Category Archives: Cultural Revolution

The opinion that dare not speak its name

Freedom is slavery

Diversity is uniformity

Tolerance is conformity

In today’s America, writes Dalrymple, you can have any opinion you like as long as it is a socially liberal one. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in the dustbin of history.

The view, for example, that homosexuals should not be permitted to conduct ceremonies that ape the institution of marriage

is now so outré, so utterly beyond the pale, that nobody is allowed to espouse it in public and keep his job.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live

If you enunciate such a view, you will be treated as if you had

pronounced himself in favour of lynching or slavery. No decent person can hold such an opinion.

The magazine Forbes judges that if you give voice to such thoughtcrime, you may be able to save your job, but only if you issue a recantation and an apology. Forbes thus, Dalrymple notes,

is the place at which billionaire capitalism meets the Maoist Cultural Revolution.

Deny for a second that legalisation of homosexual marriage is fully in the interests of natural justice, humanity and civilisation, and you will be, Forbes believes, ‘on the wrong side of history’. In other words, homosexual marriage

is not so much a legislative choice as an institution whose development was teleologically immanent in the whole of human history. It is what the Second World War was all about, though the soldiers who fought in it didn’t realise it.

Dustbin of history

Maria-Antonietta the shepherdess torn to pieces

Leys turns wolf and eats Macchiocchi for breakfast

Sometimes Marxist baloney requires to be countered — and vigorously

Simon Leys, writes Dalrymple,

conveyed his authority—moral and literary—from the first sentence of everything he wrote. He never descended into obscurity and could say the most serious things with a light touch and in the simplest language.

He was a mild-mannered, restrained and courteous man,

as remote from self-advertisement or self-promotion

as it is possible to be, yet he once unaccountably found himself on television, on a talk show called Apostrophes. He was pitted against a conceited Maoist by the name of Maria-Antonietta Macchiocchi, a journalist-politician who had briefly visited China for the Gramsci-founded newspaper L’Unità. Speaking not a word of the language and knowing almost nothing about the country, she had been led by the nose by her guides. Her ignorance did not prevent her from publishing Dalla Cina (1971; 433 pages), which on the subject of the Cultural Revolution was, Dalrymple notes,

full of gushing sentiment. Because of the ideology she espoused, she was utterly credulous and foolish. She believed she was witnessing a dream come true — when she was in the midst of a nightmare involving scores of millions of people and the total destruction of much that was precious. In terms of deaths, the Cultural Revolution was not as bad as the Great Leap Forward, but it was bad enough.

The immensely learned China scholar Leys — who among many other things, produced an outstanding translation of the Confucian Analects — was outraged by people like Macchiocchi and their abominable ideas

because he loved the people and civilisation of China.

Leys rightly regarded Macchiocchi and her kind as

frivolous and ignorant, fundamentally uninterested in that of which they wrote, and using China as a tool in the resolution of their trivial personal psychodramas.

Macchiocchi: mammouth de la bêtise

On the TV show, the presenter asked Macchiocchi to speak first. She prattled about her life having been one of chastity and of devotion: the saints were wedded to God, she to the People. And she would redeem the People; she positively immolated herself day and night for the People.

Rot of such egregiousness, says Dalrymple, was too much for Leys, who remarked:

Je pense que les idiots disent des idioties, c’est comme les pommiers produisent des pommes. C’est dans la nature, c’est normal.

Une certaine idée de la Chine

Leys made clear that what he was saying was nothing personal, it was just that he had to take a stand against all the frivolous idiocies that had been written about Mao and Maoism by Western intellectuals. He had this to say about Macchiocchi’s 433 pages of drivel:

Le problème c’est qu’il y ait des lecteurs pour les prendre au sérieux et là évidemment se trouve le problème qui mériterait d’être analysé. Prenons le cas de Mme Macciocchi par exemple. Je n’ai rien contre Mme Macciocchi personnellement, je n’ai jamais eu le plaisir de faire sa connaissance. Quand je parle de Mme Macciocchi, je parle d’une certaine idée de la Chine, je parle de son œuvre, pas de sa personne. Son ouvrage De la Chine, c’est — ce qu’on peut dire de plus charitable, c’est que c’est d’une stupidité totale, parce que si on ne l’accusait pas d’être stupide, il faudrait dire que c’est une escroquerie.

