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Yes but our mass murderers are important to us!

There is a truly bizarre story on Reuters saying that the French car manufacturer Citroën has apologised for running an advertisement featuring a scowling Chairman Mao.

“As a Chinese, I felt greatly insulted when seeing this ad,” a posting on web portal Tianya (www.tianya.com) said. “It is not only insulting Chairman Mao, but the whole Chinese nation.” […] “Chairman Mao is the symbol of China, and what Citroen did lacks basic respect to China,” another posting said.

Astounding. The man who was probably the most prolific mass murderer in history, who murdered between 44.5 & 72 million mostly Chinese people and brought tyranny to almost one fifth of the world’s population, is regarded by some people in 2008 as “the symbol of China”? That is truly surreal.

Well, I suppose he is in the same sense that Jack the Ripper is the ‘symbol’ of Whitechapel. Yet somehow I cannot see the residents of Whitechapel taking umbrage at an advertisement by Citroen featuring Jack the Ripper being portrayed with a less than congenial expression.

Just how many people does a tyrant have to order killed before he becomes absolute anathema in China? How many lives does he have to ruin to stop being ‘the symbol of China’? What kind of moral derangement is required to take insult in this manner? Well people in China should indeed be insulted, but by the fact Citroën used the image of that vile psychopath to portray anything other than horror, death and misery. How dare someone trivialise suffering on such a colossal scale? How would people react if they had used Hitler instead? People would certainly protest but somehow I do not think all too many Germans would be saying “The Fuhrer is the symbol of Germany”.

A Chinese person I know described the Mao era as ‘The Long Nightmare’. It seems some people in China do not want to wake up.

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36 comments to Yes but our mass murderers are important to us!

  • Reading this kind of stuff makes me want to wake up. This is truly depressing on so many levels.

  • In the other hemisphere, we have people walking around proudly wearing t-shirts and purses sporting the image of Che Guevera (I’m sure he’d be glad to know that he’s putting money into the pockets of t-shirt manufacturing capitalists).

    How does a sane person not despair in an age when so many people shamelessly call good “evil” and evil “good?” In a time so morally and intellectually backward and confused as ours, it’s telling that we use the word “medieval” as a pejorative. Even they were not as brazen, brutal, and ignorant as those who have peopled the earth these last hundred years. I say that we are living in the dark ages now.

  • Regrettably, many people still love and revere him. Take a look at the wikipedia entry if you want “balanced” coverage.

  • You white guys just don’t understand. (/sarcasm)

  • To give an idea of the silliness involved, a Chinese acquaintance of mine once said that he liked Mao because back during the Mao years, people didn’t worry so much about money.

  • Confucious

    Well actuall yes, i’m pretty sure that during the Mao years people had plenty of other things to WORRY about rather than making money. (/sarcasm)

  • WalterBoswell

    There is, or was, a soup based cafe 15 minutes from where I live that goes by the name ‘Maos’. It used to have a little iconic image of the man over the doorway. I always found that very ironic. If it had been a crash course diet clinic perhaps then a little less irony.

  • Jill Murphy

    Kill six millions Jews in Germany, your name becomes a synonym with evil. Kill between 44 and 72 million Chinese, you get a cafe named after you. It’s a funny old world, eh?

  • Midwesterner

    Mass purges are not an abuse of a collectivism’s powers. They are essential to a collective’s survival. They are evidence of the collective’s immune system purging ‘other’ and ‘unnecessary’. In some predominately collectivist societies like Mao’s, people are obvious murdered.

    But in more diluted collectives where that might trigger a successful uprising, non-contributors or non-submitters may be addressed by encouraging things like euthanasia and self destructive behavior, and by the overwhelming favorite when bullets are too obvious, redistribution of property. The collective takes property from the uncooperative subjects and gives it to the submissive and supportive subjects.

    Purging of unwanted demographics can be reduced only when collectivism is heavily restrained by active and determined individualism.

  • permanentexpat

    “Right” is always wrong.
    “Left” cannot ever be wrong;
    and they believe it.

  • Anon

    Well, the left was always much better at rehabilitating (or whitewashing) its ogres and their deeds. Mao is the most egregious example. Even Stalin’s stock is rising in Russia at the moment, so I’m told.

    I’m in China at the moment, and there’s a very common Chinese retort when Mao’s crimes are mentioned – “No Mao, no China.” Now of course this is utterly ridiculous – as if the country would’ve somehow disappeared if it wasn’t for Mao. And many Chinese talk about their “young country”, dating it from 1949. Yes, I understand the PRC vs. China distinction, but it’s specious.

