From Publishers Weekly
Given the hostile biographies and debunking histories that have recently appeared, it's safe to say that Mao's long honeymoon is over. In this exhaustive critique, MacFarquhar (director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard) and Schoenhals (lecturer on modern Chinese society at Sweden's Lund University) cover the terrifying Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, when Mao unleashed the Red Guards on his people. As the unceasing, pointless intrigues between Mao and his chief henchmen unfolded, the violence and denunciations, the staged humiliations and mass executions raged remorselessly out of control, and the country lurched into turmoil. Even today, no one knows the final death count of the Mao cult. In rural China alone, according to a conservative estimate, 36 million people were persecuted, of whom between 750,000 and 1.5 million were murdered, with roughly the same number permanently injured. In the end, the authors, ironically, take comfort from one of the chairman's favorite sayings: "Out of bad things can come good things." For out of that dreadful decade, the authors conclude, "has emerged a saner, more prosperous, and perhaps one day a democratic China." 57 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
MacFarquhar and Schoenhals successfully synthesize the many plotlines of the Cultural Revolution in a narrative that shuttles from the endless micro-maneuvers of the Party elite to the marauding teens of the Red Guard; and from the Revolution's macro-economic fallout to such bizarre manifestations as the cannibalizing of counter-revolutionaries in Guangxi. Carefully orchestrating the pandemonium and fuelling it with his "deliberate opaqueness" is the figure of Mao Zedong. Utterly unfazed by violence"China is such a populous nation, it is not as if we cannot do without a few people," he remarkedhe hoped the Revolution would perpetuate his legacy. But the arbitrary brutality of the regime insured the opposite. One weary subject recalled that when Mao died, in 1976, "the news filled me with such euphoria that for an instant I was numb."
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker