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Mao: The Unknown Story Paperback – November 14, 2006
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The most authoritative life of the Chinese leader every written, Mao: The Unknown Story is based on a decade of research, and on interviews with many of Mao’s close circle in China who have never talked before — and with virtually everyone outside China who had significant dealings with him. It is full of startling revelations, exploding the myth of the Long March, and showing a completely unknown Mao: he was not driven by idealism or ideology; his intimate and intricate relationship with Stalin went back to the 1920s, ultimately bringing him to power; he welcomed Japanese occupation of much of China; and he schemed, poisoned, and blackmailed to get his way. After Mao conquered China in 1949, his secret goal was to dominate the world. In chasing this dream he caused the deaths of 38 million people in the greatest famine in history. In all, well over 70 million Chinese perished under Mao’s rule — in peacetime.
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“A magisterial work. . . . This magnificent biography methodically demolishes every pillar of Mao’s claim to sympathy or legitimacy. . . . A triumph.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Chilling. . . . Impressive. . . . An extremely compelling portrait of Mao that will still shock many.” –The Christian Science Monitor
“An important book in ways not envisaged. . . . A work of unanswerable authority.” –The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“The most complete and assiduously researched biography of its subject yet published. . . . No earlier work comes close to matching the density of detail here. . . . The authors have performed brilliant historical detective work.” –The Atlantic Monthly
"Chang and Halliday cast new and revealing light on nearly every episode in Mao's tumultuous life…a stupendous work and one hopes that it will be brought before the Chinese people, who still claim to venerate the man and who have yet to come to terms with their own history…"-Michael Yahuda, The Guardian
"Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have not, in the whole of their narrative, a good word to say about Mao. In a normal biography, such an unequivocal denunciation would be both suspect and tedious. But the clear scholarship, and careful notes, of The Unknown Story provoke another reaction. Mao Tse-Tung's evil, undoubted and well-documented, is unequalled throughout modern history."-Roy Hattersley, The Observer
"Ever since the spectacular success of Chang's Wild Swans we have waited impatiently for her to complete with her husband this monumental study of China's most notorious modern leader. The expectation has been that she would rewrite modern Chinese history. The wait has been worthwhile and the expectation justified. This is a bombshell of a book."-Chris Patten, last British governor of Hong Kong, in The Times
"A triumph. It is a mesmerising portrait of tyranny, degeneracy, mass murder and promiscuity, a barrage of revisionist bombshells, and a superb piece of research."
-Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Sunday Times
"Jung Chang and Jon Halliday enter a savage indictment drawing on a host of sources, including important Soviet ones, to blow away the miasma of deceit and ignorance which still shrouds Mao's life from many Western eyes...Jung Chang delivers a cry of anguish on behalf of all of those in her native land who, to this day, are still not free to speak of these things."-Max Hastings, The Sunday Telegraph
"Demonstrating the same pitilessness that they judge to be Mao's most formidable weapon, they unstitch the myths that sustained him in power for forty years and that continue to underpin China's regime…I suspect that when China comes to terms with its past this book will have played a role."-Nicolas Shakespeare, Telegraph
"The detail and documentation are awesome. The story that they tell, mesmerising in its horror, is the most powerful, compelling, and revealing political biography of modern times. Few books are destined to change history, but this one will." -George Walden, Daily Mail
"decisive biography…they have investigated every aspect of his personal life and career, peeling back the layers of lies, myths, and what we used to think of as facts…what Chang and Halliday have done is immense and surpasses, as a biography, everything that has gone before."-Jonathan Mirsky, The Independent, Saturday
"written with the same deft hand that enlivened Ms. Chang's 1991 memoir, 'Wild Swans'…"-The Economist
About the Author
Jung Chang is the best-selling author of Wild Swans, which The Asian Wall Street Journal called the most widely read book about China, and Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday), which was described by Time as “an atom bomb of a book.” Her books have been translated into more than forty languages and sold more than fifteen million copies outside mainland China, where they are both banned. She was born in China in 1952 and moved to Britain in 1978. She lives in London.
Jon Halliday is a former Senior Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, University of London. He has written or edited eight previous books.
