Mao: The Unknown Story

Mao: The Unknown Story

by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday

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The most authoritative life of the Chinese leader every written, Mao: The Unknown Story is based on a decade of research, and on interviews with many of Mao’s close circle in China who have never talked before — and with virtually everyone outside China who had significant dealings with him. It is full of startling revelations, exploding the myth of the Long March, and showing a completely unknown Mao: he was not driven by idealism or ideology; his intimate and intricate relationship with Stalin went back to the 1920s, ultimately bringing him to power; he welcomed Japanese occupation of much of China; and he schemed, poisoned, and blackmailed to get his way. After Mao conquered China in 1949, his secret goal was to dominate the world. In chasing this dream he caused the deaths of 38 million people in the greatest famine in history. In all, well over 70 million Chinese perished under Mao’s rule — in peacetime.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679746324
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/14/2006
Edition description: Reprinted Edition
Pages: 864
Sales rank: 133,871
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

Jung Chang is the best-selling author of Wild Swans, which The Asian Wall Street Journal called the most widely read book about China, and Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday), which was described by Time as “an atom bomb of a book.” Her books have been translated into more than forty languages and sold more than fifteen million copies outside mainland China, where they are both banned. She was born in China in 1952 and moved to Britain in 1978. She lives in London.


Jon Halliday is a former Senior Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, University of London. He has written or edited eight previous books.

Read an Excerpt

On the Cusp from Ancient to Modern

(1893–1911 H age 1–17)

Mao tse-tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader. He was born into a peasant family in a valley called Shaoshan, in the province of Hunan, in the heartland of China. The date was 26 December 1893. His ancestors had lived in the valley for five hundred years.

This was a world of ancient beauty, a temperate, humid region whose misty, undulating hills had been populated ever since the Neolithic age. Buddhist temples dating from the Tang dynasty (ad 618–906), when Buddhism first came here, were still in use. Forests where nearly 300 species of trees grew, including maples, camphor, metasequoia and the rare ginkgo, covered the area and sheltered the tigers, leopards and boar that still roamed the hills. (The last tiger was killed in 1957.) These hills, with neither roads nor navigable rivers, detached the village from the world at large. Even as late as the early twentieth century an event as momentous as the death of the emperor in 1908 did not percolate this far, and Mao found out only two years afterwards when he left Shaoshan.

The valley of Shaoshan measures about 5 by 3.5 km. The 600-odd families who lived there grew rice, tea and bamboo, harnessing buffalo to plough the rice paddies. Daily life revolved round these age-old activities. Mao’s father, Yi-chang, was born in 1870. At the age of ten he was engaged to a girl of thirteen from a village about 10 kilometres away, beyond a pass called Tiger Resting Pass, where tigers used to sun themselves. This short distance was long enough in those years for the two villages to speak dialects that were almost mutually unintelligible. Being merely a girl, Mao’s mother did not receive a name; as the seventh girl born in the Wen clan, she was just Seventh Sister Wen. In accordance with centuries of custom, her feet had been crushed and bound to produce the so-called three-inch golden lilies that epitomised beauty at the time.

Her engagement to Mao’s father followed time-honoured customs. It was arranged by their parents and was based on a practical consideration: the tomb of one of her grandfathers was in Shaoshan, and it had to be tended regularly with elaborate rituals, so having a relative there would prove useful. Seventh Sister Wen moved in with the Maos upon betrothal, and was married at the age of eighteen, in 1885, when Yi-chang was fifteen.

Shortly after the wedding, Yi-chang went off to be a soldier to earn money to pay off family debts, which he was able to do after several years. Chinese peasants were not serfs but free farmers, and joining the army for purely financial reasons was an established practice. Luckily he was not involved in any wars; instead he caught a glimpse of the world and picked up some business ideas. Unlike most of the villagers, Yi-chang could read and write, well enough to keep accounts. After his return, he raised pigs, and processed grain into top-quality rice to sell at a nearby market town. He bought back the land his father had pawned, then bought more land, and became one of the richest men in the village.

Though relatively well off, Yi-chang remained extremely hard- working and thrifty all his life. The family house consisted of half a dozen rooms, which occupied one wing of a large thatched property. Eventually Yi-chang replaced the thatch with tiles, a major improvement, but left the mud floor and mud walls. The windows had no glass—still a rare luxury—and were just square openings with wooden bars, blocked off at night by wooden boards (the temperature hardly ever fell below freezing). The furniture was simple: wooden beds, bare wooden tables and benches. It was in one of these rather spartan rooms, under a pale blue homespun cotton quilt, inside a blue mosquito net, that Mao was born.

