In This Review

The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957
The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957
By Frank Dikötter
Bloomsbury, 2013, 400 pp
Purchase

Dikotter probes beneath the surface of what some still see as a relatively benign early phase of Mao’s rule, when the Communists restored political order and the economy, combated social evils, and allowed a modicum of personal freedom. He reveals the cost of what he calls a policy of “calculated terror and systematic violence.” This is the second book in his projected People’s Trilogy series, which aims to expose the impact of Maoism on ordinary people. Dikotter is a pioneering Western user of Chinese provincial archives, and given China’s vast size and social complexity, his project is opening up a vast, comprehensive panorama of suffering. To carry out land reform in poor villages where there were no landlords, the poor attacked one another, and the losers’ meager possessions were redistributed. Revolutionary authorities executed alleged counterrevolutionaries to fulfill quotas. Excessive grain requisitions by the government drove many peasants to starvation. In the cities, old housing was destroyed, and people were rushed into new buildings that were badly constructed and inadequate for their needs. By using the unexpurgated versions of Mao’s orders contained in the provincial archives, Dikotter traces the blame for these outrages directly to Mao.