The Great Pretender
Making sense of Mao—and the vast horrors he created
OF ALL THE TACTICS and stratagems used by Mao Zedong in his long and victorious career of warfare—overt and covert; military, political, and cultural—one stands out for its almost comical simplicity: The paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China would ask his comrades or underlings—or the general public—for advice. Helpful criticism. An honest appraisal of the current situation. “Let a hundred flowers bloom,” he declared in the spring of 1957, inviting critics of the Chinese Communist Party to freely speak their minds.
Then, when people took him up on the offer, he would smash them. They had revealed themselves as “venomous weeds,” as the People’s Daily put it in June of 1957, announcing the party’s sudden pivot from the Hundred Flowers Campaign to the Anti-Rightist Campaign. That was the canonical
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