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Mao's Last Revolution

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674027480
ISBN-10: 0674027485
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Editorial Reviews

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

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 remarked—he 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (March 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674027485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674027480
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A lot of experts say that there are four periods in modern times that helped shape present-day China: World War II, the Civil War & rise of the Chinese Communist Party, the Great Leap Forward & resulting famine, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. I'm not an expert, merely someone who's interested in History, but I tend to agree. This theory explains many things, including why true republicanism is coming so slowly to the People's Republic. But there is one further question everyone asks - How can something like the Cultural Revolution happen?

This book attempts to answer that broad question, as well as shows us how the Cultural Revolution is with China even today. The authors are experts in Chinese history and point out how the vision of one man - Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung as romanized in the older British system still used in Taiwan), founder and chairman of the CCP - almost destroyed his own creation through dithering, ruthless crackdowns, and borderline insanity.

This isn't an easy read by a longshot, but those who want to find out more about one of the most pivotal events in human history are well-served in reading it. The book dispells a lot of commonly-held views (such as Zhou Enlai (Chou En-Lai) being a moderating force on Mao) and gets the reader into the thick of it. Clearly demonstrated as well is, far from the clear-headed leader of Party propaganda, how indicisive Mao himself was in the direction of his Revolution (one example being the rise, fall, rise, fall, rise and ultimate redemption of Deng Xiaopeng (Teng Hsiao-Ping)). We see how politics apart from, but very connected to, Mao's vision of "continual revolution to route the rightist capitalist roaders" kept feeding the Revolution victims until it consumed those who created the CCP.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although Mao's portrait still hangs above the Tiananmen Gate, modern Chinese will acknowledge that the Cultural Revolution was a "mistake."

But what was the Cultural Revolution? With detailed scholarship from original sources MacFarquar and Schoenhals document that for much of the time none of the participants really knew what the Cultural Revolution was all about. The thesis here is that, seeing the fall of Krushchev in Moscow, the aging Mao found it very convenient to support leftist radicals who removed (and humiliated and abused) the ossified and aging Chines Communist Party (CCP)leadership. With the old guard turned out, Mao was less likely to be shot from behind. A secondary motivation was that Mao's sense of self was bound up in being a revolutionary and revolutionaries struggle! The end results were that the CCP lost credibility and the country willingly embraced Deng Xiao Ping's de facto move to capitalism as anything was going to be better than the last 10 years.

For a jointly-authored book, Mao's Last Revolution speaks with a coherent voice making it a most enjoyable read. And the mechanics of the book are excellent: There's a list of acronyms in the front and a glossary of people in the back plus nearly 200 pages of notes which are conveniently indexed back to the text page numbers. These features make an exhaustive piece of scholarship not entirely exhausting to read.

This book belongs in every university library and will be appreciated by non-academics who have a personal interest in China.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
First of all, this book is a very valuable source of information relating to the Cultural Revolution - its why's, how's and who's. Knowing next to nothing about this important part of Chinese history, I felt that I was getting a great education, at least regarding the government level of what happened.
Having said that, I would offer two caveats. The first is that if you're not familiar with the who's who of Chinese Communist leaders in the 1960s or 70s, or the history of the Great Leap Forward, I would suggest you keep your Wikipedia handy (I read this right after consuming "Mao's Great Famine," and I still occasionally had problems keeping up with who was who). A little bit of background knowledge will carry you a long way when reading this book, especially in the first few chapters of what is otherwise a fascinating read.
The second problem is with the Kindle version, which I purchased. In plain language, you're getting gypped. Typos are common (formatting problems?) and in one or two cases almost make the text incomprehensible. Worse, there isn't even an attempt to include historic photographs. It's laughable - you pay near the price for the new paperback, but when it comes to dozens of photos you have to make due with a caption of the non-included photo and the phrase "To view this image, refer to the print version of this title." What a joke. If I would have known of these deficiencies, I would have bought a used version of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an exhaustive and remarkably well-written narrative of the Cultural Revolution. It offers a kind of a panoramic view - from detailed discussion of power struggles in Mao's court to close-up glimpses at the lives of ordinary people in the revolutionary chaos. The book is excellently researched, bringing just about every possible scrap of evidence from the Chinese side, much of it hitherto unknown in the West.

On the downside, the authors are ambivalent in their conclusions. Indeed, there is no real conclusion, and no real analysis of what the Cultural Revolution really was. MacFarquhar's long-time thesis is resurrected here in the form of "if it was only a power struggle, it would be over by 1967", and the authors try to make sense of Mao's revolutionary visions, but to no avail, because in the final count all their evidence does point to a brutal power struggle. So the well-known argument about Mao's revolutionary concerns floats over the narrative but fails to make contact with it; there is some uneasy coexistence between what the authors evidently wanted to say and what they actually say.

Even so, who can blame them, the Cultural Revolution was a hell of a mess. It is a great book anyhow, and for all the unanswered questions, I would not hesitate to use it in my upper-level Chinese history classes.
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