Was Mao Really a Monster?by Gregor Benton
Pub. Date: 08/13/2009
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday was published in 2005 to a great fanfare. The book portrays Mao as a monster - equal to or worse than Hitler and Stalin - and a fool who won power by native cunning and ruled by terror. It received a rapturous welcome from reviewers in the popular press and rocketed to the top of the worldwide/em>
Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday was published in 2005 to a great fanfare. The book portrays Mao as a monster - equal to or worse than Hitler and Stalin - and a fool who won power by native cunning and ruled by terror. It received a rapturous welcome from reviewers in the popular press and rocketed to the top of the worldwide bestseller list. Few works on China by writers in the West have achieved its impact.
Reviews by serious China scholars, however, tended to take a different view. Most were sharply critical, questioning its authority and the authors' methods , arguing that Chang and Halliday's book is not a work of balanced scholarship, as it purports to be, but a highly selective and even polemical study that sets out to demonise Mao.
This book brings together sixteen reviews of Mao: The Unknown Story - all by internationally well-regarded specialists in modern Chinese history, and published in relatively specialised scholarly journals. Taken together they demonstrate that Chang and Halliday's portrayal of Mao is in many places woefully inaccurate. While agreeing that Mao had many faults and was responsible for some disastrous policies, they conclude that a more balanced picture is needed.
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Table of Contents
Introduction - Gregor Benton and Lin Chun Part I. Reviews in non-specialist academic publications 1: Dark Tales of Mao the Merciless - Delia Davin 2: Jade and Plastic - Andrew J. Nathan 3: Portrait of a Monster – Jonathan Spence Part II. Reviews in the China Journal 4: The Portrayal of Opportunism, Betrayal, and Manipulation in Mao’s Rise to Power - Gregor Benton and Steve Tsang 5: The New Number One Counter-Revolutionary inside the Party: Academic Biography as Mass Criticism - Timothy Cheek 6: Pitfalls of Charisma - Lowell Dittmer 7: "I’m So Ronree" - Geremie R. Barmé Part III. Reviews in other specialist academic journals 8: Mao and The Da Vinci Code: Conspiracy, Narrative and History - David S. G. Goodman 9: Mao: A Super Monster? - Alfred Chan Part IV. Chinese reviews 10: Mao: The Unknown Story, A Review - Yung-fa Chen 11: Mao: The Unknown Story: An Intellectual Scandal - Gao Mobo 12: A Critique of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story - Jin Xiaoding Part V. Other reviews 13: Mao Lives - Arthur Waldron 14: From Wild Swans to Mao: The Unknown Story - Bill Willmott
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In a typically naive and credulous review these scholars defend Mao. To refute this I advise you to review Mao's own words delivered in a 1958 speech to party members.: "What is so unusual about Emperor Shin Huang of the Chin dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only. But we have buried alive 46,000 scholars! In the course of our counter-revolutionary elements, haven't we put to death counter-revolutionary scholars? I had an argument with democratic personages. They say we are behaving worse than the Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin dynasty. They are definitely not correct. We are 100 times ahead of Emperor Shih of the Chin dynasty in repressing counter-revolutionary scholars." Was Mao a monster? To least 46,000 buried alive Chinese scholars, I think he was.
Gregor Benton, Professor of Chinese History at Cardiff University, and Lin Chun, senior lecturer in Comparative Politics at the LSE, have produced this excellent collection of 14 reviews of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story. The reviews are by internationally respected specialists in modern Chinese history, mostly previously published in scholarly journals. The reviewers all explicitly engage with the earlier writings on Mao's life, unlike Chang and Halliday who write as if nobody had ever researched Mao's life before. Chang and Halliday's book is a Nazi-style hymn of hate against China and Mao. The reviewers show that the little that is good in the book is not original and what is original is not good Far from being the unknown story about Mao, the book is a farrago of gossip, hearsay, insults and lies. All too many of Chang and Halliday's sources are "interviews recorded with Mao's relatives, friends, and acquaintances, done in the 1960s, unpublished." As Professor Michael Yahuda noted in the Guardian of 4 June 2005, "There is no discussion of the quality of the sources or how they were used. The motives of people in general and of Mao in particular are asserted rather than evaluated." There is no economic, social or political evidence or analysis, just repeated abuse. Some of the writers, Nicholas Kristof, for example, note Mao's successes: "Land reform in China . helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women . moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao's assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world's new economic dragon." As Frank McLynn wrote of Chang and Halliday's book in the Independent on Sunday of 5 June 2005, "this one-sided rant leaves one with no understanding of modern China . There is a lot of bad history in all senses in this volume. . "why bother with the tiresome discipline of historical research when you can make wild assertions buttressed by unknown or suspect oral sources that are (in the authors' recurrent mantra) 'little known today'. . If you can believe that Chou-en-lai, the master diplomat who wowed everyone from Kissinger to Orson Welles, really was a hypermasochistic craven nonentity who played lickspittle and toady to Mao for no apparent reason (at least the authors do not suggest one) . this book has a certain entertainment value. But it is neither serious history nor serious biography."