Mao was the third son, but the first to survive beyond infancy. His Buddhist mother became even more devout to encourage Buddha to protect him. Mao was given the two-part name Tse-tung. Tse, which means “to shine on,” was the name given to all his generation, as preordained when the clan chronicle was first written in the eighteenth century; tung means “the East.” So his full given name meant “to shine on the East.” When two more boys were born, in 1896 and 1905, they were given the names Tse-min (min means “the people”) and Tse-t’an (tan possibly referred to the local region, Xiangtan).

These names reflected the inveterate aspiration of Chinese peasants for their sons to do well—and the expectation that they could. High positions were open to all through education, which for centuries meant studying Confucian classics. Excellence would enable young men of any background to pass imperial examinations and become mandarins—all the way up to becoming prime minister. Officialdom was the definition of achievement, and the names given to Mao and his brothers expressed the hopes placed on them.

But a grand name was also onerous and potentially tempted fate, so most children were given a pet name that was either lowly or tough, or both. Mao’s was “the Boy of Stone”—Shisan yazi. For this second “baptism” his mother took him to a rock about eight feet high, which was reputed to be enchanted, as there was a spring underneath. After Mao performed obeisance and kowtows, he was considered adopted by the rock. Mao was very fond of this name, and continued to use it as an adult. In 1959, when he returned to Shaoshan and met the villagers for the first—and only—time as supreme leader of China, he began the dinner for them with a quip: “So everyone is here, except my Stone Mother. Shall we wait for her?”

Mao loved his real mother, with an intensity he showed towards no one else. She was a gentle and tolerant person, who, as he remembered, never raised her voice to him. From her came his full face, sensual lips, and a calm self-possession in the eyes. Mao would talk about his mother with emotion all his life. It was in her footsteps that he became a Buddhist as a child. Years later he told his staff: “I worshipped my mother . . . Wherever my mother went, I would follow . . . going to temple fairs, burning incense and paper money, doing obeisance to Buddha . . . Because my mother believed in Buddha, so did I.” But he gave up Buddhism in his mid-teens.

Mao had a carefree childhood. Until he was eight he lived with his mother’s family, the Wens, in their village, as his mother preferred to live with her own family. There his maternal grandmother doted on him. His two uncles and their wives treated him like their own son, and one of them became his Adopted Father, the Chinese equivalent to godfather. Mao did a little light farm work, gathering fodder for pigs and taking the buffaloes out for a stroll in the tea-oil camellia groves by a pond shaded by banana leaves. In later years he would reminisce with fondness about this idyllic time. He started learning to read, while his aunts spun and sewed under an oil lamp.

Mao only came back to live in Shaoshan in spring 1902, at the age of eight, to receive an education, which took the form of study in a tutor’s home. Confucian classics, which made up most of the curriculum, were beyond the understanding of children and had to be learnt by heart. Mao was blessed with an exceptional memory, and did well. His fellow pupils remembered a diligent boy who managed not only to recite but also to write by rote these difficult texts. He also gained a foundation in Chinese language and history, and began to learn to write good prose, calligraphy and poetry, as writing poems was an essential part of Confucian education. Reading became a passion. Peasants generally turned in at sunset, to save on oil for lamps, but Mao would read deep into the night, with an oil lamp standing on a bench outside his mosquito net. Years later, when he was supreme ruler of China, half of his huge bed would be piled a foot high with Chinese classics, and he littered his speeches and writings with historical references. But his poems lost flair.

Mao clashed frequently with his tutors. He ran away from his first school at the age of ten, claiming that the teacher was a martinet. He was expelled from, or was “asked to leave,” at least three schools for being headstrong and disobedient. His mother indulged him but his father was not pleased, and Mao’s hopping from tutor to tutor was just one source of tension between father and son. Yi-chang paid for Mao’s education, hoping that his son could at least help keep the family accounts, but Mao disliked the task. All his life, he was vague about figures, and hopeless at economics. Nor did he take kindly to hard physical labour. He shunned it as soon as his peasant days were over.

Yi-chang could not stand Mao being idle. Having spent every minute of his waking hours working, he expected his son to do the same, and would strike him when he did not comply. Mao hated his father. In 1968, when he was taking revenge on his political foes on a vast scale, he told their tormentors that he would have liked his father to be treated just as brutally: “My father was bad. If he were alive today, he should be ‘jet-planed.’ ” This was an agonising position where the subject’s arms were wrenched behind his back and his head forced down.

