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by William H. Benson

October 1, 2010

     When in high school, nearly forty years ago, I remember the day when, either late in September or in early October, a fellow student, as he was heading up his math paper, blurted out and asked our instructor for the date, so that he might write it down. The instructor, whose sense of timing when  delivering his one-liners was superb, without pausing responded with a single word, “Soptober.”

     There was only a scattering of laughter, but at the time I remember thinking that coining such a word instantaneously, seemingly without thinking, was quite ingenious of that instructor. It would have required minutes for me to arrive at “Soptober,” rather than the second or two it took our instructor.

     “Soptober”—the final two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October—is, I think, the best four weeks of the year, and not just because it contains my birthday. The weather is pleasant: warm and sunny days, cool evenings, and less wind than usual. Behind us are the broiling days of summer, and the snow and ice and freezing temperatures of winter are some weeks distant. It is what is typically called “Indian summer”—near the first frost but before the first snow.

     Despite the pleasantness of the day’s temperatures, for the reminiscing historian, the approaching days of October remind him or her of one thing: political revolution.

     England’s general, Cornwallis, surrendered to America’s general, George Washington, on October 17, 1781, ending England’s attempt to restrain their American colonies from forging their independence. The Bolshevik’s “Great October Socialist Revolution,” according to the old Russian calendar, began on October 25, 1917 and ushered in a Marxist philosophy directed by Leninist tactics, a truly diabolical mix. And the Chinese celebrate National Day on October 1, the day in 1949, when, after years of civil war and desperate struggle, the Chinese Communist Party, headed by Mao Zedong, founded the People’s Republic of China.

     There have been other important revolutions—France’s in the late eighteenth century, Mexico’s in the early twentieth century, and Iran’s in the late twentieth century—but it was the American, Russian, Chinese Revolutions that have had such astonishing consequences for the people of North America, Europe, and Asia in the modern world.

     And of those latter three, the most pernicious, and yet not readily recognized, was that of the Chinese revolution, a viewpoint shared by the historian and writer, John King Fairbank, who wrote, “The Chinese revolution since 1949 has been the greatest in history, measured either by the number of people involved or by the extent and rapidity of the changes made. To the outside world it has also been the least known event of modern times.”

     Mao Zedong whipped the Chinese people into absolute submission to him, and in the process he converted the nation into something that was utterly unimaginable previously. Armed with his own interpretations of Karl Marx’s political theories, a socialist economic agenda, and a fierce determination to  redirect China’s culture, he transformed the Chinese people, and slaughtered any who opposed him.

     The Chinese people struggled and grappled to accommodate Mao’s profound changes and his demands. Fairbank wrote, “Frenzies of joyful enthusiasm and vengeful hatred, of organized effort and self-sacrifice, depths of terror and exhaustion, prolonged frustration, ardent self-discipline, new hope and pride, have been experienced among a population [a]rising from [between] 600 to 800 millions.” Truly, the Chinese, individually and collectively, experienced the entire gamut of human emotions, all they could bear and way beyond.

     “Mao Zedong’s real claim to immortality lies in his effort to smash the ancient ruling class tradition,” wrote Fairbank. The formerly ruthless and miserly landlords were rounded up in village after village all over China and either were publicly executed, expelled, or forced to publicly confess their errors to those peasants they had once lorded over. Land reform, or collectivization, was accomplished by fanning the lower classes’ hatred into mob violence.

     Mao carefully redirected people’s thinking by what was called “thought reform,” which included: “control of the environment; the stimuli both of idealism and of terror, intermixed; and a grim psychological experience, undergone with guidance through successive phases and intensified by the manipulation of one’s sense of guilt and shame.” We know it better as “brainwashing.” The people, with no alternatives to choose from, submitted their minds and bodies to Mao’s authority and came into  silent and yielding acceptance of his new attitudes and concepts.

     A quotation from Chairman Mao: “Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery. . . . A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

     Soptober, halcyon days of peace and prosperity forty years ago in North America, in the United States of America, but at the same time in a land half a world away, the Chinese people wordlessly groaned under the deadweight of their oppression. What a person experiences, the information that he or she receives through the senses, and the range of emotions that color and stain those experiences can never be fully contained in print. Those outside that revolution will never know nor realize the full extent what the Chinese people endured underneath Mao Zedong’s Revolution.