    Accurate knowledge of Mao and his life is scant in the PRC. For example, it’s barely known in this country that Deng Xiaoping (the “architect” of China’s post-Mao modernisation, and thus a revered figure) and Mao (obviously a revered figure) were political enemies, and for good reason – it kinda buggers up the official great and epic narrative of the Communist Party if its greatest hero imprisoned its second greatest hero, so they aren’t told about that. Try looking up Hua Guofeng (Mao’s anointed successor and failure, who Deng overthrew) on Wikipedia in China and see what you get, even if you use a proxy. He’s a high level block on the firewall. Point is, people simply don’t know about Mao here.

    As for the West, well, there’s no shortage of folk who preen themselves as thinkers yet don’t think particularly deeply about their fashion choices.

  • WalterBoswell

    “Right” is always wrong.
    “Left” cannot ever be wrong;
    and they believe it.

    Indeed. It’s that same mentality that harbours little or no ill feeling towards maniacs such as Mao and Stalin. Cold war USSR iconography featuring Stalin is hip and appears on T-shirts and posters. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pol Pot eventually makes his way onto some piece of apparel or other. General Pinochet however – forget about it.

    It’s almost as if left wing authoritarians are at worst seen as those who accidentally dropped the baby while trying to do useful whereas their right wing equivalents purposely slaughtered the baby while up to no good.

  • Tatyana

    “How would people react if they use Hitler instead?”
    In Italy they do – they use portraits of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Che for vine labels – to the astonishment of one American blogger-tourist.

    Apparently, locals don’t find anything irregular in it.

  • Evan

    History is written by the victors. Nazi Germany was defeated in war, occupied, and liberalized (in the good sense), and the crimes of the Nazis were given the acknowledgment they deserve. Stalin and Mao died in office, and left behind repressive states that continue to write their own version of events. When a country grows up on stories that force a dictator into the “brutal but necessary in these difficult times” mold, it’s no surprise they will come to his defense. Castro’s legacy could end up either way, depending on the direction Cuba takes when he finally dies.

    I wonder if we could get a Che-style shirt with Pinochet on it. He was a monster, of course, but there is a strong overlap between the kind of people that would accost someone for wearing that shirt, and the kind of people that enshrine Che as the “ideal revolutionary”. It just might be possible to force some people into uncomfortable habits of thought. I do not think that anyone is beyond redemption.

  • Evan

    And poor Vincent van Gogh stuck in the middle.

    I don’t usually go for the “liberal mainstream media” bias line, but I caught the weasel words in this bit in the Mao article:

    But historians have blamed Mao’s tumultuous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution for the deaths of millions through famines caused by disastrous economic policies and the persecution of thousands through politically motivated campaigns.

    Yes, that is the current theory, at least according to a few historians.

  • martin

    Some reasons why the perception of Hitler and Mao is so different:

    – Hitler started a world war, Mao didn’t.
    – Hitler and his regime were deposed by foreign powers. At that time the full evil of Nazism was exposed for the whole world to see. China gradually emerged from behind a wall of inaccessability and silence.

    Typically it takes about two generations for a people to deal with great internal trauma or until such time that almost all people with direct memory of events have passed on.

  • mike

    The reverance of the Great Man regardless of what crimes he may have committed is nothing new. For anyone who is a sufficiently Great Man, all crimes are permitted – and totalitarian control over speech isn’t even necessary for people to utter and believe such horrifying sentiments. Dostoevsky understood this.

    “Purging of unwanted demographics can be reduced only when collectivism is heavily restrained by active and determined individualism….”

    ….or when it is constrained by its’ competitor form of collectivism.

    Here in Taiwan, there is still a reverance felt by many people for Jiang Jieh Sheh (otherwise rendered ‘Chiang Kai Shek’) the former leader of the chinese nationalists whom Mao defeated. So when the DPP recently tore down his statue in central Kaohsiung and attempted to change the name of the Jiang Jieh Sheh memorial hall in Taipei – thousands of people were outraged.

    I myself was outraged – but not for any fond feeling toward that monster, but because what the DPP were attempting to do was to wipe clean the memory of a people and replace it with a shiny new, national socialist collective vision for the future of Taiwan. Last saturday of course, the DPP found out for themselves just what people thought of them – even in the south of the island. The efforts of these ‘democratic progressives’ toward purging the memory of chinese nationlism in favour of their taiwanese nationalism was restrained by both the ballot box and the KMT in the legislature.

