Monday, June 04, 2012


It so happened I was listening to Richard Baum's Teaching Company lectures on the end of the Deng-Xiaoping years this morning, failing to grasp that this day is  a melancholy anniversary: 23 years ago today, the Chinese government--really, blame Deng himself--sent the troops into Tiananmen Square.  For the victims, of course, it was a calamity. For the people of China, it marked an end to idealism--the time to abandon any residual faith that you might have had of the power of revolution.  For Deng and his regime, it was a horrendous failure of leadership, dropping an ineradicable shadow onto a remarkable career.  

Without gainsaying Deng's responsibility, though, it's useful to consider Tiananmen in the context of China's modern history.  This was the nation which had lived through (perhaps better "endured") the chaos and slaughter of the Cultural Revolution and the even-more-wretchedly misnamed Great Leap Forward.  You can't blame the Chinese leadership for fearing disorder. You can blame them for not finding a better way out of it.

Baum's lectures, by the way, are a winning introduction to modern Chinese history.  He's in control of all the basics in his subject, of course.  But one gets the sense that his real enthusiasm is schlepping around the back alleys of Chinese cities or country roads in the provinces, chatting with street hustlers, peasant plowmen, petty bureaucrats, whoever.  This taste for anecdote can be a poisoned chalice if you fritter away all your talents in anecdote.  Baum dodges that particular bullet: his stories are on point, and move the agenda.  And it is blealky arresting to hear him tell how he (along with so many others?) utterly failed to see it coming.


Anonymous said...

That looks interesting, but it is hard to wrap my brain around the price tag. Even the cheapest option was far outside of my price range for such a product, and I make decent money.

Perhaps I can check it out from a library.

Buce said...

I should have added--they have an unfathomable business model where everything goes on sale sometimes at 90 percent off. Just keep your eyes open for a bit.