Tag: China

20200118_220256President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) is known primarily from his time in the White House and untimely death but many forget that he was also an accomplished writer.  In the well-received “A Nation of Immigrants“,  he gives his take on how immigration built the nation known as America.  Images of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty will surely come to the minds of readers who decided to read Kennedy’s work.  However, there is more to the immigrant story in America and often forgotten are the many other groups who have emigrated to the land of opportunity.  Roger Daniels decided to take a further look into the Chinese and Japanese experience in America and what he found may surprise many of us.

The story begins in 1849 as California becomes ground zero for the gold rush.   We learn right away that over 300,000 Chinese came to America to work in mines and in other trades, such as building cross-continental railroads.  By 1882, the gold rush was over, the railroads had been nearly completed and hundreds of thousands of Chinese now found themselves out of work.  They were far away from China in a new country that did not rush to embrace them. In fact, what happened after the gold rush opened my eyes to the Asian experience in America and revealed many dark parts of American history.

This book could easily be added as required reading in high school classroom and in a college syllabus.  It reads like a textbook but the exception is that is has not been heavily sanitized. Daniels had no intention of sugar coating anything and the facts that are presented here are beyond sobering. Paranoia, suspicion and fear of a “yellow invasion”, gave birth to some of the most discriminatory laws passed in United States history.   Beginning with the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1870 and the later Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the anti-Chinese movement gained in momentum and threatened the very existence of Chinese-Americans. Similarly, Japanese immigrants who arrived to America by way of Hawaii, soon found that their new home was not so welcoming.  The anti-Chinese movement soon became part of larger anti-Asian sentiment spreading across the United States.  And contrary to what we may think about Asian immigration, the Pacific played an even more important role than the Atlantic.  Exactly how is explained in detail by Daniels.

As the world found itself embroiled in two world wars, the Chinese and Japanese in America were struggling simply for recognition as human beings.  California remained the battle ground in the struggle between natives and new immigrants from the Far East.  San Francisco was the scene of some of the most absurd moments in the book and will cause readers today to wonder at how such inhumane treatment of others  was tolerated and endorsed in the late 1800s into the early 1900s.  The Alien Land Act of 1913 is a prime example of  some of the draconian laws passed to disenfranchise America’s Asian citizens.  However, in spite of outright racist treatment and propaganda, the Chinese and Japanese remained firm in their belief of the American dream.  World War II became the moment where life for the Japanese in America was turned upside down and would test the patriotism of even the most ardent believers in the United States.

The book is not a full examination of the Japanese internment in camps during the war. However, Daniels does a thorough job of explaining how the program developed, what President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) knew and the effect it had on the Japanese mindset both during and following the war.  High focused is placed on the Japanese American Citizens League, which played an integral role in the affairs of Japanese Americans in many ways, some of which will surprise some.  However, its importance cannot be understated.  What I did find to be mind-boggling was that the U.S. Military never had a deep suspicion on a whole of Japanese Americans taking up arms in defense of Toyko, but the media and politicians clearly had a different agenda.

Today, the treatment revealed in the book would cause shock and outrage.  I have many friends whose families originate throughout Asia.  They are as American as I am but the thought of legislation being passed to bar them from citizenship, prevent them from assimilating in society or to prevent them from even entering the country,  is beyond horrifying.   However, this was the reality for thousands of Chinese and Japanese in the United States before the passage of civil rights bills and Supreme Court decisions that struck down bans of segregation and interracial marriage.  America has come a long way but there is still work to be done.

While reading Daniel’s words, I could not help but to feel that some of the divisive rhetoric employed by politicians then is also heard now.  Fears of “invasion” and “threats to our way of life” permeated beliefs in the 1800s and 1900s, resulting in regrettable treatment of Chinese and Japanese Americans.  And in some cases, that rhetoric proved to be deadly.  That same danger exist today.  If we are to continue to move forward, then we must remember that less than one hundred and fifty years ago, anyone who was not White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, found that life in America was a contradiction to the belief that all men are created equal.  If we fail to remember the past, we are doomed to repeat it. I truly hope we do not.  Roger Daniels has given us a guide to study and learn from so that we do make the same mistakes. Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0295970189
ISBN-13: 978-0295970189

General Reading

Mao - cultural revolutionAuthor Frank previously published his spellbinding investigative account,  The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957, about the rise of Mao Zedong and the formation of the People’s Republic of China. That was followed by Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Here he returns with a third expose of the movement that changed the course of Chinese history.  On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proudly declared the new republic following the defeat of the Kuomintang forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek.  The new communist government sought to emulate its Soviet icon and instituted the disastrous policy of collectivization under the banner of the “Great Leap Forward”.  But as Dikotter showed us, reality soon set in as the aura of the new country began to fade as famine set in, the government began to seize property and a climate of deceit and suspicion spread across the country.  The book was thorough in examining the failures of the program as the harsh effects it placed upon the people of China.  In this third book, he takes us deep inside the revolution, showing us the very dark side behind the late Chairman’s government.

