Before Mao: The Untold Story of Li Lisan and the Creation of Communist China

Before Mao: The Untold Story of Li Lisan and the Creation of Communist China

by Patrick Lescot


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Before Mao: The Untold Story of Li Lisan and the Creation of Communist China by Patrick Lescot

The first biography of Li Lisan, the first head of China's Communist Party, whose fiery independence led to forced exile under Stalin and eventual execution at the hands of Mao.

Combining an exceptional love story with a gripping tale of incarceration in Stalin's gulag and later in Mao's concentration camps, Patrick Lescot's Before Mao is a deeply moving, beautifully told saga of Li Lisan, Mao's predecessor at the head of the Communist Party, a key member of the Russian and Chinese revolutions.

Told in an engaging, highly dramatic style that reads more like a novel than a standard history, Lescot skilfully unfolds this page–turning biography. Li, who led the Chinese Communist Party in the 1920s, was a rare survivor among the Chinese members of the Internationale. Moving from China to France to the Soviet Union and finally back to China, Before Mao is an extraordinary chronicle of the indomitable human spirit 'allowing us to share in some true moments of emotion, where love wins over totalitarianism's destruction of individuality' (Le Monde).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060084653
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/15/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.62(w) x 8.75(h) x 1.11(d)

About the Author

Born in Tunisia in 1953, Patrick Lescot is the editor-in-chief of the foreign news service Agence France-Presse. He has been a correspondent in Johannesburg, Beijing, Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Bangkok, and Phnom Penh. Lescot studied Chinese history and language, philosophy, and journalism and spent several years in China, where he reported on Tibet's uprising in Lhasa and the Tiananmen Square events. He lives in Paris.

Read an Excerpt

Before Mao
The Untold Story of Li Lisan and the Creation of Communist China

Chapter One

Leaning on the ship's rail, Li Lisan watched the docks of Shanghai's port slowly fading into the distance. In forty days, if all went well, he would reach Marseilles. The gray forms of the skyscrapers along the Bund, lining the boulevard that ran along the river, echoed back to him the bellowing of the steamer's horn.

The mid-October air had lost some of its dampness and carried acrid marine odors mixed with the indefinable smells of the city he could still see from the afterdeck. He suddenly realized that there was now no going back. Couldn't he get off the boat when it stopped at Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Colombo, or Djibouti? Out of the question. No, he was really on his way to France. The steamer's forward movement and the muffled vibration of its propellers had the same inexorable momentum as a die rolling on a green felt table.

He could hear the exclamations of his companions in the passageway below. Altogether, there were about forty of them making the voyage; like him, they came mainly from Hunan province, and they all belonged to the Movement for Studies in France. When Li had learned that the French government was offering educated young Chinese an opportunity to study and work in France, he'd jumped at it. The guns had finally fallen silent in Europe, France was in ruins, and there was no lack of work there, people said.

Ever since May, everyone on the campus had been talking about going to France: in order to understand why China had failed, they had to understand the West's success. They had to go there to see it at first hand, to experience its schools, its factories, its dreams.

All the more so because these Westerners, who were so fond of empires that they had brought China to its knees, now proclaimed the advent of a new order under the twofold sign of peace and justice. The thousands of Chinese coolies who'd come back from the battlefields of Verdun and the plains of the Somme had sworn it was true: the carnage over there had been terrible and the weapons terrifying. Some of them also claimed that in Europe people took a keen interest in what was happening in Russia. There, as in China, the emperor had abdicated and civil war was raging.

France -- Faguo, as it was called in Chinese -- "the country of the Law." He recalled its almost harmonious contours on the map: a small land bathing its feet in a sea, poking its nose into an unknown ocean, toward America. A strange country, a people whose frenzy had made all its neighbors tremble. It had revolted, killed its king, and then given itself an emperor before ending up with a republic, under the hostile but admiring eyes of the West: wasn't France the reservoir of ideals, scientific discoveries, novels, monuments, plays, songs, and paintings? France itself was so convinced of it that the republic had built an empire reaching into Asia, to the very doorstep of China.

In the streets of the French concession in Shanghai, they'd all bought postcards, black-and-white photos of the cobblestone streets of Paris. As they boarded the steamer, the joyful, noisy students -- at twenty, Li was one of the oldest -- passed around, laughing raucously, a photo of a famous actress in a black negligee. A great success.

"Bonjour, mademoiselle," they said, giggling between the two words, and then joking about the school's French teacher. The candidates for the work-study trip, the ban-du, had spent the past few months in the hills of Beijing, learning the language of Molière. This training was obligatory, and they liked to repeat to each other the formula "the language of Molière," imitating the slightly haughty phrasing and expression of the French official.

Everyone agreed that it was too bad that Mao Tse-tung had stayed behind on the dock. A compatriot from Hunan, a schoolteacher who was looking for work in the library of the University of Beijing, he had accompanied them as far as Shanghai, but only China interested him.

Not liking farewells, Li had slipped away. Off by himself, his eyes riveted on the ship's wake, he was imagining the face of the woman to whom his father had married him three years earlier. The long, exhausting ceremony that followed the arrival of the red-draped palanquin in which his fiancée, hardly sixteen years old, had taken her seat. She was as frightened as he was, but more disciplined. Months later, their hearts were still not bound together. Siao Yang couldn't understand Li's passion for the books and strange magazines that claimed to be inventing a new China. And then their son was born. Li's father, the master of his household, had ordered that a feast be held.

The marriage was all his doing, his final attempt to tame his wild son. At fourteen, Li had already run away to join, after walking for two days and a night, a prorepublican revolutionary army that had ended up in Hunan. An impulsive act. The adolescent threw out his chest and lied about his age, but the recruiting sergeant immediately recognized a schoolboy. Instead of a rifle, Li was given a brush, ink, and hundreds of sums to do in a corner of the office, burying his dreams of glory hour after hour.

Two days later, the general came into the room. Wang Tsian was one of the superior officers and warlords who had joined the cause of the founder of the republic, Sun Yat-sen. He was looking for someone who liked to play go, Li's favorite game.

Putting his pieces one by one on the go-ban, the old soldier asked Li where he came from.

"From Liling."

Before Mao
The Untold Story of Li Lisan and the Creation of Communist China
. Copyright © by Patrick Lescot. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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