An intimate portrait of Mao Zedong, one of the most formidable and elusive rulers in modern history. A leader in a long tradition of Chinese rulers who were able to wield extraordinary powers despite the inconsistencies of their policies, Mao's visions of social and economic change became hopelessly enmeshed with violence and fear. Through relentless energy and a ruthless self-confidence, Mao silenced criticism and immobilized millions of Chinese citizens who -- even when they wished to -- could find no way to halt his overpowering reign.Spence's depiction of Mao introduces the essential background that any reader needs to make sense of his life. Mao's relations with his family, friends, and confidential assistants, as well as his youthful writings, poems, letters, and drafts of speeches provide fascinating insight into the development of the man, and the sustaining power of his devastating rule.
From humble beginnings in rural Hunan, Mao Zedong became the "Great Helmsman" of Communist China. By the time he died in 1976, he had profoundly changed the course of history. His increasingly erratic whims and graspings at a wild utopia destabilized his immense achievements, and he was ultimately responsible for the deaths of perhaps 60 million people. Jonathan Spence brings great erudition to the story of this flawed colossus. He is particularly enlightening on Mao's early years--it is nearly two-thirds through the book before Mao stands on the walls of the Forbidden City in October 1949 and declares the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The young revolutionary's infamous willfulness is soon apparent, yet Spence rounds out his character by, for example, quoting a poem to his beloved first wife and mentioning the profit he made from an early capitalist venture, a bookstore. Mao Zedong is excellent biography--and more. China was convulsed for nearly a century by almost constant war and revolution, and Spence uses the life of the man at the heart of so many historic events to elucidate the whole momentous epoch. In his many writings, Spence has proved a master at making complex themes easy to understand, and this compact book provides yet another example of his skills. --John Stevenson
From the Publisher