INSIDE CHINA by Malcolm MacDonald


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For a historical overview of the New China, it must have seemed a natural to pair a text by the late British diplomat Malcolm MacDonald, who first visited China in 1929, with photos by the very accomplished William MacQuitty (Abu Simbel and the like), whose first pictures here date from 1938. But in fact the text and the pictures (one-third of the book) have very little to do with one another: MacDonald largely reviews the course of events in China, from one of his visits to the next, while the pictures--undated save for the few from '38--are mostly stock images of water buffalo or smiling children or factory workers or the Great Wall. . . so casually disposed in many instances as to make the whole enterprise look silly. (In the section on 1930s Kuomintang China, we see two adorable, pig-tailed ""Red Guards in front of their Desert Farm Commune""; the section titled ""A Shift in Foreign Policy,"" about the Nixon visit et al., brings us ""Ice cream is popular throughout China even on the coldest days"" and ""No railway journey is too short for cups of green China tea."") MacDonald's text, on the other hand, is a well-meaning attempt to toe the line between uncritical praise of Chinese Communist accomplishments and censure of the regime's excesses. One problem, however, is that the approbation and the reservations tend to be kept separate: we first have Mao's explanation of the Cultural Revolution, for instance, and a Party-line account of how it stirred up enthusiasm for ""a truly Communist state""; only later is brief note taken of the chaos and the costs. MacDonald also tends to rely on the ""devil theory"": an Olympian, aging Mao; a malevolent, extremist Gang of Four; a wise, pragmatic Zhou--whom MacDonald knew and admired over the years. From their meetings, we get something of a close-up of China's ongoing foreign relations; from MacDonald's observations, some sense of the improvement in living conditions, the advances in mechanization, etc. So the book is not simply another bland goodwill gesture, as the pictures in particular suggest. But it's not enough more to be worthwhile for anyone who already knows anything about modern-day China.

Pub Date: March 6th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown