In films and TV series, whenever a super tyrant emerges, there is a superhero of almost the same strength to prevent the tyrant from bringing disaster to the world. There must be fights between them and quite some setbacks encountered by the superhero, but in the end the super tyrant is defeated and disaster, prevented. Otherwise, there is nothing thrilling or marketable in the story.
In imagination, superheroes are popular and invincible while super tyrants are always unpopular losers.
In real life, usually there is no superhero to defeat or contain a super tyrant when a super tyrant has emerged. Often disasters indeed occur and the super tyrant is not denounced, removed or punished. On the contrary, he may remain popular among quite a few people.
For example, when Mao’s campaigns for unrealistic high growth rate had been carried out for less than a year, there had already been clear signs of serious trouble.
A high ranking official Peng Dehuai wrote quite an innocent private letter to Mao to point out to him the problem, but was severely punished. A few officials who dared to express similar views were punished too. Almost all the officials who previously held similar views, switched to joining Mao in denouncing Peng. Three million people of similar views were persecuted in a nationwide campaign against rightists soon afterward.
Mao’s disastrous campaigns were not stopped. Instead, he was allowed to carry on his campaigns and brought about a serious famine causing the death of 20 to 45 million people. There was a dire shortage of food in China for 3 years.
Mao was not condemned, removed or punished. He was only mildly criticized in a meeting attended by 7,000 officials at various levels. Seeing that he was losing power to Liu Shaoqi due to the mistakes, he made secret preparations to seize power back from Liu. However, Liu had too many supporters in the Party and government. In order to remove Liu, he had to make all Party and government organizations dysfunctional.
He first punished Marshal Lin Biao’s four enemies and allowed Lin to have full control of China’s troops to win full military support. He then deployed troops in and around Beijing. Then he mobilized students and rebels to deprive all party organizations and governments of their power. Liu Shaoqi, the president properly elected according to China’s constitution was arrested and persecuted to death without any due legal procedure. (The recently published memoirs of three of Lin Biao’s close assistants reveal some details of the power struggle.)
Mao’s power struggle brought China’s economy to the verge of collapse. Shortage of food and most articles of daily use occurred. People had to apply for coupons for the purchase of a bicycle, sewing machine or even a watch.
In wet markets, fish, chicken and beef almost disappeared while pork, eggs and even bean curd were rationed. The most common vegetable was in short supply. As a result, when Deng Xiaoping returned to power, the problem of vegetable supply (called basket problem as people used baskets to carry the vegetable they bought) became one of national priorities.
Mao was a genius in inventing a false theory popular among the people and making lots of students and workers his mad followers to help him in his power struggle. In addition, he was a gifted propagandist to deceive people. Even the media in Western democracies forgot Mao’s absurdness and despotism in giving rise to the famine and almost unanimously praised Mao as a great idealist that had carried out the Cultural Revolution to turn China into a Utopia.
Mao’s image as an idealist remains though Mao’s large-scale cruel persecution of intellectuals, dissidents, cadres and unfortunate innocent people are well-known now. The image even remains in the world while his image as a tyrant is not well accepted.
Well-known American diplomat Henry Kissinger wrote a long book to market Mao’s image and even praised Qin Shihuan, China’s No. 1 tyrant before Mao, in justifying his argument.
It was marvelous that when Liu Shaoqi and his supporters were conquered, Mao found Lin Biao who controlled the troops, became too powerful. He again successfully deprived Lin of his power and forced Lin to flee.
It was even more marvelous that after removal of Lin Biao, Mao’s ability to control the troops and maintain their unity became questionable. There was the possibility of the Soviet Union exploiting the opportunity to invade China. Under the threat of Soviet invasion, Mao successfully sought US support and prevented the invasion.
Mao was invincible perhaps because China is a country with over 2,000 years of absolute monarchy. However there was no superhero to prevent a super tyrant Bin Laden with much less resources from attacking the United States and killing lots of people.
Bin Laden has been killed now but if the hatred he disseminated against the West is not eliminated, there will continuously be people who regarded him as an Islamic hero and willing to carry out suicide attack against the West. We still need a superhero to eliminate the threat to prevent the emergence of another Bin Laden.
Will there be a superhero in America to defeat a new Bin Laden before he brings disaster to America?
For China the danger of the emergence of another Mao is imminent. Bo Xilai was a clear example. He conducted his campaign against organized crime in the same despotic way as Mao’s and he tried to bring back Maoism by his sing-red campaign.
Like Mao, he has charisma and knows how to invent theory and handle propaganda to please lots of people including Western media. He may become an invincible super tyrant if he rises to the top. Luckily, he has now been removed from his post as Chongqing Party leader. But what about the future emergence of such a super tyrant? There are deep-rooted factors for the emergence of such a super tyrant in Chinese popular culture.