I am not a sports fan. To me, sports are the opiate of the people, as the Roman emperors discovered long ago. If I want violence and brute behavior, I study and cover wars.
Olympics remind me of the old Soviet, Nazi and Red Chinese totalitarian fanfares. Worse, they leave their host cities with useless white elephants and huge bills.
Having said this, I admit China’s stupendous, over-the-top, nouveau riche Olympics were admittedly very impressive and flawlessly executed. A superb coming-out party for a proud nation.
But what really caught my attention was the man who was not there. In spite of the Olympics’ glorification of China’s rich history, I saw no references at all to its most famous modern leader, Chairman Mao Zedong.
The only sign of the Great Helmsman was his pink-cheeked portrait facing Tiananmen Square. But Mao’s ghost still hung over the Beijing festivities.
It was Mao, after all, who helped forge modern China out of an assemblage of rival regions and feuding warlords. This brilliant military strategist, politician, historian, and poet played the key role in defeating first the Japanese Empire, then driving out the US-backed Nationalists of Chiang-Kai-shek. Mao managed to keep both Soviet and United States influence out of China.
In fact, Mao was first and foremost a military strategist and poet. He read Chinese history voraciously, often basing his military and political strategies and tactics on examples from China’s turbulent history.
But Mao was no economist. His crazy socialist ideas led to titanic calamities, like the Great Leap Forward, during which 25-30 million Chinese peasants died of hunger, and millions of Chinese melted down spoons and pots to make useless pig iron in backyard smelters. As millions of Chinese were starving, party officials dared not tell the Great Helmsman the terrible truth, instead, showering with bogus reports and lies.
In his later years, Mao also launched the infamous Great Cultural Revolution that plunged China in turmoil for a decade. The `revolution’ was led by the Gang of Four, a collection of ultra-leftist fanatics led by Mao’s hideous wife, Jiang Qing - known as the `white boned-devil’ - and her chief ally, the sinister intelligence chief, Kang Sheng.
Interestingly, Mao’s greatest fear was that China would lose the revolutionary fervor he had created and lapse back into what he termed `rightism’ and traditional Confucianism. Mao unleashed his Cultural Revolution after Nikita Khrushchev denounced Soviet dictator Stalin in 1956. Mao feared his successors would undermine his revolutionary legacy and historic image as China’s modern Red Emperor.
Mao was quite right. `Capitalist roaders’ inside the Communist Party finally won out and began efforts to sideline him as early as 1957. After Mao’s death in 1976, Hua Guofeng a colorless apparatchik from Hunan, succeeded him as party chairman. Hua died last week in Beijing.
Hua and his moderate allies quickly arrested the Gang of Four. Power soon passed from Hua to the highly capable Deng Xiaoping, who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution, but managed to survive. Deng had been protected by China’s elegant premier, Zhou Enlai, who, for all his faithfulness to Mao, was a great patriot who curbed some of the aging chairman’s wilder excesses, and deftly resisted the leftists. Though dying of cancer, Zhou literally fought to his last breath to maneuver Deng into power and help overthrow the Gang of Four.
Deng was indeed the true capitalist roader Mao had so rightly feared. Using his famous dictum, `it does not matter what color a cat is so long as it catches mice,’ Deng laid the foundation for China’s turn to state capitalism and the economic miracle we see today.
In fact, as this column has often said, history will likely look back on the redoubtable Deng as China’s greatest leader and revolutionary. Deng’s wise leadership unchained China’s enormous talents and energy. The China I first saw in 1975, steeped in abject poverty and chaos, was like a different plant compared to today’s powerhouse nation. Deng Xiaoping put China on the path to world leadership. But without the underestimated Zhou Enlai and Hua Guofeng, Deng might never have become China’s leader and the Gang of Four would have kept the nation steeped in backwardness and poverty.
Mao’s other fear, the `Confucians,’ also came to pass. Today’s modern Chinese Communist Party is a complete return to traditional Confucian tenets of political obedience and loyalty to superiors, collective leadership, priority of the group over the individual, hierarchical stratification, extreme caution, lack of innovation and endemic corruption. Mao feared these ancient Chinese traits even more than capitalist tendencies.
For those wishing to obtain an in-depth look into China’s recent history, I recommend two excellent books. First, `The Private Life of Chairman Mao,’ by Dr Li Zhisui, Mao’s private physician. At over 400 pages it seems daunting, but I could not stop reading this political thriller which deepened my understanding of Mao’s character and the causes of the Cultural Revolution.
I also recommend, `Zhou Enlai – The Last Perfect Revolutionary’ by Gao Wenqian, which gives a very useful, well-rounded view of China’s second highest official. Zhou was the consummate diplomat, but also a considerable wit. One day, India’s widely disliked, pompous foreign minister, the acerbic V.K. Krishna Menon, complained to Zhou that Chinese troops in Tibet threatened India. Zhou replied, `if we wanted to destroy India, all we would have to do is march 100 million Chinese up to the edge of the Tibetan plateau (which overlooks India) and order them to piss downhill. We would wash India into the ocean!’
In our era, however, the free market capitalist roaders and their Confucian-Communist Party allies and partners have managed to accomplish something Mao never dreamed of: an economically dynamic China, now the world’s fifth largest economy, ruled by a bunch of ultra-cautious bureaucrats who would have been perfectly at home governing the 19th century Ming Empire.
Today, China is at peace with itself. But remember, Mao called the rampaging Red Guards of his Cultural Revolution, `the perfect instruments of real democracy.’ Democracy can take many forms. The Red Guards could still return one day, conjured up by the ghost of the Great Helmsman.