It was as devastating as Leys’ comment on Malraux, Barthes and and all the other frauds who thought they had grasped the essence of China:

Ces mammouths de la bêtise qui n’en finissent pas, depuis un quart de siècle, d’étirer leurs pondéreuses caravanes sur les rayons des librairies.

Leys’ ferocious television onslaught on Macchiocchi was, of course, richly earned and necessary, for as Dalrymple observes,

any Chinese who had lived and suffered through those terrible years would suffer a second time if he read the praise lavished on his tormentors by those who were so easily duped by the régime’s flattery machine. Macchiocchi deserved what she got.

A sad fate

Macchiocchi, Dalrymple explains,

never fully recovered from the humiliation that she suffered on that night because Leys was so obviously a man of integrity, intellectual quality, and attachment to the truth that she must have known that what he said was both true and justified.

She lived with this knowledge for another 24 years, dying at the age of 85. You can, Dalrymple supposes,

endure such a humiliation when you are young (though it might deform your character if you are inclined to be so deformed), but you still have time to overcome it by later success. But to live the last quarter of a long life in the shadow of such a humiliation, one that nothing will now erase, is a sad fate indeed.

Barthes in Beijing

By a Western expert

Malraux and friends

Leys delivers the coup de grâce

The need to put Mao Tse-tung Thought before legal niceties

Dalrymple writes that at the height of the Cultural Revolution,

I found it difficult to believe that anyone outside China could take Mao’s Little Red Book seriously. A platitude, after all, does not become an apothegm when a million people wave the volume in which it is contained in menacing synchrony.

Nevertheless, one of Dalrymple’s medical student colleagues

converted to Maoism and threw a brick through a police-station window.

Next morning,

he harangued the magistrate for three-quarters of an hour on the need to put Mao Tse-tung Thought before legal niceties. Eventually, the magistrate leant forward and said, ‘That’s all very interesting, Mr D—, but I’m afraid it’s time for lunch.‘ When the Maoist medical student — now probably an exemplary general practitioner — refused to desist from his harangue, he was carried to the cells below screaming.

Eviscerator of the idiocy of the age

If fame were the reward of merit alone, writes Dalrymple, Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans)

would have been one of the most famous men. Not that he would have greatly enjoyed such fame: his probity and attachment to higher values was too great for that. He combined in his person qualities that are rarely so closely associated: erudition and scholarship, taste, intellectual honesty, wit, literary gifts. I admired Leys more than any other contemporary writer.

Leys was a connoisseur of Chinese culture

and viewed its barbarous destruction with horror; he abominated Maoism at least two decades before it became obligatory for right-thinking persons to do so.

The Cultural Revolution, Dalrymple notes,

was not a very funny subject, since it was one of the greatest episodes of vandalism in history and caused the death of a million people; but Leys wrote so as to make you laugh. He was contemptuous of Western Mao-fanciers.

Dalrymple explains that

Leys’ guiding star was cultivation (in a broad sense) and his bête noires barbarism, stupidity and humbug. There was no better sniffer-out of humbug, the besetting sin of intellectuals.

Leys, Dalrymple points out,

could eviscerate the idiocy of an age in a few lines.

For example:

If one thinks of the great teachers of humanity — the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus — one is struck by a curious paradox: today, not a single one of them would be able to obtain even the most modest teaching post in one of our universities.

One of the great essayists of the age

Dalrymple explains that the Belgian sinologist Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans)

lived more than half of his life in Australia, and retired early from his chair at Sydney University because he said that universities had become degree mills. As a colleague of mine put it with regard to medico-legal reports, from which he made a considerable income, ‘You turn the wheel and the sausage comes out.’

It was Leys, Dalrymple reminds us,

who first alerted the world, contrary to the lazy, corrupt or stupid hosannas of his academic colleagues, to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, in prose of exceptional wit and lucidity for which he was much hated at the time.

Leys was also

a literary essayist of genius. If I were teaching someone to write, I would give him Leys to read.

