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Mao: The Unknown Story Hardcover – October 18, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.
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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 (396 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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

725 of 753 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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526 of 545 people found the following review helpful By T. P. Ang on June 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I applaud the authors' efforts in producing a sweeping study of Mao and attempting to uncover many hitherto unknown aspects of his fascinating life. `Facts' surrounding the Long March, such as the famous Luding Bridge heroics, are exposed as being untrue. And claims about the engineered killings of more than 70 million Chinese and the often gruesome nature of their deaths take us to a whole new level of understanding about Mao's megalomania and inhumanity. These chilling revelations are all the more absorbing in an age where we're being made increasingly aware of state-engineered brutality both past and present. Reading this book (and accepting its claims wholesale) will revolutionise the way you think about Mao and such events as the Long March and the `Great Leap Forward'.

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.
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734 of 763 people found the following review helpful By Jake on June 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed the book in the sense that it provided an enormous amount of detail and precise anecdotes to back up it's thesis. It provided a well written and interesting account of Mao's rule. I read the book rather briskly as I found some of the detail to be ecessive or tedious. Much of the book was not comprised of things that were unheard about the story of Mao sofar as the invasion of by Japan etc.
What was original and rather interesting about the book was the connection made with Soviet Russia. The authors used the relatively recently released Soviet (92 i believe) archives to the best of their abilities and provided an interesting connection between Moscow's communism and Mao's. While I found the book to be longwinded at times it presents new information as well as old in an interesting and engaging manner. It is definetly not a quick read by any means but can definitely be worth it for those interested in the origins of Chinese communism and are willing to sift through 700 (ish) pages of matierial.
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313 of 322 people found the following review helpful By CJA VINE VOICE on April 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
"I look at his face and see Stalin", Krushchev says about Mao. That, in a nutshell, is the theme of this extremely well documented and persuasive book. There are three great bad men of the 20th Century: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. The authors believe there is not a dime's worth of difference between any of them and embark, with admirable singleness of purpose, to deconstruct the brilliant work done by Mao to mythologize himself.

By digging into newly available archives and by interviewing a great number of witnesses, the authors contend that Mao was a completely unprincipled megalomaniac. The only thing that explains his behavior is building his own power. There is no ideology. And the authors take delight in showing the completely barren, if not evil, landscape of his personal life.

The book is important for demystifying Mao. But it is more polemic than history. What's not explained is how Mao succeeded in gaining and wielding power. If the authors are to be believed, someone would have squashed this loathsome bug a generation ago. Hitler had his personal magnetism and speechmaking. Stalin was brilliant with the bureaucracy. Mao had neither. And the authors hate their subject so much that they refuse to acknowlege any redeeming virtues that would explain what must have been some appeal that allowed him to amass so much power.

But there are some hints here: it does appear that Mao had an uncanny ability to spot the weaknesses in his subordinates and to manipulate them for his own ends. The authors are especially good in analyzing Mao's curious relationship with and manipulation of Chou En Lai.
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