Mao was not a mere victim of his father. He fought back, and was often the victor. He would tell his father that the father, being older, should do more manual labour than he, the younger—which was an unthinkably insolent argument by Chinese standards. One day, according to Mao, father and son had a row in front of guests. “My father scolded me before them, calling me lazy and useless. This infuriated me. I called him names and left the house . . . My father . . . pursued me, cursing as well as commanding me to come back. I reached the edge of a pond and threatened to jump in if he came any nearer . . . My father backed down.” Once, as Mao was retelling the story, he laughed and added an observation: “Old men like him didn’t want to lose their sons. This is their weakness. I attacked at their weak point, and I won!”

Money was the only weapon Mao’s father possessed. After Mao was expelled by tutor no. 4, in 1907, his father stopped paying his son’s tuition fees and the thirteen-year-old boy had to become a full-time peasant. But he soon found a way to get himself out of farm work and back into the world of books. Yi-chang was keen for his son to get married, so that he would be tied down and behave responsibly. His niece was at just the right age for a wife, four years older than Mao, who agreed to his father’s plan and resumed schooling after the marriage.

The marriage took place in 1908, when Mao was fourteen and his bride eighteen. Her family name was Luo. She herself had no proper name, and was just called “Woman Luo.” The only time Mao is known to have mentioned her was to the American journalist Edgar Snow in 1936, when Mao was strikingly dismissive, exaggerating the difference in their ages: “When I was 14, my parents married me to a girl of 20. But I never lived with her . . . I do not consider her my wife . . . and have given little thought to her.” He gave no hint that she was not still alive; in fact, Woman Luo had died in 1910, just over a year into their marriage.

Mao’s early marriage turned him into a fierce opponent of arranged marriages. Nine years later he wrote a seething article against the practice: “In families in the West, parents acknowledge the free will of their children. But in China, orders from the parents are not at all compatible with the will of the children . . . This is a kind of ‘indirect rape.’ Chinese parents are all the time indirectly raping their children . . .”

As soon as his wife died, the sixteen-year-old widower demanded to leave Shaoshan. His father wanted to apprentice him to a rice store in the county town, but Mao had set his eye on a modern school about 25 kilometres away. He had learned that the imperial examinations had been abolished. Instead there were modern schools now, teaching subjects like science, world history and geography, and foreign languages. It was these schools that would open the door out of a peasant’s life for many like him.

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Abbreviations and a Note About Spelling in the Text

PART ONE Lukewarm Believer
1. On the Cusp from Ancient to Modern (1893–1911; age 1–17)
2. Becoming a Communist (1911–20; age 17–26)
3. Lukewarm Believer (1920–25; age 26–31)
4. Rise and Demise in the Nationalist Party (1925–27; age 31–33)

PART TWO Long March to Supremacy in the Party
5. Hijacking a Red Force and Taking Over Bandit Land (1927–28; age 33–34)
6. Subjugating the Red Army Supremo (1928–30; age 34–36)
7. Takeover Leads to Death of Second Wife (1927–30; age 33–36)
8. Bloody Purge Paves the Way for “Chairman Mao” (1929–31; age 35–37)
9. Mao and the First Red State (1931–34; age 37–40)
10. Troublemaker to Figurehead (1931–34; age 37–40)
11. How Mao Got onto the Long March (1933–34; age 39–40)
12. Long March I: Chiang Lets the Reds Go (1934; age 40)
13. Long March II: The Power Behind the Throne (1934–35; age 40–41)
14. Long March III: Monopolising the Moscow Connection (1935; age 41)

PART THREE Building His Power Base
15. The Timely Death of Mao’s Host (1935–36; age 41–42)
16. Chiang Kai-shek Kidnapped (1935–36; age 41–42)
17. A National Player (1936; age 42–43)
18. New Image, New Life and New Wife (1937–38; age 43–44)
19. Red Mole Triggers China–Japan War (1937–38; age 43–44)
20. Fight Rivals and Chiang—Not Japan (1937–40; age 43–46)
21. Most Desired Scenario: Stalin Carves Up China with Japan (1939–40; age 45–46)
22. Death Trap for His Own Men (1940–41; age 46–47)
23. Building a Power Base Through Terror (1941–45; age 47–51)
24. Uncowed Opponent Poisoned (1941–45; age 47–51)
25. Supreme Party Leader at Last (1942–45; age 48–51)