- Publisher : Anchor (November 14, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 801 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0679746323
- ISBN-13 : 978-0679746324
- Item Weight : 2.57 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.13 x 1.68 x 9.17 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #50,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on March 14, 2022
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Although I have considerable experience with Amazon Reviews, I found the early Reviews (and negative comments and votes in the thousands) shocking. The book was appreciated by most readers; nevertheless it ended up unjustly with 3.6 stars out of 5 rating because of an unfair, orchestrated political campaign of vilification of which Mao himself would have been proud. This reminds me, frankly, of the Active Measures and Disinformation Department of the Soviet KGB, although of course this orchestration would be directed, not from Moscow, but from Beijing and bolstered by the remaining bastions of Marxism in Western academia. The brief Epilogue in Mao (page 631) reads: "Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. The current Communist regime declares itself to be Mao's heir and fiercely perpetuates the myth of Mao." The same can be said for the followers of Mao in the West, who have fiercely attacked the courageous authors for revealing that the Chinese idol of communism was indeed rotten at the core! My sincere congratulations to the authors, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, for this powerful exposé on Mao and The People's Republic of China.
Review per se: This superb, comprehensive and authoritative biography of Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) as well as a history of China in the 20th century has a very appropriate subtitle -- "The Unknown Story" -- because much of the information here is not well known and is not found in other books on Mao or China. As such, the authors, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, should be commended for their herculean task, vivid narration, and encyclopedic scholarship.
Among the many revelations, Mao -- The Unknown Story, depicts and documents Chairman Mao as the brutal monster he really was; how Mao desolated his own country, exterminated his own people -- party cadres and impoverished peasants, alike, even whole Red Army regiments. Mao committed in his blind rage whatever crimes were necessary to attain and preserve supreme political power. "democracy," "justice," "equality," " fraternity," "freedom" were just words to be used for propaganda purposes, not ideals to be pursued by Chinese communists!
Joseph Stalin (1879-1953), another paranoid-megalomaniac and monster, who committed untold atrocities -- e.g., purges, executions, mass starvation, deaths by fatigue in labor camps in the Gulag, rule by terror, etc. -- shared some characteristics with Mao, yet there were differences. Stalin, at least, had personal appeal as a Soviet vozdh, who could inspire leadership; in Stalin fear was mixed with awe and even admiration, as the vozdh ruled the Soviet Union with a dictatorial iron fist.
Stalin was noticed by Lenin, who recognized his usefulness, first as a bandit, who could obtain funds for the Party; later, as a hard-working administrator, a man who could help Lenin and the Party reach power and rule a communist Russia. Stalin worked hard for the Bolsheviks behind the scenes and gradually achieved supreme power because his abilities were underestimated. A comparison of Stalin with Mao is instructive in understanding the enigmatic personality of Mao in all his savagery. Unlike Stalin, Mao was lazy, insubordinate, and disliked by all who knew him. Yet, Mao seized power by duplicity, forced his subordinates to kowtow to him in abject submission; at times, he even defied Stalin and the Soviets who sustained him with money, arms, and assistance of all kind, and got away with it! Mao killed 70 million of his own people, turned the Red Bases in which he ruled into impoverished wastelands, but with subterfuge, propaganda, and American moles in the FDR administration eventually came to rule all of Mainland China for twenty-seven disastrous years. And during all those years in power Mao never took a bath and only rarely brush his teeth! And yet he was respected as a communist statesman and head of state of the most populous nation on earth.
Mao was hated and feared by all his followers, including the subservient Chou En-lai (1898-1976), ruling by absolute terror, without any principles of government, strategic foresight or judicious planning for the betterment of his country. Despite the mythic heroics of the Long March, the Chinese Civil War or the Sino-Japanese War, the fact is Mao never inspired his troops. Mao was lazy and used subterfuge and deceit to seize power from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and obtain the title of "Chairman" from Stalin. Power was not gained by Mao by merit or recognition from the Party at large, but by subterfuge, intimidation of, and threats to the individual members of his inner circle Politburo.
Mao ruled the Yenan Red Base for over a decade, before and during World War II. The province was devastated by mismanagement and plundering by the Red Army, turned into a wasteland under Mao's communist dictatorship. Independent thought and action were punished. All goods and implements of labor were seized from the peasants to force them into compliance. Opium was cultivated and sold with all profits going to Mao's communists while the people starved. Yenan's population was decimated, impoverishment became rampant, much worse than under the Nationalist rule of Chiang Kai-shek. Mao's Yenan Red Base was a government from hell, a prelude to what was to happen to the nation, once the Chairman seized control of all of China in the Mainland.
