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People's Trilogy #2

The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957

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“The Chinese Communist party refers to its victory in 1949 as a 'liberation.' In China the story of liberation and the revolution that followed is not one of peace, liberty, and justice. It is first and foremost a story of calculated terror and systematic violence.” So begins Frank Dikötter's stunning and revelatory chronicle of Mao Zedong's ascension and campaign to transform the Chinese into what the party called New People. Following the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, after a bloody civil war, Mao hoisted the red flag over Beijing's Forbidden City, and the world watched as the Communist revolution began to wash away the old order. Due to the secrecy surrounding the country's records, little has been known before now about the eight years that followed, preceding the massive famine and Great Leap Forward.

Drawing on hundreds of previously classified documents, secret police reports, unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches, eyewitness accounts of those who survived, and more, The Tragedy of Liberation bears witness to a shocking, largely untold history. Interweaving stories of ordinary citizens with tales of the brutal politics of Mao's court, Frank Dikötter illuminates those who shaped the “liberation” and the horrific policies they implemented in the name of progress. People of all walks of life were caught up in the tragedy that unfolded, and whether or not they supported the revolution, all of them were asked to write confessions, denounce their friends, and answer queries about their political reliability. One victim of thought reform called it a “carefully cultivated Auschwitz of the mind.” Told with great narrative sweep, The Tragedy of Liberation is a powerful and important document giving voice at last to the millions who were lost, and casting new light on the foundations of one of the most powerful regimes of the twenty-first century.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published August 29, 2013

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About the author

Frank Dikötter

18 books358 followers
Frank Dikötter is the Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Professor of the Modern History of China on leave from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Born in the Netherlands in 1961, he was educated in Switzerland and graduated from the University of Geneva with a Double Major in History and Russian. After two years in the People's Republic of China, he moved to London where he obtained his PhD in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 1990. He stayed at SOAS as British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and as Wellcome Research Fellow before being promoted to a personal chair as Professor of the Modern History of China in 2002. His research and writing has been funded by over 1.5 US$ million in grants from various foundations, including, in Britain, the Wellcome Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The Economic and Social Research Council and, in Hong Kong, the Research Grants Council and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.

He has published nine books that have changed the ways historians view modern China, from the classic The Discourse of Race in Modern China (1992) to China before Mao: The Age of Openness (2007). His 2010 book =Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe was selected as one of the Books of the Year in 2010 by The Economist, The Independent, the Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard (selected twice), The Telegraph, the New Statesman and the BBC History Magazine, and is on the longlist for the 2011 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 218 reviews
Profile Image for Mikey B..
973 reviews356 followers
May 26, 2022
Page 41 my book Li Zhisui in 1949

“I was so proud of China, so full of hope, so happy that the exploitation and suffering, the aggression from foreigners would be gone forever. I had no doubt that Mao was the great leader of the revolution, the maker of a new Chinese history.”

Page 101 Robert Loh

“We began to know the fear of being isolated from our own group and of standing helplessly alone before the power of the State.”

This is a devastating history of China after the end of the civil war in 1949 between the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, and the communists under Mao Zedong who were the winners in this long struggle over China.

The conflict and the persecutions for “class struggle” began immediately. This led to entire groups of people being ostracized, imprisoned, or executed because of what they possessed or what their neighbors said. Sometimes there were public executions. Often times quotas were made for the numbers to be executed. This quota setting clearly resembled the practices of Josef Stalin.

The rural country-side was re-structured to collectivization. The local communist cadres in charge knew little about farming. They were only interested in increasing output, with no thought being put to transportation or storage of the grain output. Much of it rotted, causing famine and starvation. Lack of food was a dominant feature in the new China.

Page 100 early 1950s

Several million people were sent to labour camps or subjected to surveillance by the local militia. Countless more became outcasts. As the politics of hatred tore apart the social fabric of community life, tens of millions of people were permanently branded as “landlords”, “rich farmers”, “counter-revolutionaries” and “criminals”.

During the Korean War indoctrination tactics increased. Hatred of the United States became the norm. Chinese troops were used as cannon fodder. “Voluntary donations” of all kinds were coerced – which led to more starvation.

There was also propagandistic mind-control – or right-thinking (very Orwellian). Long and wearying indoctrination sessions were publicly held in villages across China. Individuals were cross-examined for hours at a time to encourage “self-criticism”.

Page 182-183 Lin Xiaoyu, a young woman of the communist party.

“We all felt fear. We stopped speaking even to those with whom we were normally very close. You did not dare speak with others about what was on your mind, even with those close to you, because it was very likely that they would denounce you. Everybody was denouncing others and was denounced by others. Everybody was living in fear.”

Books were burned. Suicides rose for fear of being sent to fight in Korea, or for fear of being imprisoned in a far-flung gulag.

Page 185 Hu Shi

“But few persons realise that there is no freedom of silence, either. Residents in a communist state are required to make positive statements of belief and loyalty.”

There was an interesting period in the mid-1950s where Mao invited free expression – (page 283) “let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools contend”. This led to a surprising outpouring of vigorous criticisms of government, of collectivization, and of Mao and his cadres. The Chinese Communist Party was listening – and after a few months, half a million victims were rounded up.

The author outlines the brutal treatment of minorities and of religion. The persecution of the Uighur people is not something new. The Chinese Communist Party has always demanded full conformity.

Page 261

Most people depended on the state for their livelihood. And all had spent countless hours in study sessions since liberation, learning how to parrot the party line, provide the correct answers and create the illusions of consent. Ordinary people may not have been great heroes, but many were great actors.

The author also brings up rebellions against government rulings. Many realized that their lives were under attack. This led to violence, and the Chinese military was used to ruthlessly oppress any outbreaks.

Page 224 mid-1950s

There were close to 20 million rural migrants, often relegated to dirty, arduous and sometimes dangerous jobs on the margins of the urban landscape… they wanted to escape the famine of the rural countryside.

Many forms of freedom were suppressed. For example, the ability to move from one region to another. Many were destined to spend their lives where they were born. Thousands were arrested with no trial and sent to far-flung work camps. Private businesses came under government control.

Page 243

The lives of millions were swallowed up by a vast array of prison camps scattered across the length and breath of the country – reform through labour.

All foreigners, excepting those from the Soviet Union, were forced to leave. China grew increasingly insular.

The author, I felt, did not stress how corrupting and ineffectual was the regime of Chiang Kai-shek. There were many good reasons why the American President Harry Truman stopped supporting the Nationalist regime.

The author does mention that the communists did much to improve the transportation network within China through better roads and trains. I also believe they did much to advance the role and status of women in the new China. And they did throw out the long dominance of the foreign powers in China. The U.K. and the U.S. had been exploiting China for decades. The Chinese, for better or worse, became in charge of their own future.

