The truth will set you free

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There's the rub, as far as China's rulers are concerned. Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor writes about the central founding myth of the Communist Revolution, The Long March, and the way the government suppresses publication of historical revision to the sometimes outright falsehoods attached to it.

While China's economy has matured rapidly, the official history of modern China remains unrevised. How the truth of the past emerges in China is a subject of great importance and invisible struggle here. Legends like the Long March, the epic two—year survival march around China by the fledgling communists, remain so crucial to the founding concepts of the party that archives on the march are unapproachable and no scholars who want a healthy career will study the area.

This attitude has not stopped historical research from uncovering a fuller picture of the Long March. Much of what the world knew and most Chinese still believe of the March came from Edgar Snow's famous book, Red Star over China. Snow based his book on interviews with Mao Tes—tung, who is reputed to have virtually dictated parts of it to Snow.

A Chinese—born historian, Sun Shuyun, has written a revisionist history of the Long March, published in English (but not yet listed on Amazon.com), which is not seeing publication in China. By no means is she a harsh critic:

Ms. Sun, an Oxford—educated daughter of China who tracked down 40 march survivors, found the real story of China's defining myth to be "far more heroic, and far more tragic, than is known." The endurance, the sacrifices, the heartbreak — especially for women — goes past any official accounting, she finds.

But as Marquand noted:

Take the Long March. As a founding narrative, it is rousing: Mao and his followers were forced out of their stronghold in south China by bad military decisions made by a German tactician named Otto Braun, who was foisted onto the Reds by Moscow. Some 200,000 soldiers in three armies wandered like the children of Israel over mountains and rivers, hungry and attacked, backtracking, until only 40,000 survivors arrived at Wuqi in the north two years later. This was the core of a new China.

Today, Long March is like apple pie. It's the name for missiles, military hospitals, and schools. On "Red tourism" vacations, Chinese walk parts of the march. Chinese journalists retrace the footprints of the march, blogging all the way.

All nations mythologize their foundings, of course. But China has taken a very public and very important diplomatic stance with regard to airbrushed history of the very era in which the Long March took place. Japan is regularly excoriated for failing to own up to war crimes against China, and visits to Yasukuni Shrine by officials are triggers for diplomatic protests and stronger measures.

I am all in favor of truth—telling. I want Japanese school students to learn about The Rape of Nanking (which has its own historical controversies) in their textbooks. But Japan does not forbid publication of critical books on that history, or any other such question.

China has made remarkable economic progress in recent years, but political freedom has lagged behind. Despite efforts to control the internet, the truth known overseas cannot be prevented from reaching the Chinese people. The regime recently has been clumsy in its suppression of reference to the Tiananmen massacre, embarrassing itself before the world of movie—makers. I don't expect them to become more adroit any time soon.

Hat tip: China Challenges

Thomas Lifson   5 22 06

There's the rub, as far as China's rulers are concerned. Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor writes about the central founding myth of the Communist Revolution, The Long March, and the way the government suppresses publication of historical revision to the sometimes outright falsehoods attached to it.

While China's economy has matured rapidly, the official history of modern China remains unrevised. How the truth of the past emerges in China is a subject of great importance and invisible struggle here. Legends like the Long March, the epic two—year survival march around China by the fledgling communists, remain so crucial to the founding concepts of the party that archives on the march are unapproachable and no scholars who want a healthy career will study the area.

This attitude has not stopped historical research from uncovering a fuller picture of the Long March. Much of what the world knew and most Chinese still believe of the March came from Edgar Snow's famous book, Red Star over China. Snow based his book on interviews with Mao Tes—tung, who is reputed to have virtually dictated parts of it to Snow.

A Chinese—born historian, Sun Shuyun, has written a revisionist history of the Long March, published in English (but not yet listed on Amazon.com), which is not seeing publication in China. By no means is she a harsh critic:

Ms. Sun, an Oxford—educated daughter of China who tracked down 40 march survivors, found the real story of China's defining myth to be "far more heroic, and far more tragic, than is known." The endurance, the sacrifices, the heartbreak — especially for women — goes past any official accounting, she finds.

But as Marquand noted:

Take the Long March. As a founding narrative, it is rousing: Mao and his followers were forced out of their stronghold in south China by bad military decisions made by a German tactician named Otto Braun, who was foisted onto the Reds by Moscow. Some 200,000 soldiers in three armies wandered like the children of Israel over mountains and rivers, hungry and attacked, backtracking, until only 40,000 survivors arrived at Wuqi in the north two years later. This was the core of a new China.

Today, Long March is like apple pie. It's the name for missiles, military hospitals, and schools. On "Red tourism" vacations, Chinese walk parts of the march. Chinese journalists retrace the footprints of the march, blogging all the way.

All nations mythologize their foundings, of course. But China has taken a very public and very important diplomatic stance with regard to airbrushed history of the very era in which the Long March took place. Japan is regularly excoriated for failing to own up to war crimes against China, and visits to Yasukuni Shrine by officials are triggers for diplomatic protests and stronger measures.

I am all in favor of truth—telling. I want Japanese school students to learn about The Rape of Nanking (which has its own historical controversies) in their textbooks. But Japan does not forbid publication of critical books on that history, or any other such question.

China has made remarkable economic progress in recent years, but political freedom has lagged behind. Despite efforts to control the internet, the truth known overseas cannot be prevented from reaching the Chinese people. The regime recently has been clumsy in its suppression of reference to the Tiananmen massacre, embarrassing itself before the world of movie—makers. I don't expect them to become more adroit any time soon.

Hat tip: China Challenges

Thomas Lifson   5 22 06