Kissinger’s Ignorance about China–On his “On China”


Kissinger’s Ignorance about  China — On his On China

China is a complicated large country with a long history and civilization entirely different from Western ones. Chinese leaders, especially communist ones, are usually profoundly shrewd and avoid being seen through by others. The top leading group, in particular, is a black box. Its operation is tightly kept
confidential. However, for an autocracy like China, one cannot understand it without understanding its leaders. No wonder Western China watchers are frustrated in understandingChina.

However, as a well-experienced and informed diplomat and politician who helped Nixon achieve rapprochement with China, Kissinger must be in a better position to see through Chinese leaders, since he has times and again had talks in private with all Chinese leaders from Mao till now. I, therefore, read through his book On China, in order to find some insight in Chinese leaders and the reality in China
behind the curtain of thorough confidentiality. However, I am greatly disappointed that Kissinger gives distorted images of and misinformation about China and Chinese leaders, especially Chinese madman Mao.

Having personally experienced Mao’s tyranny, my greatest worry concerning China is the potential emergence of another madman like Mao when China grows into a rival to America. The disaster that he may cause to Chinese and world people will be much more serious than Mao’s great famine and Cultural Revolution.

Kissinger, however, compared China’s rise now with that of Germany before World War I and believes if the state leaders then had known the consequence of the war, they would “have recoiled” from confrontation. So will China and America in the future, he concludes. Kissinger forgets World War II, which is much more relevant. Madmen Hitler and Tojo Hideki started the war because they were callous killers and their mad calculation made them believe they would win the war. Tojo was especially mad. He attacked America
when compared with the giant of US economy, Japan’s was a dwarf.

Like Hitler, Mao Was a Callous Killer

In a speech on August 10, 1959, Mao gave the reasons why there was no Hungarian Rebellion (referring to
the Hungarian Revolution in 1956) in China, saying that since the communist takeover “more than one million counterrevolutionaries have been killed. Hungary has not killed any counterrevolutionary. For the elimination of more than one million of the 600-odd million people, I think we shall shout hurrah for that.”[1] The counterrevolutionaries referred to in his speech were mostly unarmed civilians put to death in peacetime. The terror lies in his pride and joy in the killing.

Mao’s Two Fits of Domestic Madness with Heavy Death Toll

Mao’s mad campaign the Great Leap Forward giving rise to a death toll of 20 to 40 million people is now
well-known the world over. Frank Dikötter gives an astonishing, riveting, magnificently detailed account of it in his book Mao’s Great Famine.

Mao’s second fit of domestic madness the Cultural Revolution is even more famous. It was at first hailed in America as a campaign with lofty ideal. There were no statistics of the death toll and the number of victims. People who personally experienced it like me know that the number was enormous. People outside China now know the evils of the campaign when the truth has come out, but Mao’s misunderstood image as an
idealist remains in the minds of quite a few people.

Mao’s Fits of International Madness

Mao told Soviet leader Khrushchev that he would fight a nuclear war to eliminate capitalism all over the world even if half of Chinese population–300 million then– died in the war. Taking into account of China’s poor economy and backward weapons then, Mao was much madder than Tojo Hideki. However, when I was studying in a university in Anhui, China in 1958, there was hot enthusiasm for communism among the students there. Some of my close classmates talked about Mao’s words and said in private (not openly to
please Party cadres) that they admired Mao that he represented Chinese people in saying that we Chinese were willing to make the greatest national sacrifice for communism. Mao was able to make quite a few Chinese people as mad as him because elements of Maoism are deeply rooted in China’s popular culture for infection of his madness. That is China’s most serious problem.

You cannot believe that unless you have personally experienced it. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, I was amazed to see students even those in prestigious universities turned into mad Red Guards overnight and later discipline-abiding workers turned into rebels promptly.

Kissinger mentions that twice Mao brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in the two Taiwan crises in the 1950s, but he admires Mao’s shelling “diplomacy” and regrets that Mao’s “brilliant achievements” were not “balanced against the global impact of the crisis”. He invented China’s ‘traditional” “empty city stratagem” to gloss over Mao’s repeated fits of madness.

Kissinger Ignores Mao’s Export of Revolution

He says, “Mao was too much of a realist, however, to pursue world revolution as a practical goal. As a result, the tangible impact of China on world revolution was largely ideological and consisted of intelligence support for local Communist parties.” He quoted what Mao said to Snow in 1965 to prove that.

