/01/china-anniversary-communist-party-in-pictures
The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/07/90th-anniversary-of-chinas-communist-party/100099/
On Party Anniversary, China Rewrites History
Letter from China By Didi Kirsten Tatlow, July 20, 2011
BEIJING — When President Hu Jintao said in a pomp-filled ceremony in the Great Hall of the People on July 1, “The Communist Party of China was founded 90 years ago today,” and, “From then on, the Chinese people embarked on the bright road of striving for independence and liberation and the glorious pursuit of prosperity and strength,” he was wrong. About the date, anyway.
The party’s true founding date is July 23, 1921, according to official documents. An autobiographical account by one of the party’s founders and, remarkably, memories and news reports of a murder in a Shanghai hotel corroborate that, providing important clues for historians keen to establish the truth.
Ultimately, the strange story of the wrong founding date of the world’s biggest political party is the result of Mao Zedong’s mistaken memory and the party’s disregard for truth, historians say. While the true date is now recorded in some Chinese history books, to this day most Chinese are unaware of the error and are astonished when they hear of it. For months, people had been exposed to intense propaganda about the July 1 anniversary from the news media, workplaces and slogans festooning roads.
According to a Russian-language document of the Communist International, published in Chinese in June by the Party Literature Research Office, 12 people — 10 Chinese and two Soviet organizers — attended the party’s founding congress in Shanghai on July 23, 1921. The document was held by the Soviets, and, coupled with the chaos of civil war, revolution and the Japanese invasion, that opened the door for Mao to reimagine the founding date. Holed up with his Communist fighters in caves in Yan’an, Mao wanted to commemorate the party’s 20th anniversary in 1941 but had forgotten exactly when that would be, wrote Zhang Baijia, deputy head of the Party History Research Office, in an article published in May in History Reference, a magazine belonging to People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper.
“No one remembered the opening date of the first party congress,” wrote Mr. Zhang. “They just remembered it was in July, so they decided on July 1.” The mistake matters, said Zhou Xun, a historian at the University of Hong Kong. “It’s actually rather important,” Ms. Zhou said. “We’re talking about real historical events and real historical truth.” “This is a good example of how the party makes up all kinds of things, such as events, historical figures, and how they eliminate facts. It’s just a constant thing,” she said. “But for the president of China to stand up and formally say” the wrong date, as Mr. Hu did recently, “is pretty amazing, really,” she said.
Said a party historian, who requested anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the subject, “The most important reason they don’t change it is that it was decided by Mao.” To this day, he said, “Even many scholars don’t know.” The truth began to emerge after 1978, with Mao two years dead and the new leader, Deng Xiaoping, urging Chinese to “seek truth from facts.” The memory trigger was almost novelistic.
In a collection of autobiographical essays, “Cold Wind Anthology,” published in Shanghai in 1945, Chen Gongbo, a founding delegate from the southern province of Guangdong who, disillusioned, left the party a year after it was founded, wrote dramatically of events at the end of July 1921.
Two things happened in quick succession on July 30 and 31. The first was that on the evening of July 30, a date many participants agreed was about a week into the congress, the police raided the home of one of the delegates, where the fledgling party was meeting.
Mr. Chen wrote that he and that delegate were the only ones who did not flee when seven police officers — three French and four Chinese — burst in. After hours of interrogation, the police allowed the two men to leave.
Mr. Chen said he shook off a tailing police officer by slipping through a cinema. He returned to his room at the Dadong Hotel, shaken by the narrow escape. “Who knew that barely had one wave passed than another arrived,” he wrote.
Hours later, in the early morning of July 31, he heard a gunshot and a scream. Frightened, he opened the door and looked down the corridor but saw nothing. The next morning, a room attendant told Mr. Chen and his wife that a young woman had been murdered in the hotel. They fled to the nearby city of Hangzhou, with Mr. Chen reckoning that he was by now a security risk for the party.
A report in the Aug. 1 edition of Shenbao, Shanghai’s leading newspaper, confirms Mr. Chen’s account. In what was apparently a failed murder-suicide, a young man surnamed Zhang shot and killed his female companion in Room No. 32, on the fourth floor, the report said. He left later without paying his bill.
Mr. Chen, who followed the case avidly from Hangzhou, wrote that the man had not shot himself, as the couple had agreed. The motive for their pact was a thwarted desire to marry, Mr. Chen wrote, citing Hangzhou newspaper accounts.
Mr. Chen never returned to the congress. In 1946 he was executed by the Nationalists for collaborating with the Japanese.
As Mr. Zhang wrote in History Reference, the exact date the party congress ended remains a mystery, but the timing of the hotel shooting, at the end of the month, rules out July 1 as the founding date.
Some historians do not see a problem with the dueling dates.
“All important things are a process,” said the party historian. By July 1921 there were already half a dozen small, independent Communist groups in Chinese cities, he noted.
“I don’t think the date itself is important,” he said. “I think what is important is that the party was set up in that period, and the reasons why.”
Ms. Zhou, of Hong Kong University, disagreed.
“They don’t want people to remember the details,” she said.
“They want you to remember what they want to tell you, and not what the truth is, whether you know already or not. And even after you know, it still doesn’t matter.”
Legacy debate as Republic of China marks 100 years
By Cindi Sui, BBC News, Taipei, 10 October 2011 Last updated at 01:32 ET , http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-15218596
One of the most important events of the 20th Century was the overthrow of China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing, and the founding of the Republic of China (ROC).