I forewarn the reader that this book is not for the faint at heart.   The things we learn although factual are ugly to say the least.  Behind the facade of a nation of comrades committed to revolution, was a society breaking away at the seems as anarchy ruled and those in charge plotted against each other as they sought to maintain their hold on power and avoid the Chairman’s wrath.   Today it is no secret that the “Great Leap Forward” failed in many ways.  But what is often not discussed and examined are the very things we learn in this book.  Similar to Himmler’s SS, the Red Guards, under the guise of filtering out counter-revolutionary’s, unleashed a wave of terror across the country against anyone suspected of being against the regime, from a lower class family or related to those who held high positions in society before the revolution.   The Third Reich used the classic technique of divide and conquer to control the people and purge those suspected of not harboring unwavering loyalty to the Führer and his ideology of the master race.   In China, the faces were different but the same climate of suspicion and spying by one person on another is prevalent. In fact, one example we learn of is a child that turns in their own parent.

Dikötter as usual has done a great job researching this book.  To say that it is eye-opening would be a severe understatement.   Not only does he show us what really happened behind the closed off borders of China, he highlights the political battles that raged behind the scenes.  His writing style is engaging, pulling the reader in from the beginning and refuses to let go.   The lives and actions of major places at the time are examined in detail. Names such as Jiang Qing (1914-1991, Madame Mao and leader of the Gang of Four), Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), Zhou Enlai (1898-1976), Lin Biao (1907-1971) and Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) appear throughout the book as the deadly politics of Communist China come to light.  The members of the old guard have long passed but they still remain a part of  China’s complicated history.  What shocked me the most was the ease at which accusations were hurled and lives ruined in nearly every case without a shred of proof. Mao, concerned with maintaining an iron grip on his rule, let the division fester and rarely intervened.  And as I think back to the book The Private Life of Chairman Mao by his personal physician Dr. Li Zhisui, I remember his words that the Great Leap Forward was used by Mao to expose those plotting against him.  In fact, as I read the book, I found it increasingly hard to believe that those in charge actually did have concern for the millions of people affected by their actions.  Dysentery, famine,  pillaging and even cannibalism, turned the revolution into a living nightmare.

China continues to be haunted by the legacy of Mae Zedong.  His successor, Deng Xiaoping, continued the government position of suppression of dissent and the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 became some of the most memorable of the twentieth century.  Time will tell if democracy will ever take hold and if the young generation will be able leave Mao in a past that many  do not care to relive.  For students of the Cultural Revolution or those curious about what really happened across the country under Mao’s leadership, this book is a great addition of any historical library.

ASIN: B01K3LRR8S

China

20191130_180856When we think of the second world war, images of the battles of Stalingrad, Iwo Jima, Normandy and the Holocaust often come to mind.  Although an exact number is hard to come by,  it is widely believed and agreed that more than 6 millions Jews died during the war. The Final Solution nearly eradicated all of Europe’s Jewish population.  Japan in seeking to establish its own sphere of influence, invaded China resulting in the deaths of millions of Chinese men, women and children.  Cities such as Nanking and Shanghai were almost completely destroyed. Stories of the atrocities committed by the Japanese army became known as far as the west and to this day are a source of the strained relationship between China and Japan.   Following the war, millions of European and Asian  survivors immigrated to other parts of world including the United States.  Among these was a young couple and their five children in search of a better life in America.

Veronica Li is the author of three books and was once a journalist for the Wall Street Journal. It is here that we are told the story of her mother’s life in her mother’s own words.  Li turns over control of the book and her mother tells her life story in an autobiographical format.  After reading this book, it quickly became one of my favorites and for good reason.  Her story begins when her mother Flora, is a young woman studying in Beijing during the second world war.  The Japanese army has already started its assault on China with bombings, shootings and pillage becoming their tools of the trade.  Flor remains determined and finishes her studies before beginning a career of her own.  It is at the point where she meets her future husband that her life changes and the story changes courses resulting in the title of the book.  She becomes the mother of five children, one of whom struggles in education.  Faced with limited opportunity for growth and no course of remedy, Flora and Hok Ching make the decision to leave China and move to the United States, making the journey across the four seas.  Their story is one that is common to millions of immigrants that have come to the United States to live the American dream.   For those of us who are natives to America, it may be hard to fathom moving a family of seven to a new country with a new language.  But the actions of Flora and Hok exemplify the power of will and determination.  And as more immigrants are faced with a life altering decision to leave the only place they have called home,  some can look back at this masterpiece and find inspiration and reassurance in their decision to make the move of a lifetime.