I am anxious to go on to read the next two volumes in this series of the history of the Mao years in China.
Profile Image for fourtriplezed .
446 reviews93 followers
August 1, 2017
A very good read by Frank Dikötter. He covers from the time of the civil war up to the Great Leap Forward. Civil wars are rarely anything but brutal, 2.5 million deaths is a figure bandied by various sources. Dikötter covers this early and not with too much length but once past he delves deeply into the early years of CP rule with initial purging of those not connected with the regime, the beginnings of the Bamboo Curtain, collectivisation measures and the attempt to reform thought. Political prisoners, made up of not just those that opposed the CP but those that failed to conform, was very interesting reading indeed. For anyone interested in this period of Chinese history this is a must read. In the end I have come out of this book, and also refer back to his brilliant, tragic and griping Mao's Great Famine, wondering if the present day Chinese consider these brutal years of Mao and reflect on the present prosperity under the CP. I look forward to Dikötter's next book on the Cultural Revolution
Profile Image for Dmitri.
184 reviews129 followers
May 28, 2022
Frank Dikotter's books are often frightening, and frequently they are depressing. His best work was on the Cultural Revolution, which entered intimately into the lives of those who lived through it. My least favorite was about the Great Leap Forward which read like a statistical list of the death toll. Could the book have been that bad if it had won the Samuel Johnson prize?

This volume covers the birth of the Peoples Republic during '45-'57 and falls somewhere between. Like other works in the trilogy it has a lot of archival detail and provides a clear image of the events. It was surprising after his "Great Famine" ('58-'62 ) was banned in China he was allowed access to the archives to research this book, and also the "Cultural Revolution" ('62-'76).

The story opens with the discovery of a mass grave in Manchuria. Changchun had been the capital of the puppet Puyi, last emperor of China. It was occupied by the Japanese, the Soviets, Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalists and finally Mao’s PLA. Half a million Chinese civilians were in its precincts when the Peoples Army blockaded and bombarded the city, starving some 150,000 to death.

Following the surrender of Japan the US cut support to the Nationalists while the Soviet Union armed and aided Mao and the Communists. Beyond Changchun, Beijing and cities throughout the north fell, and Nationalists were defeated by the PLA. Mao moved quickly to capture Shanghai, Nanjing, the rest of the south and then onward to subjugate Xinjiang and Tibet, former Qing Dynasty lands.

After Mao's victory massive retribution against Nationalists, collaborators, imperialists, spies and landowners swept the country and cities. Public denunciation of class enemies was punctuated with beatings, executions, and the redistribution of land, money and personal property. Between one and two million people died. Most of this is ugly and much of it is told in graphic detail.

The book goes on to discuss the cultural destruction, state terrorism, death quotas, party purges, labor camps, thought reform and other totalitarian activities, as told by the author to be devoid of human redemption. Reading like this taps your spirit and makes you want to turn away. There is no happy ending unless you can see beyond this time period and into the future of China.

Frank Dikotter is a good writer in the sense that you can hear and feel the events he describes. There is however a kind of breathless excitement in the litany of misery. At times the account seems to descend into the chaos it portrays. This book makes you ask why? Unfortunately the question goes unanswered. It may never be answered beyond a brutal quest for power.

As Chair of Humanities at Hong Kong University it will be interesting to see if professor Dikotter retains his position given the recent tightening of academic freedom. His biography states he is on leave from the SOAS at University of London. At this point that job and city must seem a very long time ago and half a world away. It may be beckoning to him more each and every day.
Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 5 books320 followers
October 27, 2022
Single party rule is tyranny.

This is my first Dikotter read who has written numerous books about Mao and Chinese history. If you’re looking for an overview of the rise of Maoism and the CCP and the beginnings of Mao’s communist revolution, this is a good place to start. But be warned: this is a very difficult book to read. This largely covers 1945 to 1957 and begins mostly with war in Manchuria between the communists and the nationalists although a little of this book does cover the previous peasant revolts, the culling of landlords that lead to the rise of Mao.

You’ll get a broad overview of the swift but arbitrary class distinctions of the “poor” and “slightly less poor” after Mao finally took power which resulted in domestic divisions, social turmoil and obscene amounts of state violence. Cue the land reforms, basically just state seizure of land, which resulted in somewhere like 1.5 million dead. There was an insane amount of counter revolutionary panic violence which resulted in many innocent dead civilians including children. Mao literally instituted death and arrest quotas for any given population. Then comes the infatuation of Mao with Stalin and the pro-Soviet propaganda everywhere throughout China despite Mao basically being treated like a subordinate baltic state. Mao got a little bit of military and economic aid from the tons of concessions made to Stalin. Soon there were about 150,000 Soviet soldiers in China.

Then Korea happened and Mao insisted on helping the communist fight there along with Russia which resulted in an eventual standoff. Soon followed widespread paranoia about US biological warfare resulting in state quotas for collecting rat tails and killing bugs as there was fear they were biological vectors. You had impoverished and starving people raising rats to then kill them to then turn the tails into the state for money. This kind of insanity was everywhere. Then there was the bourgeoisie purse resulting in tons of “capitalists” dead, sanctioned or imprisoned in labor camps. Purges like that along with thought reform and re-education, Mao constructed a nice tyrannical house of cards for himself while he and his cadres lived in excess.

The state collectivism and and cooperations which ensued were an absolute disaster. State wheat monopolization resulted in starvation, protests, hoarding, waste and death. As the economy imploded with inflation, it became clear along the way that Mao knew nothing about economics. You’d think the vast labor and prison networks would provide free labor for the state but there wasn’t even infrastructure to use the raw human labor. There was wide suppression of Buddhism and Daoism with closure of temples.

The book finished off around the De Stalinization era of Khrushchev which made Mao change his tactics. In what I thought seemed too clever for Mao, he also publicly opened up about protests and dissent being able to be voiced only to then tighten the fist back again once the “counter revolutionary” traitors and intellectuals were exposed. This book does not cover The Great Leap Forward or The Cultural Revolution.

In my opinion, Mao was an abject tyrant and hypocrite. The peasant revolution he helped ushered in resulted in vast human rights violations, death, disease, starvation and nothing even close to what communism and socialism are supposed to be in theory. If I may take a liberty to express my opinion a little more here. Whether someone is espousing free market capitalism solutions or communism as a viable model to reduce poverty or to liberate the masses, the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is used far too often. Here’s what I mean: one can argue “Hey the CCP and the Soviets were just right wingers under the guise of leftist ideology, communism actually does work if it's instituted in its purist form.” And then on the other end someone can argue “Capitalism works great when it’s used in its most pure form as described by Friedman, Hayek, Sowel, Mises.” This is the No True Scotsman fallacy. What I’m trying to say is I don’t personally care about philosophy and ideology, all I care about is impact. Communism, as it has been practiced by the Soviets and Mao, has not gone well. Both communism and capitalism as pure theories can never be instituted. Successfully modern day societies are clearly combinations of strong constitutional republics, representative democracy, liberalized markets within state regulations as well as Keynesian fiscal and monetary stabilization. Are these systems perfect? Absolutely not.

The problem is single party rule regardless of espoused ideology. It is the source of the complete disaster of Maoism and every other form of authoritarian rule
Profile Image for Arjen.
186 reviews7 followers
August 31, 2014
The Tragedy of Liberation was liberating in the sense that it liberated me of the last bit of respect for the start of the People’s Republic of China. The celebrated academic Frank Dikötter uses anecdotes from detailed archive research across China to show how the communist party dashed them,and broke them and every aspect of Chinese society until every peasant, worker, intellectual, believer and party member hung their hungry heads in submission and toed the inscrutable party line. This was achieved by starving, brain washing, disowning, taxing, conscripting, scapegoating, beating, and executing millions of ordinary Chinese. The book shows how life standards deteriorated after communist takeover, illustrated by the square meters available for living to the kilograms of rice consumed per person per annum.

