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The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (Peoples Trilogy 2) [Hardcover]

Frank Dikötter
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Aug 2013 Peoples Trilogy 2
In 1949 Mao Zedong hoisted the red flag over Beijing's Forbidden City. Instead of liberating the country, the communists destroyed the old order and replaced it with a repressive system that would dominate every aspect of Chinese life. In an epic of revolution and violence which draws on newly opened party archives, interviews and memoirs, Frank Dikötter interweaves the stories of millions of ordinary people with the brutal politics of Mao's court. A gripping account of how people from all walks of life were caught up in a tragedy that sent at least five million civilians to their deaths.

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The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (Peoples Trilogy 2) + China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival + Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (29 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408837579
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408837573
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 15.8 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 166,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A brilliant and powerful account of the formation of that society ... Nobody who reads about the cost of the establishment of the PRC in Dikotter's humane and lucid prose will find much sympathy for the authoritarian case. This excellent book is horrific but essential reading for all who want to understand the darkness that lies at the heart of one of the world's most important revolutions (Guardian)

Frank Dikötter, now well into his stride as a meticulous chronicler of China's greatest miseries ... The Tragedy of Liberation is a tightly-written narrative of the twelve most pivotal years in modern Chinese history ... The book is also a dispassionate study of the way nations can pervert optimism and descend into lunacy by steady increments ... The Tragedy of Liberation is more unsettling. For what it tells us about the foundations of the modern Communist Party, and the backstory to so many decisions and statements made in Beijing today, it is essential reading (The Times)

Frank Dikötter's powerful new book is a bold and startling attempt to rectify this apparent neglect. In a cool, dispassionate narrative, Dikötter recounts the orgy of violence which the communists set loose ... The Tragedy of Liberation demonstrates why he has established himself as a leading historian of modern China. He is a rare scholar, adept in both Russian and Chinese ... Dikötter has a writer's gift in the use of English ... Dikötter must be admired for the manner in which he puts a human scale on the enormous barbarities of the communist takeover of China. We cannot begin to understand modern China without being aware of the blood-drenched tale Dikötter so ably relates (Kwasi Kwarteng, Evening Standard)

A mesmerizing account of the communist revolution in China, and the subsequent transformation of hundreds of millions of lives through violence, coercion and broken promises. The Chinese themselves suppress this history, but for anyone who wants to understand the current Beijing regime, this is essential background reading (Anne Applebaum)

This follow up to Dikötter's award-winning Mao's Great Famine examines the early bloodstained years of Communist China (The Times, Critics' Choices)

One-party states take control of the past as they take control of societies. Usually they must end for serious historical discussion to begin. A great intellectual challenge of our century is to historicize the People's Republic even as it continues to exist. Dikötter performs here a tremendous service by making legible the hugely controversial origins of the present Chinese political order (Tim Snyder)

Dikotter's third volume in the series will treat the larger-scale violence of the Cultural Revolution, so unlimited access might slow him up somewhat. But if I know Frank Dikotter, it will not stop him (Independent)

A history of early Maoist China puts paid to any notion of a "golden age" ... In The Tragedy of Liberation ... Frank Dikotter convincingly demolishes this rosy assessment of the early People's Republic ... The book is a remarkable work of archival research. Dikotter rarely, if ever, allows the story of central government to dominate by merely reporting a top-down directive. Instead, he tracks down the grassroots impact of Communist policies - on farmers, factory workers, industrialists, students, monks - by mining archives and libraries for reports, surveys, speeches and memoirs. In so doing, he uncovers astonishing stories of party-led inhumanity and also popular resistance ... Dikotter sustains a strong human dimension to the story by skilfully weaving individual voices through the length of the book (Financial Times)

