Every now and then you come across a real shocker of a book. I refer to Jasper Becker’s book on Beijing, called City of Heavenly Tranquility. While it attempts to provide a potted history of Beijing, the underlying thesis is that Beijing’s reconstruction is aimed at obliterating any memory of the Tiananmen ‘massacre’. Of course, he has to construct the fiction of the massacre in the first place to justify such an intriguing argument. Or, to be more polite, the whole book is an extraordinary piece of rubbish. But then what you expect from Jasper Becker, who is as about as rabidly anti-communist as one can get? For instance, his book, Hungry Ghosts, undertakes a comparable task to Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow. Conquest constructs the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 as a deliberate act of ‘mass murder’ – genocide in other words, now dubbed the ‘Holodomor’. In a similar effort to construct a Goebbels-like big lie, Becker suggests largely the same for Mao’s Great Leap Forward in 1958-62.
This stuff is to be expected, especially from a journalistic and scholarly machine that has a default anti-communist position. But I must admit to being a trifle disappointed that the works come from Oxford University Press. In fact, of all the books on China, and indeed the USSR, from Oxford, only half a dozen are of any real use. Actually, I am not surprised at all. It’s Oxford, after all.