Mao sacrificed his family members for political ends. Wives, brothers, sons and daughters were left behind, deliberately abandoned to be shot by the Nationalists or die destitute in poor villages throughout China. Mao betrayed whole communist armies, when they happen to be led by military rivals. Red soldiers were led to their deaths, by irresponsible decisions or deliberately, to be decimated based only on Mao's maintenance of power and the elimination of competitors. The army of rival Chang Kuo-t'ao, the greatest and most successful army in the Long March (1934-35), was sent to the desolate northwest district to be deliberately betrayed and exterminated - thousands of soldiers buried alive, sacrificed by Mao for his own political ends, for Mao supreme power was always paramount in all decisions.
This book also describes in graphic detail how China was delivered to Mao Tse-tung with active Soviet military assistance in Northern China, as well as the tacit consent of Britain and the U.S., misled by such moles as Owen Lattimore and Lauchlin Currie in the FDR administration. Little is know that Stalin attacked and occupied Outer Mongolia, seized portions and important posts in Manchuria, and expropriated the strategic Eastern China Railway. Mao received the help he needed; while Chiang Kai-shek was sidelined and betrayed.
The story of how Stalin helped Mao in the civil war that ensued immediately after Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945 has not been told before. The Russo-Mongolian Soviet army, 1.5 million strong, swept through and invaded all of Northern China across a 5,000 kilometer front, longer than the European front that stretched from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea. Stalin ordered this army to continue to advance for several weeks, helping Mao take control and giving him territories and large caches of arms left by the Japanese that would boost Mao in the ensuing Civil War against Chiang. The occupied territory in northern China, inner Mongolia and Manchuria, was larger than that occupied by the Soviets in Eastern Europe.
Moles in the FDR administration continued to act on the behalf of Mao and Stalin and against the United States, by slandering Chiang and exulting Mao. Mao was supposed to have fought the Japanese, while Chiang was not doing any fighting. The opposite was the truth. Except for one military campaign against the Japanese, fought in 1940 by the Red Army Commander Peng Dehuai (contravening Mao's orders not to engage the Japanese), the Red Army had done little against the Japanese, as Mao wanted to keep his army intact for his ultimate confrontation with Chiang. One of Mao's order to his Army was "retreat when the enemy advances," which they did in almost all occasions. Chiang's Nationalist Army, on the other hand, fought all the major engagements of World War II, while the Reds retreated to occupy territories left behind by the advancing Japanese. Chang and Halliday write: "In Burma, they [the Nationalists] put more Japanese out of action in one campaign than the entire Communist army had in eight years in the whole of China." (P.287) So how did Mao win China? You need to read this book.
And what happened to Mao's closest comrades-in-arms -- those whom he had tamed, humiliated and terrorized for nearly half a century, from the founding of the CCP in 1927 to Mao's death in 1976?
Chou En-lai was the charming face Mao presented to the world for diplomatic and propaganda purposes. Chou was probably the most gifted and conscientious follower; yet, he continued to serve Mao as a virtual slave, fawning over the Chairman, always submissive, frequently made to recant his "past mistakes," When Chou developed bladder cancer in 1974, Mao refused to allow Chou to receive treatment ,so that Chou would proceed him in death. Chou continued to work even on his deathbed, trying unsuccessfully to moderate the Cultural Revolution, end the state of anarcho-tyranny, and keep the People's Republic of China (PRC) running.
Lin Piao (1907-1971) was the youngest of Mao's henchmen and participated in the Long March as a military commander. He was Mao's strong supporter throughout the Civil War and later headed the People's Liberation Army (PLA). He became Mao's designated successor during the Cultural Revolution, but then mysteriously disappeared. Only later did the world learn that he (and other members of his family) was implicated in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Chairman Mao. Lin, his wife, and son were killed in a plane crash in Manchuria while attempting mysteriously to escape to the USSR.
Liu Shao-ch'i (1898-1969) participated in the Long March, helped Mao rule and consolidate power in Yenan, and was appointed political commissar for the reconstituted New 4th Army. He was once designated successor to Mao as "Closest Comrade in Arms." After Mao's victory over Chiang Kai-shek and the establishment of Red China (PRC), Liu tried to exert a moderation in the radicalism of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1959), for which he later paid a heavy price. During the Cultural Revolution, Liu became a target. He and his family were imprisoned and tortured. He died a lingering and agonizing death in prison in 1969.
