Tom Scocca

  • The Great Pretender

    OF ALL THE TACTICS and stratagems used by Mao Zedong in his long and victorious career of warfare—overt and covert; military, political, and cultural—one stands out for its almost comical simplicity: The paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China would ask his comrades or underlings—or the general public—for advice. Helpful criticism. An honest appraisal of the current situation. “Let a hundred flowers bloom,” he declared in the spring of 1957, inviting critics of the Chinese Communist Party to freely speak their minds.

    Then, when people took him up on the offer, he would smash them.

  • The Pall of Fame

    Tom Bissell’s new essay collection, Magic Hours, opens—in what can be taken as a challenge or a gesture of self-justification—with “Unflowered Aloes,” his 2000 meditation on the tenuousness of literary immortality. Why do some works survive, Bissell asks, while others are lost to posterity? The reader may note that this is a book of previously published magazine work, rescued from the recycling bin and bound in a volume as Essays on Creators and Creation.

    “Unflowered Aloes” is certainly worthy of an ISBN number. Bissell wrote it, he explains in his author’s note, as “a twenty-five year old

  • Enter the Dragon

    On October 1 in Beijing, teams of weather-modification specialists stood at the ready as advanced military hardware, elaborately decorated floats, and ranks of gun-toting women in silvery boots paraded down Chang’an Avenue to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. It was another immense spectacle at the dawn of a predicted Chinese century, following the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in advance of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

    The scene was described and criticized in the American press as a celebration of six decades of Communist rule—sixty years of dictatorship by