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Mao: The Unknown Story Hardcover – October 18, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (October 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679422714
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679422716
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (415 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In the epilogue to her biography of Mao Tse-tung, Jung Chang and her husband and cowriter Jon Halliday lament that, "Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital." For Chang, author of Wild Swans, this fact is an affront, not just to history, but to decency. Mao: The Unknown Story does not contain a formal dedication, but it is clear that Chang is writing to honor the millions of Chinese who fell victim to Mao's drive for absolute power in his 50-plus-year struggle to dominate China and the 20th-century political landscape. From the outset, Chang and Halliday are determined to shatter the "myth" of Mao, and they succeed with the force, not just of moral outrage, but of facts. The result is a book, more indictment than portrait, that paints Mao as a brutal totalitarian, a thug, who unleashed Stalin-like purges of millions with relish and without compunction, all for his personal gain. Through the authors' unrelenting lens even his would-be heroism as the leader of the Long March and father of modern China is exposed as reckless opportunism, subjecting his charges to months of unnecessary hardship in order to maintain the upper hand over his rival, Chang Kuo-tao, an experienced military commander.

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

10 Second Interview: A Few Words with Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

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.

Breakdown of a BIG Book: 5 Things You'll Learn from Mao: The Unknown Story

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

Jung Chang, author of the award-winning Wild Swans, grew up during the Cultural Revolution; Halliday is a research fellow at King's College, University of London. They join forces in this sweeping but flawed biography, which aims to uncover Mao's further cruelties (beyond those commonly known) by debunking claims made by the Communist Party in his service. For example, the authors argue that, far from Mao's humble peasant background shaping his sympathies for the downtrodden, he actually ruthlessly exploited the peasants' resources when he was based in regions such as Yenan, and cared about peasants only when it suited his political agenda. And far from having founded the Chinese Communist Party, the authors argue, Mao was merely at the right place at the right time. Importantly, the book argues that in most instances Mao was able to hold on to power thanks to his adroitness in appealing to and manipulating powerful allies and foes, such as Stalin and later Nixon; furthermore, almost every aspect of his career was motivated by a preternatural thirst for personal power, rather than political vision. Some of the book's claims rely on interviews and on primary material (such as the anguished letters Mao's second wife wrote after he abandoned her), though the book's use of sources is sometimes incompletely documented and at times heavy-handed (for example, using a school essay the young Mao wrote to show his lifelong ruthlessness). Illus., maps. (Oct. 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

This is an easy book to read and once it gets going, really grabs ones attention.
David M. Beall
As a published author with a doctorate in modern Chinese history, I strongly recommend Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.
Eugene W. Levich
The fact that the authors demonstrate a prejudice in presenting their evidence makes it, moreover, a badly argued book.
Niels von Deuten

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4,892 of 5,127 people found the following review helpful By Prof, USA on January 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Jung Chang's young intellect was formed in an environment where totalitarian propaganda substituted for reason and evidence. After she came west, she was unable to make the adjustment. She still thinks and argues the same way. Her ram-it-down-your-throat approach, strained interpretations, and outright distortion of sources make it look as if she does not trust the reader to make up his or her own mind. She should stick to reminiscences, at which she is adept, and leave history to competent historians. There are much better arguments against Mao than this. Philip Short, in just one example, makes an equally scathing case against Mao, but uses reason and an honest appraisal of sources. It is a compelling case. Chang's totalitarian mode of argument is so silly that it actually undermines the case against Mao by making it the subject of mockery. She thus gives comfort to the Maoists. Nobody except fanatics can take this book seriously, and the case against Mao should be taken seriously. As for Halliday, he should know better. "What does it profit a man...?"
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730 of 760 people found the following review helpful By Sergey Radchenko on July 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
As many reviewers here have said, the book is a sea of controversy, challenging a number of important generally-accepted arguments about Mao and his rule.

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.
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4,439 of 4,652 people found the following review helpful By Don A. Mele on November 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
All history is biased because we observe objective facts through subjective prisms, and because history's real value is interpretation, which is by its nature personal. However, some histories are more biased than others. This one doesn't even attempt to be fair. Its judgments are so extreme that they undermine the reliability of a massive, indeed impressive, body of research. Unreliability makes for poor history. What a waste of so much energy, labor, and potential! Yes, we all know that Mao was evil and the biggest mass murderer in history, surpassing even Stalin and Hitler. We also know that Mao would still have been a disgusting human being even had his politics been admirable, and none of us would have liked to have him home for dinner. Certainly not I. There is no need to excuse or romanticize anything about Mao. He was bad. But his successes were stunning and world-shaking, not only uniting China but freeing it from foreign control, creating the industrial base that allowed the economy to flourish under a less bandit-like regime, and making China a world power to be reckoned with. We are still dealing with the consequences. Does the end justify the means? Of course not. But there should be room in the authors' model to consider political brilliance or anything else positive. They see just will, luck, cunning and ruthlessness. And they see everybody else as just gullible, even Chou En Lai. Can it be so simple? The book goes further. It attributes all evil anywhere in Asia like the Korean and Vietnam Wars solely to Mao. Wow! That's a lot of power! I didn't realize he was omnipotent. (Doesn't the looney left make the same assumptions about the CIA?) There is no subtlety in this investigation, and no sense that either human beings or historical causes can in any way be complex.Read more ›
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1,216 of 1,270 people found the following review helpful By Andrew C. Mertha on May 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I teach Chinese politics at the college level. I assign Jung Chang's excellent autobiography, Wild Swans, to my class. My students love it, and with good reason. It captures the ever-changing complexities of China in the 20th century as few books can. Therefore, I was eagerly anticipating the publication of Mao: The Untold Story. However, not only have I been disappointed, I am appalled! Books like this serve to dumb down the next generation of people with a casual interest in China and Mao.

First, the book is written in a style that approximates a book-length version of a Red Guard poster. Every sentence is a polemic. Each paragraph is sure to remind the reader (in case he or she forgot what was written in the previous paragraph) of just how evil and horrible Mao was. Indeed, the thesis of the books is that Mao was so horrible, that he had absolutely no redeeming qualities. Now, no serious China scholar would disagree with the statement that Mao was an unlovable person and an increasingly poor ruler after 1958. In this, the book does not tell us much new (and as the book gets closer to the last decade of Mao's life it becomes somewhat less egregiously inaccurate). But denying Mao his place in history by arguing that he was simply a scheming manipulator whose monstrousness was matched only by his incompetence makes no sense. The Chinese had many potential leaders to choose from after May 4th 1919, and the history of the CCP is full of intrigue. Anybody who rose to the top must have been ruthless and manipulative. But they must also have been extraordinarily competent, if only to survive. If Mao was the imbecile that Chang and Halliday make him out to be, this could simply not have occurred.
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