October 22, 2005

Nicholas Kristof and Mao: He Just, Can’t, Let, Go

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Ignorance,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:33 pm

At the end of his review of “Mao: The Unknown Story,” Nicholas Kristof shows just how hard it is to shake off the effects of the romantic Communist and collectivist kool-aid:

Finally, there is Mao’s place in history. I agree that Mao was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Mao’s legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao’s entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world’s new economic dragon.

Perhaps the best comparison is with Qinshihuang, the first Qin emperor, who 2,200 years ago unified China, built much of the Great Wall, standardized weights and measures and created a common currency and legal system – but burned books and buried scholars alive. The Qin emperor was as savage and at times as insane as Mao – but his success in integrating and strengthening China laid the groundwork for the next dynasty, the Han, one of the golden eras of Chinese civilization. In the same way, I think, Mao’s ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book – and yet there’s more to the story: Mao also helped lay the groundwork for the rebirth and rise of China after five centuries of slumber.

Kristof’s “Hitler did some good things too” excuse-making for Mao is unconscionable. As long as Communist China’s one-child policy exists (a policy the government says “must be permanent,” and has led to “Forty Million Missing Girls“), Kristof’s statement about “the emancipation” of Chinese women will remain a sick joke. And I guess the 70 million deaths attributed to Mao by the authors (which Kristof spends an inordinate amount of time quibbling with) merely represent unfortunate collateral damage–as if there was no other way to shake off the “slumber.”

In Kristof’s review, he notes Mao’s statement to the Soviets before the “Great Leap Forward” that “half of China may well have to die.” We should at least be relieved that the person who may be the “greatest” mass murderer in history fell far short of that.

UPDATE: Dean notes at Comment 1 below that there’s a debate as to whether it’s Stalin or Mao with the highest body count, and the last sentence above has been changed to reflect that.

UPDATE 2: Roger Simon notes very accurately that Deng Tsaio Peng, not Mao, was the economic architect (AFTER Mao’s death, I would add), and gets in these two good rips (and others):

  • “Kristof’s blithe ‘the ends justify the means’ contempt for human life boggles the imagination.”
  • “Kristof’s paying audience doesn’t want to believe that Mao was all bad. After all, many of them marched or chanted in his behalf. I know this full well, because I was one of them. I even went to China in the Seventies and wore, once upon a time, a Mao cap. Of course I was one of Lenin’s ‘useful idiots.’ So is Kristof.”

UPDATE 3 (Oct. 23, 3PM): Don Luskin–”Walter Duranty Still Works at The Times” (link to Duranty’s sordid legacy added by me).



  1. It turns out there’s a running dispute on Mao and Stalin’s body counts. Political scientists and historians disagree somewhat. It matters little: the two of them were the biggest mass-murderers in human history. Who has the honor of being the worst? Does it matter? Bleah. Scum.

    Kristof disappoints. Greatly.

    Comment by Dean Esmay — October 23, 2005 @ 12:37 am

  2. Perhaps the “Forty Million Missing Girls” don’t count as much, because so many of them were aborted? That’s a choice, after all, not a cause for concern.

    I’m with Dean: Mr. Kristof disappoints. This is omelet-and-eggs rationalization worthy of Walter Duranty. It’s the “Mussolini made the trains run on time” rationalization that the Left has usually scorned (and rightly so). I’ve always found Mr. Kristof to be one of the more consistent and respectable of the modern liberal pundits. I just lost a lot of respect for him.

    Comment by Martin L. Shoemaker — October 23, 2005 @ 1:21 am

  3. #2, I’m glad someone else brought up Duranty.

    Comment by TBlumer — October 23, 2005 @ 1:45 am

  4. I’d send Kristoff ane-mail, but I refuse to sign up for the Times. What a boot-lick of an organization.

    Comment by Mikey — October 23, 2005 @ 8:57 am

  5. Okay, now imagine someone writing this:

    Finally, there is Hitler’s place in history. I agree that Hitler was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Hitler’s legacy is not all bad.

    Comment by TallDave — October 23, 2005 @ 1:32 pm

  6. #5, Although she didn’t write a book, you don’t have to imagine. Remember Marge Schott?

    BTW, when she died, after bequeathing relatively nominal amounts to relatives, Catholic girls’ high schools in the area received millions of dollars. Additionally, there’s a foundation that was set up from her estate that probably continues to do more good than most of her critics have done in their entire hateful lives (I say “probably” because it’s quiet about its good works, like she was) .

    Comment by TBlumer — October 23, 2005 @ 2:08 pm

  7. “The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality…” This is hilarious. In China, girls do not have the equality to be born.

    Comment by ic — October 23, 2005 @ 3:58 pm

  8. How many people were killed in Japan or Taiwan to effect land reform?

    Comment by Jeff Licquia — October 23, 2005 @ 7:27 pm

  9. Kristoff is bothersome. I lost all respect when he bought two Cambodian prostitutes to “save” them. His simplistic and apologetic approach to China, and his straight-up assertion that he understands China, are annoying. Give me Tom Freidman, please.

    Comment by kate — October 24, 2005 @ 3:36 am

  10. [...] ise of China after five centuries of slumber. Leon de Winter findet diese Sichtweise, wie andere auch, “sickening”: Indeed, Hitler created the German Freeway and introduced pensions for the [...]

    Pingback by STÖRTASTE » Mao. Ein Monster wird besichtigt — October 24, 2005 @ 8:36 am

  11. Very welcome comment. In all the points Kristof mentions, Chang explains clearly how they were indirect consequences of his evil policies. For example, women’s emancipation was simply a way for the other half to contribute to Mao’s homocidal policies irregardless of their ability.
    By the way, I like your “solidarity banner”…. where’d you get it?

    Comment by Keir — October 24, 2005 @ 9:22 am

  12. Oh, come on. Everyone knows Rachel Carson was the greatest mass murderer in history.

    Comment by Robert Speirs — October 24, 2005 @ 10:06 am

  13. [...] that side better than anything ever written. But Hitler’s legacy is not all bad.”(Comment, here)

    Go right ahead: just try to imagine those lines in The New York Times.


    Pingback by Two--Four — October 24, 2005 @ 10:28 am

  14. Nice work. I would never have come across this article if it hadn’t been for people like you – I’m from the UK.

    I just don’t understand these people. Mao was a nasty piece of work that kept China back 10-15, maybe 20 years, through failed economic policies and a terrible period of uncertainty and chaos. To say otherwise is to try to defend the indefensible.

    Comment by Raj — October 24, 2005 @ 4:13 pm

  15. #14 thanks.

    Comment by TBlumer — October 24, 2005 @ 4:59 pm

  16. Kristoff= sick MF!

    Comment by Sharpshooter — October 25, 2005 @ 6:09 am

  17. Lol, Sharp I think that’s the wrong attitude to take. If you criticise the man with lame expressions like that, you’re just making the opposition seem weak & ineffectual. It’s important that we challenge people like him through common-sense and logic, otherwise they’ll just denounce us as being prejudiced and occupy the moral highground.

    Comment by Raj — October 25, 2005 @ 1:32 pm

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