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I became interested in the People's Republic of China almost 30 years ago, when I met a fellow grad student who was a Chinese citizen. He told me about his family's exile to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and the confiscation of their possessions because his father was an intellectual. The few books that they were permitted to keep were soon gone, as they had to be used for toilet paper. My friend was five years behind in his education because the schools had been dismembered by the Red Guard. His father was imprisoned and was fortunate to survive.
Dikotter's book is an eye-opening account of this period. We knew nothing of it at the time; in fact, student radicals in the US were waving Little Red Books and extolling the virtues of Chairman Mao. While maybe--just maybe--not quite as evil as Hitler and Stalin, Mao was responsible for the mass murder of Chinese citizens not only during the Great Famine, but also during the Cultural Revolution. He mostly stood back and allowed the atrocities to be directed by others, but he was the guiding force. The destruction of higher education, indoctrination of young people into a crazed eliminationist ideology, and the hate-filled humiliation, torture, and murder of thousands upon thousands of intellectuals and ordinary people during the supposed "cleansing" of those "infected" by western ideas are Mao's legacy from these days.
Unfortunately, the book is overladen with lists, statistics, and extraneous detail. The narration is droning. I can't comment on the narrator's pronunciation of Chinese, but his reading is monotonous. I got through the book because its overarching content and message are so important. We were fools ever to believe that Communism could cure the evils of the world rather than create many of them.
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Dikotter did a marvelous job in his work, Mao's Great Famine, of bringing the story to life, but this work is more mechanical. It is much more a simple recounting of facts - names, places, dates. I got through it okay because I was hungry for the facts, but some readers wills find this tome a tough slog.