The era of the civil war, the great leap forward, the cultural revolution have all been extensively researched and written about, but I had always had the impression that there had been a period of calm in between them. This book opened my eyes to the relentlessness of the suffering of the Chinese people since 1937 until far into the seventies, for no other purpose than egomania of a few leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and the vested interested of the party and its members. The state managed to dehumanize its citizens, and now the party openly admonishes its people in relation to food scandals that morality and ethics are lacking. The communist leadership put a few hundred million people through an exercise to prove the point that China was formidable and independent, while the goal of socialism and communism which is to provide justice and fairness to everybody’s life was completely lost from sight, or resolutely denied as irrelevant.

Dikötter is not a literary writer, but his clear style aided by a few characters that reappear in the book through the dozen years that form the scope of this book make for captivating reading. This book hit a nerve as it personalized the history, instead of a biography of the leadership, or recounting of campaigns, the book hones in on how history was undergone by the people. What was achieved? Nothing. China never attained communism, nor socialism. Its development was set backwards for decades, and individual lives ruined for generations. The excuse that the Communist Party is necessary for China to obtain continued growth is the perpetuation of a 60 year old lie.

Profile Image for Steve.
351 reviews1 follower
December 1, 2019
As in his earlier work, Mao’s Great Famine, Prof. Dikötter has written an exceptionally well-researched history of China, focusing on the period 1945 to 1957. While the depravities of Mao’s regime have been generally known to students of history, many details remained under lock and key. Prof. Dikötter’s diligent effort provides a valuable record for English readers, incorporating significant material from previously closed government archives. Oh, what horrors!
To be fair, China’s sad story has many chapters before we get to Mao, it’s just that Mao seemed to take repression to a new level, even for China.

I’m at a loss to absorb fully the details for the atrocities and brutalities included in this volume, especially when I add them to what occurred in Germany and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century; there’s a few moments in American history we could include, too, lest you thought the good ol’ US of A is immune from reprehensibilities while digesting your Thanksgiving turkey. Should we not recite a short threnody daily in memoriam for the victims’ collective distress? Oh, sorry, my Grande Mocha Frappuchino® is melting, plus Real Housewives of Orange County started three minutes ago. Ciao!
Profile Image for Frank Stein.
964 reviews121 followers
March 28, 2015
In this book, Dikotter tries to prosecute a case. He argues that the period of the so-called Chinese Liberation under the Communists was actually an brutal and unmitigated disaster. Far from a peaceful interregnum between the Civil War and the Great Famine, Dikotter posits that the horrors in this period were every bit as stark as these other catastrophes, which only exceeded it in scale, not in scope. Furthermore, just as in his book on the Famine, Dikotter tries to show that this fiasco was not the outcome of confusion, chaos, or, that perennial Communist favorite, bad weather, but of the Communist Party's ideological madness and urge to terrorize the populace. One leaves the book convinced that Dikotter is unquestionably correct, but wondering also if framing the book so clearly as an indictment detracts from the history.

Two themes seem to emerge perpetually in Dikotter's account: quotas and suicides. As with many Communists, Mao and his Politburo had an obsession with quotas; from grain procurement, to the executions of counter-revolutionaries, every Communist cadre knew to do his utmost to fulfill his quotas as they were delivered from on high. In the "Great Terror" beginning in October 1950, Mao insisted that about 1 per 1000 was the right number of executions of counter-revolutionaries nationwide, and local leaders worked like diligent accountants to measure their progress to this goal. Yet, in typical Communist fashion, the quota was seen as a floor not a ceiling, and ambitious cadres knew they needed to exceed it to demonstrate revolutionary fervor. Guizhou province asked to be allowed to kill three per thousand, Liuzhou five, and others even more. Mao was deliberately vague about how far his underlings could go, which allowed him to posture as the voice of moderation even while urging more death (for Guizhou he suggested two executions per thousand would do, any number over that number should be sent to labor camps). In a typical ambiguous fashion, Mao began to publicly question the extent of the slaughter, and finally suggested that authority to fulfill the quotas should be transferred away from local counties and given to supposedly more responsible provinces, but only after a delay. The county leaders knew this was their last chance and rushed to kill tens of thousands before the deadline. It was all the strange result of killing by numbers.

Many of those executed first had to endure days-long "struggle sessions" about their crimes, during which the local populace would be whipped into a homicidal frenzy, each individual competing to show his or her loyalty to the new Communist overlords by further excoriating these enemies of the people. Time and again those targeted would kill themselves rather than endure any more abuse, and these enforced suicides were a constant in the so-called "campaigns" of the era. The struggle sessions and suicides occurred in every walk of life. During the land reform, the fake class of "landlords" (dizhu), a concept foreign to a Chinese economy with few tenants, was invented so as to find an excuse to redistribute land and terrorize wealthier peasants. In the course of the reform, peasants were encouraged and incentivized to denounce and beat former friends and neighbors, as part of the "speak bitterness campaign," often leading to the "landlord's" suicide. (Soon this redistributed land was taken away from those same peasants and collectivized under the state.) During the "Five Antis" campaign against the bourgeois, former factory owners and shopkeepers competed with each other in popular struggle sessions to renounce their former exploitations and pledge undying fealty to the party, often to no avail. In the thought reform campaigns, intellectuals and students who disagreed with the "General Line" had to submit endless written and public confessions of their crimes, until one was finally accepted, but that rarely ended the struggle sessions and the ultimate suicides. The goal was not so much to convince those who remained alive, but to create a society of constant self-doubt and internalized fear. Survivors talked about the process of having their personality hollowed out, so only the concerns and fears of the Party could dominate their thoughts (in classic cultish fashion, loudspeakers blaring propaganda and patriotic songs appeared everywhere).

All of this madness should have been obvious both East and West, but the Mao regime found surprising friends everywhere. China's choreographed tourism (after almost all actual foreigners had been expelled as part of the "Bamboo Curtain") convinced many this was a free and prosperous society, and outsiders like India's Jawaharlal Nehru often celebrated China's economic and social achievements. Yet Mao had publicly engaged in such totalitarian quotas and "Rectification Campaigns" long before he had assumed power, and even internal Communist reports time and again showed that collective farms and shops were performing worse than their private progenitors. Even as outsiders praised China's achievements, internal studies proved that the average Chinese farmer and worker was poorer than he was before "Liberation."

