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Writing at the New York Review of Books blog page, Princeton professor Perry Link enumerates the seven deadly secrets that China’s octogenarians want to keep from the public at all cost. It makes an excellent list of potential dissertation topics for students of Chinese history and politics:
The famine during the Great Leap Forward in 1959-62. Somewhere between 20 and 50 million people died because of bad policy, not “bad weather.” What exactly happened? What policies caused the famine and what policies suppressed information on it? How much grain was in state granaries while people starved? Is it true that Mao sold grain to the Soviet Union during those years in order to buy nuclear weapons?
The death of Mao’s military commander General Lin Biao in 1971. The official version of events, which to this day exists only in bare outline, strains credulity: Mao’s “closet comrade in arms” suddenly plotted a coup, failed in it, tried to flee to the Soviet Union, and was shot down in his plane. What really happened? Why? Why shouldn’t we know more?
Mao’s will and personal lockbox. Mao’s wife Jiang Qing said at her trial (as part of the “Gang of Four”) that Mao had a written will that mentioned her. Did he? What did it say? Mao also apparently kept his own lockbox of “most core secrets” that, in his later years, not even Jiang Qing could see. Mao’s mistress Zhang Yufeng kept the key until September 21, 1976, twelve days after Mao’s death, when Hua Guofeng, Mao’s anointed successor, is said to have taken it from her. What’s in the box?
The Beijing Massacre of 1989. The basic story is fairly well known from The Tiananmen Papers, Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs, and Li Peng’s diary. But the records of some key meetings still are classified, and responsibility for the massacre remains an extremely sensitive question in Chinese politics.
The brutal suppression of the Falun Gong after 1999. Falun Gong claims there are concentration camps for their members and that internal organs of executed believers are surgically removed and sold. True? Untrue? What do the records say?
Beijing’s huge but secret “stability maintenance” budget. The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences reports that Chinese government spending on domestic “stability maintenance”—the monitoring, intimidation, roughing-up, and illegal detention of petitioners, aggrieved workers, religious believers, professors, bloggers, twitterers, and other sources of “trouble”—now exceeds what the government spends in any category except the military. What are the details of this budget?
Bank accounts of Communist Party officials. Corruption and graft are widely viewed to be problems at every level of Chinese government, but exactly how much money have officials squirreled away? How much have they sent abroad?
Perry also offers a fascinating account of a July 21 appearance by President Hu Jintao, at which he underlined the importance of preventing further leaks from the archives of the Communist Party. The remarks were, of course, promptly leaked.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”