Welcome to the third and final chapter in our series with Carl Zha on Mao and the Chinese Revolution. This one covers the sticky wicket of the Cultural Revolution, and the most controversial part of Mao’s legacy. It exposes the danger of a leader being out of touch with the base.
The episode also looks at the complex political history of Tibet, an issue of concern to a few American celebrity Buddhists. (Spoiler alert: the story was rife with class conflict. Isn’t that always the case? What history books and media present as religious persecution turns out to be about money and power.) Tibetan monasteries wanted to maintain their serfs while the communists were into abolishing feudal relations of production. (Second spoiler alert: if you put your money on CIA involvement, you made a wise wager.)
Carl brings the series to life with anecdotes from his own family. This episode is jam-packed with stories of his parents who grew up in the thick of these events. Some of their experiences were specific to their class and status, but they are a colorful illustration of this dramatic and significant period.
Ultimately judgment of Mao’s legacy is mixed. It can be seen as both inspiring and concerning. According to Carl, the official assessment is that “he did 70% good, 30% bad.” He embodies the contradictions of China at the time. Mao should be given credit for massive improvements in the lives of the Chinese people - increasing life expectancy, abolishing illiteracy, raising the status of women, and lifting millions out of poverty.
Carl Zha hosts Silk and Steel, a weekly podcast discussing history, culture, and current events of China and the Silk Road. Support him at patreon.com/silknsteel
@CarlZha and @SteelSilkn on Twitter