Though a well-informed diplomat, he regards as not “tangible” all the following Mao’s enthusiastic world revolution activities that were reported by media then and have been revealed now by people personally involved, so that Kissinger omits all of them except item 1:

  1. Mao transferred 50,000 experienced troops with weapons to increase Kim Il-sung’s troops to
    231,000 for invasion of South Korea and sent troops to fight against America to preserve North Korea’s communist regime.
  2. Mao trained and armed Vietnamese communists, sent lots of military advisers to help drive away France and establish communist North Vietnam, and provided aids worth billions of yuan to help them take over South Vietnam.
  3. Mao helped Khmer Rouge rise to power in Cambodia in 1975. Mao’s “ideal” of “purifying the society” inspired Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, resulting in the Killing Fields. Kissinger omits that perhaps because Thomas Walkum said on Toronto Star on June 30, 1997, “Let’s try Kissinger along with Pol Pot,” and some Americans such as Professor Edward S. Herman held similar views.
  4. Mao provided substantial aids to communists and guerillas all over the world in spite of China’s
    own economic difficulties.

Mao, an Idealist?

Throughout his book, Kissinger strives to sell Mao’s image as an idealist. His trickiest advertisement is that he says that of Mao’s four titles: the Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great Commander and Great Helmsman,
Mao told Kissinger Mao only wanted to keep the title of “Teacher” as if Mao was a loving teacher. Mao persecuted people but that was the punishment given by Mao the strict teacher for purifying his pupils, Kissinger hints.

However, Mao was not a loving but a cruel tyrannous teacher whose teachings you were not to trifle with. Non-acceptance of or doubting any of his teachings or instructions was a crime. One would be severely punished even if one revealed it in one’s diary. In 1970, Zhang Yihe, a common clerk then but a well-known writer now, wrote in her diary upon Mao’s promotion of his wife Jiang Qing the Chinese saying “When a man becomes immortal, even his hens and dogs become immortal, too”. She got a sentence of 20-year imprisonment for that. When I was in Shanghai then, persecution and imprisonment for dissent in people’s diaries were common phenomena.

Mao’s Cruel Persecution of Dissidents

People know well that in 1957 Mao coaxed intellectuals into criticizing the Party and then labeled 550,000 intellectuals as rightists to persecute in order to silence voice of opposition. However, they do not know
very clearly that more than 3 million people were persecuted as rightists in 1959 because they aired their opposition to Mao’s mad Great Leap Forward in order to prevent the disaster it would cause to China. They
failed to stop Mao’s madness and at least 20 million people died due to Mao’s madness. Red Guard’s and rebels’ cruel persecution of innocent people and Party and state cadres is well known now, but quite a few people believe that it was over by 1969 when lots of Red Guard had been sent to the countryside. In fact,
persecution did not stop.

In 1970, quite a few young dissidents including some Party members openly said that Mao’s Cultural Revolution deviated from Marxism after they had diligently studied Marxist classics. Mao carried out a nation-wide One Strike-Three Anti Campaign and according to official figure, by November 1970
arrested 280,000 dissidents labeled as “counterrevolutionaries”. Those young dissidents were brave and wanted an open debate with Mao, but Mao “purified the society” by cruel torture, imprisonment and execution.

Zhang Zhixin was a typical case. The tortures and death penalty she suffered and the cruelty of the Campaign can still be found on the Internet. My father was framed-up and arrested as a counterrevolutionary then. He told me that he heard noise of torture everyday when he was detained in a detention center inShanghai for more than one year.

It is very clear that Mao’s “ideal” was not to “purify the society” but to establish his absolute authority. However, a man cruelly realizing such an “ideal” is normally regarded as a tyrant instead of idealist.

America’s ignorance about China

As a brilliant diplomat, in writing his book, Kissinger certainly consulted lots of American China experts’ writings. The plenty misinformation about China and failure to give information about present-day China and its leaders and people in his book reflect their ignorance too. I have no intention to find faults, but have to point out some to rouse American people’s awareness because the misunderstanding resulting from such ignorance may have catastrophic consequence.

Kissinger makes much of Chinese fondness for playing wei qi to “explain the conceptual way the Chinese think about problems of peace and war and international order”. That is absurd as very few people have
shown much interest in national wei qi competition or even know how to play it. I am a wei qi enthusiast, but have found it very difficult to find people to play with in China from the time when I was young till now when I am 70. However, Chinese chess, a game similar to Western chess, is traditionally the most popular game. One can find people to play with everywhere in China even among illiterates.