This groundbreaking book examines the bloodstained reality behind the word and reveals how it brought tragedy to millions. Frank Dikotter is already the author of a revelatory book about China's great famine of 1958-62, and in this prequel - unsparing in its detail, relentless in its research, unforgiving in its judgments - he deals in the same way with the Chinese revolution from 1945 to 1957 ... This exhaustive trawl through Chinese archives charts the full cost of those early years of change ... Dikotter's achievement in this book is remarkable. He has mastered a mass of original source material, and has done so by mining local archives in China, which have yielded up a host of treasures. (Significantly, scholars are now reporting the steady closure of official records, as local bureaucrats revert to old habits of secrecy and isolation. This may be the last work of its kind for a while.) ... Staggering amount of detail ... For many years, histories of China have treated the 1950s as if the decade was an interlude of reason. That belief does not survive contact with this book ... It is clear to this reviewer, at least, that mainstream academic scholarship must also be revised in the light of Dikotter's work. In particular, volume 14 of the Cambridge History of China, which covers the period of this book, will have to be rewritten (Sunday Times)

Path-breaking ... Some of what Dikotter describes has been known in general terms, but what he has done here - as when he was writing about the later famine - is take advantage of the opening of archives in which firsthand official reports and accounts of death in all its forms, together with the myriad other forms of Maoist horror, can now be read unedited. It will be increasingly difficult for Western China specialists to write with authority based only on previous Western publications or on Chinese public statements. We remain in Frank Dikotter's debt (Literary Review)

With a mixture of passion and ruthlessness, he marshals the facts, many of them recently unearthed in party archives. Out of these, Mr Dikotter constructs a devastating case for how extreme violence, not a moral mandate, was at the heart of how the party got to power, and of how it then governed ... He was ready to lead the country into the giant experiment of the Great Leap Forward. Mr Dikotter has already written about that in "Mao's Great Famine", which this book only betters. The final volume of his planned trilogy will be on the Cultural Revolution, bringing the curtain down on a truly disastrous period (Economist)

Frank Dikotter's powerful new book is a bold and startling attempt to rectify this apparent neglect. In a cool, dispassionate narrative, Dikotter recounts the orgy of violence which the communists set loose ... The Tragedy of Liberation demonstrates why he has established himself as a leading historian of modern China. He is a rare scholar, adept in both Russian and Chinese ... Combined with this linguistic skill, Dikotter has a writer's gift in the use of English. The narrative of The Tragedy of Liberation is always clear and simple ... Dikotter ... Must be admired for the manner in which he puts a human scale on the enormous barbarities of the communist takeover of China. We cannot begin to understand modern China without being aware of the blood-drenched tale Dikotter so ably relates (Scotsman)

Unsparing reappraisal of China's communist revolution (Sunday Times Must Reads)

Frank Dikotter, Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong, is establishing himself as the chronicler of what happened to the most populous nation on Earth during Mao's 27-year reign ... Dikotter's great achievement is to have melded together the big picture of Mao with the smaller one of what was happening to millions of victims of his policies. In doing so he's produced a book that's as authoritative as it is gripping (Mail on Sunday)

Much of what Dikötter describes has been known in outline; but Chinese history will have to be revised in light of his detailed revelations (The Week)

The historian of China Frank Dikötter has taken a sledgehammer to demolish perhaps the last remaining shibboleth of modern Chinese history ... What emerges from the archives with new clarity is just how ruinous Mao's policies were (Spectator)

A meticulous reappraisal of the formative years of Maoist rule ... This is the first study to make sense in detail of events central to the Mao era, of which only the broad outlines have been known before now. It deserves to become fundamental to a better understanding of the forces that have shaped China today (Sunday Telegraph)

Startling ... Dikötter's work has aimed to demolish almost every claim to truth or virtue the Chinese Communist party ever made. He combines a vivid eye for detail with a historian's diligence in the archives. Powerful ... Dikötter is unsparing in his account of the effects of the communist rule (Observer)

A compelling and devastating account of the Communist involvement in the Civil War and of the first eight years of Communist rule ... This is a gripping and fluidly written account of the first decade of the People's Republic of China; one that contributes to bringing Chinese history into popular discussions of 20th century international revolutions, utopianism, violence and terror (The Times Higher Education Supplement)

