I continue to be flabbergasted by the pain–just the tremendous human suffering–of life in pre-revolutionary China, as I read “Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village.”
This book is amazing. The story of life in these times reveals it to be so human, so totally palpable and familiar, even as the book describes a way of life of such great deprivation that I keep wanting to cry as I read it.
When we in the West are told about the Chinese revolution, we are told a story of something bizarre and unreal–like, walking, soul-eating genocide incarnate in the person of Mao, the whole revolution made up of joyless, death-worshiping, hive-minded people (obviously some profoundly racist ideas). If the propaganda caricature of Stalin is as this heartless and brutish leader, he is at least painted as having understandable motives, as being relatable as a human being. But Mao is presented as something non-human: pure ideologue, ideologue squared, a sociopathic childish self-imagined philosopher forcing millions into starvation on a whim just to see what happens.
This is the type of impression I was given of Mao, growing up–and I think it’s the understanding millions of Westerners are given.
I was looking at re-shares of my Sanders article yesterday and found someone commenting on one of them saying,
“praising what Mao did is problematic.”
I can’t help but feel deeply frustrated and impatient with people making statements like that. I want to just sit them down with the first 30 pages of “Fanshen” and see how it was in China before the revolution.
That would explain everything, so vividly, so totally relatably. From the portrait in the book, it is just so utterly obvious why people were willing to fight a people’s war for decades. It humanizes absolutely everything about it. Mao was a really devoted, decent human being who helped utterly transform a deeply miserable way of life into something so, so much better.
The revolution happened because the masses were in appalling suffering and wanted a dramatically better world.
I want everyone to read “Fanshen”–so much prejudice would just completely evaporate and be replaced with deep compassion and fascination, from just picking this book up and reading for a half hour.
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Edit (2016 04 22 0630 CDT): My comrade J Solidaire made a number of really excellent points on top of what I wrote, and I share them here with her permission:
So true and so sad. I see folks who recoil at the mention of Mao Zedong and it’s so often backed by fucked up orientalist tropes, reactionary accounts, KMT right-wingers, things that don’t live up to reality, context, or anything beyond the thinnest veil of moralism imaginable…
Not to mention the utter erasure of the heroic and indomitable participation of the Chinese masses entirely in a narrative that depicts Mao as a person he never was, with an exclusively omnipotent power he never had (outside of that which belonged to the masses themselves bc they fought for it and brought the contradictions of their society to the forefront with a righteous and necessary violence that doesn’t fit into idealist boxes). The “Mao was problematic uwu” folks are some of the worst, whose politics are worth little more than couchside critiques of the world, not actually changing it.
Mao stood alongside the masses through thick and thin, and even the most dire situations of Mao’s China were part of a messy process which was ALWAYS still leaps ahead of and better than the society before that the masses were turning upside down. Mao stood with the masses, with workers, with peasants, with women, with love for the ppl without restraint. Our world is better for him and you should be v suspicious of any analysis that misses that bottom line.