Kissinger says that there were no official records of foreign envoys coming to Chinese court to engage in negotiations nor did Chinese emperor hold “summit meeting” with other heads of state but foreign envoys came to be transformed and heads of state came to present tribute to “recognize” Chinese emperor’s “overlordship”. In fact, there were negotiations for treaties by which China was humiliated and forced to give tribute of precious metal and silk to other states, for example, the “Chanyuan Treaty” in 1004 and the notorious “Shaoxing Peace Treaty” in 1141.

As for summit meeting, on pages 6018–6020 of the official history entitled The Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government, Emperor Taizong of Tang met King Jieli of Tujue (the Turkic Khanate) and concluded a treaty with him in 626. That was quite an interesting event as Emperor Taizong who was quite sure that he could defeat Tujue’s one million invading troops then, gave Jieli gold and silk in order to make Jieli arrogant and unprepared so that he could conquer Tujue later. Three years later, his troops conquered Tujue.

Emperor Taizong was the greatest emperor and his Reign of Zhenguan, most famous in Chinese history. Ignorance of him after reading Chinese history is like ignorance of Napoleon Bonaparte after reading French history.

America Not on Alert

American brilliant political scientist Samuel P. Huntington predicted in his well-known book Clash of
possible clash between Islamic and Western civilizations but America was not on alert. It failed to make thorough investigations when traces of Islamic terrorist attack were found months before 9.11. That reminds me of Pearl Harbor.

Will Americafail to be on alert a third time when the scenario of the clash between American and Chinese civilizations described by Huntington in his book becomes a reality?

Kissinger begins his book by stressing China’s traditional cosmology with its emperor as the pinnacle of a universal political hierarchy and all other states’ rulers serving as vassals and says understanding China’s role now must begin “with this basic appreciation of the traditional context”. However he fails to mention that when China was strong, its emperors fought quite a few wars to subdue China’s neighbors. In addition, he glosses over Mao’s enthusiastic pursuit of leadership in world revolution, which was precisely a further development of that cosmology. He mentions two recent books advocating sinocentric cosmology, but despite their being bestsellers, he treats them lightly, saying they are criticized in the Chinese press. If Americans believe him, they will not be on alert.

Deep-rooted Maoism, Rich Soil for the Emergence of another Mao

To prevent Kissinger’s book from giving world people a false sense of security, I have to make people see the possibility of the emergence of another Mao. As a profound understanding of Chinese culture and political
system is indispensable for that, I have to give a short description and analysis though they are the topics for a special book.

If future Chinese leaders remain Confucianist-Marxist and pursue harmony in the world,China’s rise will be beneficial instead of troublesome to the world.

In his book, China’s singularity is a major topic, but Kissinger is ignorant about that. China’s singularity first of all lies in its always having a dominant ideology for 2,000 years. Its third and longest dominant ideology Confucianism was thoroughly denounced in the May Fourth Movement in 1919 and criticized along with Lin Biao when ignorant of that, Kissinger mentioned it to Zhou Enlai and got furious response.

During the Cultural Revolution, a new generation of talented intellectuals with moral integrity emerged and there was renaissance of Confucianism among them. Those in Shanghai joined Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai faction and served Jiang in carrying out a silent peaceful coup d’état they have planned for a long time, to substitute intellectuals’ dominance for uneducated workers’ and peasants’. Jiang’s Three Represents marks the success of the coup and develops Marxism to justify China’s pursuit of capitalism adjusted by Keynesian macroeconomic control.

Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have added Confucianism to Jiang’s new Marxism and stressed harmony in order to overcome the conflict arising from the yawning rich-poor gap resulted from such capitalism. They are also trying to establish Mencius democracy of “putting people first”. However, their Confucianism-Marxism, though dominant at present, has a very short history and takes time to be so well established as to prevent the emergence of another Mao.

Another ideology, Maoism, the dominant ideology in Mao era, has its key elements such as egalitarianism, personality cult, sinocentric cosmology, enmity against intellectuals and cruelty in fighting for its goal deeply rooted in Chinese popular culture. Those elements prevailed in lots of peasants uprisings in Chinese history and in Mao’s mad pursuit of leadership in world revolution and Cultural Revolution.

According to a survey in 2008, in 40 cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Wuhan, families who had Mao’s statutes or portraits for worship accounted for 11.5% of the total number of families there, exceeding by far those who worshiped Buddha, God of Wealth or local god of the land.

Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought are in conflict with Confucianism-Marxism, but they remain guiding ideology in Party’s and state’s constitutions and Mao remains China’s great leader in spite of the criticism of his errors.

With such rich soil for Maoism, the emergence of another Mao is quite possible in the future.

