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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1949: Tragic insights into a "liberated" China
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...
Published 17 months ago by Dr. Lars P. Laamann

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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete?
Frank Dikotter has done the world a service by his thorough and intense research into China during the years 1945-57. Many of the stories bring out the human side, showing the affect the communist revolution had on real people.

I have no doubt that everything described here is true. I also understand that the Communist Party of China puts a different gloss on...
Published 18 months ago by M. D. Holley


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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1949: Tragic insights into a "liberated" China, 29 Oct. 2013
By 
Dr. Lars P. Laamann "Lars Laamann" (London, Europe) - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A dark legacy, 2 Sept. 2014
By 
H. Rogers - See all my reviews
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This is the second book in the authors' Peoples Trilogy of China under Mao and professor Dikotter once again hammers a well researched and written nail into the coffin of Mao's legacy. In the 1980s and 1990s the accepted history of the post independence period, before the chaos of the great leap forward , was that this was a period of relative stability and prosperity, with the hiccup of the land reform campaign in which 1-2 million people were killed. Using new material available and looking at accounts from the 1950s previously overlooked or dismissed the author completely demolishes this myth. Mao used a completely irrelevant soviet landlord/peasant classification system under the land reform campaign as a means of wiping out opposition, real or imagined, to the communist party. Statistics from this period have to be treated with caution but it is highly likely that substantially more than two million people were killed and that the vast majority of them were completely innocent. Mao, discussing the optimum "Killing rate" to be implemented in the countryside, comes accross as a evil tyrant completely indifferent to the fate of his countrymen. He was indeed, as the author points out, China's Stalin. China's future leader, Deng Xiaoping, an enthusiastic supporter of the land reform campaign, also does not come out of this period well. The land reform,collectivisation and other programmes implemented to steer the country towards a socialist utophia had a drastic effect on the country and the economy;the author paints a realistic portrait of a society in complete chaos with centuries old village life collapsing, industries imploding and man made famines. Finally, and perhaps most importantly from a historical point of view, the author destroys the historical legitamacy of the communist party;pointing out that their rule was based on terror and extermination or removal(to labour camps)of their opponents,again real or imagined, rather than acceptance by the people. This trilogy, with the third book on the cultural revolution still to be released, may become the definitive history of China under Mao.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grim reading., 3 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (Peoples Trilogy Book 2) (Kindle Edition)
I have now read two of Professor Dikotter's books and they present a grim picture of post-Revolution China that many of the young Chinese find disturbing (having grown up with a much more anodyne version of history) but are now coming to realise is much more likely to be the truth than the official version (although that is evolving as it is now admitted mistakes were made). Yes, Mao did help China stand on its feet again after a long period of oppression but the approach he took to makes him deserve to be bracketed with Hitler and Stalin, as one lecturer does at the university where I work. Grim reading but very powerful stuff.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a valuable alternative view of Chinese history, 20 Dec. 2013
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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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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Monstrous Leap Backward, 7 Sept. 2013
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (Peoples Trilogy Book 2) (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'. Mao even laid down a killing quota, so many per thousand. Children were tortured to death, whole villages raised to the ground in an orgy of mindless violence. By January 1952 over 2 million more had been killed. A network of prisons, again echoing the Soviet Gulags, were set up over the land. Dikotter quotes Simon Schama's apt remark about the French Revolution that 'violence was the revolution'.

What followed was the 're-education' of the peasantry, in other words they were indoctrinated by fear and violence. Thought reform was the order of the day. Friends and relatives, even members of the same family, were denounced. One victim said it was a 'carefully cultivated Auschwitz of the mind'.

The author details Mao's disastrous collectivisation policy (on the lines of Stalin's)which led to rebellions. By 1956, Mao had lost his mentor Stalin who had died in 1953. His standing in the Party was low. To enhance it he began the pseudo
period of humane socialism known as the 'Hundred Flowers Campaign'. This encouraged a gullible people to openly criticise the communist party. They did with a vengeance, and suffered accordingly. Mao branded some 500,000 as traitors. They were quickly disposed of.

Dikotter's final volume will deal with the so-called 'Cultural Revolution' another failure that had appalling consequences for the people.

Like his previous books this one is full of facts many of which are based on newly available party archives. His book, like Yang Jisheng's, is a devastating account of a monster's deliberate destruction of a remarkable people by various schemes copied in part from a fellow monster in Russia. They could never have worked even when driven by the lash and the bayonet. There are esteemed specialists on this period who argue they were never meant to work, they were simply the grotesque experiments of an evil mind.

As appalling as the deeds of Assad and others are today they, mercifully, are of a different order to the horrors inflicted by Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and their willing henchmen.

I have mentioned before the shocking ignorance that exists about this era of China's history, particularly among school children. This is a country of 1.3 billion people with the third biggest land mass in the world. It has an economy that is growing rapidly despite a recent setback, and its military forces are armed with state of the art weaponry including nuclear. To study History at GCSE and GCE and yet be ignorant of this very important country together with what Mao did to the Chinese people is disgraceful.
Students still arrive at university to study modern History without any real knowledge about one of the most evil men of modern times. It is time they did for his successors are hardly democrats. Many of the current leadership still worship Mao, refusing to admit his crimes against humanity. Like many Germans they have cultivated a convenient amnesia.
Whether we in the West like it or not this is a country that is tilting the world balance of power in favour of the East.

