Yesterday BBC Radio’s 4’s high-profiled Today program aired a discussion program about Dutch born historian Frank Dikotter’s latest book on The Tragedy of the Liberation about life in China’s 50s. The discussion was between Dikotter and myself.
Instead of ‘Golden Era’ as often being portrayed, Dikotter believes that the early years of the Communist regime was an ear of ‘systematic violence and calculated terror.” Up to two million people were killed during land distribution from 1947 to 1952, and the victims were often ordinary farmers rather than ‘landlords’.
I am familiar with some of the points he made. Still I believe that what he presented was not the whole story. True, during those years, the authorities used violence – sometimes unnecessary – to consolidate the power and install the new social order. It might not be as gold as the authorities made us to believe but probably not as bleak as being portrayed in the book.
For majority of the Chinese, they truly felt being liberated. Before the Chinese communist took over power in 1949, China was in a desperate situation: it had been bullied by the foreign powers and ravaged by civil wars and famines and poverty. Many felt that they stood up in the world for the first time.
50s was a time that enormous social progress was made. The unemployment and inflation were brought down and productivity increased. Many feudal practice such as taking concubines, arranged marriage, foot-biding were banned. Women were given equal rights to education and employment.
I made this point during our pre-recorded discussion, me in Beijing Bureau and Dikotter at BBC office in London. He cut in and said: “But the foot biding was banned in the end of Qing Dynasty.”
I replied that my grandma had bounded feet. Later I kicked myself for failing to point out that not just my grandma, just about all the women of her age had bounded feet.
Later I did a bit research and discovered that foot binding was outlawed in 1912, after the toppling of Qing. However, the practice carried on until the Communists really stamped it out.
I have not read the whole book but several reviews. It feels like an extended oped instead of an objective, balanced history book.
See below the link to the BBC program.