Thursday, October 20, 2005

Unknown Story Over China

Keith Windschuttle compares Edgar Snow's Red Star Over China (1937) and Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story (2005). Not surprisingly he comes down on the side of the latter.
Snow's book played a major role in converting public opinion in both America and Europe towards a more favorable view of Mao. Its biggest impact, however, was within China itself, where it had a profound influence on radical youth. [...] The story that drew them there, however, was a fiction. The new biography Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday shows that every major claim made by Snow was false.

Many of the points from Unknown Story that Windschuttle cites to refute Red Star have been questioned, but I have to agree that the accusation of bias and disinformation against Snow seem to be accurate. That makes the hero-worship (in some sectors) of Snow all the more worrying:
On the left of politics, Snow is still widely regarded today as a heroic figure, both for his writings in the 1930s and for the persecution he suffered in the 1950s from investigations by J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy, which forced him to flee the United States for Switzerland. He is still held up in schools of journalism as a model practitioner. In the past decade he has been the subject of no few- er than three book-length biographies, all published by American university presses and all favorable. The University of Missouri proudly advertises that it holds his collected papers in its archives.

In addition to comparing the two texts, he does a good job explaining the atrocities of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao, for those wishing to learn more about that part of Chinese history.

Hat Tip: Simon World

Update: Here is the New York Times review of Mao: The Unknown Story and another by NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof. (Hat Tips: Peking Duck)