But mainly just helping the Chinese journalists who were working in English just straighten their stuff out. In when you were released from prison, did your relatives and friends think you were crazy for wanting to stay in China? Did they petition for you to come back? They knew nothing about it.
They had no idea. My brother-in-law was a flying Colonel in the Marine Corps and he stuck his neck out in the McCarthy days to get the government to figure out where I was, what happened. But they were only able to find out that I was somewhere in prison. So when I got out, they still knew nothing about me.
As far as I know, the first time they got word was when Israel Epstein, who was working in the foreign languages press in Beijing, went to America and met my niece. He told her the story and then my niece got in touch with me, and then my sister, and so on. Oh, my goodness, but by then, that was after my second arrest.
By then, it was Was there any criticism of Mao in the mids? Was there a sense of euphoria in China at this time? When did his so-called abusive power begin, in your mind? I think there was a fundamental change that began as he was coming into power. He gave a speech in just before the proclamation of the P. Previously, he said that the government of the new China would preside over a pluralistic economy.
The American Who Gave His Life to Chairman Mao
But in this speech, he shifted his emphasis to one-party dictatorship. I remember feeling aggravated at the time because I thought if the U. We may have been able to influence the kind of government that finally formed in China. In , I translated a message from Mao to the United States saying that in five years, the Communists planned to be in power in China and wanted to have normal relations with the United States by then. Mao cited two reasons why he wanted normal relations. The first one was that China was in shambles: They'd been fighting wars for over a century and everything needed to be rebuilt.
They needed a major input of capital. So China want to get construction loans from the U. Mao added that the Chinese were not asking for a handout. They had gold and they could pay at the ongoing rates of international interest. So that was point one, which was not surprising to me. But point two really bowled me over. They wanted to have good relations with both East and West. Mao said, of course, the Soviets were China's comrades. I even think that we may not have had to fight the wars in Korea and Vietnam. But we totally ignored it. And was that just because of the McCarthyist spirit in the U.
It was not just McCarthy, it was people like Dean Rusk—Secretary of State [under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson], undoubtedly a man of strong principle, a good man, but very, very ideological, and, in my view, bigoted. In Rusk's view, a Communist was a Communist was a Communist. The differences between the Chinese and the Russians were not that important. After your first arrest from prison, how did you get involved again with Chairman Mao?
How long did that process take? Four Americans plus Israel Epstein, who was stateless, met with Mao to discuss some questions of translation, which turned into a long talk about everything under the sun, and then dinner. And then I saw him every year after that until my arrest in What were the circumstances of your second arrest?
They were very different from the first, is that right? Very different. My wife and I were supporting young people who were trying to dismantle the dictatorship of the proletariat and establish a kind of town hall democracy in China.
And I was making speeches in support of them all over the place. And, well, Mao lost his sense of humor about it and put me back in prison. But this was better than the first time because I knew why I was there, you know. The first time, I had no idea what I was doing there. There was this terrible hurt, this feeling of being misunderstood. But the second time, I was not being misunderstood, so it was different. And what did you feel when Mao died? Were you relieved? Were you delighted? Were you sad? I thought his death was this terrible loss It was very strange. When Zhou Enlai died, in January that year, I was distraught.
When Mao died, intellectually, I felt that this was much more important. A much greater tragedy, this was the leader, with a capital L, who had been lost to the world. And I remember thinking to myself at the time: why is this? I think my emotional intelligence, if there is such a thing, was smarter than my intellect at that point. You moved back to the United States in What prompted that decision? Did you think you were through with China?
Was it exhaustion? No, no, not at all. When I was in the Army class at Stanford in , I had this idea of learning to be a bridge-builder between Americans and Chinese. If I had both languages and both cultures, I could help these two peoples understand each other and to learn to work together. So by , I decided there was nothing more that I could do on the Chinese end, and I needed to go back and work from the American end. What brought it about was my disgust at the corruption that was already rampant. I was disgusted by the fact that Deng Xiaoping, after bragging to Robert Novak about the Democracy Wall, about how the government allowed people to put up posters and express their opinion and criticize freely and so on, he shut it down once he consolidated his power.
He suppressed the Democracy Wall.
We had lots of young democratic activists coming to our home every weekend and we had a kind of forum discussion, and we were living at the Friendship Hotel, where most foreign experts lived, and when they came in to the hotel compound, they had to register their names. So once Deng began suppressing democratic opinion, these people were all going to be in danger. I imagine that when you arrived in America after 35 years, the culture shock must have been incredible.