Dikotter estimates that this economically devastated and internally terrorized society was purchased at the cost of over 4 million lives, with at least 2 million more being sent to brutal bamboo gulags. I wish Dikotter had done a better job comparing the Communist record with the failures of the previous Nationalist regime (minor as they were in comparison) and providing a more even-handed look at general Communist policy, but one leaves this book convinced that maybe a heartrending cri de couer is appropriate in recounting the savage history of the Party that still rules over the country.
Profile Image for Julian Douglass.
298 reviews10 followers
November 2, 2022
People read and hear about the horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and see what a freak show Mao truly was. Mr. Dikotter shows that China in the early stages of becoming the People's Republic was just as gruesome. Vivid details about how people died and the horrors of communist rule really shed light on how difficult life in China was from 1945-1957. The book gives the details of what happened, however it does not give a good why, as he glosses over the civil war and never explains how corrupt or incompetent the nationalist government was. A more detailed account of that can be seen in Rana Mitter's book Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945. Other than that, very good read that sheds light on the horrors of Mao Zedong's China.
Profile Image for Joefranks69.
2 reviews2 followers
August 26, 2017
Tragedy Porn: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 by Frank Dikötter

Ultimately, Dikötter comes across as a typical member of his generation, steeped in anti-communism and the glories of the free market from birth, and seeking to amass as much evidence as he can that the CCP is guilty of terrible crimes. (It's pretty depressing when you read him condemning the CCP for being a police state, evinced by the incredible number of people the evil commies packed their prisons with - and then realizing that even in absolute terms, there were fewer prisoners in the Chinese gulag at its height in the '50s than in the United States' er, "correctional facilities" today. And in relative terms, the Land of the Free has over twice as many people in cages than China had during these years of shame.) He succeeds at amassing the evidence; he fails, however, at making the case for condemnation. I remain in agreement with Macaulay: "We deplore the outrages which accompany revolutions. But the more violent the outrage, the more assured we feel that a revolution was necessary. The violence of these outrages will always be proportioned to the ferocity and ignorance of the people; and the ferocity and ignorance of the people will be proportioned by the oppression and degradation under which they have been accustomed to live."

Dikötter's research strategy seems to have been to scour the Chinese archives for tragedies, and lay them out in neatly ordered, bloody piles. As Sceptique500 observes in an excellent review, the book seems more like a criminal prosecution than an attempt to provide historical understanding. For those who understand the CCP as a bumbling Satan or an evil Three Stooges, this book will provide ample, even thrilling reinforcement for their views. But those who would like to hear a full trial, where the defense gets to make a case (even if it ultimately fails), will be disappointed.

Dikötter doesn't openly state it, but he's nonetheless clear where his ideological sympathies lie. (For instance, this marvel of a sentence: "People who had managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps thanks to a combination of initiative, diligence, and perseverance became outcasts.") We all have ideological sympathies, there's nothing wrong with that, but in combination with some vague argumentation it makes for a frustrating read. For instance, in "The Hurricane" we are given the admission that "[t]here is little question that absent landowners abused their power, while malpractices were rife in the countryside", but in this - uniquely in the book - we are not treated to any gory detail. Instead, the overall argument of the chapter seems to be that rural life in China pre-revolution was pretty egalitarian, and that the CCP - inept at everything save pure evil - tricked hundreds of millions of peasants into believing that there was inequality, and that those (supposedly) at the top of the (nonexistent) hierarchy needed to be brought low, so that rural life would be so thoroughly disrupted that all would become slaves to the Party. It's an audacious argument, and Dikötter doesn't actually make it: he vaguely implies it in fusillade after fusillade of anecdotes.

Most glaring in its absence is an account of economic successes during this period immediately after decades of war and during a nationalist blockade - successes which may have had something to do with public support for the CCP. Yes, China in the '50s was communist, and we all know that communism is an inefficient form of economic organization that swims against the stream of human nature, and therefore never works as well as capitalism. Except somehow communist economies were able to industrialize backward, underdeveloped parts of the world significantly faster than comparable capitalist economies, and register greater gains in basic quality of life indicators (e.g., compare China and India, Cuba and the Dominican Republic or Haiti). Dikötter tips his hat to this reality in the "Behind the Scenes" chapter, but then drowns it in a lake of anecdotes about shoddy construction. (A hotel where the faucets drip, staining the sinks? Egads!) Yet for some reason, when China opened to foreign investment in the '80s, the capital to exploit low-wage labor poured in; it could have gone anywhere in the world with low-wage labor to exploit, which is pretty much everywhere; so why China? Especially after thirty years of rule by a Party whose economic ineptitude was matched only by its sadism? Reading only Dikötter's account, it would be a mystery.

Profile Image for Scriptor Ignotus.
487 reviews169 followers
June 6, 2020
An accessible and heavily anecdotal history of the Chinese Civil War and the first decade of the People’s Republic, chronicling the unlikely rise of a relatively small but dedicated band of revolutionary guerillas from the Manchurian countryside to totalitarian power over a quarter of the world’s population, and the perpetual political violence employed by Mao Zedong to eliminate potential threats to his power, reduce the machinery of the state to a utensil of his oracular will, and harden the zealotries of the Party rank-and-file.

In wake of the Nationalist collapse, many Chinese cities submitted to communist rule in the hope that a unified country would finally know peace after twenty gruesome years of warfare, but the precariousness of the Party’s authority over the masses, the looming threat of invasion by Chiang Kai-shek from Taiwan, and Mao’s inferiority complex vis-à-vis Stalin prompted an unprecedented campaign of revolutionary terror. Party cadres whipped peasant villages into a homicidal fervor against a largely-fictive “landlord” class; mobs were made to denounce, humiliate, rob, assault, and sometimes kill their neighbors in public spectacles. Private business owners in the cities, who were promised toleration in 1949, were likewise summarily subjected to rituals of degradation and the state expropriation of their assets. Agricultural collectivization created widespread famine and economic disarray even before the introduction of the Great Leap Forward in 1958. Provinces were given quotas for the killing and imprisonment of “counter-revolutionaries”, real and imagined, and their leaders competed frantically with one another to stack enough bodies to satisfy Mao’s vague ideological prescriptions and to safeguard themselves from intermittent purges that culled the wavering from the Party ranks.

Every element of Chinese society was made to participate in the regime of murder and denunciation, the betrayal of families and neighbors; everyone was to be implicated in the blood guilt. The progeny of one of the world’s great civilizations took on the properties of a cult. All complexities were reduced to the nihilistic imperatives of “Liberation” and the destruction of all inherited ways of being.

