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roddy

Anthony Grey, Cultural Revolution hostage

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roddy

Can't see that we've any prior mention of this guy, but I came across mention of him in another book and made a note to bring him up. 

 

Anthony Grey was a Reuters journalist in China in the 1960s. In 1967, after some pro-China reporters had been jailed in Hong Kong, the Red Guard came round, hanged his cat and kept him in a basement for the next two years. 

 

Has anyone read either of his books? There are two, Hostage in Peking (there's also a Hostage in Peking Plus) is a cathartic recounting of his experiences which he wrote in the six weeks after his release, and The Hostage Handbook, which is his diaries from the period. 

 

Apparently towards the end of his captivity he spent his time trying to learn Chinese. I guess having slogans and death threats yelled at you all day is one form of immersion.

 

There's obviously plenty of books about the Cultural Revolution, but I hadn't heard of Grey before and thought it worth mentioning. 

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simc

This was the same guy who wrote the book "The Prime Minister was a Spy".

 

The Australian prime minister Harold Holt went missing and is presumed dead after going for a swim in the dangerous waters off the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne. Grey's book claimed that Harold Holt was a spy for the PRC who faked his own death and was actually picked up by a Chinese submarine waiting offshore.

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mouse

He also believes in UFOs. Seems like a classic dubious Cold War source to me.

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roddy

I think that's excessively cynical. The Holt thing is interesting, but that's 15 years later. The UFO documentary (which I'd noticed but ignored as irrelevant) came even later. I don't see need to discount a first-hand account of his experiences in the Cultural Revolution based on the fact he later wrote a sensationalist book, or that he seems to have gone a bit odd* in later years.

 

By all means read with an awareness of who the guy was and the time he was living in, but "classic dubious Cold War source"? What, someone who was actually there? 

 

Came across some fun old Pathe footage

 

*Apologies if you're reading this, Anthony.

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mouse

How to respond to this? It's very tempting to point out the obvious; that yes, primary sources shouldn't ever be taken at face value, but to do so would assume that you don't even understand the basics of history. You've really put me in a difficult position. Either I explain the obvious and appear patronising, or I demure out of politeness. I'll do the former...

 

For every historical era there are many primary sources and - more likely than not - they conflict. Severely. The two major ways we evaluate them are whether they conform with the general trend of information and/or by gauging the reliability of the witness(es). In this case, as the witness is a novelist who has proven to be a fantasist, the witness appears to be unreliable. That does not mean he wasn't there. Nor does it mean that the source should be dismissed out of hand. It means that maybe his recollection should be taken with a pinch of salt. Apparently, making fun of the fact that he believes in UFOs is, as you put it, "excessively cynical". As a thought experiment, imagine we're talking about Lin Biao. Lin Biao is a very important primary source when it come to the Cultural Revolution. He was someone who was actually there. Would you, roddy, ever suggest that we uncritically take his account of the CR at face value? Would you say we should ignore the events of his life and only review what he wrote?

 

The fact is that a number of people were able to get book deals in the West based on their negative experiences with socialist states. Obviously, there were incentives to exaggerate. The idea that these people may not be the most reliable sources of information is apparently anathema to you. Grey is, nevertheless, a classic dubious Cold War source, in that while he may be a source of useful information, he is typically idiosyncratic and his claims - especially the most outlandish - should be viewed with severe skepticism if they cannot be corroborated. I'm sure anyone who has studied Cold War history would recognise this situation. That is the nicest way I can put it.

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realmayo
The fact is that a number of people were able to get book deals in the West based on their negative experiences with socialist states. Obviously, there were incentives to exaggerate

 

I find this a slightly peculiar comment. You could say the same about anyone who has written anything about their experiences in China, or indeed anywhere. E.g. Peter Hessler -- 'wouldn't trust a word he wrote, got a book deal at a time of growing interest in the West about hitherto closed-off China. Obviously, there were incentives to exaggerate.' etc etc.

 

It would be a poor historian who declined to read such material. Or indeed who read every piece of it with "severe scepticism": if Grey says he drank green tea during his time in China, you'd be severely sceptical?

 

 

Edit: Post #3 gives the impression that it's not even worth mentioning this guy let alone reading his books about his time in Beijing. Perhaps that wasn't the intention? In which case that's probably where the #4-6 contention lies.

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mouse

 

I find this a slightly peculiar comment.

 

That's because you're ignoring who we're talking about. We're not talking about Peter Hessler, we're talking about Anthony Grey. As far as I'm aware, Grey has said that the Australian PM was a PRC spy who faked his own death and aliens have visited Earth. I reserve the right to regard someone who has made such claims with severe scepticism. Maybe you're more forgiving. However, no where have I said he shouldn't be read, that's something that exists only in yours and roddy's minds. Why couldn't you say the same thing you say in your edit about simc's post? I seem to be defending myself against what other people imagine my argument to be...

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roddy

I was referring to both posts. 

 

if he'd written that the Australian PM was a spy, then that aliens are visiting earth, then written a history of modern China, I'd agree with you. But he wrote a first-hand account of his experiences in 1969 (the first book, I think, was written immediately after captivity, the second was written later based on diaries) and then waaaaaaaaaaaaay later wrote the Holt book (journalist writes sensationalist political book shock horror), and then waaaaaaaaaaaaay later again appears to have decided that aliens exist. Personally I'd say that if we can draw any lesson here,  it's not that you can't trust Anthony Grey (cough cough, in 1969, ahem). It's that you should avoid getting imprisoned by the Red Guards, as it doesn't appear to be good for your career.

 

So, anyone read the thing?

 

Edit: The blurb for his latest book though: "Every year three Jewish multi-millionaires hold the vital annual meeting of their Family Trust in total secrecy flying high above the Atlantic in 'no-man's land' where no tax is due to any government in the world. Secrecy is the only protection for their enormous wealth. Betrayed to money-hungry Communist intelligence agents, they become caught fast in the crossfire of the secret East-West Cold War being fought out behind recurring headlines reporting new financial crises threatening the West." Ouch. I'm ordering Hostage in Peking though, I feel obliged to at least flick through it now...

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mouse

Wait a minute, so when I make an admittedly glib but true comment about someone's work I get a stern telling off, but you can go speculating wildly about someone's mental health despite having zero evidence. Your over-reaction to my comment has taken you down a strange path.

Moreover, you still seem to think that primary sources are some pure source of truth, when in fact primary sources can be highly unreliable for all kinds of reasons. This is especially true for individual recollections. Unless of course the source says something damning about the Cultural Revolution, in which case there is no suggestion of the source being anything other than the Gospel Truth and anyone who dares to mention some background details regarding its reliability should be immediately attacked.

 

Oh and now I see in your edit that he seems to believe in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to boot. Maybe an apology would be in order?

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realmayo

But mouse, you said yourself your comments are glib and patronising. I know it's normal on the internets to indulge in sweeping accusations based on nothing more than someone's wikipedia entry but doesn't that jar with your comments about sourcing? 

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roddy

"you can go speculating wildly about someone's mental health despite having zero evidence."

I think that's kind of a fair point and have edited again, but then again I'm not sure his membership of the Raelianism movement is zero evidence. So now I'm regretting editing. And I don't think that was wild speculation. I think it was mild speculation.

 

Hey ho. I see realmayo has replied, might leave things in his capable hands for a while...

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realmayo
mouse

 

sweeping accusations

 

Ugh. This is getting tiresome. If you think I've made any accusations, sweeping or otherwise, name them.

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