It was such fun!
When I got back, the op-ed editor of the New York Times asked me to write a piece on July 4th on how it felt to come back after being away 14 years longer than Rip Van Winkle. And I did. And you know, we got a terrific welcome from the press. I was on the Today Show the day after we got back. But, then, the next day, Linda Charlton of the New York Times wrote a feature that took up the whole of page 2. Then, everything was coming up roses. That week, I was invited to go to Washington and was formally received by the assistant Secretary of State for Asia, who was Richard Holbrooke.
I spent two days talking with the guys on the China desk at the State Department. Everyone was very courteous and friendly. Nobody tried to put me on the spot or ask embarrassing questions. And I felt right at home. I felt great. It was around this time that Deng Xiaoping made his famous assessment of Mao, saying that Mao was 70 percent correct and 30 percent incorrect.
How do you feel about that? I think of it more as before and after. I think Mao was a great leader up to coming to power in , and maybe for three or four years afterwards, when they carried out these great social reforms in China. You know, the eight-hour day, jobs for all the intellectuals, and eliminating opium, eliminating prostitution, equality before the law for women; just ordinary social reforms, which really were a transformation in the China of that day. It started going bad around Initially, he encouraged the set up of co-ops, which worked very well.
Farm production went way up. It was based on continued private ownership of the land, but the farmers helped each other to till the land. The harvest yield was distributed 60 percent in terms of how much land one had, 40 percent in terms of how much work one put in, or different proportions like that.
But then, Mao got overexcited and got into his build-Rome-in-a-single-day mode. They went from the co-ops to collective farms, so the farmers who had got their own land after centuries of hunger now lost their land to the collective.
Mao Zedong meets Richard Nixon, February 21, | US-China Institute
They went along, but farm production, per capita, never went up again until the Deng Xiaoping reforms, when the land was de-collectivized. Do you think there was something personal that changed him?
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Did he get drunk with power, to use the cliche? I do think that. In , I think it was, he was up at the Tiananmen gate with Edgar Snow. I was in prison then, but I read about it. He was born in The next year, Manchuria fell to the Japanese. As Japanese forces swept into southern China Grandpa Yao was forced to flee his hometown of Hangzhou with his family, becoming war refugees. They faced hazards almost unheard of in China today. He lost his mother to typhus and younger sister to fatigue, and buried them in unmarked graves.
Even my grandfather almost succumbed to exhaustion on multiple occasions. By the time fighting ended in , 15 to 20 million of his countrymen had perished. The alliance between Chinese Communists and Nationalists soon fell apart, plunging the country once again into civil war, and Grandpa Yao took sides. In July , at the height of the conflict, my grandfather went up north to Nationalist-controlled Beijing, where he enrolled in college but was soon expelled for repeatedly publishing anti-Nationalist propaganda and starting his own library with collections of Communist pamphlets.
It would have been impossible to imagine then that, less than 20 years later, my grandfather would be again made to suffer. Many in my generation receive such good education in China that we are able to study in world-class universities abroad. We lead lives my grandparents could scarcely have imagined. They feel not just fortunate to have survived; they are grateful for what China has become for their children and grandchildren. Those ideals inspired millions of Chinese like my grandparents to devote themselves to building a brighter future.
But Grandpa Yao, just like many other loyal party members who suffered under Mao, simply refuses to believe that the cause to which he committed so much turned out to be an illusion.
Fifty years on, one of Mao’s ‘little generals’ exposes horror of the Cultural Revolution
He believes, instead, that individuals — but not Mao — subverted communist ideals for personal power and gain. We can no longer understand exactly why those ideals matter or how they are relevant to the materialistic society that China has become. Sometimes, though, despite the distance in age and experience that separates us, I see in my grandfather echoes of the same questions about our shared history that trouble me. Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola. Sign up for free access to 1 article per month and weekly email updates from expert policy analysts.
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Thank you for being an FP reader. To get access to this special FP Premium benefit, subscribe by clicking the button below. As China's future leaders, we must understand the hope — and the danger — that idealism brought to China's founding generation. According to state media China is moving towards an ageing society.
It currently has about million elderly, and the figure will keep growing at an annual rate of 3. The Chinese government has set up a social security network and 50, welfare institutions nationwide to provide care for the elderly. Yifu Dong graduated from Beijing No.
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