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March 10, 2006


Tom Adolphson

I enjoyed the Symposium. I am delighted you are presenting "Nixon in China," and I have absolutely no objection to the artistic liberties taken in the libretto. You are right: it does capture the momentous feel of that time. However, I still believe we in the West have some curious myopia about dictators. I think Mao and Zhou have somehow entered the realm of radical chic, and as such, have been purged of the horrors they committed. They are treated as everyday
statesmen, who we fawn over and wax nostalgically about. I mean, you don't see Warhol paintings of Hitler in the Art Institute, but there is Mao. Debbie Oberschelp has the Little Red Book on her desk, but Mein Kampf would be verboten. US tourists pose in front of his picture in Tiananmen. Mao and Zhou are "in," it seems, folksy, almost loveable "characters," and "hip" in the mold of Che Guevara. Hitler has always been the dictator we love to hate, and his henchmen are regarded with equal bile. Yet Mao hijacked an entire country and led it through decades of unnecessary violence and horror. Chang and Halliday are not far off when they cite him as responsible for "well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader." He wins the genocidal sweepstakes, eclipsing Hitler (bad!) and Stalin (worse than Hitler, too, but not so bad because he was our ally in WWII). The picture of Nixon and the little girl, with Zhou beaming in the background--remember all those lovely shots of Hitler with darling children?--how vile they seem. So Mao and Zhou with posing with children strikes me as vile as well, considering Mao intentionally allowed 30 million Chinese, including children, to starve to death during the Great Leap Forward. Not the same as rail cars streaming to the death camps? Or perhaps it is not so different at all. The books surrounding Mao during the Nixon-Kissinger visit were looted from homes and museums during the Cultural Revolution. Think about the millions forced into the countryside to work as virtual slaves or denounced and paraded through the streets. Americans love to refer to people in a negative manner as "Nazis" or "another Hitler" or "Gestapo." Where are references to the KGB...or the gulag, or Mao? I just don't get it--Mao, the worst of all, seems to get off the hook...or think of the Ambassador, pointing out that Nixon was no angel, either. As if you can truly equate the two. As a friend of mine observed when I told him:  
"Interesting point about the seemingly unkillable romanticizing of Mao and Stalin.  Actually I am still amazed to hear this, given what we now know which, as you say, seems to be true.  Also the idea of comparing Mao and Nixon is grotesque.  Jerk that the latter was, and criminal too, he wasn't responsible for murder of millions!  But this is classic American radical-chicy, moral equivalencing, so to speak...Not that one shouldn't acknowledge the charisma, power of personality, sheer historic achievement of someone like Mao, but I think you need to start with the evil of the man and the system.  I am surprised you were the only one to make this point, but kudos to you for doing it.  Having said that, I should remember that you were in the lion's den, so to speak, an American university setting, where probably the majority of the faculty really believe that Nixon was as bad (or good!) as Mao, that Bush is not better than Osama bin Laden and so forth." Well, forgive me for rambling on, just wanted folks to stop and think about Mao and Zhou in the context of the horrors they inflicted. Yes, it was a momentous time,,,and Nixon and Kissinger were willing to ignore the horrors in the name of political expediency, just as FDR and Truman did when they met Stalin.

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