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

(People's Trilogy #2)

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,213 ratings  ·  140 reviews
“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 trans ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by Bloomsbury Press (first published August 29th 2013)
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David Larson 'Tragedy of Liberation' provides the overview; the 'Great Famine' book delves more deeply into the issues of man-made famine. I'd start with 'Tragedy'…more'Tragedy of Liberation' provides the overview; the 'Great Famine' book delves more deeply into the issues of man-made famine. I'd start with 'Tragedy'. And yes, the events recounted were a great tragedy. The story is grim.(less)

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Dec 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asia, history, china
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 pr ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ach ...more
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ha
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: china
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
Frank Stein
Mar 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 no ...more
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Omar Ali
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
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. T ...more
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 taugh
Scriptor Ignotus
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-history
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 z ...more
Aug 26, 2017 rated it liked it
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
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 pu ...more
catriona (reads)
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.
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 Dik
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: review
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 ...more
Sebastian Song
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
A single death is a tragedy. A million is but statistics.
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Aug 31, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a well-written, well-sourced history of the horrors of 1950s China that seeks to further dismantle the founding myths of the Chinese Communist Party which rules China to this day by stressing its terroristic and Stalinist roots.

The first decade of the People's Republic of China is often seen as the golden age of Chinese Maoism before it all went wrong in the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution. The received opinion always used that land reform was a broadly positive legacy of early
Karen Kao
Nov 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
革(gé) is the character emblazoned on my copy of The Tragedy of Liberation. One of the many meanings for this character is “to reform”. That sounds like a mild word for such a turbulent period in Chinese history. But Dikötter makes clear from the very first page that the history of the Chinese revolution is anything but bland. He quotes Mao Zedong.

"[W]in over the majority, oppose the minority and crush all enemies separately."

This is Chinese reform in its bloodiest form.

the people’s trilogy

Joe Sampson
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, communism
Very detailed account of the early days of the Chinese Communist regime. Millions suffered needlessly for Mao Tse Tung's harebrained ideology. ...more
Jan 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Traces the series of campaigns and programs executed by the Chinese Communist Party over the course of the period in question. It runs up until 1958, when Dikötter's book on the Great Leap Forward and the Great Famine (published prior to this book) picks up the chronology.

The book has a lot of information in it, but it often feels piecemeal and I was overwhelmed by it. There are few characters to follow, but when some of them show up later, it is often hard to remember what they had done earlier
Jason Furman
A brutal book, sometimes to the point of being repetitive, about the Chinese liberation--the triumph of Mao over the Chiang Kai-shek and the first year's of the People's Republic of China including the consolidation of the Communist party's control, land reform, thought reform, and briefly at the end the "hundred flowers bloom" period setting up the Great Leap Forward that is covered in the next volume of the trilogy. The book focuses on the consequences of all of this for the people of China--t ...more
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you've ever thought about what the worst time and place to be alive would be, China under Mao would have to be in the top 5. This is the second book in an eminently readable trilogy about China during the 50 years before the modern reforms we now observe. Famine, state-sanctioned silencing of the opposition, forced thought conversion, destruction of science and thought, re-writing of history and culture, and millions dead. Terror is the word that comes to mind. ...more
Devin Gilbert
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Not an uplifting book, but well written and full of interesting anecdotes. Author also writes very well and it's not too long or overly detailed. His book on the Great Leap Forward was excellent as well, and I look forward to the final book of the trilogy on the Cultural Revolution. ...more
Gareth Evans
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Precursor to the same author's work on Mao's Great Famine. Given the subject matter, the book is amazingly clear - a very easy read. Top class popular history that provides a number of interesting insights. ...more
Jessica Zu
Nov 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: hist530
Everybody needs to read this, the banality of evil.
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Solid account of the 8 years following China's "liberation." Dikötter is not the world's most engaging writer but his research is commendable and this book is necessary. ...more
Wilhelm Weber
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is not for the feint hearted, but should definitely be on the "must read" list for students in the 3rd world and everybody else tempted by the hollow promises of socialism and other utopian fantasies. "Communism ... was all things to all men." (257). That's the deceptive alure. It's only through time and experience, that the absolute depravity of this ideology becomes blantantly clear - after ruining personal, community and national lives and societies. "There was no end to statements of go ...more
Julian Douglass
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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 ne ...more
Brian Norlander
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great overview of China's civil war and the subsequent years of chaos and madness under Mao. A criminally underappreceiated part of world history. ...more
Damon Ralph
Sep 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-researched, insightful look at the Chinese Revolution between 1945 and 1957. The author weaves together the complex occurrences during this period into a compelling narrative. It's hard to put down, and absolutely chilling. Impeccably referenced I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series 'Mao's Great Famine' ...more
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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

Other books in the series

People's Trilogy (3 books)
  • Mao's Great Famine: The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62
  • The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976

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“But even as every promise was broken, the party kept on gaining followers. Many were idealists, some were opportunists, others thugs. They displayed astonishing faith and almost fanatical conviction, sometimes even after they themselves had ended up being devoured by the party machinery. A” 3 likes
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