A very highly recommended read.
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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
By 
M. N. Ezra "Michael Ezra" (London, U.K.) - See all my reviews
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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." But it was not necessarily the case that those deemed wealthy or landlords were either. Ordinary farmers were killed. "Some victims were knifed, a few decapitated. Chinese pastors were paraded through the street as `running dogs of imperialism', their hands bound behind their backs and a rope around their necks." Bombed, starved to death, beaten to death, shot, tortured, buried alive, dismembered, throttled to death, strung up from trees, chopped up, hair pulled out, ears bitten off, urinated on, forced to wear dunces caps, stripped and exposed to the cold in winter, trussed up, hung from beams, buried up to the neck and torched, stabbed to death with bayonets, decapitated, choked to death with wire, stoned, forced to sit on their haunches with a kettle of boiling water on their heads, flogged, hanged, forced to cut out their own tongue, knees broken and sodomised. It is not surprising that the party noted that the suicide rate was "incessant."

People froze to death hiding from the Communists. It was not enough just to kill those deemed landlords, family members and anyone else they might have thought would seek revenge for the killings were also killed. Indiscriminate beatings were common place. In Pingyi county a local official proclaimed, "from now on we should kill somebody at every one of our meetings." Elsewhere, merely looking suspicious was sufficient to be thrown in prison. One candid report noted that in west Sichuan, "there are extremely few people sentenced to a term of five or more years, as some comrades feel that if a prisoner is given a long sentence, he might as well be killed to save time." Nor did they hesitate to "beat one to scare the many."

Children did not escape. Some even under the age of ten were tortured, crippled or maimed for life with some tortured to death. Other children were given away because "the majority of workers lacked food."

One foreigner who escaped China wrote in her diary, "Don't let anyone fool you about Communism." These are wise words. If there is a lesson for the modern day it is this: when communists of all stripes demonstrate in London against government policy and chant "Hang the Tories from the lampposts," believe them. That is exactly what they will do if they ever get in power.

Dikötter's book is a worthy read for anyone interested in history and a must read for anyone interested in Communist history. I await his next book on Mao's Cultural Revolution.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a trilogy written by Frank Dikotter covering the ..., 31 July 2014
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This review is from: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (Peoples Trilogy Book 2) (Kindle Edition)
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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars modern Chinese history., 6 Nov. 2013
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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. I look forward to the third in the series on the cultural revolution.
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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete?, 29 Sept. 2013
By 
M. D. Holley (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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Frank Dikotter has done the world a service by his thorough and intense research into China during the years 1945-57. Many of the stories bring out the human side, showing the affect the communist revolution had on real people.

I have no doubt that everything described here is true. I also understand that the Communist Party of China puts a different gloss on these years, so a book like this is much needed. It is important to scrape away the myths.

But I remain disappointed, for the book is surely unbalanced. There are always two sides to every story.

What wrongs was Mao trying to put right? Did he not achieve anything positive at all? What was going on in his own (possibly deluded) mind as he pressed for the various reforms? I disagree with another reviewer (Dr B Clayton) who contends that Mao's experiments were 'never meant to work'.

Like it or loathe it, for the past 30 years the Communist Party of China has lifted more people out of poverty than any government in history. This is simply not compatible with the story of unmitigated incompetence and evil that Dikotter paints here. I am not sure that a book like this contributes very much to a westerners' understanding of what is happening in 21st century China.

If we are to avoid the mistakes of history we need to be able to identify the next Hitler, Mao or Stalin that comes along. In order to do so it helps to acknowledge that these leaders gained and held on to power partly through popular support. Each of them was attractive in some way to the masses and each could point to positive achievements.

History books which paint an oversimplified caricature of these tyrants are dangerous because they deaden our ability to spot the next one. At a time when extreme populist parties are on the rise in many western countries this is important.

I fear that some attentive reader of Dikotter's book, filled with righteous indignation about the atrocities of Mao's regime, might rise the following day and place a vote for a populist politician who shares many of Mao's inclinations, without ever realising the irony.

For an example of how to write a more balanced (but ultimately more chilling) account of a Communist utopia, I would recommend Andrei Lankov's book 'The Real North Korea'. Perhaps Mr Lankov could give us a book about Mao. Or those interested could sample John Adams' excellent opera 'Nixon in China', which also gives a more nuanced (while still critical) view of Mao's China.

I recommend this book, but it needs to be read with extreme caution.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Liberation', 27 Aug. 2013
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Dikotter's survey of the first years of Communist rule in China is as explosive as his earlier book exposing the grim realities of Mao's famine. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, it shatters what was left of the myth of the 'golden age' of Communist rule in China, spelling out the gruesome costs in terms of lives lost, families destroyed and morals and manner corrupted thanks to 'Liberation', as the Party still insists on calling it. It is an immensely sad story -- a genuine 'tragedy' - but one that needed to be told to the world. It now has been in a way that, hopefully, enlightens us about the past and makes us think in a new way about China's current rulers.
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