China’s Political System and Art for Being an Emperor

China has a long history of autocracy. In China, there have never been any definition, codes or rules whatever about the power of a top leader whether he has the title of emperor or not. In fact, even if
there are some codes or rules, there is no institution or mechanism to enforce them. This makes a top leader’s position precarious.

In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (770–221 BC), it was quite common that the sovereign power in a state was usurped by a powerful courtier, resulting in the demise of the ruling family. Seeing that, Han Fei (281?–233 BC), a Legalist master, wrote his famous Legalist classic entitled Han Fei-tzu to teach sovereigns the strategy, tactics, tricks and intrigues to maintain a top leader’s position and authority. As such strategy etc. is vital for top leaders, it were later further developed and called the art for being an emperor (diwangshu in Chinese).

Han Fei taught sovereigns to control their subjects by law, hold their officials in awe, use power, tricks and intrigues to control them and award and punishment to make them perform their duties properly. In order to maintain the awe and play tricks, He gives the advice that a sovereign must keep a distance from everyone else including his family members, relatives and officials and trust no one. That is certainly not a good way and a sovereign will thus have no friends and lead a lonely life. The constant pressure, sense of insecurity
and loneliness may well drive a sovereign mad.

Qin Shihuang adopted Legalism as the dominant ideology and Han’s ways to maintain his iron rule. However, there is a great problem in Han’s art: When a sovereign dies, he has no close powerful courtiers to ensure smooth succession. That was precisely the case with Qin Shihuang. In his will he wanted Prince Fusu to succeed him, but his eunuch Zhao Gao and Prime Minister Li Si replaced it with a fabricated will to have a weak prince succeed him and Prince Fusu killed.

The failure of succession and people’s uprisings against the cruel Legalist rule caused Legalism to lose its dominance and be negated since the fall of Qin Dynasty. Around 134 BC, Emperor Wudi of Han substituted Confucianism for Taoism as the dominant ideology. All the later dynasties exploited Confucian stress on loyalty and filial duty to consolidate emperor’s position and ensure succession. In spite of that, usurp of emperor’s power or throne was still quite common in Chinese history. For example, Wang Mang (45 BC–23 AD), Dong Zhuo (?–192), Cao Cao (155–220), Sima Zhao (211–265), Liu Yu (363–422), Zhao Kuangyin (927–976), etc. usurped power or throne and those who usurped power not throne mostly passed the power to their sons and enabled them to usurp throne.

Through further development in more than two thousand years of political struggles, the art for being an emperor now consists of the art, strategy, tactics, techniques, tricks, intrigues, etc. to win the throne,
recruit talented assistants, create bondage with them, rule the empire satisfactorily, maintain the emperor’s position, ensure smooth succession, etc. Great emperors wisely applied the art in establishing their dynasties, making the empire prosperous and ensuring smooth succession. One of the most well-known examples was that of Liu Bei, the founding emperor of Shuhan Dynasty, characterized by, among other things, establishing close affectionate bondage with talented generals and officials, but tricks and intrigues are still indispensable in their political struggle. However, there is no special systematic book like Han Fei-tzu on later art. One has to find it in China’s long history. Liu Bei’s story can be found in the well-known fiction The Romance of Three Kingdoms, which has been satisfactorily translated into English.

As Confucianism had been thoroughly denounced since 1919, when Mao became the sovereign of the CCP’s autocracy, his position was as precarious as Qin Shihuang without Confucian loyalty to rely on. It is a pity that Mao adopted Han Fei-tzu’s instead of the later much better art for being an emperor to establish and maintain his absolute authority. That was why he rehabilitated Qin Shihuang who until then had been condemned for 2,000 years in Chinese history, and openly advocated Legalism in his later years. However, Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin’s personality cult greatly threatened Mao’s authority. Mao faithfully abided by Han Fei-tzu’s principles and took preemptive actions to remove his close friends and chosen successors Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao when he suspected that they had grown too powerful and might have usurped his power.

CCP’s Core System Facilitates Emergence of Mad Leaders

When Mao Dynasty ended and Mao’s successor was removed from power, Deng Xiaoping tried to set up a system of collective leadership to prevent the reemergence of Mao’s autocracy that had brought disasters to China, but that system did not work. Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs gives a vivid description that when Deng and other powerful elders had retired from the politburo, their successors in the politburo were top leaders only in name, but had no real power and became puppets of the elders.