Jiang Qing (1914-1991), "Mme Mao," was Mao's fourth wife and companion. During the Cultural Revolution she was the head of the notorious "Gang of Four" deposed by Deng Xiaoping after Mao's death. At her trial, she retorted, "I was Chairman Mao's dog. Whoever Chairman Mao asked me to bite. I bit." She was imprisoned and committed suicide in 1991.
Chang Kuo-t'ao (1897-1979) was the commander of the largest and most successful army during the Long March, acting independent of Mao. Later, his army was destroyed by Mao's treachery (1936-1937). Chang renounced communism, escaped Yenan, and joined the Nationalist Army in the Civil War (1946-1949). He was fortunate to escape to Taiwan and died in Canada in 1979. The other military commanders, as we have seen and will see further, were not as fortunate as Chang.
Zhu De (1886-1976) was one of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), participating in the Nanchang Uprising of 1927 that formed the Red Army. Zhu and Mao led the Zhu-Mao Army in the south, and with the advent of the Long March, Zhu was one of the military commanded. Later, he headed the 8th Route Army with Peng Dehuai during the Sino-Japanese War. During the Civil War of 1946-1949, Zhu commanded the PLA. After the victory over Chiang and the Nationalists, and the formation of the PRC, like Peng Dehuai, he awarded a "Marshall of the People's Republic of China." But, Mao did not let bygones be bygones, and Zhu was later humiliated and disgraced during the Cultural Revolution because of "past mistakes."
Peng Dehuai (1898-1974) was another Long March participant, along with Chang Kuo-t'ao perhaps the best Red Army military commander. He re-energyzed the communist army during the Sino-Japanese war and commanded the "Hundred Regiments," the victorious campaign and the only major battle the communists fought against Japan (August-December, 1940). He was to pay later for that victorious campaign, an engagement that had not been authorized by Mao. He became a target and victim of the Cultural Revolution, as Mao had a long and unforgiving memory. Peng was dragged in the street and beaten to death by Maoist Red Guards in 1974.
In short, Mao' legacy is one of unadulterated brutality and repressive dictatorship with no respect for life, liberty or justice. It is no coincidence that Mao's greatest disciples were notable psychopaths: Pol Pot (1925-1998 ) who killed one million of his own people in Cambodia; and Abimael "Gonzalo" Guzman (1934- ), who exterminated thousands of the indigenous peasants of Peru leading the Maoist terrorist organization, Sendero Luminoso, the "Shining Path" guerillas.
Despite its size at 814 pages, the book reads in enthralling, novelistic fashion with fast-paced, flowing narrative. Truly this is a magnificent book worth reading. I agree with Simon Sebag Montefiore who praised this tome in The Sunday Times of London, as " A triumph that exposes its subject as probably the most disgusting of the bloody troika of 20th-century tyrant-messiahs, in terms of character, deeds -- and number of victims. This is the first intimate, political biography of the greatest monster of them all -- the Red Emperor of China." I can not recommend this tome higher for those interested in the history of revolutions and totalitarianism in the 20th century, in general, and communist China and Chairman Mao, in particular. Get this book and read it!
The reviewer Dr. Miguel Faria is a retired Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, medical historian, and an Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International (SNI). He is the author of Cuba in Revolution -- Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002), and numerous articles on political history, including "Stalin's Mysterious Death" (2011); "The Political Spectrum -- From the Extreme Right and Anarchism to the Extreme Left and Communism" (2011); etc., all posted at his website.
As for the subject itself (i.e., Mao), it soon became clear to me (at about page 217) that Mao was even more devious than Stalin - and that's saying something! Mao played Stalin like a violin. It also became clear to me that the "great" communist leaders (esp. Mao and Stalin) were never interested in helping "the masses" or the workers or the proletariat - they were merely manipulative sociopath serial killers who hijacked an ideology (Communism) for their own twisted motives.
As a final thought, the benefit of reading this book is that one comes to appreciate that Xi Jinping and Vlad Putin are merely the current ghosts of Mao and Stalin. As historian John Toland so accurately put it (to paraphrase): "People say that history repeats itself - which is not accurate. Human nature repeats itself."
Several books in recent years have revealed some details of the horrors of China's Modern Dark Age, the period under Mao, notably including Jung Chang's own book on the Cultural Revolution, Wild Swans. But nothing can quite prepare the reader for the story Chang and Halliday tell here.
Mao apparently lacked even the slightest impulse of conscience or ethics, and one comes away from this book thinking even the murderous tyrant Hitler had overtones of boy-scout values by comparison. Apart from the sheer toll of Mao's ruthless and often idiotic decisions - estimated at 70 million souls - there are individual stories here that simply leave one gasping.
