I commented a few weeks ago on Andy Nathan’s review of a recent biography of Mao. Beyond the inherent interest of the subject matter, Nathan’s review was interesting to me because it explored questions of the reliability of historical evidence.
Those of you who are interested in this sort of thing might be interested in the following exchange of letters in a recent issue of the London Review of Books. It’s an entertaining shootout between Jung Chang and Jon Halliday on one side, and Andy Nathan on the other.
It begins with Chung and Halliday saying,
Andrew Nathan’s general criticisms of our book, Mao: The Unknown Story, rest largely on misrepresentations and distortion, especially of our use of sources.
and ends with Nathan saying,
As to how we read Mao’s quotations, the dictator said many beautiful and idealistic things which the authors do not take as ‘vital evidence from the horse’s mouth’. I agree that his policies count, and that they were disastrous. But a main argument of Chang and Halliday’s book is that his intentions also count. In assessing these, for Mao as for other historical subjects, we have to contend with the fact that actors in history avail themselves of the same opportunities that we do for irony, humour and indirection.
with lots of details in between.