What if?

Geez, now everybody wants to play. On March 7 our own Charles Hayford started the ball rolling by posting on Five things that Didn’t Happen (But Might Have). This led to Michael Turton coming up with a list for Taiwan history. Now the New York Review of Books is getting in the act, with a piece by Perry Link entitled He Would have Changed China. It is a review of Zong Fengming’s book of conversations with Zhao Ziyang Link starts of with a few favorite Chinese history counterfactuals, like what would have happened to Lu Xun if he had lived past 1949, and then gets on to Zhao, who has also been a subject for these types of games. Link shows that during his years of house arrest Zhao did a lot of reading and came to the conclusion that China needed more democracy, more rule of law and less nationalism. He also concludes that Zhao would have probably had very little effect even if he had held on to power in 1989 and if his thinking had evolved in the same way. The real power was always with Deng Xiaoping and to a lesser extent Chen Yun. Still, lots of people in China like to imagine something that might have been better.


  1. Actually the biggest, and possible, what if was “What if Chiang accepted the US suggestion of splitting the country into halves – North of Yangtze for the Commies, and South for Chiang.” The meeting was held and Chiang rejected it, and kept fighting and loosing.

  2. 1. What if the Chinese had invented the fork during the Shang Dynasty?

    2. What if Mao had really been named “Schickelgruber”?

    3. What if Du Fu and Li Bai had preferred limericks?

    4. What if Marco Polo had gone to India instead?

    5. What if the Chinese had been unable to understand Kissinger’s accent?

  3. Can I play?

    What if WWII had gone differently (or not happened) and Japan was left in control of Taiwan?

    What if Zheng He had discovered America?

    What if Mao’s son had not been killed in Korea?

    What if the Qianlong emperor had decided to play polo with Lord Macartney and they became best buddies?

  4. I detect a certain looseness of “ifs,” in some of the comments here, but Alan’s question about the results of WWII reminds me of the Korean film “2009 Lost Memories.” It’s based on the question “What if Gov. General Ito Hirobumi was not assassinated in Harbin in 1909?” Well, then Japan never lost the Second World War and Korea never gained independence in 1945. In 2009,Seoul is the third major city of Japan. The hero of the film, Detective Sakamoto, is of Korean descent but doesn’t know what that means, and works to root out a terrorist gang, which we the audience know to be Korean patriots, who want to go back in time to assassinate Ito and …. well, you have to see it.

    If each step of the plot’s logic doesn’t exactly follow, never mind. It’s still a great adventure action film.

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