Jung Chang and Jon Halliday attended the conference at TAU Israel to discuss Mao and his influence on China, the Chinese people and the entire world. As the Mao book came out, the controversy over Mao was revived and the speakers at the conference demonstrated some of the debate that is still going on.
In the previous post I summarized the opening speeches given by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Jung Chang sees Mao as the ultimate evil, having gone through many of Mao’s catastrophes, and losing many family members to events happening during Mao’s rule. Jon Halliday seemed to focus on the international perspective of Mao, and how Russia and regional politics affected what eventually happened to Mao and China. They both had a very clear message, supported by endless documents and interviews conducted over a period of over 10 years.
But, it seemed that Jung and Jon hit a soft spot for China researchers world wide. I was surprised to hear one of Israel’s most distinguished China researchers, Prof. Aaron Shay, reply to Jung in what I thought was sometimes an insensitive and unrelated response, stating the fact that they’ve been researching China for over 40 years. He repeatedly said – with some variations of Israeli directness – “Jung – you’re way off, you’re totally exaggerating”.
It was also very interesting to try and connect between Jung’s feeling of her personal disaster with how Israelis deal with the Holocaust and Hitler. There are endless sensitivities for Israelis when it comes to the holocaust and yet some of those were not applied in Jung’s feelings towards Mao.
Here’s what I think is Jung’s most important message – “our book has passion and I’m proud of it” :
Later on, there was a lecture on the Chinese collective memory of Mao, which suggested that there is a trend to revive Mao as an idol in China. Jung came up to respond twice to what she thought was a complete misunderstanding of the Chinese by “westerner researchers” promoted by the Chinese government :
Jung summarizes : “Forgetting Mao’s evil and crimes to the Chinese people is just not acceptable. We are calling for people not to forget about the Holocaust… not about Hitler, and not about South-Africa, so we mustn’t use double standards calling for the Chinese people to forget about Mao’s crimes”. Although I don’t think that’s what the Israeli lecturer intended, I can understand why Jung responded that way.
There is a lot I have to say on the subject, and that may take forever. Instead, I’d like to quote one of my favorite professors at the Hebrew University – Prof. Samuels Marvin that came up to the stage to say this :
“This is a moral question FOR YOU to answer, YOU have to make the decision”. The Chinese people still don’t and can’t confront their past and look into their own history to seek truth in what happened. “No one has come to grips with this issue in China.”
One last side note – as Taiwan is renaming the Chang Kai Shek (CKS) memorial hall, renaming the CKS airport, and taking down the CKS statues in military bases, I think Taiwan is finally starting to deal with its own past. It might be controversial, it might be emotional, but I do believe it’s the right thing to do.