The victor writes the history

Had dinner with a group of tennis buddies (few are from Taiwan and few from China) last night and the conversation veered off to Lin Biao, whom Stalin considered one of the most brilliant generals. Even the waiter couldn’t help but chip in his 2 cents of thoughts. I sat there silently, when they turned their attentions to me, I replied,

“I really don’t know much.”

Tony the ace (used to live just few yard from me in Beijing, but we didn’t know each other and he also attended the same primary school only few years later) said in disbelieve,

“You went to one of the best high schools and you don’t know?? Don’t you like history??”

Well, I love history, dearly. But not yeshi 野史, unofficial history. I can’t see myself spending a week or so reading something that only a theory or remotely resemble the history. The contemporary Chinese history doesn’t intrigue me much for this reason – nothing solid to read.

There is drastic difference between China and the West. In China, especially since 1949, there isn’t a single decent biography on any of the leaders, Lin Biao included. No one actually knew how he died, except his plane crashed before reaching the destination, as the governmental report allowed. If I really want to read on my fellows, I’d search for books written in English by the westerners, for their access and diligence. Quick case in point, Mao’s spectacular poem Snow 雪 written in 1945 is one of my most favored. Having studied and memorized since primary school, but little did I know about the background. Reading Payne’s Portrait of a Revolutionary: Mao Tse-tung, I finally learned why it conjures so much power and great momentum. Mao told Robert Payne in 1946:

“I wrote it in the airplane. It was the first time I had ever been in an airplane. I was astonished by the beauty of my country from the air – and there were other things.”

“What other things?”

“So many. You must remember when the poem was written. It was when there was so much hope in the air, when we trusted the Generalissimo.” A moment later he said, “My poems are so stupid – you mustn’t take them seriously”

Another point, would Mao had opened up to a Chinese the same way he opened up to Payne? (The same way that most Asian gay man has to be led out of closet by a Westerner? I know my buddy did.) Or was he putting up a mere smoke? In any event, regretfully, I haven’t found a book written in Chinese by a Chinese scholar that can capture my fascination. At the same time, I haven’t been searching. So if there is, please do let me know. And please forgive my ignorance, I’m just a desperate housewife, you mustn’t take me seriously.

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_____________________________

The Man Who Took Modernity To China, Oct 25, 2011
Truth, Still Inconvenient, April 4, 2011
The Punic Wars, April 5, 2011
Herbert Hoover, Mar 22, 2011
山东封疆大吏, Feb 17, 2011
Song Luxia 宋露霞, Sept 17, 2010
Lost in translation, Dec 18, 2007
Handicapped historians, April 26, 2007

About The Kibbitzer

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