Saturday, April 23, 2011

genocide sweepstakes

In Hong Kong airport, I bought a great new book by Frank Dikkoter, "Mao's Great Famine". 45 million people died in China between 1958 and 1962. This leaves Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler in the dust in the genocide sweepstakes.

When I lectured in Chongqing, mainland China, I got an honorarium in yuan (HK has its own currency, HK dollar). Each 100-yuan bill is decorated with a picture of Mao.

China today is neither the killing fields of the Great leap Forward nor the feckless disintegrating USSR of the perestroika. It is an amazingly dynamic, prosperous and interesting society. Chongqing, almost unknown in the West, has the population of 30 millions and better public architecture than NYC. Its people are kind, optimistic and vibrant.

I do not believe that China has to accept the Western model of "democracy" (meaning the tyranny of the majority) in order to prosper. I have no sympathy for the religious insurrectionism of Tibet, the Muslim Uigurs, or the sectarian Falun Gong. China has to stay unified; its disintegration would be a disaster for humanity.

But I believe that China has to come to terms with its past. Otherwise the unacknowledged trauma of auto-genocide will fester until it eats the culture from within. It has happened to Russia whose past greatness is gone - if not forever, for a long time.

But the airport in Hong Kong is a cause for optimism. Hong Kong is officially part of China - and yet it has free press, free civic culture, and as its airport book selection demonstrates, could not care less for the mainland's censorship. When I am able to buy Dikkoter's book in Chongqing airport, I will know that Mao has lost. And then I don't even care if they keep his chubby face on their currency. The genocide sweepstakes of the twentieth century will truly be over.

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