I wish I could say that I don’t understand how it happened.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,556 reviews395 followers
February 18, 2022
This is an engaging but gruesome look at the mass killings, starvation, and torture visited on the Chinese population as the communists took power between 1945-1957. I have heard a lot about Stalin's genocidal regime but not as much about what happened in China. It was both shocking and familiar. I've read the individual stories, I guess I never thought about what it all meant wide-scale.
This book is particularly powerful because it spans both time and geography. While Mao's growing power certainly changed the experience of the Chinese communists over time, it was also a very different experience for those in urban and rural areas. Dikötter in particular highlights the difficulties of translating communist interpretations of power and authority to rural farmers because they had no landlords in the traditional sense. There was no villain to point them at so they turned on one another.
If you do pick this one up, I recommend the audiobook. It kept me hooked. I definitely intend to listen to the others in this trilogy.
Profile Image for Pres.
71 reviews9 followers
January 30, 2017
Quotas after quotas, purge after purge, these are the collective stories present in the tragedy of liberation. Initially I was shocked. Then I felt sad. In the end I went numb.
Profile Image for Yair Zumaeta Acero.
94 reviews19 followers
February 16, 2021
En el año 2010 el historiador holandés, profesor de la universidad de Hong Kong y especialista en la historia moderna de China, Frank Dikötter publicaba su aclamado libro La gran hambruna en la China de Mao 1958-1962, un desgarrador libro sobre una de las más terribles catástrofes creadas por el hombre a lo largo de su historia, publicación que fue alabada por la crítica y se granjeó el prestigioso premio británico “Samuel Johnson Prize”. Gracias al acceso a datos desclasificados del Partido Comunista de China tanto en la zona continental como en la extinta Unión Soviética, Dikötter se lanzó a crear una trilogía donde pudiese documentar el terrible impacto negativo que tuvo la llegada el comunismo a China en la vida de la gente común y ordinaria, desde los campesinos y granjeros de las zonas más alejadas y rurales hasta los comerciantes y empresarios de las áreas costeras, empezando por la guerra civil hasta la Revolución Cultural y la muerte de Mao. Es así como llegamos al primer tomo de su trilogía (en orden cronológico mas no de publicación), titulado “La Tragedia de la Liberación: Una Historia de la revolución China (1945-1957), un desgarrador relato histórico que se remonta a la retirada de las tropas japonesas de territorio Chino luego de terminada la Segunda Guerra Mundial, seguida por la reanudación de la brutal guerra civil que enfrentó a comunistas y nacionalistas y al sangriento proceso de conquista (o “liberación” en el clásico lenguaje eufemístico de Mao) de los territorios dominados por Chiang Kai-shek y sus tropas del Kuomintang, hasta su expulsión definitiva a Taiwán en 1949. En estas páginas plagadas de violencia, sangre y atrocidades contra el pueblo asistiremos al afianzamiento del régimen comunista en China; a la expulsión, tortura y asesinato de terratenientes, campesinos a cargo de trabajadores y propietarios de herramientas y animales de labranza a través del llamado “huracán” y que no fue más que una propaganda despiadada plagada de odio, mentira y violencia para desatar la lucha de clases; las purgas al interior del Partido Comunista y el “Gran Terror” que se desanudó a lo largo del país para descubrir y destruir a los cuadros “antirevolucionarios”; las “cuotas” de muertos exigidos por el gobierno central a los cuadros provinciales; la matanza sin sentido que supuso el ingreso de China en la Guerra de Corea; el primer intento de colectivización de la tierra y de monopolio estatal sobre los alimentos llamado “Marea Ata Socialista” y que trajo las primeras hambrunas derivadas del nuevo sistema productivo; los primeros gulags, centros de reforma del pensamiento y campos de trabajo forzado (llamados en China “laogai”); la “Reforma de las Cien Flores” que desembocó en una marea de protestas en contra del régimen y que supuso la brutal represión por parte del Partido. 22 años que permiten ver la manera como se fue forjando el poder comunista a través del terror, la represión y empleo sistemático de la violencia, además de vislumbrar a un Mao Zedong que lejos de su cuidada imagen pública de sabio, pródigo y afable benefactor, se presenta como un dirigente ególatra, rencoroso, calculador e insensible.

Con valiosos datos recabados por el autor aportados directamente de archivos desclasificados del PCCh y de la Unión Soviética, el relato de Dikötter se complementa además con múltiples informes secretos, discursos originales sin censura, conversaciones de cuadros provinciales, actas de reuniones de comités comunistas; informes de cuotas de antirevolucionarios ejecutados; así como cartas de los campesinos que hicieron parte de la resistencia, que le dan el rostro humano a las cifras de muertos, toneladas de alimentos requisados e hileras de campesinos harapientos y moribundos que deambulaban por los campos y ciudades chinas. Aunque al autor a veces se le va la pluma con las estadísticas y los números, no deja de ser un relato doloroso y muy bien estructurado sobre los padecimientos de un pueblo que sufrió de manera inefable en el siglo XX y que muchas veces se relega al ostracismo por recordar otros horrores más cercanos a la cultura occidental.

Para 1957, momento en el que termina el relato histórico de esta primera parte, el socialismo de la primera etapa de la revolución china ya carga encima con aproximadamente cinco millones de muertos. Y, como se vería poco después, “El Gran Salto Adelante” y la Gran Hambruna demostrarían que el futuro sería aún peor.
Profile Image for Omar Ali.
218 reviews200 followers
October 7, 2015
A very compelling account of the "liberation" of China by the CCP and its aftermath. It is well researched and quotes heavily from the CCPs archives to describe the vast campaign of mass murder that followed the communist victory in China. How the party organized the killing of "rich peasants" (usually anyone in the village slightly more prosperous than the rest, sometimes not even that) to establish its control and impose its (frequently imaginary) social categories on the Chinese population. There are chapters on the process that unfoleded in the cities, against foreigners, against religious institutions, against pests and even against pet dogs. And there is some detail about Mao's various internal purges and thought-control campaigns. What is NOT there is any real attempt at explaining the larger context. In the early chapters Dikotter does touch on the various (contingent and by no means inevitable) factors that led to the communist victory in the civil war (with brief mention of the role played by well-meaning American representatives, including George Marshall himself) but thereafter there is relatively little discussion of how the revolution consolidated and took control on a national scale. There is a wealth of detail about the atrocities and oppressions, but not enough about the overall picture. Still, well worth reading.
PS: Those brought up in the third world Left may not get into the book that easily because it makes few allowances for their preconceptions. A different book (perhaps by someone like Ian Buruma) may be needed to gently change their minds about the great helmsman.
Profile Image for Jonny.
125 reviews65 followers
June 7, 2020
Frank Dikotter's history of the "liberation" of the Chinese people pulls no punches. Wearing its belief that Mao's communism was an unparalleled disaster for the country firmly on its sleeve, the book details the Chinese communist party's seizure of power (in a brief but effective overview of the cruelties of the civil war and the confusion reigning on the CCP's victorious entry into China's major cities.
The book really takes off in the period of consolidation of power, as the Chinese are taught to think properly, learn their place in this new country and seize the land from the evil landlords. Most of whom are not even really landlords, just in the wrong place, or who haven't learned which way the wind blows. The subsequent attempts to obtain parity in the Communist world with Stalin, the fall of the bamboo curtain and the growth in the number of political prisoners are are laid out and by the end of the book you're left with no doubt that the average man on the street had been broken and remoulded in Mao's flawed image. Exactly how flawed is a matter for the next book in the trilogy...

Interesting for showing how China became so closed off, and for giving examples of the birth of the doublespeak that's (arguably) led to our lives becoming a lot more "interesting" of late. Plus ca change...
Profile Image for Justus.
607 reviews67 followers
August 12, 2019
I think a lot of my disappointment with this book is that it doesn't feel like it can stand alone. By that I mean, if you don't already know a fair amount about the Chinese Revolution, I think you are going to be poorly served by this book. It feels like this book is a reply to some other book about the Chinese Revolution. A lot of history books are myopically focused on The Great Man of History and the huge sweeping arcs of history. That helps us, an audience far removed from that point in time, understand the general movements of history, but it also means we lose sight of the the struggles, miseries, and triumphs of the common man. Dikotter's great strength is he brings all of that into focus (and he makes clear there were precious few triumphs for the common man during this period). But along the way he provides essentially none of the broader sweep. The result is that much of the book feels like there is no context.

The first way you notice this is that, until the last 2 chapters, what Mao is doing, thinking, or planning is virtually non-existent. Yet here's a 12-year sweep of history where surely we should get more than the few glances Dikotter offers? In the early parts of the book it feels like Deng Xiaopeng is mentioned more than Mao Zedong, which just feels weird. But I think that goes back to how this book is a "reply" rather than a standalone. I'll come back to this "lack of context" once again at the end of my review....

