Twofish's Blog

November 30, 2006

Note on New York Times article about Wikipedia slant

Filed under: china, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:25 am

This is a horribly misleading article, and it’s ironic that in talking about leaving out facts, the NYT article leaves out one very important one.

Now this is a story about how brainwashed Chinese people that the leave out important facts in their encyclopedia article and have it more biased than objective Westerners.  Except for one thing….

Let’s print out the entire paragraph of the English wikipedia article

Mao pursued the ideal of a strong, prosperous and socially egalitarian China, endeavoring to build a modern socialist nation. However, the failings of Mao’s most significant socio-political programs — including the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution — have been widely criticized. Mao is a controversial figure today. While officially held in high regard in China, he is today rarely mentioned by the government, whose policies have diverged greatly from those of Mao. Maoists around the world look to Mao as a great revolutionary leader whose thought is the highest expression of Marxism. Many of his detractors however accuse him of having been a mass-murderer, holding his leadership accountable for the deaths of tens of millions of innocent Chinese.

This is the version of Revision as of 22:41, 15 November 200

And it is also the current version as of  11/29/2006

Now the Chinese leaves out the millions of deaths, but it also leaves out the positive statements about Mao, which is important fact that the New York Times article didn’t emphasize.  What this basically means is that the Chinese summary is no more pro-Mao or slanted than the English one.  The English one mentions both positive and negative aspects of Mao in the summary of the man, the Chinese wikipedia article mentions neither.  I was involved in the editing of the English Mao article, and the issue was that there is someone that insisted on putting the millions of deaths line in the header, which prompted others who were more favorable to Mao to insist that the positive contributions were added.  In the Chinese wikipedia case, this edit war didn’t happen so neither the positive or the negative contributions were added.  The result is that the Chinese wikipedia article (which by the way does include death tolls) in the Great Leap Forward article is no more biased toward Mao than the English article.

Now one has to ask about the bias of the NYT article that mentioned prominently the deletion of the millions of deaths line, but did not mention that the Chinese wikipedia article also doesn’t mention the “positive contributions to China”.



  1. Basically, the people who are making this complain is annoyed that the Chinese people are not acknowledging their version of history – that Mao killed 50 million people or something like that.

    I took a look at the entry for the British Empire.

    How come I do not see articles that were critical of the British Empire? Do you know that the British Empire killed my grandfather in Malaysia? They didn’t build good hospitals so my grandfather didn’t get good health care. The British Empire also did not provide us, Malaysians with social security payments. As a result, none of my uncles or aunts graduated from high school. All had to quit school to help the family. Did you know that during the time of British Empire, we were so hungry we literally tied our stomach with belt? I’m sure many people died of hunger, as our lives were considered pretty good despite those hardship. There were many who were sent to work at mines, toiled day and night, infected by various diseases like malaria etc. etc.

    So is it right for me to blame the British Empiire for our families’ hardship?

    I’m sure many Chinese died during Mao because Mao didn’t build good hospitals. I’m sure many had hard lives and that deterioriated their health because Mao did not institute a social security system. And I’m sure Mao is also at fault becasue he could have built the 3 gorges dam back in 1955 then there wouldn’t be floods to destroy those crops.

    However, the country at that time was incapable of those luxuries. The Nationalist government took all the coffers with them, leaving practically nothing for the Chinese people on mainland.

    In fact, when comparing the astrocities of Mao and the British Empire, the British Empire was more evil because as the largest empire in the world at that time, surely they could have build first class hospitals in Malaysia, surely they could have provided us, their colonial subjects with social security payments and free or affordable healthcare. If the British government treated Malaysians who were their colonial subjects as well as they treat their citizens, I could have lived to see my grandfather.

    So why do we not see critical articles written about the British Empire about this? Its the same reason for why Chinese people do not write about Mao that way. They just do not see how they can blame those deaths on Mao when there was never any intent to murder.