Brilliant (The Times)

Catalogues in devastating detail the suffering endured from 1949 to 1957, during the installation of the world's most murderous totalitarian regime . [his portrait of Mao is] both harsher and more convincing than ever (Oldie)

By the end of Dikötter's shocking book, you are in no doubt about the dreadful murderousness of the communist leadership, whose land reforms and modernisation plans exacted a terrible toll on China's rural population. In this nightmarish world, not even leper colonies were safe (Sunday Times History Books of the Year)

The great merit of Dikötter's book is that it goes beyond the horrific statistics ... He clearly explains the mechanics of the revolutionary state, how mass violence was orchestrated, why people took part in the killing, and what the purposes of the terror were (New York Review of Books)

Few other works on the Mao period contain such a quantity and range of archival materials ... Bringing such brutality to light is a valuable contribution (Times Literary Supplement)

Book Description

The second installment in 'The People's Trilogy', the groundbreaking series from Samuel Johnson Prize-winning author Frank Dikötter

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1949: Tragic insights into a "liberated" China 29 Oct 2013
Professor Dikötter's latest book forms part of a reevaluation in three parts of China's so-called Mao Zedong years. While the first - actually second - part on the Great Leap Forward added substance to the already widely acknowledged nefarious influence of the 'Great Helmsman' during the period of enforced collectivisation, the present volume deals with a historical taboo: the genesis of the People's Republic as an act of unspeakable brutality. Whilst no Maoist would argue that political power does not out of the barrel of a gun, the detailed descriptions which Frank Dikötter teased out of previously closed archives present a spine-tingling picture of the early People's Republic as a chaotic and depressing nightmare. Rather than engaging revolutionaries and the former elites in a political dialogue, the immediate and sustained policy of the Party, with Mao as its undisputed mastermind, is revealed as one of repression and extermination. The Tragedy of Liberation pursues rural "struggle sessions" and urban mass campaigns against ever more fictitious "enemies" of the revolution from the historically familiar (e.g. Guangxi campaign) to the most heartrending personal revelations. A poor farmer confessing that he once killed eight people as a one-year old, therefore fully deserving the wrath of the People? Mao's revolution made it possible. This book is a "must" for every reader interested in modern China, but also in the history of other revolutionary experiences, from Paris in the 1790s to Moscow during the 1920s. Frank Dikötter has produced a thoroughly researched yet fully accessible book, which can be easily understood by non-specialists. An important book, which will remain relevant over the coming decades.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
One of a trilogy written by Frank Dikotter covering the period 1945 to 1970. Well written and researched, it describes how Mao from shaky beginnings completely dominated Chinese power politics, and the awful results that ensued. Recommended
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a valuable alternative view of Chinese history 20 Dec 2013
By Heidi
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Professor Frank Dikotter's books never let me down, and this one is no exception. The spellbinding narratives with solid evidence make this 300-page book remarkably reader-friendly. The academic value of this book is that it offers an alternative view to extant historical accounts of Chinese revolution from 1945 to 1957. This is a critical piece of work for people who want to know about China, who want to know more about Chinese history, and who want to understand how the revolutionary legacy from the past influences China's political culture today.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Monstrous Leap Backward 7 Sep 2013
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Frank Dikotter, a historian at Hong Kong University, is writing a trilogy about China under Mao. This book is volume two. His final book will cover the Cultural Revolution.
Volume two deals with the period 1945 to 1957.

Volume 1 was entitled 'Mao's Great Famine',a superb account of Mao's deliberate starvation of millions of his people. Yang Jisheng's brilliant book 'Tombstone' published in 2012 matches it.

Dikotter's chapters cover: Mao's victory in the period 1945-49; his takeover between 1949-52, the period 1952-56 that included the purge of the intelligentsia plus anyone else who was labelled an 'enemy of the state', and the period 1956-57 which he calls the 'Backlash'.