From reading other reviews, I get the impression that this book was written, in large part, to rebut the notion that the period 1945-1957 was "good" and, by extension, that Deng Xiaopeng, is blameless. I know virtually nothing about China, so I never had that impression. The result is that it feels like Dikotter is beating me over the head to give up an opinion I never held.

Dikotter is at such pains to present the evils & horrors of this period that it sometimes feels that nothing the regime did could ever be positive. I actually made a note about 80% in when he wrote "But there were real gains" because it was, I think, the first hint in the entire book that the communists did a single thing that was even slightly beneficial.

Sometimes his "anything the Communists did was wrong" stance leads him to write sentences that are, at best, worthy of an eye-roll.

Soon even the continued use of English on electricity bills in Shanghai was stridently denounced as betraying ‘a strong sense of colonial influence’.

But, I mean...weren't they right? Can you imagine if your utility bill came in, say, Spanish? And Dikotter clearly believes that language can be used for colonial & imperialist purposes because later on when the Communists do it against ethnic minorities in far-flung provinces, it is wrong. He seems to want to have it both ways. It isn't colonial influence when the British do it. But it is colonial influence when the Communists do it.

But small missteps like that can be forgiven, especially if -- as I suspect -- Dikotter's main aim is a reply to more glowing portrayals of the time period. Because Dikotter makes abundantly clear that the Communists were a terrible combination of inept, corrupt, and brutal. Dikotter gives us a tremendous view of the terror of "the common man" with his crushing number of vignettes and small statistics. But it is all undermined by, again, his lack of context.

Nearly every page is strewn with academic weasel words like "many", "most", and "some". What do any of those mean? They leave so much room for interpretation -- and given the general tone of Dikotter's book, it seems clear he wants us to always assume the worst.

When talking about the oppression of Christian missionaries in China he tries to convince us that they were "good" missionaries by integrating in the communities and learning the local language, not merely imperialists.

Missionaries were also present, as early as 1919, in all but a hundred of the 1,704 counties in China and Manchuria, many speaking the local dialect and living in close contact with the local population

What does "many speaking the local dialect" mean? Does it mean 100 missionaries in all of China? Does it 50% of them? Does it mean 10 or 20?

When talking about immigrants into China -- primarily White Russians and eastern-European Jews -- he writes, "Some acquired Chinese citizenship", trying to paint a picture of how well assimilated they are (and thus how unfair later persecution was). But was does "some" mean? That there were, like, 5 in all of China?

This happens a dozen times on every page and eventually it feels...unpleasant. Instead of interpreting the statistics for that, tell us what the statistics are.

This same lack of context shows up whenever Dikotter talks about numbers. He tells us that Christians in China were the 3rd largest religion and numbered 4 million. But, wait a second, didn't China have a population of 500 million during this time period? So they made up 0.8%? So there are more followers of Islam in American than Christians in China.

Similarly, Dikotter writes that China had imprisoned one million people, a number clearly meant to terrify us. But wait, the US currently has 2.2 million people in prison. And, again, China had a population of over 500 million at that time. So the US puts people in prison at 4x the rate of Communist China during all these purges?

In other cases he mentions something like "In May 1952 alone, over 6,000 cadres in Guangdong were demoted or persecuted". But...how big is Guangdong? How many people does it have? How many cadres did they have before this? (Today Guangdong has a population of 113 million.) Is 6,000 a lot or not? China is so big -- and our knowledge about the sizes of its various towns & provinces so small -- that our intuitive notions of scale leave us poorly equipped to put all of his numbers in context.

Dikotter demonstrates a tremendous depth of archival material. But this constant lack of context at so many levels, left me hoping that some day a better writer is able to put it all together for us.
Profile Image for Cav.
638 reviews81 followers
December 12, 2020
It would not be accurate to say I enjoyed this book, as I'm not sure anyone could enjoy subject matter this brutal and harsh... I did find this book very informative, as well as historically interesting and important, though.

Author Frank Dikötter is a Dutch historian who specializes in modern China. Dikötter has been Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong since 2006, according to his Wikipedia page.

Frank Dikötter :

The Tragedy of Liberation is the second volume of Dikötter's The People’s Trilogy, after his 2010 book Mao's Great Famine, which looks at the man-made catastrophe that claimed tens of millions of lives between 1958 and 1962. Dikötter's third and final volume The Cultural Revolution details the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
The book opens with an excellent prelude, followed by a chronological summary of the events that are to be covered. I always appreciate super-effective communication like this.
Author Frank Dikötter writes with an easy and engaging style that holds the reader's attention effectively, making this one very readable. A welcome change from many of the history books I've read.
Dikötter makes a note on the source material here:
"...The bulk of the evidence presented in this book comes from party archives in China. Over the past few years vast amounts of material have become available, and I draw on hundreds of previously classified documents, including secret police reports, unexpurgated versions of important leadership speeches, confessions extracted during thought-reform campaigns, inquiries into rebellions in the countryside, detailed statistics on the victims of the Great Terror, surveys of working conditions in factories and workshops, letters of complaint written by ordinary people, and much more.
Other sources include personal memoirs, letters and diaries, as well as eyewitness accounts from people who lived through the revolution. Sympathisers of the regime have unjustly discarded many of the claims of these earlier eyewitnesses, but these can now be corroborated by archival evidence, giving them a new lease of life.
Taken as a whole, these sources offer us an unprecedented opportunity to probe beyond the shiny surface of propaganda and retrieve the stories of the ordinary men and women who were both the main protagonists and the main victims of the revolution..."


The stories told here, as well as in Mao's Great Famine are more horrible than can be imagined. The levels of wholesale human misery, death and destruction told in these pages read worse than the most dystopian novel...
The bigger picture told here of how China fell to Communism will be one of the most horrifying tales the reader will ever encounter.
As such, works like this book series should be on the shelf of every armchair historian.
The Tragedy of Liberation is full of quotes that detail the horror that unfolded before, during, and after the Chinese Communist Revolution:
"...By the end of June, some 30,000 people were caught in the area between the communists, who would not allow them to pass, and the nationalists, who refused to let them back into the city. Hundreds died every day.
Two months later, more than 150,000 civilians were pressed inside the death zone, reduced to eating grass and leaves, doomed to slow starvation. Dead bodies were strewn everywhere, their bellies bloated in the scorching sun. ‘The pungent stench of decomposition was everywhere,’ remembered one survivor..."
"...Soon the nationalist soldiers turned on the civilians, stealing their food at gunpoint. They slaughtered all the army horses, then dogs, cats and birds. Ordinary people ate rotten sorghum and corncobs before stripping the bark from trees. Others ate insects or leather belts. A few turned to human flesh, sold at $1.20 a pound on the black market.8
Cases of collective suicide occurred all the time. Entire families killed themselves to escape from the misery. Dozens died by the roadside every day.
‘We were just lying in bed starving to death,’ said Zhang Yinghua when interviewed about the famine that claimed the lives of her brother, her sister and most of her neighbours. ‘We couldn’t even crawl..."

