Communists Want Chinese to Forget the Millions Who Starved Due to Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”

(p. A1) Modern lore has it that Mao Zedong’s eldest son, who was killed in a United Nations airstrike during the Korean War, had given away his position by firing up a stove to make egg fried rice.

That story didn’t sit right with the Chinese Academy of History, launched two years ago by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to counter negative views of the ruling Communist Party’s past.

In November [2020], on the 70th anniversary of Mao Anying’s death, the academy served up another version. Citing what it said were declassified telegrams and eyewitness accounts, the academy said in a social-media post that Mao was killed after enemy forces detected radio transmissions from his commander’s headquarters.

“These rumormongers have tied up Mao Anying with egg fried rice, gravely dwarfing the heroic image of Mao Anying’s brave sacrifice,” said the post, which has attracted about 1.9 million views. “Their hearts are vicious.” The academy attributed the egg fried rice story to the 2003 edition of a Chinese military officer’s memoir. It didn’t mention the book was published by the Chinese military’s official press.

The history academy is run by Gao Xiang, a 57-year-old historian turned propaganda official who has mixed traditional scholarship with viral marketing techniques to repackage the past in support of Mr. Xi’s vision for a resurgent China.

Mr. Gao and his academy are part of Mr. Xi’s push to harness history in the run-up to the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary this summer. Those efforts have culminated in a national propaganda campaign to promote party history, launched in February [2021], that experts describe as China’s largest (p. A10) mass-education drive since the Mao era.

. . .

Officials commissioned concerts with orchestral renditions of patriotic songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China.” Bureaucrats and students competed in quizzes testing their knowledge of party trivia. Authorities revised books to play down Mao’s despotic missteps. The education ministry added questions on party history to this year’s college-entrance exams, to “guide students to inherit red genes.”

. . .

At Mr. Xi’s behest, the history academy was set up in January 2019 under the aegis of both the party’s propaganda department and the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, or CASS, giving party theorists direct control over its output.

. . .

Last year, it launched a journal, “Historical Review,” that offers commentary on current affairs and invokes history to counter criticism of Beijing’s policies.

In July, the journal featured two articles by Chinese researchers that promoted party narratives about China’s history in denouncing Georgetown University history professor James Millward, a critic of Beijing’s forced-assimilation campaign against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. One article accused Mr. Millward of having “sinister motives” and smearing “vocational-education training centers” in Xinjiang as “political-training centers.”

Mr. Millward said the criticism distorted his writings and echoed how Beijing often mischaracterized foreign censure of its human-rights record as challenges to Chinese sovereignty.

. . .

Outside the academy, too, party historians are rewriting the past in ways that support Mr. Xi’s views. Past editions of “A Short History of the Chinese Communist Party,” an authoritative text for general audiences, devoted hefty passages to Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” a disastrous economic program that led to one of history’s deadliest famines.

The revised version, published in February [2021], excises the earlier edition’s conclusion about the program and its fallout: “This bitter historical lesson shouldn’t be forgotten.” The new version also dropped detailed discussions of Mao’s mistakes in launching the Cultural Revolution, a series of purges against “counterrevolutionary elements” that ravaged Chinese society and left as many as millions of people dead. Instead, it focuses mainly on China’s industrial, technological and diplomatic achievements during that decade.

Also gone are well-known quotations from Deng Xiaoping, including his advice that China should “hide our light and bide our time,” or keep a low profile while accumulating strength. Another was a remark he made in 1989 as he prepared to relinquish his last official leadership post: “Building a nation’s fate on the reputation of one or two people is very unhealthy and very dangerous.”

Meanwhile, chapters were added that describe Mr. Xi as a visionary statesman whose authority as the party’s “core” leader must be upheld.

“Amid ten thousand majestic mountains, there must be a main peak,” reads the updated book, which devotes more than one-quarter of its 531 pages to Mr. Xi’s policies and achievements.

For the full story, see:

Chun Han Wong and Keith Zhai. “China Repackages History In Support of Xi’s Vision.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 16, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2021, and has the title “China Repackages Its History in Support of Xi’s National Vision.”)

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