But on the 100th anniversary of the 10 October 1911 rebellion that sprang from the Xinhai Revolution, which ended 2,000 years of imperial rule and ushered Chinese people into a modern era, mention of the ROC is rare - except in Taiwan.
In mainland China, the anniversary will be marked by mostly official activities that focus on the revolution and Sun Yat-sen, who inspired it, not the founding of the republic or Sun's principles of democracy. That is because the Communist Party, which had nothing to do with the revolution, does not want to give much credit to the ROC and its founders, the Nationalists (or Kuomintang, KMT). The two sides later fought a bloody civil war that ended with the Kuomintang fleeing to Taiwan in the late 1940s and re-establishing the republic there.
But in Taiwan, the government - currently led by the Kuomintang - is sparing no efforts to make sure the world does not forget the 100th birthday of the republic."It was the biggest event in China's 5,000-year history and a major change in political system which established the first republic in Asia," said the Kuomintang's historical archives director Shao Ming-huang. "That planted the seeds of rebellion in Asia against foreign forces' control," he said, saying one of the reasons why Sun wanted to overthrow the Qing was because it was too weak to fend off foreign invasions.
The day will be marked with fireworks, shows, speeches and celebrations On the island, the anniversary is being celebrated with much fanfare on Monday. A 40-minute fireworks show is planned in central Taiwan. Fireworks will also light up the skies in other areas, including Taipei. Many ordinary people watched the flag-raising ceremony in the morning and the subsequent activities, including a military parade involving more than 1,000 military personnel, 71 aircraft and 168 vehicles. Numerous couples got married in a mass wedding, and President Ma Ying-jeou made a speech. Even tourists were reminded - those arriving on Monday were presented with a centennial souvenir gift.
But on the eve of the anniversary, the legacy of the ROC is inevitably debated. Some people blame it for corruption and incompetence which led to it losing mainland China to the Communists in the civil war. And in Taiwan, a still significant segment of the population views the KMT and ROC with resentment because of suppressive rule after relocating to Taiwan in the 1940s.
It is blamed for the 2/28 Incident in 1947 (an uprising sparked by the beating of a female vendor that lead to deadly riots) and a subsequent crackdown against dissidents known as the White Terror, which led to thousands of people being arrested, tortured, killed or persecuted. Martial law was not lifted until 1987.
"The ROC is a Chinese government exiled in Taipei. It should be out of Taiwan," said Tsay Ting-kuei, who is one of a group of people who believe that when Japan lost WWII, Taiwan technically should not have been handed over to the ROC because that was not specified in the treaties signed between Japan and the Western victors in the war.
Yeh Tsai-chu, a business woman, said she and her family will not be celebrating the anniversary - also known as Double Ten National Day. "The ROC's 100th anniversary has nothing to do with Taiwan. Besides, what is there to celebrate? The ROC is not even recognised as a country by the rest of the world," Ms Yeh said. She is referring to the fact that the ROC lost its seat in the United Nations in 1971 to the People's Republic of China.
Taiwan's government and most people, however, strongly believe the ROC is a legitimate, sovereign country, despite claims to the contrary by China and only about 20 mostly small countries officially recognising it as such. Ahead of the anniversary, passers-by expressed genuine pride in not only Taiwan but also the ROC. Many of them were descendants of long-time Taiwanese, not Chinese immigrants who came here after the war in the 1940s. "It's done some good and bad, but it's mostly good. It raised Taiwan's living standards and the best thing is, it allowed Taiwan to become an open and free society," said Kevin Wun, 26, a financial risk manager.
Many people also credit the ROC with saving Taiwan from a Communist takeover and helping the island become a prosperous economy and thriving democracy. "What happened in the past has passed. Taiwan is the ROC, we've sung our national anthem for so many years. We're made up of longtime Taiwanese, more recent immigrants from China and South East Asian brides. We have such a free society today," said Chai-yun Lee, who is in her 60s.
Pressed for an answer, a Chinese tourist visiting Taiwan also agreed that perhaps the ROC's legacy may be more good than bad. "We recognise Sun Yat-sen. We recognise the Xinhai Revolution, but not Double Ten National Day and not the ROC, but the ROC did more good than bad; it overthrew the emperors," said a Chinese woman who declined to be named.
Despite the dark chapters in its history of rule in Taiwan, many Taiwanese people recognise the ROC as Taiwan, although they might define it differently from the ruling party. "The ROC is Taiwan. It doesn't include the mainland," said Sidney Cheng.
"We're very proud of ourselves. Our country has a lot of great things, such as democracy, its high-tech industry, its economy and its friendly people."
The relevance of the ROC, however, could face threats in the future. Mr Cheng and others noted when they travel abroad, people including customs officers are confused by what the ROC stands for, thinking it is China. "When I went to Brazil, they stamped on my visa that I was Chinese," said Mr Cheng. Most people overseas know Taiwan as Taiwan, not the Republic of China.
But the KMT's chief historian Mr Shao insists the ROC's relevance will not diminish with time. "The ROC not only achieved Dr Sun's ideals of nationalism, democracy and livelihood for the Chinese race [in Taiwan], things that have not been achieved by China, it will also play a very important role in eventually resolving the differences between Taiwan and mainland China," Mr Shao said. "Even China has some feelings for it, because it was created by Sun Yat-sen and they respect Sun Yat-sen."
But the ROC's road to democracy is not complete. On the eve of the centennial, an indigenous tribe in Taiwan vowed to carry out a symbolic headhunt of the ROC - to express frustration at its history of not respecting indigenous people's rights. But such an activity would not be tolerated in mainland China, and such is the legacy of the ROC.