Mao Zedong had instilled a system of killing quotas, in an effort to purge his vision of a modern Communist China of "capitalist", "nationalist", and "landlord" influences:
"...Like steel production or grain output, death came with a quota mandated from above. Luo Ruiqing could not possibly oversee the arrest, trial and disposal of the many millions who became the targets of terror, so instead Mao handed down a killing quota as a rough guide for action. The norm, he felt, was one per thousand, a ratio he was willing to adjust to the particular circumstances of each region.
His subordinates kept track of local killing rates like bean counters, occasionally negotiating for a higher quota. In May 1951 Guangxi province, for instance, was told to kill more, even though a rate of 1.63 per thousand had already been achieved. Guizhou province, destabilised by popular uprisings, requested permission to kill three per thousand, and the Liuzhou region five per thousand. ‘The provincial party committee of Guizhou requests a target of three per thousand, that too is too much, I feel. This is how I look at it: we can go over one per thousand, but not by too much.’
Once a death rate of two per thousand had been achieved, the Chairman opined, people should be sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to work in labour camps..."

Although the book doesn't specifically mention these by name, the Chinese Communist Revolution is a historic examplar of pathological groupthink leading to ideological purity spirals. That is; the pro-social wiring all humanity innately possesses can (and often does) lead a society to absolutely disastrous consequences, if left unchecked.
The writing here makes an excellent case study in social psychology and the pathology of mob mentality.
The Maoist " struggle sessions " that swept through Chinese society during this period are absolutely terrifying...

The Tragedy of Liberation should be required reading for the young, impressionable minds (often in academia) who live comfortably in Western Civilization, while paradoxically advocating for socialism/communism.
Indeed, this is one of the most brutal and hardcore books the average reader will ever come across. Words alone cannot convey the mass dysfunctionality and horror of everyday life in Maoist China written about in these pages...

This was an exceptionally well researched, written, and delivered book. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested. I look forward to starting Volume 3 of this series shortly.
5 stars, and a spot of my "favorites" shelf
Profile Image for Barry.
834 reviews30 followers
February 23, 2021
Spanning the years 1945 to 1957, this book provides the history of the Chinese Civil War and the Great Terror that followed.

This part of history is very important for Americans to understand, especially for those who have been swayed into believing that socialism would create a happier and more just society. The actual story of Mao’s Chinese Revolution and the transition to collectivism convincingly demonstrates the enormous human cost of forcing Marxist principles onto a society. Unfortunately, these tragic results were so widespread that the task of simply reporting them becomes so lengthy and depressing that few readers will have the fortitude to press ahead until the end. And this history doesn’t even include the subsequent Great Leap Forward which caused the Great Famine, or the devastation of the Cultural Revolution of 1962-76, which are covered in separate volumes.

Once again, the people that would most benefit from the education this book provides will be least likely to read it. Perhaps what is needed instead is a pithy tweet linking to a short summary article? Another depressing thought.

The next best thing would be links to a couple of very well done and helpful reviews:


Author 3 books102 followers
April 25, 2017
While one always suspected that all those glossy Chinese magazines of the 1950s that depicted endless fields of wheat and happy youths waving oversize red flags wasn't depicting the full story of the early years of Communist rule in China, the years up to the Great Leap Forward were clouded in a calculated cover-up. No more. Author Dikotter has poured over volumes of public and private 'official' records as well as newspaper reports, private memoirs, incorporating many personal interviews and published personal memoirs of its survivors (for example, Jean Pasqualini's Prisoner of Mao). The result is a shocking read; the title says it all in its use of the word 'tragedy'.

In short, "the history of communism in China is...a history of promises made and promises broken" although I would add the qualifier of 'early communism' to this statement as we have not yet heard (to use a popular opera phrase to signify an approaching final act) "the fat lady sing."

"The communists wanted to woo before they tried to control. Like Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Mao achieved power by promising every disaffected group what they wanted most: land for the farmers, independence for all minorities, freedom for intellectuals...." After the early years of wooing, however, came the years of tyranny and "as this book shows, the first decade of Maoism was one of the worst tyrannies in the history of the twentieth century, sending to an early grave at least 5 million civilians and bringing misery to countless more." Dikotter records endless tales of torture, deprivation, random murders based on population percentages Mao personally decided, starvation, suicides. No child was too young to be tortured and publicly executed if branded a 'rightist' and no village elder too respected to be stripped naked, beaten, and even buried alive (as was threatened even Premier Xi Jinping's revolutionary father at one point). The goal being of course to terrorise every citizen into total obedience was achieved and the road clear for Mao's megalomania to run free. When a young writer by the name of Wang Shiwei wrote an essay denouncing "the arrogance of the big shots who were 'indulging in extremely unnecessary and unjustified perks 'while the sick could not even have a sip of noodle soup'" he was killed, "reportedly chopped to pieces and thrown into a well." Religious leaders, academics, industrialists, monks and nuns, poets and artists were similarly dealt with where needed.

Dikotter is currently Chair Professor of Humanities at the U. of Hong Kong (formerly Professor of Modern History of China at SOAS), and a much published author of books on modern China. His classic on the Great Famine in the late 50s/early 60s (Mao's Great Famine: The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62) was a BBC Non-fiction prizewinner in 2011.

How can one apply the star designations used by Goodreads of 'like' and 'really like' to such a book? It is an excellent coverage of these early years, but its subject matter and the violence that continues page-after-page makes it impossible to "really like" such a work. "Highly recommended" would be a better label, for this excellent ground-breaking book is highly recommended to all interested in Chinese history and/or communism and/or mankind's less noble doings.
Profile Image for Paul Kenyon.
Author 3 books68 followers
October 26, 2022
A great introduction to the early years of the Chinese Revolution. Grippingly written. Minimum of fussy analysis and needless hair-splitting. Confident and colourful prose that is, perhaps, unexpected from such a celebrated academic. It's a real lesson in how to transform tonnes of original research into powerful and detailed personal stories. The numbers of dead are, of course, unimaginable, and Dikotter does well to avoid any examination in that direction, instead concentrating on the lives of the perpetrators and the testimonies of a handful of Everyman victims.
Profile Image for Catriona.
177 reviews216 followers
August 18, 2020
A time in history I knew nothing about and am very glad to learn about. This book is less than 300 pages but took me some time to get through because it is very densely packed with details, lots of statistics and data. I would have appreciated more broad strokes being interspersed with the details, I feel that way greater understanding would have been conveyed.
Profile Image for Horace Derwent.
2,211 reviews167 followers
April 5, 2021






第一部分 征服(1945-1949)
第一章 圍城
第二章 戰爭

第二部分 接管(1949-1952)
第三章 解放
第四章 暴風雨
第五章 大整肅
第六章 竹幕
第七章 戰事再起

第三部分 嚴密控制(1952-1956)
第八章 政治整肅
第九章 思想改造
第十章 通往農奴之路
第十一章 高潮
第十二章 集中營

第四部分 反彈(1956-1957)
第十三章 幕後
第十四章 毒草









  用西蒙.沙瑪(Simon Schama)描述法國大革命的話來說:革命就是暴力。但暴力不是常態,只有在必要的時候使用才能顯示其威力。與暴力相比,在革命中運用得更廣泛的則是恐懼和恫嚇。新政權試圖將所有人都改造成「共產主義新人」。從機關、工廠到學校,人人都必須讀書看報,接受「再教育」,記住各種正確的答案、思想和口號。建國後幾年,暴力有所減緩,但思想改造卻從未放鬆,人們被迫反覆檢討錯誤的觀念,壓制住一切資產階級思想的苗頭,絕對服從社會主義的規範。大家不得不參加沒完沒了的群眾大會和學習班,並接受嚴密的監視。為了證明自己政治上的忠誠,許多人不得不一遍遍寫悔過書,揭發朋友,或者為自己過去的行為辯護,寫好後還得接受群眾的質問。有一名受害者稱之為「一座精心設計的奧許維茲思想集中營」。