Era of gestural politics

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 07.23.59Gestures, writes Dalrymple,

never seem to assuage resentment, rather to accentuate and aggravate it. They are never enough; more are demanded. It is a bit like the Cultural Revolution, during which no confession was grovelling enough for the Red Guards and no admission ever of sufficient crimes.

In part this may be because

deeper or more important realities – for example, the excess of crime or poor educational achievement – remain refractory to change. When people feel impotent to change what they dislike, they are apt to turn their efforts on to something that they can change, on the kick-the-cat principle.

Also, resentment

is a self-reinforcing emotion which it takes great effort to control. It is an emotion that satisfies (in a sour way) and can keep its embers burning for a lifetime, unlike any other emotion.

Broken windows

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Charming

Dalrymple picks up a copy of A China Passage by J.K. Galbraith, the American fellow traveller who was highly esteemed and very wealthy (he spent his winters at Gstaad) but who also possessed a touching simplicity and modesty.

In 1973, Dalrymple explains, Galbraith had visited China

in the slipstream of Nixon.

It was during the Cultural Revolution, with its

appalling suffering, in which perhaps a million people died and tens of millions were horribly persecuted, and only a few years after the greatest man-made famine in history. Nevertheless, Galbraith quotes the Sinologist John K. Fairbanks, who wrote as if he had learned his style directly from Galbraith himself:

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.44.08The big generalisations are all agreed upon: there has been a tremendous betterment of the material life and morale of the common people.

The remarks, Dalrymple points out, are extremely callous. Galbraith offers vignettes of the Cultural Revolution like this one:

The workers were rather proud of having confined their fighting to the morning. Sadly some windows did get broken.

Such is the way, writes Dalrymple, that Galbraith discusses

the greatest episode of deliberate cultural vandalism of modern history, accompanied as it was by cruelty on a gargantuan scale.

Galbraith is

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.42.05a mouthpiece of Maoist propaganda, accepting its categories uncritically. In the 1920s and 30s, sheeplike Western travellers in Russia had accepted its category of kulak. Similarly, Galbraith can write about a factory that

had been partially disrupted until the People’s Liberation Army moved in to restore order. The union I gather to have been one of the reactionary elements that aroused the antipathy of the Red Guards. It was disestablished.

This use, says Dalrymple,

of the phrase reactionary elements betrays a startling lack of awareness that visitors to the Communist world had been gulled before. Nor was Galbraith interested in who the Red Guards were or what they actually did. The fate of individual people was far beneath his notice, which explains why his anecdotes are so rarely interesting, let alone illuminating. His is a humanitarianism without a human face.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.43.28

By an American aristocrat

Galbraith tells a story about how the Chinese farmed areas of low fertility:

We were told how one production brigade had transported soil for many miles to make one peculiarly rocky spread slightly productive.

According to Galbraith, the decline in agriculture in New England

would not have taken place if politicians rather than market forces had been in charge. The moral of the story for Galbraith?

The market can be ruthless as politicians cannot.

That market relations, Dalrymple comments,

can sometimes exact a human price is no doubt true; but to have lived through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, and to suggest that there is any cruelty and depravity of which politicians are not capable, requires a capacity for incomprehension amounting almost to genius.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.42.19This remark is also made in the book:

At the close of almost every meeting one is asked for ‘your criticisms’ of the institution or the New China. I’ve found one that is true, irrefutable and well-received. ‘You are smoking far too many cigarettes.’

Dalrymple comments:

Millions of people beaten, tortured, and humiliated, the remains of a millennial civilization wantonly smashed, and Galbraith bravely takes up the antismoking cause.

Galbraith wrote of the Nanking Hotel:

Sufficient for the needs of this modest, simple patrician

Sufficient for the needs of this modest, simple patrician

I have a bedroom, sitting-room, bathroom and air conditioning. But that is sufficient.

What touching simplicity and modesty, says Dalrymple. However, in Paris, having suffered such deprivation in Nanking, he is more salubriously accommodated:

I was two days at the Ritz with no grievous sense of social guilt, no insuperable problem of culture shock.

