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Mao: The Unknown Story    by Jung Chang & Jon Halliday order for
by Jung Chang
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2005)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Be prepared for a hefty book (both in content and weight), one to read in many sittings. In their Acknowledgments the authors write: 'in the several hundred interviewees ... We regret that we have not been able to differentiate their contributions more distinctively ... We feel very sad that those in Mainland China cannot be named, and hope that this situation will change one day.' In their Epilogue they point out: 'TODAY, MAO'S PORTRAIT and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. The current Communist regime declares itself to be Mao's heir and fiercely perpetuates the myth of Mao.'

Chang and Halliday begin their story of 'China's most notorious modern leader', Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), with his birth in 1893 to a peasant family in the province of Hunan ('the heartland of China'). They recount Mao's life until his death in 1976 at the age of eighty-two, after failing health from 1974 on from Lou Gehrig's disease. Mao married his father's niece in 1908 at the age of fourteen (she died a year later. At age nineteen, Mao 'encountered communism for the first time'. In conversation, he said of his fellow Chinese, 'The nature of the people of the country is inertia ... They worship hypocrisy, are content to be slaves, and narrow-minded.' As a student of twenty-four, he wrote many commentaries on a book, A System of Ethics, by German philosopher Friedrich Paulsen. We are told that these expressed central elements in his own character, which remained consistent for the remaining six decades of his life. Among the myths about Mao is that he was a founding member of the Comintern (Communism International), which is not the case. But by age twenty-seven Mao had become a Communist.

Yang Kaihui (the daughter of a former teacher and a feminist) became his second wife. At this time, Moscow made efforts to 'foment subversion in China', including the secret training of a Chinese army in Siberia. In 1921, Mao accepted his first known payment from Moscow (equivalent to more than two years of a teaching salary). Mao depended on Moscow's money to score points in the Party. He gave up journalism, resigned a job as headmaster, and recruited his two brothers to work for the Party in Changsha as he watched for an opportunity in high-level politics. By the mid-1920's, Mao looked to the Nationalist Party for a position, having been overlooked by the CCP, whose top program was anti-imperialism. In Canton, Mao was given a post by the National chief, running the Propaganda Department, and as editor of the Nationalists' Politics Weekly. Mao embraced a lavish lifestyle. His later promotion to the Politburo was one of a series of steps that would see him at the top of the Communist ladder in four years time.

Jinzgang Mountain range became a base of operations, where he built an army, and established brutal control of the population. After the dissolution of his second marriage, Mao wed Guiyuan (He Zizhen) who had already established herself in the Communist Party, rejecting the traditional life expected of women. When he abandoned his second wife Kaihui, Mao also abandoned his three sons, as he did future children. They would be left behind (those who did not die at birth or shortly thereafter) with village women paid to care for them. Mao's final marriage was to Jiang Qing (Mme Mao), a notorious figure in her own right. As Mao rose to become Chairman, Ruijin was named the capital of the first Red state.

Later, the Cultural Revolution (The Great Purge) brought in thousands of brainwashed youth, who attacked educators. The Red Guard confiscated and destroyed books, while secretly some were given to Mao for his own library (he was an avid reader!) Each citizen was expected to carry a copy of Mao's Little Red Book (1.2 billion published), and read it time and time again. During Mao's Great Leap Forward, Chinese citizens were forced to provide bountiful harvests of food as payment to Russia and other allies for nuclear knowledge, weapons, etc., while going hungry themselves. In 1960, 22 million people died of hunger - the largest number in one year in any country in the history of the world. The book's photos and captions alone tell a horrendous story. Mao told his inner circle, 'We must control the earth.'

Jung Chang was born in Sichuan Province in 1952. She was a Red Guard briefly at age fourteen and worked as a peasant, a barefoot doctor, a steelworker, and an electrician before becoming assistant lecturer at Sichuan University. She left China for Britain in 1978 and was awarded a scholarship by York University, where she obtained a Ph.D. in linguistics. Her award-winning Wild Swans was published in 1991. Jon Halliday is a former Senior Visiting Research Fellow at King's College, University of London. Chang and Halliday tell us that 'Mao-Tse-tung who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world's population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader.' After reading this tome, I found my eyes had been opened wider, and then proceeded to read in a different venue to calm heart, mind, and soul.

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