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1 Local Warehouse Asia- China Mao Tse Tung

Mao: The Unknown Story

by and

Mao: The Unknown Story Cover

ISBN13: 9780679422716
ISBN10: 0679422714
Condition: Standard
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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 worlds 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. Maos 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, Maos 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 Maos 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-tan (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. Maos 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 mothers 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 tutors 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 Maos hopping from tutor to tutor was just one source of tension between father and son. Yi-chang paid for Maos 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 subjects 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 didnt want to lose their sons. This is their weakness. I attacked at their weak point, and I won!”

Money was the only weapon Maos father possessed. After Mao was expelled by tutor no. 4, in 1907, his father stopped paying his sons 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 fathers 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.

Maos 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 peasants life for many like him.

From the Hardcover edition.

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marklu, January 6, 2008 (view all comments by marklu)
The story in Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story is about the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. However, the story is Chinese folklore.

In Chinese modern history, there was a most important event. It was the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues were arrested. The event led to China discontinuing Chairman Mao’s policy. The new leader opened the door to Western countries and China eventually became a world manufacturer.

In Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story, the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976 was described as a Chinese army marshal and a Chinese army general who hatched up a plot to launch a Palace Coup to arrest Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues to end Chairman Mao’s policy. Their source was from Chinese folk publications. The source is not reliable and the story is not true.

There were three different stories about the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. The first one said that Chairman Mao’s successor launched the Palace Coup and arrested Mao’s wife and her three colleagues. This story was printed on all of party official’s books and newspapers. The second story was a Chinese folklore, namely a Chinese army marshal and a Chinese army general hatched a plot to launch the Palace Coup to arrest Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues. The third story, told by Dr. Li’s memoirs, The Private Life of Chairman Mao said the bane of the event was the long fighting in Chairman Mao’s retainer circle, and escalated to cross line fighting between the retainers and party officials. Especially, Chairman Mao’s wife was involved in the both the retainers conflicts and party officials conflicts, finally caused the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. After Dr. Li’s memoir was published, there were quite a number of memoirs written by eyewitnesses about the event. They proved that Dr. Li’s story was true and denied either of the official story or the folklore.

Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story adopted the second story, the Chinese folklore. It was not true for the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. Their adoption proved Dr. Andrew Nathan’s viewpoint, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story was not a serious scholar work, instead it was a “Chinese Da Vinci Code” research work.

For the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976, Dr. Li’s memoir’s description was the most authoritative and reliable. A Chinese dictum said one cold day could not create the ice sheet three feet deep. The Palace Coup happened on October 6, 1976, but it had been ignited long time ago. Dr. Li’s memoir provides us the full details.

In 1956, Chairman Mao’s secretary and Chairman Mao’s second commanding officer of guards, Lee were allies. Together they were beating down Chairman Mao’s first commanding officer of guards, Wong. They both slandered him to Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao’s wife slandered Wong too. They ignited Chairman Mao’s anger to Wong. Finally, Chairman Mao dismissed Wong from his post, and relegated Wong to a provincial officer. Wong was very angry and hated all of them, except Chairman Mao. He resented Chairman Mao’s wife actions at a crucial time. He told Dr. Li, he would take revenge on Mao’s wife. That was in 1956. 20 years later, he became the first plotter and executor of the Palace Coup. The new Chairman of the party and the old army marshal stayed as the second and the third characters in that event. Dr. Li unconsciously became Wong’s future ally. Chairman Mao’s wife kept a deep hatred within herself. 20 years later, the hatred erupted like a volcano eruption, and engulfed her and her three colleagues.

After Wong was dismissed, Chairman Mao’s second commanding officer of guards, Lee took Wong’s position as the sole commanding officer of Chairman Mao’s guards. He was very complacent. He competed with Chairman Mao’s secretary for supremacy of Chairman Mao’s courtyard and told Chairman Mao and his wife how bad Chairman Mao’s secretary was. He won those battles. Chairman Mao and his wife believed in Lee’s slanderous talk, and became discontented with Chairman Mao’s secretary. Chairman Mao’s wife told everybody, that Chairman Mao’s secretary did not work, but spent his time drinking, eating, and entertaining. Chairman Mao avoided seeing his secretary, and let Lee work for him. Chairman Mao’s secretary grumbled at Dr. Li. He said he had done a lot of duty work for Chairman Mao; but he did not appreciate it, and attempted to kick him out here. Under the rage of Chairman Mao, he told everybody that Chairman Mao was a womanizer. Eventually, Chairman Mao knew what he said about him, but Chairman Mao could not do anything to him.