Ironically, the Communist victory in 1949 is referred to by the Party as a 'liberation' when in fact it placed a monstrous and tyrannical yoke around the people. What followed was terror, murder, and systematic violence against every sector of society. The period 1945-49 claimed hundreds of thousands of life. It was a civil war without pity. It makes the one in Syria today look like a picnic party. City after city was literally starved into surrender by Mao's forces. Changchun was blockaded for 5 months in 1948. The communist commander ordered it to be turned into a 'city of death'. The inhabitants resorted to cannibalism in a desperate attempt to survive. Some 160,000 died of hunger and disease.

After the communist victory, over 2 million landlords (so-called)were liquidated. Death resulted from shooting, burial alive, burning at the stake or dismemberment. Even children aged 8 were murdered because they were 'little landlords'. Then came the Great Terror (note as does the author Mao's copying of the evils of Stalin).This was aimed at eliminating 'all the enemies of the Party'.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mao's Murders 5 Jan 2014
The most memorable historical book I have read in the last few years is Frank Dikötter's Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 about the manmade famine responsible for tens of millions of deaths in Communist China. Dikötter has recently had published the prequel: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57. It reads like a horror story but sadly it is true.

What is shocking in the book is how many ingenious ways the Communists found of murdering people. They had a lot of practice doing so because as Dikötter explains, "the first decade of Maoism was one of the worst tyrannies in the history of the twentieth century, sending to an early grave at least 5 million civilians and bringing misery to countless more." With an obvious allusion to Daniel Goldhagen's description of the Nazis, Dikötter labelled many of Mao's communist henchmen as "willing executioners." Even if the Killing was not carried out with gusto, it went on. For as one party official explained to members: "You must hate even if you feel no hatred, you must kill even if you do not wish to kill." But Mao deemed that the people enjoyed killing. He stated: "The people say that killing counter-revolutionaries is more joyful than a good downpour." And there is evidence backing up the "willing executioner" label. Dikötter reports on a twenty year old woman who felt "proud and happy" watching a dozen victims be executed in the wake of a rally she had helped organise.

Mao installed and encouraged a reign of terror and relished in the violence. He declared that they would "sweep all the imperialists, warlords, corrupt officials, local tyrants and evil gentry into their graves.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Very good research and easy to read ()although with a few ...
Very good research and easy to read ()although with a few clichés), but what a truly awful history. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Cyclist
5.0 out of 5 stars The horrific story of the beginings of one of the worst regimes in...
It is hard to say "I love it" about a book that is about such terrible horrors. But the truth must be told - and Dr Dikotter has dedicated his life to telling the truth... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Paul Marks
5.0 out of 5 stars Mao the great guy who loved the smell of blood
How murderous this low life, still a communist party icon in China and dumb places like India and Nepal, really was is being painstakingly exposed by the methodical archival... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dr Gautam Sen
4.0 out of 5 stars The Tragedy of Liberation
A very good read with a lot of fresh material on a time when the affairs taking place in China were shrouded in mystery
Published 8 months ago by david werran
5.0 out of 5 stars WELL RESEARCHED
Published 9 months ago by J F Fry
5.0 out of 5 stars modern Chinese history.
Very dense,comprehensive overview of an appalling chapter in the history of Mao's China. " Mao's Great Famine" was equally distressing,but easier to read. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Brian Davidson
1.0 out of 5 stars More lies from Dikotter
A reviewer of Dikotter's previous big lie wrote, "While Dikotter rabbits on about archival evidence ad nauseum, if you read his final chapter, you will see that it is argument is... Read more
Published 9 months ago by William Podmore
5.0 out of 5 stars The birth of Communist China
This book covers the period from the defeat of the nationalists to the Great Famine. It is a comprehensive history of the period and for the non specialist an excellent... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Alan J Rose
5.0 out of 5 stars Comment below
This feedback box is really really irritating. If I don't want to leave any written feedback, which i do not want to, i should not be forced to do so. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Bob Shea
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