Dalrymple comments:

How delightful to be so generous, so very right all the time, and yet make a fortune and stay at the Ritz!

The time of optimism

The optimists

The optimists

Dalrymple comes across a reference in the Guardian to Maoist groups in the West during the late 1960s, a time when, the newspaper says approvingly, many young people

threw themselves wholeheartedly into the leftwing politics of optimism.

This was, Dalrymple points out,

during that great time of optimism for the Chinese people that lasted several years,

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.40.43namely the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in the course of which, Dalrymple points out,

unknown numbers of people were killed, but certainly hundreds of thousands at the least.

During the time of optimism many millions of people in China, Dalrymple reminds us, were

  • persecuted
  • publicly humiliated
  • tortured
  • Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.34.11hounded from their jobs
  • separated from their spouses
  • exiled
  • subjected to forced labour.

All this occurred

to the cheering sound of smashed cultural artifacts, demolished monuments,

and the

hosannas

of large sections of the Western Left.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.33.37

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.34.50Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.41.07 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.41.45 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.37.05 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.37.33 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.35.48

The Savonarola of atheism

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 07.15.38Richard Dawkins, the atheist proselytizer, has tweeted that the destruction of the ancient Semitic city of Palmyra by the desert-tribal warriors known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant demonstrates the doleful

power of religion.

Dalrymple points out that it seems to have escaped the notice of Dawkins, whom he describes as a Savonarola of atheism,

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 06.45.12that temples are generally built in the first place from a religious impulse, and that Palmyra had survived for two millennia in a region to which religion was by no means entirely unknown.

Dalrymple notes that

Satellite image confirming the destruction of the Temple of Baal (dedicated 32 A.D.)

Satellite image confirming the destruction of the Temple of Baal (dedicated 32 A.D.)

such destructiveness is not confined to the fanatically religious. The greatest outburst of cultural vandalism in recent history was probably Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which had nothing cultural or revolutionary about it—nor anything religious.

Of course, it is always gratifying for Dawkins

to contemplate the stupidity or barbarism of others.

Actually the destruction of Palmyra ought to warn Dawkins to turn his gaze inward and consider himself. And what he will discover when he does so is less than reassuring.

Web of the Cultural Revolution

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 08.45.15

(by Rowlandson)

The spider needs its prey to live

Dalrymple writes:

When a Nobel prize winner can be hounded from his university chair by the harridans of the internet (or any other self-constituted group of fanatics), the outlook for freedom of speech is not good. The West, having undergone its own Cultural Revolution, has taken up the baton of Maoist self-criticism.

What was Professor Sir Timothy Hunt’s wrongdoing? During a speech at a luncheon for women scientists, he remarked lightly, ironically,

Self-criticism

Self-criticism

Let me tell you about my trouble with girls…things happen when they are in the lab…You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.

Hunted down

Such is the modern thirst, writes Dalrymple,

for moral or political outrage, which is the tool of the mediocre to bring about their revenge upon the gifted, that words are now taken in the most literal sense and given thereby the worst possible interpretation. The mediocre wait to take offence as a spider awaits its prey in a web; the spider needs its prey to live, the mediocre their offendedness to feel a sense of purpose to their lives.

Struggle session

Struggle session

Red guards of the internet

Professor Hunt was forced to resign

by what in effect was a witch hunt, or a lynch mob.

Dalrymple points out that

science doesn’t need women, it needs scientists, just as art needs artists and literature needs writers; whether they are men or women is irrelevant. There is no female science any more than there was Jewish or bourgeois science, of late unhappy memory.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 08.52.07Heresy

It is not truth

that is the aim, but power. That is the purpose of propaganda in totalitarian regimes: to force starving people to acquiesce to the proposition that they have never eaten so well.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 08.53.27It is

a totalitarian demand that a cell biologist, in order to be able to work at all, should subscribe to the current political orthodoxy, whether it be right or wrong. It is constitutive of these times in which diversity is claimed as the highest good that there should exist a demand that everyone should think alike or at least not utter heresies in public.

Orwellian

The aim, says Dalrymple, is that of Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

that certain things should not only be unsayable but unthinkable.

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