Lee became the master of the Chairman Mao’s courtyard. Nobody could control him, and he did everything what he wanted. He even neglected his duties, and went shopping during his work hours. In Shanghai, Chairman Mao woke up and called Lee, but Lee wasn’t there. Chairman Mao became very angry, and yelled and swore at Lee loudly. At that moment, the Shanghai local party officer had come to pick up Chairman Mao for a meeting, and heard Chairman Mao’s yelling and swearing. He was surprised and shocked, and worried about Chairman Mao’s safety. He suggested that Chairman Mao call his old commanding officer of guards, Wong back to the position where he was dismissed. Chairman Mao agreed with him. In 1960, Wong came back to Chairman Mao’s courtyard and took back his old position. Chairman Mao’s wife was doomed by this move. 16 years later, Wong arrested her.

Wong’s first action after he came back to Chairman Mao’s courtyard was to rectify the corruption of “Group One”. The number one target was Lee, and the second target was Chairman Mao’s secretary. Wong convened meetings everyday to strike at Lee. In the meetings, everybody criticized Lee as corrupted, impudent in his duties, and acted badly as Chairman Mao’s secretary. Chairman Mao himself even taught the guards what to say to beat Lee and the secretary. As a result, Lee and Chairman Mao’s secretary were both dismissed from their positions. Wong controlled Chairman Mao’s courtyard. Wong dismissed all of the officers from important posts, and placed his trustees on those posts. It included the commanding officer of the central garrison. At that time, Chairman Mao’s wife still did not see any evil omen looming ahead.

After Chairman Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s wife was promoted to Chairman Mao’s spokeswoman. She became a very powerful party leader. Chairman Mao’s commanding officer of guards, Wong, gained a powerful party leader position at the same time.

At this moment, between Chairman Mao’s wife and Dr. Li, a conflict broke out. Chairman Mao’s wife accused Dr. Li as an Americans’ intelligence agent, and wanted to murder her. She asked the premier to issue an order to arrest Dr. Li. But the premier refused to do it. She asked the party second authority’s wife to do her a favor and find poisoned elements in her medicine, which she got from Dr. Li. The party second authority’s wife brought the medicine to a military institute laboratory to analysis the chemical elements. After she got the report, she brought the report to Chairman Mao’s wife. The report did not found any poisoned elements in the medicine.

Chairman Mao’s wife read the report. She became very angry and bawled out the party second authority’s wife. She said all of you are American intelligence agents. This conflict between Chairman Mao’s wife and Dr. Li led Dr. Li to become Wong’s ally. Dr. Li and Wong started to stick together to fight Chairman Mao’s wife. Wong told Dr. Li that he would arrest Chairman Mao’s wife. He tested Dr. Li’s attitude to Chairman Mao’s wife. Dr. Li told Wong to be very careful or he could get into trouble by his talk. Wong said that it was not necessary to be very careful. He asked Dr. Li if he would tell anybody what he had said to him. Dr. Li said, of course not.

Wong and Dr. Li were secret allies against Chairman Mao’s wife. Later, Wong placed Dr. Li to another important post, the commanding officer of the military hospital 305. To that day, Wong’s trustees were spread all over Chairman Mao’s courtyard. Actually, Chairman Mao’s wife was already monitored by the commanding officer of guards, Wong. Chairman Mao’s wife’s every move would be reported to Wong.

Finally, Chairman Mao’s wife’s ominous day was coming. Chairman Mao was dead. Chairman Mao’s commanding officer of guards, Wong asked Dr. Li to watch Chairman Mao’s wife closely, reporting all of her activities. Meanwhile, he colluded with Chairman Mao’s successor, the new Chairman of the party and the old army marshal to launch the palace coup. They requested Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues to attend a meeting. Chairman Mao’s commanding officer of guards, Wong ordered the guards and the central garrison to surround the conference hall and arrested them.

Dr. Li’s true story about the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976 is more lively and exciting than the Chinese folklore in Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story.

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henrywood81, November 27, 2007 (view all comments by henrywood81)
Chang and Halliday’s Mao, Unknown Story is good, but it is not good as The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Zhisui Li

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 celebrating Chairman Mao’s birthday, and required the local party officials to hold a grand dinner party for them. The dinner fulfilled the best Chinese cuisine, seafood, and the best Chinese whiskey, wine, beer. The party was in the name of celebrating Chairman Mao’s birthday, but Chairman Mao didn’t even attend. Dr. Li found it very hard to swallow that tasty food. However his colleague exhorted Dr. Li, saying that unless he wanted to leave “Group One”, he had better wallow in the mire with them. Some party officials even colluded with some of Mao’s retainers making a fraud deal in secret. The fraud deal deceived party treasurers by saying that Chairman Mao ate more than one thousand chickens in three, four days. Actually, the party officials took chickens for their own meals. Chairman Mao even had never known it until he was dead.