PART FOUR To Conquer China
26. “Revolutionary Opium War” (1937–45; age 43–51)
27. The Russians Are Coming! (1945–46; age 51–52)
28. Saved by Washington (1944–47; age 50–53)
29. Moles, Betrayals and Poor Leadership Doom Chiang (1945–49; age 51–55)
30. China Conquered (1946–49; age 52–55)
31. Totalitarian State, Extravagant Lifestyle (1949–53; age 55–59)

PART FIVE Chasing a Superpower Dream
32. Rivalry with Stalin (1947–49; age 53–55)
33. Two Tyrants Wrestle (1949–50; age 55–56)
34. Why Mao and Stalin Started the Korean War (1949–50; age 55–56)
35. Mao Milks the Korean War (1950–53; age 56–59)
36. Launching the Secret Superpower Programme (1953–54; age 59–60)
37. War on Peasants (1953–56; age 59–62)
38. Undermining Khrushchev (1956–59; age 62–65)
39. Killing the “Hundred Flowers” (1957–58; age 63–64)
40. The Great Leap: “Half of China May Well Have to Die” (1958–61; age 64–67)
41. Defence Minister Peng’s Lonely Battle (1958–59; age 64–65)
42. The Tibetans Rebel (1950–61; age 56–67)
43. Maoism Goes Global (1959–64; age 65–70)
44. Ambushed by the President (1961–62; age 67–68)
45. The Bomb (1962–64; age 68–70)
46. A Time of Uncertainty and Setbacks (1962–65; age 68–71)

PART SIX Unsweet Revenge
47. A Horse-Trade Secures the Cultural Revolution (1965–66; age 71–72)
48. The Great Purge (1966–67; age 72–73)
49. Unsweet Revenge (1966–74; age 72–80)
50. The Chairman’s New Outfit (1967–70; age 73–76)
51. A War Scare (1969–71; age 75–77)
52. Falling Out with Lin Biao (1970–71; age 76–77)
53. Maoism Falls Flat on the World Stage (1966–70; age 72–76)
54. Nixon: the Red-Baiter Baited (1970–73; age 76–79)
55. The Boss Denies Chou Cancer Treatment (1972–74; age 78–80)
56. Mme Mao in the Cultural Revolution (1966–75; age 72–81)
57. Enfeebled Mao Hedges His Bets (1973–76; age 79–82)
58. Last Days (1974–76; age 80–82)

List of Interviewees
Archives Consulted
Bibliography of Chinese-Language Sources
Bibliography of Non-Chinese-Language Sources

