Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Death of Thinking

Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and John Halliday, will be the subject of more than one post once I finish the book. But this excerpt bears quoting while we continue bandying about the effects of officially sanctioned torture. The authors describe how Yenan, Mao's and the Communist Party's headquarters during WWII, was the site of public indoctrination, interrogations, forced confessions and torture at mass rallies, as well as executions. All this hysteria was supposedly to ferret out spies, but the real intent was to control the population:

Through forcing people to report "small broadcasts," Mao succeeded to a very large extent in getting people to inform on each other. He thus broke the trust between people, and scared them off exchanging views not just at the time in Yenan, but in the future too. By suppressing "small broadcasts," he also plugged what was virtually the only unofficial source of information, in a context where he completely controlled all other channels.... Information starvation gradually induced brain death — assisted vastly by the absence of any outlet for thinking, since one could not communicate with anyone, or put one's thoughts on paper, even privately. During the campaign, people were put under pressure to hand in their dairies. In many a mind, there also lurked the fear of thinking, which appeared not only futile, but also dangerous. Independent thinking withered away.

Although the book has earned positive reviews, it's also received criticism for its unrelently negative and unnuanced view of Mao.

But this passage offers insights penetrating — and all too familiar.


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