The factions in Chairman Mao’s retainers circle were stricken by each other fiercely. Opponents attempted to topple their counter part desperately. A vicious atmosphere permeated daily life. Nobody felt safe. Chairman Mao’s wife was frequently involved in the factions’ conflicts. In this vicious atmosphere, even Chairman Mao himself suspected somebody of crawling on his bedroom roof at midnight. He did not trust any of his retainers. He even suspected that the swimming pool in his palace was poisoned.

Dr. Li’s dream to be a great neural surgeon became a surviving nightmare. Although Dr. Li wanted to avoid touching this vicious politics, he could not stay out from it. For survival he was forced to stay with one faction. Later, the factions’ grappling escalated to a cross line battle between the retainer circle and party officials, and eventually led to a palace coup after Chairman Mao was dead. Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues were arrested. However, Dr. Li survived successfully.

I feel that Dr. Li portrayed the figure of Chairman Mao and his courtyard operation more close to the true Chinese history, what was really happened in China from 1949 to 1976. Compared to Dr. Li’s book, Chang and Halliday’s Mao, Unknown Story seems pale.

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Eric Langager, May 13, 2007 (view all comments by Eric Langager)
My first attraction to this book was the author, because I read "Wild Swans," which she wrote in the early nineties. This book she co-wrote with her husband, a professional editor. I believe he assisted her on "Wild Swans," too, but his role in the writing of this book seems to be more prominent. Not sure what that means, but the contribution is noticeable. This book is well written and very readable.

I can't remember when I have been so conflicted about a book I have read. And it seems I am not the only one. This book has been alternately praised and cursed since it arrived on the scene. Having read the book now, and worked through the frustration I have felt with the brazen assumptions and questionable documentation, I still have to say that I think it is worth reading. I say that because, although the book is seriously flawed, and certainly not as "new," or groundbreaking as it's title seems to claim, it does address questions in it's own flawed way, that demand to be answered.

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," and Jung Chung is nothing if not angry. Mao's policies deeply hurt her family, and she is determined to get even. This anger, more than any other factor, is the root of this book's inadequacies--inadequacies that overshadow every observation, every conjecture (and boy there are lots of them!), every interview. The bottom line is that this book is tough to evaluate, because it contains so much material that is of questionable origin, obviously designed to support conclusions that are sharply hampered by a poor knowledge of the actual history. According to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, they listed as an interviewee a close personal friend of his who told him that, in fact, she declined to be interviewed. In this sense, the book is aptly named. In ordinary parlance, a book of this kind would be called the "Untold Story." In choosing an unusual name like "The Unknown Story," the authors have, no doubt unwittingly, identified what is the primary weakness of this book. In other words, if the great body of stuff that is thought to be true about Mao were to be divided between that which can be clearly documented, and is known for sure to be true, and that which is largely conjecture or innuendo (gossip, in other words), this book would be the repository of the latter.

But I need to get back to the history problem. This book is not written by people who really know the history, and build the story of Mao into that contextual background. Rather, it is written by people who quite obviously knew very little of the basic historical context before they started writing the book, and built the history by looking for "facts" that supported the conclusions they had started with, and ignoring those which militated against those assumptions. An example might be helpful here:

Regarding the shelling of Quemoy (Jinmen Dao) and Matsu, Chang and Halliday refer to Quemoy at least twice as the "springboard" or "jumping off point to Taiwan." They conclude that Mao must have known he could never take Taiwan , so he must have had an ulterior motive for shelling Quemoy and Matsu, which was to manipulate the Russians into giving him the nuclear weapons he craved. But Chang and Halliday have the story exactly backwards. In fact, Quemoy was not a springboard for China to go to Taiwan; it was a springboard for Chiang Kai-shek to retake the mainland. How they could have missed this is a mystery. Even if we forgive them their complete ignorance of the history surrounding this event, simple geography should have set them straight. If you cannot travel to Xiamen (which, by the way, is a beautiful city), go to Google Earth and take a look at it from the air. Xiamen is mislabeled on the map (Google has it situated on Gulangyu), but Quemoy (Jinmen Dao) is labeled correctly, and has a very distinctive shape. It sits right in the middle of Xiamen Bay, and is not anywhere near Taiwan. Chang and Halliday's suggestion that this was a springboard for the Chinese to take Taiwan is absurd, and betrays a surprising lack of awareness of the known history. Here is the story they should have told:

In August of 1954, Chiang Kai-shek moved 58,000 troops to Jinmen Dao in preparation for retaking the mainland. He also moved 15,000 troops to Matsu (further to the north). China responded with a massive artillery bombardment of the islands. U.S. President Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons in defense of the Nationalist government on Taiwan, and Mao backed off. This is not to suggest that Mao was not interested in "liberating" Taiwan, but to refute the idea that His shelling of Quemoy and Matsu was completely without provocation, and must, therefore, have masked some other motive.