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Mao 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Rob0NY More than 1 year ago
Certainly detailed. And yet at times feels oddly unsupported or poorly explained. Case in point: the author cites Mao going for a swim as a powerful and threatening message to the top echelon of the party. No clue why this causes so much angst. It shows off his physical vigor, but this is a guy who has other people do his dirty work, not someone who personally strangles his foes. Nor does it seem to make sense that Mao is both portrayed as completely in command at one moment and then at others seems to be in danger from cronies who several pages earlier were at his total mercy. More generally it feels like the author could have made the case that Mao was a.) obsessed with power, b.) totally ruthless, c.) didn't care a bit for his people, d.) and liked sex in a lot less than 600 pages. Or maybe a better way to say it is after reading 600 pages I should have a better picture of how politics worked under Mao and why a nation and it's top leaders stuck by such a despicable and misguided person. Or how the apparently mass psychosis of the Cultural Revolution could come about. I am left feeling like I need to read another, more penetrating book to get the answers to questions this one opened up.
E-Reads More than 1 year ago
Well worth the hours I put into it! The depth of research and the excellent writing create the framework for a fascinating read. The content provides endless topics for current conversation and reflection. So many facets to the story. Considering all this book offers, I can easily see how it may take generations to recover from the horrors and destruction of Mao.
Bulletbob More than 1 year ago
A must read for all adults, particularly in light of the lack of knowledge of 20th century history prevalent in the US. One cannot evaluate current events without an understanding of the past. This book contradicts years of Chinese propaganda and sets the record straight on the origins of Mao and Communist China. The myths of the Long March and the heartless trade of foodstuffs (and consequently millions of Chinese lives) for Russian industrial, military, and nuclear plans, equipment, and hardware is shocking. This record underscores both the value of a free press as well as the human proclivity to strive to be successful in the system of government at hand. Shocking and disgusting. The Chinese have come along way from Mao. Their achievements should be welcomed and further progress encouraged.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very Well researched. Will make you see Mao and Chinese history in a totally different light. Not presented in very subjective tone. Authors seem to have a personal vendetta against Mao and set to portray him as the Devil Incarnate. Let the concrete details speak for themselves, should have cut back on the commentaries and let readers draw their own conclusions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Chang and Halliday¿s Mao, Unknown Story provided a brand new version and perspective of Chairman Mao. It is the first time to portray Chairman Mao as a bloody mass-murderer. In their book, Chairman Mao was a large-scale murderer during a Chinese peace era. Nearly 80 million people were dead by his Utopian idealism: that was an unbelievable number. It is four times the number of deaths of the Soviets in the war between the Soviet Union and Germany. He used drastic violence to suppress people who he believed stood in his way for industrializing China. He ignored the death of 30 million people during the starvation period of the Great Famine, which was caused by his foolish ¿Great Leap Forward¿ for overtaking the British and catching up to the Americans. After the Great Famine, his lunatic behavior reached new heights. He launched the culture revolution, which was completely insane. He became a maniac. Under his direction, the violence was propelled to its bloodiest high tide. The horror broke historic records. Elementary school students unbelievably beat their teachers to death. The death toll was continuing to pile up until the day he died. From Mao, Unknown Story, the figure of Chairman Mao was drawn as a vicious monster and mass-murderer. No wonder, horrible bloody killings described in Mao, Unknown Story truly happened in China from 1949, when Chairman Mao took over China, to 1976 when Chairman Mao died. Chairman Mao did everything so lunatic, and insane. From the catastrophe which he brought to China, he deserves to be considered a bloodthirsty monster and a bloody mass murderer. Overall, the book is good and correct. Even though the book is good and correct, it cannot compare with Dr. Zhisui Li¿s The Private Life of Chairman Mao in deeply and lively describing of Chairman Mao. No less than Dr. Andrew Nathan pointed out, all of biographic writers have a limitation in deeply and lively describing their objects. Because they have never served their objects, they have no chance to observe them closely. Also they have done a lot of research, but the inherent defect is that they don¿t really know their objects¿ personality and psychology. They don¿t know their objects¿ courtyard operations their objects¿ retainers, and the relationship between their objects, their objects¿ retainers and the government officials. Dr. Zhisui Li¿s The Private Life of Chairman Mao did not portray Chairman Mao as a bloodthirsty monster and a bloody mass murderer instead of that, it focused on details of Chairman Mao¿s personality, psychology and his courtyard operation. Owing to Dr. Zhisui Li¿s position, it made him as so called: inside man. He could know a lot of Chairman Mao¿s important information that an outsider could not know. Even Chairman Mao¿s former public health minister told Dr. Li to come see him anytime if Dr. Li wanted to tell him about any of Chairman Mao¿s activities. In the same way, Chairman Mao¿s former chief commanding officer of guards also was available to Dr. Li with no appointment. The deepest impression for me about Dr. Li¿s book is the Chairman Mao¿s courtyard and his retainers. Chairman Mao¿s medical doctor, chief commanding officer of guards and secretaries comprised his retainers. They were called ¿Group One¿. Chairman Mao¿s retainers formed a powerful and vicious retainer circle. Their power was even above party officials. The party officials were not servants of people. Instead they were servants of Chairman Mao. They cared for Chairman Mao¿s retainers a lot of more than they cared for people. The gossip of those retainers could cause party officials a serious trouble. People were powerless and ignored. The party officials entertained Chairman Mao¿s retainers with the best Chinese whiskey and the best Chinese cuisine while the Chinese commoners had a little of meat to eat. During the starvation period of the Great Famine, Chairman Mao even stopped eating meat. But his retainers flaunted the banner of