    Also, please take a look at those English sources on Mao. Many of them are written by people who have not even seen Mao in person. They basically went to the library, read a few books and put together a compilation.

    If Jon and Halliday’s book can make it into wikipedia as a source then you know the article has been hijacked by propaganda. See:

    “By stating that Mao Zedong was responsible for over 70 million Chinese deaths during peacetime, the first sentence of Chang and Halliday�s highly revisionist biography of the Great Helmsman sets the tune that is carried throughout the book with remarkable dedication.”

    Comment by mahathir_fan — November 30, 2006 @ 9:04 am

  2. Send Howard French Back to Africa

    I have found Howard W. French consistently disappointing when it comes to reporting China for the New York Times. In Wikipedia terms, he’s not very NPOV. He paints the Mao Zedong Wiki article as a reflection of government censorship, when…

    Trackback by The Peking Duck — November 30, 2006 @ 10:35 am

  3. Curiously, I’m not too harsh on Howard French. I do have quite a bit of sympathy to French and other reporters in that they are trying to fit complex stories into small amounts of space. Sure French has his biases, but so does everyone. The fact that Howard French sees things a certain way is not the problem since everyone sees things in a different way.

    The problem is that when you have a system in which one or two people’s personal view points have extraordinary power. The solution is not less news from Howard French, but more news from people who disagree/see things differently from French, and that is why I think wikipedia is better than the NYT. The NYT can only incorporate the views of a few people. Wikipedia can incorporate the views of tens of thousands of people. One fascinating experiment would have been to put a draft of the article on the wiki and let people have at the article and see what comes out.

    Frankly, what English speakers do with the British Empire article is I think irrelevant to this discussion.

    One interesting thing is that I haven’t met too many people in the PRC who have personal hostility to Mao or subscribe to the Halliday and Chang view of Mao as a homicidal madman. There are lots of people that blame the Communist Party for the disasters of the 1950’s and 1960’s, but these people tend to be reluctant to agree with the idea of Mao as a crazed killer because that reduces the culpability of others in the Communist hierarchy.

    IIRC, the second paragraph came out mostly as a result of an argument between anti-communist conservatives and revolutionary Maoists, neither group being particularly significant among Chinese speakers. Summarizing the second paragraph in English wikipedia is tricky, because there was a set of negotiations over the working, and almost every word is significant. Note that the article does not say that Mao is a mass murderer. The article says that many people say that Mao is a mass murderer which was a specific reference to the Halliday and Chang book.

    My personal view is that blaming Mao personally for the GLF and CR is unwise because it ignores the question of how one person could get such extraordinary power? It also supports the (in my opinion) dangerous view that the key to fixing a brutal dictatorship is to get rid of the “bad people” and replace them with “good people” without realizing the “good people” in some systems quickly become “bad people.” It also minimizes the danger of the “evil within” that under the wrong circumstances, each human being is capable of incredible evil.

    There are aspects of the official history of Mao that the Communist Party presents which I do think are healthy. The fact that the CCP separates “Mao the man” from “Maoism the idea” acknowledging that people should be judged separately from their ideas. The fact that the official history is a story about how a “good man” became “evil” thereby acknowledging the “evil within.” The fact that the official history blames much of the disaster on a “cult of personality” and having one man have so much power, which has led to an emphasis on rule of law and introduction of intra-party checks and balances.

    The disasters of the 1950’s and 1960’s are now more unlikely (not I said more unlikely not impossible) because power is distributed among several people, and there are institutional norms. Hu Jintao is going to leave power in 2012 and get replaced by someone else.

    In short the fundamental problem I have with certain versions of history is that they imply that there are good people and evil people, and the problem is that evil people are in charge. My world view is that almost everyone is a strange mixture of characteristics that can be good and can be evil. I’ve studied enough history to the point that can imagine myself being a suicide bomber or Red Guard or member of the Khmer Rouge. My hope is that by imagining myself in those positions that it makes it much less likely that I will be in those positions.

    Comment by twofish — November 30, 2006 @ 2:05 pm

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