But there is a larger problem with Jung Chang's portrayal of Mao as the sole source of everything bad that happened to China. Generally, in my study of history, I try to operate from the basic rule that only God gets to be God, and only Satan gets to be Satan. To make anyone else God is to completely distort that person's actual contribution to history. To make anyone else Satan is to exonerate a whole host of guilty people. To a just man, clearing the guilty must be as onerous as punishing the innocent.

Look, Mao did a lot of really bad things. And it is right and proper to assign blame to him for what he did. But there were lots of injustices that were perpetrated against innocent people a long time before the Cultural Revolution. Watchman Nee (Ni To-sheng), for example, was arrested in '50 or '51. I use him as an example, because he is widely read among Christians in the West, and he spent the last 20 years of his life in prison because of his Christian faith. He is only one among many whose arrests had no connection to the Anti-rightist campaign or the Cultural Revolution. In other words, these human rights abuses were standard fare in the early days of "New China." To blame Mao for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution is appropriate, because whatever may be said about the "Gang of Four" (more on that later), Mao did start the Cultural Revolution, and nobody denies that. But to transfer over to Mao the blame that is due Jung Chang's parents and their cohorts in the vast, diabolical system that devastated so many lives before they got their own comeuppance? No. This we cannot allow. And what about Jung Chang herself? She was a Red Guard. Perhaps she would protest that she never personally tore down any temples. In all the narratives I have read by former Red Guards, they all describe themselves as having been on the fringe of the movement, almost as if they were unwilling participants. Jung Chang is no exception to this (read her book "Wild Swans"). But the fact remains that she voluntarily made herself part of the reckless rabble that destroyed this country. There were decent kids during those days who refused to be part of the nonsense. Jung Chang could have chosen to be one of them. Instead, she chose to follow the crowd. That was not Mao's decision.

Now to the gang of four. Chang and Halliday begin their chapter on Jiang Qing by saying that "she never originated policy, and she was always Mao's obedient servant." It's hard to read such nonsense without laughing. Jiang Qing was sensitive to how far she could push the envelope, and she certainly paid the obligatory homage to her husband, especially before the media. But she unquestionably had her own agenda, and pushed it with energy, much to Mao's consternation. He publicly rebuked her on several occasions. And she showed herself opposed to his agenda in key areas.

Jiang Qing hated Zhou En-lai. He knew this, of course, but was a master at maintaining an equilibrium that made him indispensable to Mao. Zhou was certainly not blind to Jiang Qing's ambition. Toward the end of the Cultural Revolution, he confided to Sirin Phathanothai, daughter of the Thai diplomat, "We have a dowager empress on our hands."

Jiang Qing also despised Deng Xiao-ping, and tried very hard to destroy him. She failed, because Mao needed Deng, and seemed, throughout the Cultural Revolution, to be determined to keep Deng available, but she certainly made life miserable for him, and was largely responsible for him being purged a second time.

Too be sure, there are those in China who go to the extreme of suggesting that Jiang Qing was the prime mover behind the Cultural Revolution. "It wasn't his fault," one of them told me, referring to Mao. No doubt Jiang Qing was a convenient scapegoat for those who could not come to terms with the fact that the father of their country attacked his own people. But if it is absurd to suggest that Jiang Qing was the architect of the Cultural Revolution, it is just as absurd to suggest that she was merely doing Mao's bidding.

Look, if you are in desperate need for someone to hate, you will love this book. It will give you plenty of excuse to blame all that has gone wrong with China over the last half-century on this one man. If you're a little creative, you might even be able to figure out how Mao is somehow to blame for whatever has gone wrong in your own life. But this kind of thinking does not do service to history. A history that whitewashes Mao's impact on the lives of millions of innocent people is nauseating. But a history that puts all the blame on Mao and lets everyone else off the hook is also less than worthy of high regard. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." And if it's not the truth, it won't set you free, no matter how good it makes you feel. And for all of his weaknesses, Mao, after all, was the one chosen by history to build China into an independent country free from domination by foreign powers. We may wonder at the wisdom of Providence, but we would all have to admit that no one before him was able to pull it off.