  中國共產黨取得政權十多年後,瓦倫丁.朱(Valentin Chu)出版了一本轟動一時的書:《共產中國的內幕》(The Inside Story of Communist China)。他在書中問道:「共產黨在中國做過什麼好事嗎?」他的回答是:如果不看全貌只看局部,可能有些個別的事情是好的,比如建了些有用的堤壩,有些托���所將小孩照顧得很好,有些監獄對犯人予以人道的對待,農村中消滅文盲的努力也頗見成效,但是縱觀一九四九至一九五七年的整個歷史,這些個案並不能證明共產黨兌現了當初許諾給人民的平等、公正和自由。




Profile Image for Stijn De Smet.
29 reviews1 follower
September 15, 2021
The Tragedy of Liberation by Frwnk Dikötter is a thoroughly depressing, yet informative introduction to Mao's rule in the People's Republic of China.

The book details the fall of the Nationalists in China and ends just before the Great Leap Forward is introduced. Frank Dikötter fills these pages with unending examples of misery, incompetence and sheer disregard of human life. These are supported by archive evidence with personal stories of the survivors mixed in. It is honestly difficult sometimes to keep reading all the depressing statistics of suicide, torture, malnoirishment and death that was inflicted on the people. Although a more lighthearted book would have been an injustice to the people that had to live through these times.

I would still recommend The Tragedy of Liberation to anyone that is curious about Chinese history. It's a piece of history that is often unkown or unloved in the Western world and romanticised in other parts of the world. Even though it can be a difficult read, it is compelling to try and understand how China was transformed by Mao and what his legacy still means to his day.
Profile Image for Kelley.
Author 1 book27 followers
July 28, 2014
A very readable history of revolutionary China, The Tragedy of Liberation is a comprehensive look at the events and profound effects of that era in Chinese history, referred to as the Liberation. The author has done solid research using a variety of sources, accounts and statistics to support his assertions. I liked that he used Chinese sources to document this history, not just foreign accounts of it. His writing style was very accessible, for even though this was potentially a very challenging topic, I still found it very easy to read and his presentation style was very approachable. Additionally as a Kindle edition, I really enjoyed this ebook's format. The X-ray feature of the book was fantastic, because as a person was mentioned in the book, the reader can immediately look that person up through X-ray to learn more about them. Overall, I was very excited to purchase and read this book as I feel it will definitely help anyone who is serious about wanting to understand the evolution of contemporary day China.
Profile Image for Adam Wang.
14 reviews
October 6, 2019
Profile Image for Brice Karickhoff.
502 reviews30 followers
June 19, 2022
My sister recently asked me for happy book suggestions. I didnt have many. I told her that i don’t need books to learn about good things; my life is really good, so I can just understand the good things through living. I need books to help me understand the horrible things.

Well, in some respects (ie. human-caused death toll), the three worst things to ever happen are the Nazi regime and the Russian and Chinese communist regimes. For some reason, I have been rather obsessed with learning about all three of these for a few years.

The Gulag Archipelago and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich were both incredibly enlightening accounts of the Soviets and Nazis respectively, but Id never been able to find the same kinda book for China. WELL, now I have. Its this three part trilogy, of which this book is the first.

To me, this is one of the most important questions there is: what are the critical similarities between all three of the societies who exterminated tens of millions of people in the 20th century?

In short, this book reaffirmed my best attempt at answering this question. The Chinese, exactly like the Soviets and Nazis, ascribed guilt to groups of people solely based on their group membership, painting some segments of the population as good, and others as bad. Furthermore, the guilty group was also a well-off group, and was assumed to only be well-off because of the actions which made them guilty. AND the hatred for the advantaged group was disguised as care for the disadvantaged group, which would ultimately bring about a new and improved society. Orwell once pointed out that the British Socialist Party didnt actually love the poor; they just hated the rich. The same could certainly be said of the Chinese communists as they literally murdered tens of millions of them between 1950-1980.
Profile Image for Oliver.
58 reviews
August 21, 2021
The first of Frank Dikotter’s “People’s Trilogy”, The Tragedy of Liberation chronicles the early years of the People’s Republic of China; from the final stages of the Civil War, the Communist victory and with it the subsequent spread of the CCP’s influence to all regions of China. It covers the early days of the CCP’s policy implementation, from the terror of the Land Reform Movement that resulted in the deaths of millions of Landlords (and anyone who even remotely resembled one) as well as the purges that took place in all segments of Chinese society; with religious groups, foreigners, intellectuals, industrial workers,civil servants and all those living in the countryside being directly targeted. It explained how insanely random and haphazardly put together a lot of these policies were, and the devastating effects that they had. And how the seemingly swift takeover of the government was not nearly as ‘liberating’ and organised as the CCP like to claim.

Dikotter writes a very detailed, but very easy to follow timeline of these events, using an incredible amount of primary sources that he has been able to access through his work in Hong Kong. And would definitely recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this area. But I will say it is really numbers and detail heavy (not a fault just an inevitability) and so I feel that there wasn’t a whole lot of analysis of things like ideology etc, and some people might find that a tad dry. But for a book that aims to outline the events in the early days of the PRC this absolutely does the job. Very keen to read the next one in the series soon.
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31 reviews
June 11, 2021
This is a solid history book on all fronts: it is written in a way that's easy to understand, with fairly good structure, and is a great overview for someone who doesn't know a lot about the subject. Most notable, however, is the author's absolutely fantastic use of research. Dikötter uses an immense breadth of sources, in particular a variety of first hand accounts and actual records of the CCP. Within this, he presents a broad range of voices and perspectives, including people of all backgrounds, ideologies, and experiences; however, he doesn't rely solely on eyewitness accounts. He is up front about the credibility of his sources, while also backing them up with hard evidence and brilliantly illustrating his point. Dikötter's pursuit and presentation of the truth, especially about a regime so obsessed with lies and false realities, is incredibly important and should be something authors of all historical subjects look to.
24 reviews4 followers
September 19, 2022
Cautionary tale...

"Ostensibly, the regime stood for values that had universal appeal: freedom, equality, peace, justice and democracy (albeit under the dictatorship of the proletariat). It promised security from hunger and want, with jobs and housing for all. Unlike liberal democracy, it proposed a unique social experiment to achieve these ideals, as people would merge into a classless society of plenty for all in which the state would wither away. Like the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution, the regime excelled at mesmerising very different audiences to the road to utopia. It offered economic equality to the discontents of capitalism. It whispered freedom to those liberals outraged by authoritarian governments. It flaunts patriotism before the nationalist, dedication before the devout, and revenge before the oppressed. Communism, in short, was all things to all men"
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