Were even half of what is reported accurate, one must conclude Mao was a sadistic psychopath. He cared almost nothing for wives, lovers, children, colleagues, the people of China, or even the secular religious idealism of communism. He didn't care for most Chinese culture or history, although he was a man who spent a lot of time reading. He enjoyed watching private films of rivals being tortured or killed. He wasted vast amounts in a poor country on protecting himself and trying to gain super-power status.
Mao was utterly about Mao achieving control over the lives of others, and he valued anyone not a minute longer than he or she was useful to that end or until Mao's paranoid fear and jealousy over potential rivals were aroused.
The first part of this book is less well written and less gripping than the second part, starting at the end of World War II. Flaws, especially in the first part, include things like repetition of points, sometimes as many as three times; an annoying habit of highlighting a key phrases of a document in italics and yet adding the bracketed information that the emphasis is the author's; and some awkward phrasing. Also, this is not a complete biography of Mao, dealing as it does largely with his public life.
The authors are relentlessly negative about Mao, not a good approach to biography. Even so great a tyrant as Mao surely had achievements and qualities that should be included and analyzed.
Still, this is a valuable book. Because archival material on Mao's rule is still not available from China - after all, Mao's portrait graces every denomination of the national currency, the yuan, and his body lies pickled in his Beijing tomb the same way Lenin's does in Moscow - the authors were able to secure a huge wealth of material from Russian archives. A remarkable number of documents and copies of documents concerning Mao are preserved in Russia. The authors also interviewed figures who survived Mao's Terror.
The second portion of the book also gains force from specific stories of certain people who dealt much to their regret with the Great Helmsman. What a gruesome story it is when Chou En-lai (who is viewed here as a brilliant, ruthless, and murderous servant rather than a sensitive man trapped in a madhouse) is diagnosed early with cancer. Mao, who had to approve special medical treatment for high officials, refused permission for an operation. Only when it was too late did Mao relent. And this was Mao's treatment of an extraordinarily talented man who had given him years of exhausting, faithful service!
Another harrowing story is Mao's treatment of Liu Shao-ch'i and especially his remarkable wife, Wang Guangmei, one of the few authentic heroes in the book, who was selected for torture and imprisonment only because she and Liu Shao-ch'i were such a loving couple.
Mao's betrayal of Luo Ruiqing (known as Luo the Tall) is breathtaking. Luo served him slavishly, and Mao valued his unquestioning, prompt carrying out of idiotic orders. Yet when Mao was planning the Cultural Revolution (actually a cover for launching a huge purge and vengeance against figures like Liu Shao-ch'i), he badly needed Lin Biao's cooperation, and Lin hated Luo as a rival. So, after a brief reluctance, Mao threw Luo to the wolves to secure Lin's support.
A number of times, Mao saw to it that certain Red Army forces were slaughtered by Nationalists only because it served his interest in defeating a rival for power.
In an early missile test, Mao insisted that a then-undependable Chinese missile carrying a live atomic warhead be tested on a target across 800 kilometers of China containing many towns and villages. The test succeeded, but the same missile, minus the warhead, failed and crashed in subsequent tests.
The Great Leap Forward, which is widely known to have been a terrible failure, here takes on the added dimension of an entire nation being reduced to near-starvation in order to have something to export to the Russians in exchange for military technology. Other officials were reduced to tears on seeing the miserable hardships and death induced by the Great Leap, but no words even slightly moved Mao who cared not a whit that millions died slowly and miserably. Indeed, saying the least wrong word about the Great Leap was a sure ticket to expulsion, torture, and execution.
Go read a light comedy after you finish this book.
Top reviews from other countries
I have to admit that it sat in my history to-read pile for over a year, as I thought 650 pages (excluding notes, bibliography etc) on collectivised farms etc wouldn't be the most scintillating read ever.
I couldn't have been more wrong. I found it fascinating from start to finish, and ended up quoting to my wife examples of the terrible depths to which Mao stooped to grab and maintain power, consigning tens of millions of his countrymen to death and misery in the process, without a shred of compassion or regret on his part. (My wife seemed suitably shocked, incidentally, but may have just been humouring me!)
I have read hundreds of history books over the years, but - despite my expectations - this is one of my absolute favourites. Highly commended for it's style and it's readability.