So what, then, is the value of this book? I believe it's primary attraction is that it is very personal. Sometimes we have to use imperfect sources in our attempt to get at the truth. I read the China Daily every day, because it gives useful insight into the people and places of China. But I am not blind to the fact that it is regulated by the government, so it is not my only source of information about this country.

Put yourself in the place of Jung Chang. You are so angry you can't see straight, but you feel there is a story that needs to be told. Should you recuse yourself because you can't possibly be objective, or should you go ahead and do your best. This book is a very personal, engaging story. It is heavily encumbered by the lack of objectivity with which it was written. But Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have employed archives from the old Soviet Union, the study of which needs to be expanded. This book is a step in that direction, and raises questions that need to be debated. Because of its highly personal nature and readable quality, it will probably be read much more by Chinese people than any other biography of Mao. So it will serve to raise questions which might not otherwise have been discussed. Perhaps it will even open the minds of the powers that be to the importance of openly discussing Mao's part in the history of this great country. When Mao stood on Tiananmen and said, "China has stood up!" he was expressing the exultation of the masses at being finally independent. Could any other leader have achieved this? If this book encourages attempts to answer that and other questions raised, it will be, for all its weaknesses, a contribution to the ongoing study.
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Product Details

The Unknown Story
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Chang, Jung
Halliday, Jon
Historical - General
Asia - China
Heads of state
Edition Number:
1st U.S. ed.
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
October 18, 2005
Grade Level:
9.32x6.62x1.80 in. 2.72 lbs.

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Asia » China » Mao Tse Tung
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » World History » China

Mao: The Unknown Story Used Hardcover
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Product details 832 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9780679422716 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Including previously unreleased details of Mao's relationship with Stalin, this astonishing look at the father of Communist China is engrossing as well as horrifying — truly an eye-opener.

"Staff Pick" by ,

Including previously unreleased details of Mao's relationship with Stalin, this astonishing look at the father of Communist China is engrossing as well as horrifying — truly an eye-opener.

"Review A Day" by , "Chang and Halliday are better than most in showing Mao's wizardly ability as a schemer and tactician....The most important of Chang and Halliday's new discoveries have to do with the sustained role of the Soviet Union in Mao's rise. Halliday reads Russian, and has made excellent use of the opening of Soviet archives after 1992. He and Chang assert that the idea of a Communist Party of China originated in Moscow in 1919 and detail the ways in which, beginning in 1921, the Comintern called the shots for Mao and other early Chinese Communists." (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
"Review A Day" by , "In contrast to [his] popular image, the Mao in Chang and Halliday's well-researched book is a brutal, power-hungry thug with no empathy for other human beings. John Lennon was right all along: 'If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow.'" (read the entire Powells.com review)
"Review" by , "A startling document, one that will surely occasion revision of the historical record."
"Review" by , "Chang and Halliday make devastating use of insider gossip, published scholarship, and archives to build a detailed story of a mad, lusting Mao with neither ideals nor scruples....A controversial, highly significant, and compellingly readable biography..."
"Review" by , "The copiously researched book...would have benefited from another year of editing and rewriting....Still, for anyone in search of a serious examination of Mao, his gruesome legacy and China, this astonishing book is a must-read."
"Review" by , "When it sticks to the new Chinese and Russian sources, the book shines, providing readers with the most detailed portrayal of the 'Great Helmsman' to date. But when it pretends to tell us what the chairman is thinking and feeling, the book veers toward magical realism."
"Review" by , "[A] remarkable reassessment of Mao....Jung Chang...and her historian husband, Jon Halliday, deserve credit for their single-minded devotion to telling the truth about Mao's tyranny."
"Review" by , "[T]his magnificent biography methodically demolishes every pillar of Mao's claim to sympathy or legitimacy....This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was responsible for more than 70 million deaths."
"Review" by , "[This] hefty if tendentious and one-dimensional book contains a plethora of valuable new information that helps flesh out the record of devastation left by this heinous tyrant....The authors also provide scant historical context for Mao's ascendance."
"Review" by , "In some places, Chung and Halliday go too far, effectively diluting the force of their argument...But the book's main flaw is excess. The authors seem so set on demolishing Mao's reputation that they overreach."
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , An Asia scholar (Halliday) joins the bestselling author of Wild Swans to deliver a gripping and groundbreaking biography of Mao Tse-tung. Photos & maps.
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