“Ever since the spectacular success of Chang’s Wild Swans we have waited impatiently for her to complete with her husband this monumental study of China’s most notorious modern leader. The expectation has been that she would rewrite modern Chinese history. The wait has been worthwhile and the expectation justified. This is a bombshell of a book.”
–Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, in The Times (London)
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–this is the most authoritative life of Mao ever written. 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.
Combining meticulous research with the story-telling style of Wild Swans, this biography offers a harrowing portrait of Mao’s ruthless accumulation of power through the exercise of terror: his first victims were the peasants, then the intellectuals and, finally, the inner circle of his own advisors. The reader enters the shadowy chambers of Mao’s court and eavesdrops on the drama in its hidden recesses. Mao’s character and the enormity of his behavior toward his wives, mistresses and children are unveiled for the first time.
This is an entirely fresh look at Mao in both content and approach. It will astonish historians and the general reader alike.
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In the epilogue to her biography of Mao Tse-tung, Jung Chang and her husband and cowriter Jon Halliday lament that, "Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital." For Chang, author of Wild Swans, this fact is an affront, not just to history, but to decency. Mao: The Unknown Story does not contain a formal dedication, but it is clear that Chang is writing to honor the millions of Chinese who fell victim to Mao's drive for absolute power in his 50-plus-year struggle to dominate China and the 20th-century political landscape. From the outset, Chang and Halliday are determined to shatter the "myth" of Mao, and they succeed with the force, not just of moral outrage, but of facts. The result is a book, more indictment than portrait, that paints Mao as a brutal totalitarian, a thug, who unleashed Stalin-like purges of millions with relish and without compunction, all for his personal gain. Through the authors' unrelenting lens even his would-be heroism as the leader of the Long March and father of modern China is exposed as reckless opportunism, subjecting his charges to months of unnecessary hardship in order to maintain the upper hand over his rival, Chang Kuo-tao, an experienced military commander.
Using exhaustive research in archives all over the world, Chang and Halliday recast Mao's ascent to power and subsequent grip on China in the context of global events. Sino-Soviet relations, the strengths and weakness of Chiang Kai-shek, the Japanese invasion of China, World War II, the Korean War, the disastrous Great Leap Forward, the vicious Cultural Revolution, the Vietnam War, Nixon's visit, and the constant, unending purges all, understandably, provide the backdrop for Mao's unscrupulous but invincible political maneuverings and betrayals. No one escaped unharmed. Rivals, families, peasants, city dwellers, soldiers, and lifelong allies such as Chou En-lai were all sacrificed to Mao's ambition and paranoia. Appropriately, the authors' consciences are appalled. Their biggest fear is that Mao will escape the global condemnation and infamy he deserves. Their astonishing book will go a long way to ensure that the pendulum of history will adjust itself accordingly. --Silvana Tropea
1. Mao became a Communist at the age of 27 for purely pragmatic reasons: a job and income from the Russians.
2. Far from organizing the Long March in 1934, Mao was nearly left behind by his colleagues who could not stand him and had tried to oust him several times. The aim of the March was to link up with Russia to get arms. The Reds survived the March because Chiang Kai-shek let them, in a secret horse-trade for his son and heir, whom Stalin was holding hostage in Russia.
3. Mao grew opium on a large scale.
4. After he conquered China, Mao's over-riding goal was to become a superpower and dominate the world: "Control the Earth," as he put it.
5. Mao caused the greatest famine in history by exporting food to Russia to buy nuclear and arms industries: 38 million people were starved and slave-driven to death in 1958-61. Mao knew exactly what was happening, saying: "half of China may well have to die."
Jung Chang was born in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. She was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen and then worked as a peasant, a “barefoot doctor,” a steelworker, and an electrician before becoming an English-language student and, later, an assistant lecturer at Sichuan University. She left China for Britain in 1978 and was subsequently awarded a scholarship by York University, where she obtained a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1982, the first person from the People’s Republic of China to receive a doctorate from a British university. Her award-winning book, Wild Swans, was published in 1991.
Jon Halliday is a former Senior Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, University of London. He has written or edited eight previous books.
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