This is Flora’s story about life if the Far East, war, education, love and family.  So take a step back in time and join Flora and her family as they make the journey of a lifetime.

SBN-10: 1931907439
ISBN-13: 978-1931907439

Biographies

chariman-maoOn September 9, 1976, Mao Zedong (1893-1976) died in Beijing, China at the age of eighty-two. The late Chairman served as ruler of the People’s Republic of China following the defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) party in 1949. The People’s Liberation Army, under the guidance of Mao, pushed the KMT to complete physical exhaustion before claiming victory. To some, Mao represented the face of a new frontier for the people of China. To others, his regime was viewed as an expansion of Soviet influence as Communism became embraced in Europe and Asia. His failed policy of the Great Leap Forward resulted in mass starvation and is viewed as an epic failure in planning at the highest levels. Over time, many became disillusioned with the “Cultural Revolution” as the reality of a Communist government drearily set in. Mao, seemingly impervious to the deadly effects of his actions, continued to live the opulent lifestyle he had created for himself as the new leader of China. And the “Closed Door” policy afforded him with a shield to protect his empire from the prying eyes of the western hemisphere. But Mao’s meeting with President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 offered a glimmer of hope that the two world powers could form a bond that would in turn bring the two countries together through mutual understanding. Today relations between China and the United States remain tense and show no signs of changing in the foreseeable future. China continues to go through social change but the nation remains haunted by the legacy of Mao Zedong.

Propaganda plays a pivotal role in any ruler’s playbook. Mao created a very carefully crafted image of the supreme leader, unfazed by foreign governments and determined to change China by any means necessary. The public facade largely worked and even today, decades after his death, his name alone is enough to cause a change of expression during conversation. But behind the public facade, there existed another Mao who lived a life that could only be described as unorthodox. He had hired a personal physician, Dr. Li Zhisui to monitor his health and make any recommendations and/or changes when needed. Unbeknownst to the Dr. Zhisui, his left would never be the same again as he took a ringside seat to watch the show that was the private life of Chairman Mao. By his own admission, his wife urged him to write the book before her death. Knowing ahead of time that the publication of the book would require that he leave China, he embraced the project and pulls no punches, revealing the daily insanity that was Mao’s administration. From the beginning it becomes clear that Mao rules with an iron fist and those that serve him do so not out of low but mainly fear. To Mao, nearly all were talked tough were what he called “paper tigers” and he was not afraid to use force when necessary. His ruthless nature and shrewd mind tricks created a climate of suspicion and distrust that gripped everyone working in his inner circle. And as the doctor explains, the wrong words or even suspicions were enough for removal and in some cases far worse.

No story about Mao is complete without a word regarding his widow, Jiang Qing (1914-1991), who served as the Spouse of the Paramount Leader of China from 1949 until Mao’s death in 1976. A former actress, she married Mao on November 28, 1938 becoming his fourth wife. Their marriage and the tribulations contained therein, serve as the back story to the topic at hand. Mao’s infidelities and Qing’s insecurities are key issues in the book and a constant source of tension between her and his chosen physician. She serves as the books antagonist and a mental game of chess develops as she seeks out any chance to put the doctor in the cross hairs of suspicion. At times, the scenes are nothing short of comical and reveal the desperation in Qing’s actions. Her rage at Mao’s philandering were typically directed as other for she lacked the backing or resolve to directly challenge and change the nation’s leader. Following Mao’s death, she was convicted as part of the “Gang of Four” for treason and initially sentenced to death before her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She died in 1991 after taking her own life while suffering from the effects of throat cancer.

If there is one section of the book that hits home with the reality of Mao’s callousness, it is the doctor’s comments about Mao’s true purpose behind the Great Leap Forward. In fact, it might seem unreal to some readers at first but Dr. Zhisui was there next to Mao witnessing firsthand the Chairman’s erratic behavior. And there is a high probability that Mao never intended for the Great Leap Forward to succeed in any shape form or fashion. There are many cold hard truths in this book but to understand Mao Zedong, his public and personal life must be examined and it is here that Dr. Zhisui has written the best account of crazy, unorthodox and complicated life of Mao Zedong. Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0679764437
ISBN-13: 978-0679764434

Biographies