    The belief in the absolute greatness of any one man is always an error – and it can always be revealed as such. Yet this is not always done and for this reason perpetuating such errors remains politically profitable for the wrong kind of people.

  • Jim

    I think one of the saddest comments to come out of Tienanmen Square was one onlooker’s outrages expostulation that “Chinese do NOT kill Chinese!!!”

    If only……

  • guy herbert


    Even though you’ve seen it in action, in Illyria, you underestimate the power of that particularly vile form of collectivism: nationalism, equivalently tribalism. In a tribal vision the more human beings someone kills or has killed, the more heroic thay are – just as long as those murdered are defined as the enemy of the tribe/nation, not people but anti-people. Extreme cruelty is desirable as the proper expression of hate.

    Just how many people does a tyrant have to order killed before he becomes absolute anathema in China?

    None. He’d be an indequate tyrant then. People want their tyrants really powerful and brutal so that The Others will be afraid of them.

    There are plenty – a minority, yes; but plenty – of Europeans who still revere Hitler. They revere him because of the fathomless cruelty of his arbitrary rule, not despite it; they imagine he represented the triumph of people like them, using ungoverned power to crush those they fear and envy; there are relatively few of them because he ultimately proved himself weaker than external enemies. There are a lot more admirers of Stalin and Soviet power to be found.

    Martin has it subtly but seriously wrong. Hitler’s relative unpopularity is from losing a war, not starting it. It isn’t “internal trauma” that makes the tribe reject horrors perpetrated in its name, it is obsequiousness to the later, greater power that says it should.

    Tribal brutality is an assertion of tribal identity. Repudiation of atrocities by The Others is a part of it, too. The rationalist requirement of universalism does not apply. They are evil and their actions show it; we show our fortitude in good by our willingness to do whatever necessary to defend the tribe. (And see 24.) The Chinese celebrate Mao, and the first emperor, and the endless sufferings of the people for the nation, at the same time as expressing their utmost horror of the conduct of the Japanese, and vaious other barbarian invaders a little further back. The mildest may become furious at the suggestion that the people of Taiwan or Tibet have some claim on self determination. This isn’t inconsistency; it is complete consistency, but according to a set of values incomptible with individualist universalism.

    Nor is it confined to the east, near or far. Nationalism boils up pretty rapidly among the commentariat even on this notionally individualist blog if you criticise US institutional hostility to foreigners. And look at spitting tribal our-country-not-yours-you-bitch hatred exhibited by Guardian readers, here(Link).

  • Lee Kelly

    Kill six millions Jews in Germany, your name becomes a synonym with evil. Kill between 44 and 72 million Chinese, you get a cafe named after you. It’s a funny old world, eh?

    It is a funny old world where Bill Gates is hated more than Mao. I mean, Windows is bad, but not that bad.

  • Sunfish

    Poor little babies want to celebrate a mass-murdering pedophile and then don’t understand why the rest of us consider them humorous in that nether realm between contempt and disgust.

    If China wants to be respected, then they need to make themselves respectable. If you want your symbol to be some old guy who fucked prepubescent girls, you made that bed and can lay in it.

    Last time something like this came up, Paul Marks (correctly) pointed out that the Chinese answer would be that Mao’s acting with an iron fist was what made him ‘respectable’ in the Chinese context. Great. But I’m not the ones asking them to respect my culture. They’re the ones pissing and moaning because we don’t respect them. It’s not my job to beg them to accept what I don’t think they merit.

    Sorry, don’t mind me. Having another fit of “quit my job, pack my M-4, dog, canoe, guitar, and snowboard, and move to some distant corner of Wyoming where nobody will ever see me again” crankiness.

  • OK. I am taking notes now, so let me get this straight.

    At what number of murders does one move from Hated Monstrous Pariah to Beloved Cultural Icon?

  • At what number of murders does one move from Hated Monstrous Pariah to Beloved Cultural Icon?

    I think Jacob has it right in the SQOTD article after this one…

    The difference lies in the rhetoric of the commie propaganda machine: Hitler murdered for the benefit of the German Nation. Nobody loves “the German nation”. Stalin and Mao, on the other hand, did it for the benefit of all mankind… for the children…

  • Eric Blair

    I think there is a cultural thing going on here as guy herbert and mike allude to. The Chinese like their stern emperors–(and really, what was Mao but another Emperor)–in someways, the Chinese really haven’t changed at all, except for the terms used. “Will of the People” or “Mandate of Heaven”–take your pick.