Moreover, Deng found the collective leadership ineffective in adopting hard measures to suppress Tiananmen Protests and maintain the Party’s rule. It caused him to make the unpopular decision of the massacre himself. He realized that China’s political system since the communist takeover had been a core
system with a core having the absolute authority like the emperor in a feudal dynasty but without hereditary succession and believed that such a system should be maintained. That was why when he had promoted Jiang Zemin to succeed him as the core of the Party leadership, he exhorted Jiang, “When Mao was
alive, he had the final say and when I am alive, I have the final say. I will not rest at ease until the time when you have the final say.”[2] Obviously, by “final say” Deng Xiaoping meant that the core should have
absolute authority like Mao and Deng.

According to Zhao’s memoirs, in making a major decision, Deng Xiaoping consulted with other elders when Zhao was in office. However, after the Tiananmen Massacre, Deng began to act as the core and heeded no other elders’ views. When all the elders and quite a large majority of officials became conservative after Tiananmen Massacre, Deng Xiaoping conducted his famous Southern Tour to reinvigorate the reform alone. All others had to obey his instruction and Deng Xiaoping typically played his role as the core who has the
power above all others and even above law and Party and state constitutions like Mao.

When Jiang Zemin has established his absolute authority as the core, the Party’s core system finally became mature.

In such a core system, in order to become the core and maintain the position as the core, one has to master and apply the art for being an emperor elaborated in Han Fei-tzu or Jiang Zemin’s art that is similar to Liu
Bei’s and Emperor Taizong’s, which is even more difficult as there is no special systematic book on it.

A madman will be much more interested in Han Fei’s art of tricks and intrigues than normal people. With tricks and intrigues, he has a better chance to gain the position of core. Therefore the probability that a future core applies Han Fei’s art must be greater than Jiang’s. With the rich soil for mad leader in China, by application of Han Fei’s art such a madman can easily become an absolute monarch and make China mad.

What is most worrisome is that in China’s core system, when the core is mad like Mao, no one can control or remove him!

Democracy, the Only Way Out

Only when there is real democracy in Chinacan the emergence of another Mao be prevented and can another Mao be timely removed if he does emerge. Therefore, only then can Chinese people have a bright future and China’s neighbors and America rest at ease at China’s rise.

However what can Western countries do? They certainly are unable to impose democracy on China as they are doing now on Libya. First, they have to reinvigorate their economy and improve their people’s living
standards. With examples of prosperity in their democracies, they can attract Chinese people to learn from their democracies.

Second, they shall keep on disseminating their ideal of democracy by every possible means among Chinese people. They shall continue to denounce China whenever it violates human rights. It seems not effective, but it indeed works. That was why those who persecuted dissidents recently ordered their victims not to contact foreign journalists.

On the contrary, in his book, Kissinger admonishes US current and future administrations to “substantially” balance “long-term moral convictions with case-to-case adaptations to requirements of national security”, i.e., in disseminating American values of democracy and human rights, they shall avoid offending China
or they shall even turn a blind eye to the emergence of another Mao in China in order to prevent confrontation and achieve “co-evolution”. By so doing, America will fail to be on alert again and may suffer a third time perhaps much more severely.

As a legal translator, I always follow development of Chinese politics and legal system closely especially when I worked as chief editor of a China law website last year. I find that there have been some memoirs and
fictions reflecting the evils of Mao era, but few books on contemporary China based on personal experience and profound knowledge of Chinese culture, history and classics to enable people to understand what contemporary China really is from Mao era till now.

Victims Do Not Want to Write about the Trauma They Have Experienced

However, those who suffered the unheard-of cruel persecution in Mao era do not want to recall their traumatic past due to the unbearable pain of such memory. Previously, I myself did not want to talk about my sufferings when I met old classmates and friends though what I suffered was nothing compared with other much more serious cases.

Moreover, serious books on the history will certainly expose the Party’s despicable past and will of course be banned in China.

However I often worry that those who experienced and witnessed Mao’s tyranny in their prime of life and know Chinese culture, history and classics well are all old like me. If we do not write down what we know now, there will be no records of that important part of Chinese history and people will not learn lessons from it. Therefore, I decided that I should exploit the freedom of expression in Hong Kong and the freedom of publication in the United States to write down and publish what I know. I hope that my writings will
inspire other people to do so too.

Having read Kissinger’s book, I realize the urgency of the job. As I am 70 now, I shall strive to write all I know before I die so that people both inside and outside China will fully know the truth and will not be affected by the misinformation provided by the Party’s misleading propaganda or by those who appear to be China experts but are really ignorant about China.

[1]  True Records of Lushan Meeting by Li Rui, ISBN 978-962-257-661-2, p 336

[2]   Zhao Ziyang: Captive Conversations by Zong Fengming, p 75