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is difficult to review this book not because of the quality of its research or its writing style, both of which are of the highest caliber, but because of the substance. Chang and Halliday set out to place Mao with Hitler and Stalin and succeed all too well. The stories of scheming, torture, murder, disloyalty, sadism and brutality are almost too much to take. Yet the research is top-notch, the sources too good to deny, the brutality confirmed by far too many. Over the bodies of 70 million Chinese looms this evil specter, all too well detailed herein. May he rot in hell.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Magnificent work of research and expose.
sandysage on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Definitely biased and not written as a "normal" history/biography. But, incredible research and an outstanding writing style definitely make it a good read. I would recommend reading Wild Swans before or at the same time you read this book to understand the personal hatred that drips with every word.
robertg69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well written, even glib, this bio shows all of Ms. Chang's deep hate for Mao most probably based on the extreme pain, even death, suffered by her parents during the Cultural Revolution, which most agree was unleashed by Mao.
mkp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At first, I was put off by the heavily polemical style and constant sneers at Mao. But I pushed on, and I'm glad that I did. Read the book, not as academic history or as a scientific investigation, but more as a bill of indictment. Chang and Halliday spent ten years digging up an extraordinary wealth of material, and I doubt anyone will ever match what they have done. They had access to Russian archival material and various aging eye-witnesses in China that have not been available to previous historians. Of course, it's possible that the authors' attitude to their subject impaired their ability to work, but I think that the sweep of their narrative, combined with the details that they have uncovered, make the whole work compelling. Adding up the plusses and minuses, I would still give it a strong recommendation. I read Jonathon Spence's book on Modern Chinese History, which I liked very much. His NYRB review was guardedly critical, mostly because of their attitude, but he didn't seem to criticise specific elements in terms of their veracity.
mhaley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mao: The Untold Story is simply a remarkable work. Authoritative to say the least. If this was a work of fiction, it would be unbelieveable. Meticulously researched, and full of first hand accounts from Mao's inner circle. Mao Tse Tung was the most evil of all the man in the history of the world, with 70 Million deaths attributed by Mao, and that's in peacetime. If you like this book, try Stalin by Robert Service (no, not the poet, this is another writer)
GlennBell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book is well written by experts. The information presented is detailed and authoratitive. From this book one can obtain a great deal of historical knowledge and a better understanding of how and why events took place during Mao's life. I must say that after reading a biography on Hitler that comparatively Mao is more cruel and distasteful than Hilter. Mao is responsible for the death, starvation, torture, and poor living conditions of more people than Hitler. It appears that Mao had one strong motive in life; to benefit himself. Furthermore, the book provides an education on the real interworking of communism, which is rather appauling. Mao's brand of communism assumed complete control of the population by cruelty and deceit.
dbeveridge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating biography and history of a man who was largely caricature to me. While I knew he was a "bad guy" I had no idea that he joins Hitler and Stalin as 20th century monsters. Must reading if you want to understand global politics of the century, or the social and psychological background of Chinese people. It reminds one that what's happening in North Korea today is not abstract news, but a living horror.
Eagleduck86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Forget everything you learned in school about Chairman Mao! This book corrects countless misconceptions and reveals the unvarnished truth about one of the most evil leaders in world history.
YossarianXeno on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Clearly and lucidly written, this account of Mao is a significant advance in the West's understanding of 20th Century China. According to the book, Mao's policies led to the death of 70 million Chinese after the civil war had ended in 1949. Determined to use food exports to gain international leverage, Mao kept the population so short of food that millions died. He had no compunction about torture and execution; he even set targets for state sponsored murder. The extraordinary thing is how his control over China meant that very little of these facts emerged during his lifetime. Mao's amoral nature shines through this history. He really doesn't seem to care about the deaths he has caused; indeed, he thinks they are unimportant compared to turning himself into the world's leader. His colleagues are all pawns in his quest for power and determination to keep it, regularly at risk of denunciation, torture or murder. He treats his family, his wives and his children appallingly. The Mao in this book has no redeeming features, which seems odd; no matter how bad they are, most people have some kind of attractive characteristic. No doubt because of that, some reviewers have complained it has an anti-Mao bias; but the authors are careful to analyse their subject through recitation of facts rather than rhetoric. It is the facts than condemn Mao as a cynical, self absorbed and selfish, mass-murdering psychopath. For anyone with an interest in China or twentieth century history this is worth reading. It isn't, though well written, an easy read, because of both the subject matter and as it is so densely packed with information.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Authors of this book certainly put a large amount of effort into researching this subject, and there is certainly a small amount of bias  in the book. Some of the things that they claim within the book seem to add a demonizing affect to Mao, not that he wasn’t a mini-Stalin to begin with. Overall it’s a good book, but it can be a little lacking at times. This book highlights the ups and downs of Mao’s life, with the good, the bad, and the morally grey all mixed together in a palatable way. This would be one of the reasons why I like it as much as I do, but the book also prematurely draws conclusions without fully checking out their resources which is a downer on such a well researched book as this one, if you had to pick something to use as  resource for a  school project I would say to use this book to give you topics to look into further.
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Ruthless, cunning and wiley. This is a man you can trust - to lead you through hardship, suffering and death. It seems that all that was left of "China" is a piteous skeleton. Fascinating nonetheless.
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