    Several years ago, I saw an news item describing Chinese taxi drivers using pictures of Mao as good luck charms to ward of ‘evil’. Today’s BBC online has mention of a Chinese millionaire being sentenced to death for the rapes of teenage girls, his excuse being that a fortune teller told that having sex with virgins would prolong his lifespan. Buildings are still being built accroding to Feng Shui principles. What’s really changed here?

  • Vadept

    Heaven brings forth innumerable things to help man.
    Man has nothing with which to recompense Heaven.
    Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill.

    China gave us THAT guy, Qin Shi Huangdi, and innumberable other people who seem to have decided that China’s plentiful people means they can afford to kill a few million. Mao’s got a long, tragic tradition behind him, and I expect it’ll get worse before it really gets better.

    But in the immortal words of Eddie Izzard:

    “Yes, Hitler, a mass-murdering fuckhead, as many historians have noted. But there are other mass murderers that got away with it. Stalin killed many millions, died in his bed, well done there. Pol Pot killed 1.7 million Cambodians and died at the age of 72 under house arrest: well done indeed. And the reason we let them get away with it is they kill their own people, and we’re sort of fine with that. Ahh, help yourself, we’ve been trying to kill you for ages, so kill your own people, ah, right on there!

    “Seems to be.

    “Hitler killed people next door. Oh, stupid man. After a few years, we won’t stand for that, now will we!”

  • ed

    Uncles Mao and Joe were trying to build Utopian societies, whereas the evil tail-gunner, Senator Joe McCarthy, was trying to prevent the enlightened sector from doing the same in the US. No wonder he continues to be demonized.

  • Lest it be forgotten, Mao initiated wars with South Korea, India, Vietnam (South Vietnam and later reunited Vietnam). He started fatal skirmishes on the border with the Soviet Union. He conquered Tibet and slaughtered thousands of Tibetans. He slaughtered thousands of domestic Muslims. He sent agents to attack Taiwan. No neighbor was spared the bloody meddling of this Chinese thought master of the universe.

  • Josh

    Meh. American architects of genocide get their faces on the twenty-dollar bill.

  • R.J. Rummel’s book, Death by Government, provides extensive information on the numbers of people killed by different governments. Check out the reviews of Rummel’s book at Amazon.com and find interesting information such as the following:

    “…We all know the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. Most American do NOT know that the ten worst totalitarian governments murdered more than 136 million OTHER people during the 20th century. The following is a list of the ten governments responsible for all those deaths.

    (* = about 2 million MURDERS)

    Soviet Gulag (1917-87)
    -Executions during collectivization, etc.
    * ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

    Communist Chinese State (1949-87)
    -Executions of landlords, peasants, etc.
    ** ***** ***** *****

    Nazi State (1933-45)
    -6 mil Jews, 5 mil Poles, 10 mil others
    ***** *****

    Chinese Nationalist (1928-49)
    -Purges of communists, etc.

    Japan’s military (1936-45)
    -Nanking massacre, etc.

    Khmer Rouge (1975-79)
    -Khmer Rouge kill 1/3 of Cambodians

    Turkey’s Young Turks (1909-18)
    -Slaughter of Turkey’s Armenians

    N. Vietnamese (1945-1987)
    -S Vietnam’s democide = 90,000.

    Poland killed ethnic Germans
    -8 million fled Poland (1945-1948)

    West Pakistan (1958-87)
    -E. Pakistan Hindus killed or expelled
    TOTAL # Murdered = 142,000,000+ ”

  • freddo41

    From Tony Benn’s diaries, Free at Last!.
    “June 6 1996:
    Had a long talk to the Chinese First Secretary at the embassy – a very charming man called Liao Dong – and said how much I admired Mao Tse tung or Zedong, the greatest man of the twentieth century. He said I couldn’t admire Mao more than he did.I asked him how Mao was viewed now. He said Mao was 70 per cent right and 30 per cent wrong, the Cultural Revolution didn’t work. He said he had been named after Mao – it was amusing.”

  • Yes, Benn is a profoundly evil man. I told him that to his face once some years ago in a church on Shaftesbury Avenue.

  • Gregory Kong

    OK, someone please fix the Tab key jump ‘feature’, please (when I Tab to the next fill-in box, it jumps me to ‘Search and archives’ instead).

    Anyways, while not mainland Chinese, still ethnic Chinese (so prone to some genetic traits common to all yellow devils), and I can tell you some differences between the First Emperor Shih Huang Ti and Mao Tze Tung, the madman.

