three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
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The Unknown Story

A-MaoStalin, Hitler, and now… Mao? In this new biography, Chang and Halliday argue that Mao Zedong (1893-1976), who ruled one-fourth of the world’s population by the tactics of terror after 1949, caused the deaths of 38 million Chinese during history’s largest famine in the years of the Great Leap Forward, There were more than 70 million deaths in total by the end of the Cultural Revolution. The authors’ indictment of Mao reveals a man driven more by dreams of power than ideology, one who exploited peasants to fit his agenda, embraced the Japanese occupation of China, served as a puppet of Stalin, and exacted a tremendous human price for industrialization. Mao demolishes the myths and "official" history propagated by the Chinese Communist Party to expose the brutal, calculating demagogue beneath.
Knopf. 814 pages. $35. ISBN: 0679422714

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"To dive into this hefty new biography of China’s ‘great Helmsman’ is to feel alternately shocked, angry, and, finally, just plain sick at heart. … There is much that is painful to read in this book, but perhaps the harshest chapters are those that deal with the starvation of the Chinese people in the 1950s." Marjorie Kehe

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Based on a decade of meticulous interviews and archival research, this magnificent biography methodically demolishes every pillar of Mao’s claim to sympathy or legitimacy. … My own feeling is that most of the facts and revelations seem pretty well backed up, but that ambiguities are not always adequately acknowledged." Nicholas D. Kristof

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"After finishing it, readers will cast a skeptical eye on the media’s sympathetic presentation of Mao in his later years, U.S. foreign policy and the current Chinese regime’s reverence for Mao. … Still, for anyone in search of a serious examination of Mao, his gruesome legacy and China, this astonishing book is a must-read." Deirdre Donahue

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Readers who are even slightly inclined toward the subject are likely to find the book, for all its weightiness, hard to put down. … [But] by the end of the reader’s efforts, the thrill and even titillation that comes from learning many dark truths about someone you thought was already familiar have gradually come to be dulled, perhaps for some even outweighed by a yearning for countervailing facts or alternative points of view." Howard W. French

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"By dismantling the Party’s claim to have fought the Japanese, Jung Chang and her British husband have tackled the CCP’s last remaining claims to any political legitimacy. Knock that, and you may knock them off their pedestal." Jasper Becker

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"There are few clues to childhood or adolescent ordeals (aside from having a father he disliked) that might have shaped his pathological psyche, no assessment of philosophers (like Nietzsche or Machiavelli, say) who might have influenced his philosophy, no analysis of the dictator’s mature writings that might shed light on his politics or values. … To make matters worse, they occasionally make gross generalizations that cannot be proved." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Chang, who was born in China in 1952 and left for Britain in 1978, recounted her family’s suffering under Mao in her award-winning Wild Swans (1991). With husband-historian Halliday, she has written a shocking, authoritative account of Mao’s life. The authors present evidence that refutes almost every aspect of the Chinese Communist Party’s account, from the claim that the Party fought the Japanese to Mao’s role in the Long March. Having gleaned indicting information from newly available Chinese and Soviet archives, they depict Mao as a bloodthirsty, ruthless egoist who committed crimes against humanity as serious as Hitler’s and Stalin’s. While critics acknowledged the authors’ contemptuous, one-sided depiction of Mao, few faulted it. Some tedious details, vague generalizations, and scarce imperial history and context for Mao’s rise frustrated some critics. But the book will destroy Mao’s reputation forever.

Also by the Author

Wild Swans Three Daughters of China | Jung Chang (1991): In this family portrait, Chang tells the stories of three generations of women during the 20th century—her grandmother, a warlord’s concubine with bound feet; her mother, denounced during the Cultural Revolution; and herself, a temporary Mao loyalist.