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The Private Life of Chairman Mao Paperback – April 2, 1996

4.4 out of 5 stars 147 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Li is Mao's Boswell" --This text refers to the Digital edition.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Chinese --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (April 2, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679764437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679764434
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (147 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book opens with one of the most hilarious opening chapters of a book that I have read. Mao has just died and in what had become a tradition for Communist regimes his body had to be preserved to be kept on display. The problem was that on one knew how to preserve bodies. Calls were made to Lenin's Tomb and to the display in which Ho chi Min was kept all to no avail. It appeared that Lenin's mummification had not worked well as his nose had fallen off. A substitute nose had to be put in place. The feedback was to ring America as they were good at that sort of thing. A call to America suggested filling the blood stream with formaldehyde. There was a debate about how much to put in and it was decided to put in double the advised amount to make sure there were no mistakes. Mao after all was important and heads would roll (literally) if his body started to decompose. Huge amounts of formaldehyde were pumped into the body. Unfortunately it started to look like the Michelen Man. The assembled doctors realised that they had to do something so that they decided to massage the body to pump out the excess. The only problem was that during the massage process part of Mao's face broke of. This had to be hurriedly repaired using wax. A General came in to look at the body and looking at the face wanted to start a murder investigation.
The other chapters can't keep pace with this frantic opening but it is a batman's biography of one of China's most important leaders. The author was his doctor for most of his later years and gives an account not just of the politics of Mao but of every aspect of his life.
The author's role was to keep Mao alive and to fend of disease. This was not easy. Mao for instance refused to clean his teeth. As a result his teeth were covered in a sort of green coating.
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Format: Paperback
The book is highly readable, and is crammed with enough facts to make it believable. I understand that some people have challenged Dr. Li's claim to have been as close to Mao as he indicates in the book. One must either read the book and accept his claim, or deny it entirely. There is no middle ground.
The book presents a picture of Chairman Mao Zedung and of China very different than one would remember from living through the era. Perhaps most interesting (did our government intelligence services have any idea of this?) is the degree to which Mao seemed to admire the United States, while all the time doing everything he could to antagonize it. But this was typical of the man Dr. Li paints, a man full of contradictions.
One episode in the book (I won't spoil it) that is absolutely fascinating is Mao's reaction to three requests Krushchev made of Mao in 1958. Mao's reaction to Krushchev (defiance and rudeness) even so early on was not something I think we knew much about, and is interesting, indeed.
The book really tantalized me with one big unanswered question. Li portrays Mao as a virtual recluse, lolling around his various bedrooms, never having an office or any kind of work schedule. He seems to have successfully avoided any responsibility for government activity, and in fact spent most of his time in power back stabbing those he put into positions of government.
But Dr. Li leaves half the story untold: how did Mao manage to stay in power while being so reclusive? Dr. Li does not speculate about what Mao did when he wasn't with him, so he does not even address this question.
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As far as historical testimony goes, the confessions and remembrances of Mao's physician, Dr. Li, add immeasurably to our estimation of who precisely "The Great Helmsman" was. The saying, "no man is a hero to his valet," does not begin to describe the disdain with which an old school gentleman like Dr. Li felt in regards to the harem mastering Mao; a man who made use of whatever and whoever was put before him. The doctor's realistic view of Mao was in striking contrast to the one held by the masses. Unfortunately, the narrative starts after the revolution is finished so Li is not able to inform us as to the way in which power actually corrupted the Chairman. How much the negative attributes of his personality were on display before he became the supreme leader is not evident. The difficulty of Mao's personality and his sadism cannot be questioned, however. Life, and daily interaction with people, was simply a way in which Mao could fulfill his need to play with the fate of others. Dr. Li's portrait of Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, resonates strongly...and horrifically. She truly was a white boned demon. I cannot imagine how one could deal with so vile a person on a regular basis. The suffering which she put China through causes one to shudder. It's a wonder why Mao tolerated her behavior and actions. As for Dr. Li, he truly led a terrible existence which was consumed by fright, anxiety, and having to deal with minds so irrational it is astonishing he was able to survive as long as he did. He was nothing but an indentured servant to Mao. The narrator could not do what he wanted, think what he wanted, or even spend much time with his family. His decision to return to China from Australia was personally disastrous, but this tome is a wonderful gift to man on the whole. We remain forever indebted to Dr. Li for his sacrifice and taking the time to record the nightmare which he experienced.
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