    Firstly, Shih Huang Ti acted in ways common to the day. No excuse, but the fact remains that people were a whole lot more used to the idea of brutality then. Mao? He shoulda known better.

    Secondly, whatever you think of the Chinese imperial bureaucracy, they at least had the relative upward social mobility in the sense that any peasant who excelled at the examinations could become a Mandarin, and see his grandchildren at court. I, uh, somehow don’t see this happening during Mao’s time, do you? Even if you posit that the examinations were rigged twenty ways from tomorrow.

    Thirdly, ‘Mandate from Heaven’ ceases upon signs of disapproval from the King of Heaven (i.e. Shang Ti, the Chinese God). Such disapproval usually manifesting itself in disasters – at which point, revolution and overthrow of the current emperor/dynasty is not only permitted, but actively encouraged. Try seeing that in modern China.

    Nevertheless, I don’t subscribe to relativism of any sort, much less moral relativism. How many people need to die to make someone anathema in China? Well, it all depends on how they see him, doesn’t it?

    And another thing. I mean, there is a bloody Great Firewall of China, you know? The Cultural Revolution killed off almost every classic liberal and intellectual there was. Education is not much more than communist indoctrination and brainwashing (and we complain about the American public school system!). You, uh, think that maybe most mainland Chinese’s perception of the world might be just a tad FUBAR?

    And then, of course, you get people like Josh, who snark a one-liner.

  • Paul Marks

    S.H.T. was a tyrant.

    And it is not true that such ideas were normal – his “legalism” (Chinese sense of the term – a better English translation would be “the will of the ruler has the force of law – and such will should cover all the aspects of life”) was a minority position in Chinese thought.

    He burned the works of the scholars who had, over past decades and centuries, opposed such ideas (we will never know what was lost).

    He took over other lands by conquest and treated the population of his empire as slaves – playthings to do his bidding.

    As for Mao.

    He murdered even more people than Stalin – and he was more daft.

    The war against birds for example (so the insects ate the crops) and his command that people make steel in their back yards.

    Mao’s father was a prosperious farmer – but sadly he gave his son “an education” (as a boy he was always photographed in the robes of a scholar).

    He would have been better teaching the boy some common sense.

  • Paul Marks

    “But China is capitalist now”.

    By the low standards of today it may be.

    But remember those standards are very low indeed.

    The levels of taxation, government spending and regulations in Western nations (including the United States and Britain) is far higher than it has ever been in peace time.

    In fact (a point against myself) I can not work out how Britain manages to exist at all – at this level of statism carried on for so many decades the whole economy (not just manufacturing) should have collapsed.

    Even in the 1930’s taxes and government spending were high. But since World War II ….. well I confess I do not understand how anything continues to operate.

    Still we do not make a collectivist monster our great founding figure.

    The People’s Republic of China does – and however “capitalist” it may be, it could change in a day.

    There are no principles of honour there, no formal limits on government.

    The economic strength allowed by low taxation (and so on), will most likely be put to evil uses.

    Indeed the military build up is already well under way.

    And having perhaps the most evil man in history as the worshipped founder of the state does not bode well.

  • As a Chinese, my opinion is: if you don’t really understand the relationship between MAO and Chinese People, then don’t judge it.
    That is the reason why Citroen had to apologised to China.
    You guys think you know the Chinese history, but in fact, that is only your side of the story.

  • As a Chinese, my opinion is: if you don’t really understand the relationship between MAO and Chinese People, then don’t judge it.

    Why not? That is a bit like saying “Oh, it’s a Black thing, you wouldn’t understand”. Actually I think I do understand the relationship between Mao and some of ‘the Chinese People’ (the ones he did not slaughter that is) and far from not understanding it, it fills me with contempt. It indicates a cultural psychosis in which some people are emotionally incapable of accepting evil done by their state is still evil and worthy of abomination… ie it is crude tribalism.

    Most Chinese people seem to have no problem being critical of Imperial Japan for the Rape of Nanking. Yet the Japanese Army were rank amateurs when it came to killing Chinese people compared to Mao, so why can so many Chinese not bring themselves to free their minds from the almighty state’s brainwashing and refuse to accept ‘China’ is an end in and of itself?

    That is the reason why Citroen had to apologised to China.

    You mean the fact they want to be able to sell their stuff in China? That reason?

    You guys think you know the Chinese history, but in fact, that is only your side of the story.

    Then enlighten us. Seems pretty simple to me. Millions of people were exterminated to further nationalist and collectivist goals. What did I miss? That is nothing that has not been done just about everywhere else, just that in China evil was done on an spectacularly large scale.