In April 2008, Ma Wanli, a professor of American history at Nanchang Hangkong University in Nanchang, China, emailed me to introduce himself as the translator of the Chinese version of my U.S. best seller, Lies My Teacher Told Me. He also invited me to write a preface for this new edition. I agreed.
Lies exposes seamy aspects of the U.S. past. The preface I wrote for the Chinese edition suggests that a similar exposé might be useful in China. As I wrote, I realized that saying this in China might be problematic, but on behalf of the publisher, Central Chinese Compilation & Translation Press, one of the largest publishers in China, Ma Wanli assured me that my preface would not be censored. I finished the preface in late fall, and the Chinese translation reached me in December of 2008. My U.S. publisher had it translated back into English and assured me that my meaning had not been changed. All seemed well.
This book had a huge influence on me. This, along with Eric Foner’s “Reconstruction”, have been the most personally important books on US history I have read. The closest thing I have read about Chinese history is Mobo Gao’s “The Battle for China’s Past”, which engages memoirs, biographies and other records of the PRC’s history around the Cultural Revolution and Mao, but it is very polemical and doesn’t engage high school textbooks. The only thing I’d quibble with in the linked article is that as far as I can tell, the Great Leap Forward is presented as involving great human suffering in present-day China, but the historical cover-up is about where the blame is assigned (basically, Deng Xiaoping and those of his faction or who were rehabilitated by his faction after taking power are presented as utterly sidelined). But a lot of that is from reading Mobo Gao, so I have to read more widely.
UPDATE: I was going to write this sentence but forgot it: Of course, my lack of Chinese knowledge means I can’t read as widely as I should nor get a real feel for the Chinese debates.