[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Socialisms]: Liu on Zouw and Zürcher, 'Three Months in Mao's China: Between the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Wed May 23 09:37:57 MDT 2018

Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: May 23, 2018 at 11:24:44 AM EDT
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Socialisms]:  Liu on Zouw and  Zürcher, 'Three Months in Mao's China: Between the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Kim van der Zouw, Erik-Jan Zürcher, eds.  Three Months in Mao's
> China: Between the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
> Acumen Research Editions Series. Amsterdam  Amsterdam University
> Press, 2017.  144 pp.  $24.99 (paper), ISBN 978-946298181-2.
> Reviewed by Zixian Liu (University of Toronto)
> Published on H-Socialisms (May, 2018)
> Commissioned by Gary Roth
> Life in Mao's China
> In recent years, scholarship about the Cold War has stepped beyond
> its traditional parameters in terms of high politics and has expanded
> its scope to include social and everyday life histories. The new
> trend has enabled historians to incorporate a fuller range of primary
> sources into their scope. _Three Months in China: Between the Great
> Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution_, the publication of Erik
> Zürcher's diaries and letters, written in 1964, __comes at the right
> time to help us think about the Cold War's influence on daily life in
> China and the historical context that framed the worldview of a
> generation of leftist China observers.
> Zürcher (Chinese name 许理和) was a famous Dutch sinologist whose
> expertise focused on the history of Chinese religion. On the eve of
> the Cultural Revolution, accompanied by Gan Tjiang-Tek (颜昌德), a
> curator at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, Zürcher
> traveled to Mao's China to set up an academic exchange project. His
> role as a sinologist and a critical sympathizer of the Chinese
> revolution distinguished him from ordinary travelers. His supportive
> attitude toward the Chinese revolution and the future of China cannot
> be separated from his critiques of the Chinese Communist Party's
> questionable political practices.
> Zürcher's writing reflected common anxieties among left-wing
> intellectuals about the future of socialism during the Cold War. In
> his diaries and letters, he expressed his disillusion with Soviet
> socialism when he traveled through that country and witnessed its
> rural poverty. After arriving in Beijing in September 1964, Zürcher
> reflected on the extent to which the Maoist regime had changed the
> country. His conclusion was positive: "it is truly phenomenal what
> this government has done for the masses.... China has enormous
> potential and will develop into [a] first-class world power in the
> coming twenty years" (p. 109). Wherever he visited, he paid close
> attention to the well-being of the common people by focusing on such
> problems as food shortages and workers' exploitation. His assessment
> was positive regarding the progress the socialist state had made,
> especially the improvement of working conditions and the amelioration
> of food shortages. Given the fact that all factories and villages he
> visited were "exemplary models" with better food and consumer goods
> supplies, Zürcher's perceptions were certainly mistaken. As the
> editors of the volume remind us, Zürcher disapproved of China's
> authoritarian style of governance, but he nonetheless made excuses
> for it: "We [Westerners] would not be able to live in such a system
> ... but for them [the Chinese, it] is the only way" (pp. 15-16). This
> quote gets to the heart of Zürcher's naïveté. Historians, however,
> need to delve into the problematic of how the state exhibited itself
> and how a leftist intellectual was influenced by state-approved
> "showings."
> As a book written by an informed outsider with a keen interest in
> ordinary people, this book sheds new light on the history of everyday
> life. Zürcher portrays in detail people's leisure activities,
> clothing styles, living conditions, and attitudes toward foreigners.
> In Zürcher's opinion, the Chinese were much more open-minded than
> what Cold War biases had led him to assume. They were not afraid of
> talking with foreigners. He also experienced the country's regional
> diversity by traveling to Beijing, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Xi'an, and
> other cities. His observations undermine the totalitarian
> understanding of Mao's China as a state of dull uniformity. For
> example, he observed that people in Shanghai had adopted more
> Western-style fashions compared to other regions. In industrial
> construction projects and urban cleaning campaigns, he witnessed the
> party's mobilization campaigns that were intended to instill a
> collective lifestyle in "socialist" factories and cities. The party's
> ambition to revolutionize everyday life by regulating and reforming
> leisure activities, including the Peking Opera and wrestling, in
> working-class neighborhoods drew special attention from him. These
> rich details of everyday life in Cold War China will be of special
> interest to historians.
> Zürcher's diaries and letters provide insightful portraits of the
> Chinese diasporas that had returned to China after the revolution and
> the dilemmas they faced during the Cold War. Through their personal
> connections, Zürcher and Tjiang-Tek visited many Chinese
> Indonesians. Zürcher sensed that many felt "miserable" in their new
> homeland because of the poverty, intensified political inspections,
> and deteriorated working conditions. Some even hoped to return to
> Holland. On the other hand, he also witnessed people's "personal
> pride in seeing the new China" and, in his opinion, their
> "over-pronounced tendency to gloss over certain evident problems in a
> naïve manner" (p. 110). Zürcher concluded that "only idealism and
> the irrevocability of one's choice could keep one going in such
> circumstances" (p. 52). Intertwined nationalist and idealist
> sentiments conflicted with the harsh political realities of China's
> attempt to incorporate its diasporas into the project of constructing
> socialism. _Three Months in Mao's China_ is valuable for historians
> who wish to examine the Chinese diaspora experience during the Cold
> War.
> _Three Months in Mao's China _offers a means to understand the
> complex, orientalist, and leftist sentiments that were entangled not
> only in Zürcher's thoughts but also in the perceptions of other Cold
> War era intellectuals and supporters of the Chinese revolution. He
> regretted the demolition of Beijing's old city walls and the decline
> of Buddhism, but he supported the revolutionary project passionately
> because he felt it would help emancipate China. Nonetheless, he
> disliked the increasingly Americanized consumption culture signified
> by "business-like superficiality and mindless pleasure-seeking" (p.
> 142). He also could not resist purchasing luxuries, clothing, and
> more for himself. In his role as a foreigner and China specialist, he
> noted that "the way Chinese people live and think here is so totally
> different that any Western European who imagines that he can put
> himself in the position of a Chinese is simply deceiving himself" (p.
> 133). In contrast to his open-minded perception of the Chinese
> revolution, he claimed that the only characteristic that he "really
> cannot bear" is "the cruelty towards animals," a reference to the
> consumption of dog meat in China (p. 117).
> Zürcher's _Three Months in Mao's China _is an important source for
> scholars interested in the society and culture of the Cold War, and
> in everyday life and the politics of traveling in Mao's China. It
> also sheds much light on the Cold War generation of leftist Chinese
> observers. Thanks to the editors, Zürcher's rich and valuable
> comments on modern China are retained in this edited work. As a
> primary source, I recommend it to scholars and teachers of both
> modern China and Cold War history.
> Citation: Zixian Liu. Review of Zouw, Kim van der; Zürcher,
> Erik-Jan, eds., _Three Months in Mao's China: Between the Great Leap
> Forward and the Cultural Revolution_. H-Socialisms, H-Net Reviews.
> May, 2018.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=50306
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> --

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