Using exhaustive research in archives all over the world, Chang and Halliday recast Mao's ascent to power and subsequent grip on China in the context of global events. Sino-Soviet relations, the strengths and weakness of Chiang Kai-shek, the Japanese invasion of China, World War II, the Korean War, the disastrous Great Leap Forward, the vicious Cultural Revolution, the Vietnam War, Nixon's visit, and the constant, unending purges all, understandably, provide the backdrop for Mao's unscrupulous but invincible political maneuverings and betrayals. No one escaped unharmed. Rivals, families, peasants, city dwellers, soldiers, and lifelong allies such as Chou En-lai were all sacrificed to Mao's ambition and paranoia. Appropriately, the authors' consciences are appalled. Their biggest fear is that Mao will escape the global condemnation and infamy he deserves. Their astonishing book will go a long way to ensure that the pendulum of history will adjust itself accordingly. --Silvana Tropea
Q: From idea to finished book, how long did Mao: The Unknown Story take to research and write?
A: Over a decade.
Q: What was your writing process like? How did you two collaborate on this project?
A: The research shook itself out by language. Jung did all the Chinese-language research, and Jon did the other languages, of which Russian was the most important, as Mao had a long-term intimate relationship with Stalin. After our research trips around the world, we would work in our separate studies in London. We would then rendezvous at lunch to exchange discoveries.
Q: Do you have any thoughts about how the book is, or will be received in China? Did that play a part in your writing of the book?
A: The book is banned in China, because the current Communist regime is fiercely perpetuating the myth of Mao. Today Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, and the regime declares itself to be Mao's heir. The government blocked the distribution of an issue of The Far Eastern Economic Review, and told the magazine's owners, Dow Jones, that this was because that issue contained a review of our book. The regime also tore the review of our book out of The Economist magazine that was going to (very restricted) newsstands. We are not surprised that the book is banned. The regime's attitude had no influence on how we wrote the book. We hope many copies will find their way into China.
Q: What is the one thing you hope readers get from your book?
A: Mao was responsible for the deaths of well over 70 million Chinese in peacetime, and he was bent on dominating the world. As China is today emerging as an economic and military power, the world can never regard it as a benign force unless Beijing rejects Mao and all his legacies. We hope our book will help push China in this direction by telling the truth about Mao.
1. Mao became a Communist at the age of 27 for purely pragmatic reasons: a job and income from the Russians.
2. Far from organizing the Long March in 1934, Mao was nearly left behind by his colleagues who could not stand him and had tried to oust him several times. The aim of the March was to link up with Russia to get arms. The Reds survived the March because Chiang Kai-shek let them, in a secret horse-trade for his son and heir, whom Stalin was holding hostage in Russia.
3. Mao grew opium on a large scale.
4. After he conquered China, Mao's over-riding goal was to become a superpower and dominate the world: "Control the Earth," as he put it.
5. Mao caused the greatest famine in history by exporting food to Russia to buy nuclear and arms industries: 38 million people were starved and slave-driven to death in 1958-61. Mao knew exactly what was happening, saying: "half of China may well have to die."
From Publishers Weekly
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Some of the most prominent claims:
Mao's China was Stalin's creation; Mao had received money from the Soviet Union early in his career, and later served basically as Stalin's puppet (though a cunning one at that). Mao's rise to power would have been impossible without the Soviet backing after 1945.
Personally, I think the authors fail to come up with enough evidence to support this argument. On the whole the book seems to misrepresent the Soviet actions and motives. There is plenty of evidence in the materials, to which the authors had full access (Stalin-Mao correspondence, Mikoyan talks in 1949 etc) to at least raise serious questions about Stalin's real preferences in China; in fact, much evidence suggests that after 1945 Stalin was initially willing to trade in his special relationship with Mao for a broader agreement with the Guomindang. To this end, and probably not to confuse the "imperialists", he sponsored CCP-GMD peace talks, handed over territory to the GMD, agreed to suppress anti-GMD rebellion in Xinjiang and Altai, etc. The general tilt of Soviet foreign policy in 1945-46 - not only in China but elsewhere - points to Stalin's willingness to compromise with the West, rather than a propensity towards endless expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence.
A related question: the authors argue that the GMD collapse in the Civil War was a result of infiltration by communist spies and of Jiang Jieshi's kind-hearted treatment of the Soviet "moles" in his ranks.Read more ›
Yet the main problem with this book lies precisely in how far we can accept its claims. Most of the reviews here have already highlighted the book's many factual inconsistencies, exaggerations and generally speculative assertions. The book's sources, for one, have been criticised for being either unreliable or unverifiable. The emphasis on Mao has also obscured the role played by the Communist party in perpetrating the said atrocities.
No specialist of Chinese history myself, I nonetheless found the claims a little too sensational and the writing too overwrought in places. Mao the man comes across as an utterly self-absorbed, power-crazed, pitiless beast whose one-dimensionality seems too much like a caricature at times. As with other similar books I've read, the authors' profound emotional engagement with the subject (ten years of research, interviewing hundreds of eyewitnesses etc.) seems to have gotten in the way of sober analysis.Read more ›
Evidence: Everything bad Mao ever did
Conclusion: Mao bad, fire good!
A biography by someone who does not like Mao is far more refreshing than one by someone who drank the Kool-Aid.
Yet this book presents the thesis that Mao was after one thing - Personal Power. Neither Jung nor Halliday explain why this man gave up all his power in the KMT to lead a peasant revolution, if he only sought power.
If you think Mao was a great man who led a great revolution that did nothing but help the Chinese people - read this book.
If you wish to find an objective telling of Mao's life - read Philip Short's "Mao: A Life"
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wow, what a great book. I could not put it down. The proof of his economic policy is that China explodes in richness only after he dies.Published 14 days ago by David Wallace
I applaud Chang's audacity in bringing to light so many details that previously have been hidden from the eyes of previous biographers. Read morePublished 21 days ago by Benjamin Seeberger
This is the best biography of Mao I have read. A must read.Published 22 days ago by Samuel Kerr Thompson
Some reviewers have complained about the personal bias and bitter nature of some of the author's commentary. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Robert Salmon
This gives the reader a heads up on modern history. Well worth the read.Published 2 months ago by Judy
Excellent book, I've read many books of mordern Chinese History, this book is one of the good ones which has English versions, there are some unmannered Chinese who abuse the book... Read morePublished 2 months ago by xu
The authors strong bias comes out at times making it difficult to swallow some of her assertions. But overall informative.Published 2 months ago by A. Lopez-barton