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

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9780060084646: Before Mao: The Untold Story of Li Lisan and the Creation of Communist China

Combining an exceptional love story with a gripping tale of incarceration in Stalin's gulag and later in Mao Tse-tung'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 and 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 skillfully 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 International. He was eventually allowed to return to China after having been elected, in absentia, to Mao's government.

When Mao and Khrushchev fell out of power after 1959, the Chinese Communist Party demanded that Li divorce his wife, Lisa. When the couple refused to do so, Lisa was only allowed to stay by becoming a Chinese citizen. Soon after, both would be victims of the Cultural Revolution. Lisa was taken from her husband shortly before he was again arrested, imprisoned, and tortured -- this time fatally. She spent eight years in solitary confinement.

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).

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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.

From Publishers Weekly:

A longtime journalist in Asia and editor-in-chief of the news service Agence France-Presse, Lescot has found a moving love story amid one of the most violent periods of human history. Li Lisan (18991967) was co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); caught in the tumult of China's civil war, dehumanized under the oppression of Stalin's Moscow, and despite years in prison in both the Soviet gulag and in China, Lisan somehow kept the devoted love of Elisabeth Kishkin, a Komsomol member he met as a young Communist in Russia. Centered on these unlucky lovers, Lescot's account neatly introduces readers to France's early Communists, whom Li met while studying there in the early 1920s; to Stalin's temper and its mortal consequences for those around him; and to the CCP's long struggle to turn Communist ideology into state policy. Lescot's vivid and engrossing account explains how Li, an unswerving patriot and Communist rumored in the popular presses to have been martyred at least three times fighting Communist enemies, eventually died during the Cultural Revolution at the hand of his own comrades. Though the book is in parts marked by distractingly hackneyed language (possibly a fault of the translation), nothing lessens the power of Li and Elisabeth's romance. Obstacles made insurmountable by the time of the Sino-Soviet split are made more stirring by the couple's small victories and brief reunions. By book's end, Lescot has turned a bleak history of mankind's cruelty into a passionate story of love's endurance.
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