Reviews - What do customers think about Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai & the Evolution of the Chinese Communist Leadership?
Revisionist History May 26, 2000
Thomas Kampen has a well-established reputation for solid, meticulous research into CCP history from his articles in journals such as China Quarterly, Republican China and the CCP Research Newsletter. In Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and the Evolution of the Chinese Communist Leadership he sets even higher standards for himself with an excellent expose of some of the myths behind Mao's rise to power and the various leadership struggles within the CCP in the 1920s-1940s. The book, his first, is based on Kampen's doctoral research at Heidelberg University. It is a compact work, only 144 pages long, with not a word wasted. The book is illustrated with relevant photographs of CCP leaders in the pre and early post-49 era, which give the reader time to pause and reflect on the import of the author's groundbreaking research. Kampen has utilised a wide variety of Chinese language sources available since 1979, to challenge long-conceived notions about Party history. His conclusions, the result of years of comparing and contrasting both Chinese language and Western language materials, rebut the standard line on points such as the alleged role of the 28 Bolsheviks and the two line struggle. Kampen argues - most convincingly and with meticulous detail - that on these and other crucial issues, much of what has been accepted as the standard line are myths, the result of delicate face-saving negotiations after internecine Party struggles. As Kampen states, though most of the material for his work came from Chinese language materials, the conclusions and assumptions made in his book will not be found in any PRC source. Obviously, this is for purely political reasons. Even in the current era, Party historians are under some pressure to present a politically correct view of the CCP past. As one senior Party historian told me recently, nowadays at least 90% of what is published in official accounts is true. What Kampen has done is to fill in the other 10%, not by presenting new material as such, rather by presenting material from a range of sources in one summary and drawing conclusions that Party historians are forbidden from making. As such his work is an implicit reproof to Western historians of the CCP who have tended to accept much of the standard formulas on Party history. Kampen's work will be essential reading for those interested in CCP history or in historiography in general. It will be useful for China specialists, undergraduate courses on Chinese politics and specialist courses on how history can be written and re-written to suit political purposes. It is a tremendous achievement that should have a far-reaching impact on how we understand the role of the CCP in China's modern history.