China's Second Revolution: Reform After Mao

Reform After Mao
China's Second Revolution: Reform After Mao
Years ago, in Fall 1998, Professor Roderick Macfarquhar was interviewing Wang Dan, the Tiananmen activist of the 1989 fame.

I remember Wang well, as my high school friends asked me a question I will never quite forget: "If you are face to face with a tank, will you stand in front and stop the whole column of it ?" It was obvious my high school friends was asking me if I saw myself as sufficiently "Chinese," to "die for China."

I remember answering then: "Yes, I can." It wasn't sheer bravado. At that young age of 17, I really knew I can. After all, I had been the soccer captain of my high school. When the ball accidentally rolled, across the road, and into a huge monsoon drain, I thought it would be irresponsible to let my friends pick it up. So, alas, it was always me and few brave ones, who ventured into the ammonia-laden, and rat-infested drain, to retrieve the ball.

Going from drain to standing in front of a tank, I thought, wasn't a big deal, if the "cause" had been greater than myself.

Then Wang Dan walked out from Professor Roderick Macfaquhar's office in the Department of Government at Harvard, without so much as any eye contact or an American "Hi," and I remember asking myself: "Will you still stand in front of the tank ?" It was clear that my answer then was "No." Why would I want to risk my life and limb for someone who wouldn't even wave at me ?

At any rate, Professor Roderick Macfarquhar waved me into the office. "Kim, do you know how to teach Cultural Revolution ?" "Yes, Sir, I do."

"Are your familiar with Chinese history ?" "Yes, Sir, especially from Opium War onwards." "Good, you are hired."

During those days, being a Teaching Fellow was a matter of life and death. I had sent all my scholarship money home to Malaysia, as I wanted my mom to have a good life.

If I want to go beyond one pizza a day, followed by a bowl of Beef Pho at the Vietnamese restaurant in Harvard Square, I knew I had to ace it.

Three sections of classes in "Cultural Revolution," would fetch me a tiny sum of USD 3000 a month. And, I asked for four sections, and got them all. That was manna from heaven. Nearly USD 3750 a month. (Though I would later discover such a thing called Federal and State income tax. Darn. Also a moment that made me realized why some Americans like to vote Republicans. Smaller tax band, perhaps !)

But, truth be told, I didn't know how to even begin to prepare for "Cultural Revolution." Liu Shauqi, Mao XeDong, Ye Jian Ying, Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and the works were all a blur to me. And, I had one week to get them on internalized into my brain, without which all four sections in my Harvard classes would probably rise in sheer revolt. And, off, I went to my order-in pizza once a day.

Reading Professor Macfaquhar's brilliant three volumes----all as thick as a Oxford and Cambridge dictionary combined----were out of the question. To get the job done, and done effectively, I needed a slimmer volume. It wasn't Richard Baum, or, Harison Salisbury, or, even Kenneth Lieberthal.

It was Harry Harding ! As I flipped through the book, every page made sense. And, every page strengthened my understanding of China so quickly, that I could check his index and the index of Professor Roderick Macfarquhar's book and make complete sense. And, there was no balderdash. The whole book was written in clear prose, brimming with facts. In contrast, Kenneth Liberthal would still go off-tangent, and talk about issues once raised by his mentor Michel Oksenberg.

But with Harry Harding's works, you could attack the book from chapter one, or, even from the index, and go back up, and it would still cohere.

Although I met Harry Harding in Kuala Lumpur during the Asia Pacific Roundtable in 2008. I was too shy to tell him that I used his book to crack the DNA in Professor Roderick Macfarquhar's work. And I adore both. Why ? Because not only did I handle the four sections well----occasionally getting a standing ovation from the final review classes from the 250 students that packed the revision classes----but I could have my Vientnamese beef phor every alternate days too.

And, the following year, I was made the Head Teaching Fellow, not once, but twice. So, if I need to review a book to say "thanks for the beef balls !", it would be this book by Harry Harding. Years later, when I heard that Harry Harding was the head of Eurasia, I knew, the research was in good hand; at least the China part.

But then I heard Evan Feigenbaum was there too, and my heart skipped a beat. Well, not unlike Wang Dan, Even Feigenbaum, did not really think highly of me, since I was dabbling in Cultural Revolution-----which he thought was so old schooled----while he was into science and technology and export controls of US to China.

All swell. But Evans Feingenbaum, with all his curly hair and short stature and all, still asked US to go through the route of Track Two Diplomacy. Now, that was my turn, to say, "Old Hat," because Track Two diplomacy was pioneered by me in University of Cambridge back in 1996, when no one gave a hoot on why Western scholars kept showing up as Asian Pacific Roundtables and events.

I knew why: All were making a beeline to getting their ideas into the Asian Pacific fray. Anyway, now that Harry Harding is no longer in Eurasia, I bet his future books will save more families and lives. He saved mine. And, never understand the power of the Beef Phor too.