Mao in History

During the first decades of Mao's China, a time of American self-confidence and strong sense of purpose spurred by the World War II victory, U.S. Sinology for the most part took on an "idealist" rather than a "realist" orientation: hopeful about s

Issue: Summer 1998

Early one morning in the summer of 1972, John King Fairbank, my
senior colleague among Harvard's East Asia faculty at the time,
phoned to ask if I would look over a draft article for Foreign
Affairs summing up his first trip to China since the 1940s. The piece
was fairly indulgent toward Mao's regime. Over lunch that day, I said
to Fairbank, "This trip to China must have been moving." He nodded
and said, "Well, you know, I've been on their side ever since 1943."
In Fairbank's draft I queried the sentence: "The Maoist revolution is
on the whole the best thing that has happened to the Chinese people
in many centuries." The dean of American Sinology, to whom I owe
much, stuck with it. But he added the words: "At least, most Chinese
seem now to believe so, and it will be hard to prove otherwise."

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