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Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's Chinaby James. Palmer
Synopses & Reviews
When an earthquake of historic magnitude leveled the industrial city of Tangshan in the summer of 1976, killing more than a half-million people, China was already gripped by widespread social unrest. As Mao lay on his deathbed, the public mourned the death of popular premier Zhou Enlai. Anger toward the powerful Communist Party officials in the Gang of Four, which had tried to suppress grieving for Zhou, was already potent; when the government failed to respond swiftly to the Tangshan disaster, popular resistance to the Cultural Revolution reached a boiling point.
In Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes, acclaimed historian James Palmer tells the startling story of the most tumultuous year in modern Chinese history, when Mao perished, a city crumbled, and a new China was born.
"A devastating temblor is the least of the shocks in this vivid history of a pivotal year in China's journey from communism. Historian Palmer (The Bloody White Baron) pens a gripping narrative of the 1976 earthquake, which leveled the city of Tangshan and killed hundreds of thousands of people during 'the most concentrated instant of destruction humanity has ever known.' But the disaster is mainly a metaphorical image within Palmer's larger account of the stormy final decade of Mao's reign, centered on the Cultural Revolution and the power struggle after his death. It was a period of constant, bloody upheaval, with Mao a doddering lord of misrule plotting breakneck political betrayals and goading pubescent Red Guards into fits of hysterical violence against their elders. The denouement is a comic opera in which Mao's dragon lady widow, Jiang Qing, and her ultra-radical Gang of Four are ousted by a centrist coup. Palmer gives readers a lucid, canny portrait, filled with telling details, of a society tamped down by repression, regimentation, and drab poverty, but seething with antiauthoritarian rage. His is one of the most illuminating studies of this little understood period, and of the crucible from which modern China emerged. Photos." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
In 1976, an earthquake destroyed the Chinese city of Tangshan and killed half a million people. That same year, Chairman Mao Zedong and two of his top statesmen died, bringing the Cultural Revolution to an end and ushering in a new political and economic era. Palmer, winner of the Spectator's Shiva Naipaul Prize for travel writing, recounts the many changes in China that year, drawing on primary sources and interviews with survivors of the earthquake and its political aftermath. The book is written in a narrative style combining perspectives from political leaders and ordinary people. An explanation of the political tensions building in the 10 years before the earthquake provides background. The book is illustrated with b&w historical photos. Palmer works for the Chinese state media. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Author of the critically acclaimed The Bloody White Baron and a recipient of the Spectator’s Shiva Naipaul Prize for travel writing, James Palmer speaks Russian and Mandarin fluently and has worked with Daoist and Buddhist groups in China and Mongolia on environmental issues. He lives in Beijing.
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