My Favorite Useful Idiot Story

Not long after China was opened to the US for visitation, actress Shirley MacLaine made a visit to the country.  As part of this visit she went to a rural agricultural commune where she met an ex-professor who had obviously been sent to the countryside during Mao's cultural revolution.  MacLaine thought it was wonderful that the professor expressed himself as so happy to have given up academics to do manual labor on the farm.

I don't know if anyone in the US who had a firmer grasp of China's history ever sought to correct MacLaine's understanding of the conversation.  The academic was very likely sent to the farm unwillingly, as were many other academics, as part of Mao's virulent anti-intellectualism as well as the broader rustication movement that consigned a whole lost generation to dead-end lives in rural China.  In 1979, Deng Xiaoping was visiting the US for the first time and was seated near MacLaine at a dinner party.  She retold her story about this wonderfully happy ex-academic she met on the farm.  In response, Deng provided the honest response to her story that none of MacLaine's American enablers seemed to be able to provide.  Deng responded to her, referring to the ostensibly happy academic, "he was lying."

I originally heard this story from a lecture by Richard Baum.  The best online version of it I can find is here.