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 ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I liked her other book, "Four Swans", so much and was disappointed that this one seemed more like a textbook.Published 16 days ago by Chicago Girl
Anybody with only a passing knowledge of modern China's history should read this harrowing account. The fact that Mao and his henchmen required sleeping pills to rest isn't in the... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Matt Mclellan
Mao is a good example of individual agency in determining history. It took Mao to a great civilization to its greatest depths for it rise to its current preeminence. Read morePublished 1 month ago by pbusharizi
The writing is great but the author's bias towards Mao seems to make it less reliable and interesting. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kamchai Rungsimunpaiboon
Not really written by Jung Chang. Too heavy a reading for bedtime.Published 2 months ago by Lye Soh Teng
Very entertaining book that is full of details. I sometimes found it hard to keep up with the names of people and places because the subject matter is so vast and the time period... Read morePublished 2 months ago by shafter_bare
I both love this book and hate it. It's a very hard book to read as she is so detailed about the events that lead to the death and torture of 70 million people. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Gayle Lai
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