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Ronald Jones "ronaldjones1955" (Croydon)

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The Long March
The Long March
by Ed Jocelyn
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, entertaining and important read, 24 Mar. 2007
This review is from: The Long March (Paperback)
It's been a long time since I enjoyed a book about China as much as this. My main criticism of The Long March is it's not long enough! I picked the book up a few months ago but I hadn't got around to reading it until last week. I sat down and read it all almost as quickly as I could and by the end, I was exhausted! But not nearly as exhausted as the authors themselves, who walked for more than a year along the original route of the long march - entirely on foot! Andy McEwen got so sick on the journey he had to go to hospital at one stage and his ongoing struggle mirrors the spirit of the original marchers.

What strikes me at the end of reading this now as I write this is not only the profound reflections which the authors offer about "the founding myth" of New China, but also the insightful collection of witty anecdotes about the state of contemporary rural China. I also enjoyed a brilliant deconstruction of some of the wild, outlandish claims made by Jung Chang and John Halliday in their recent Mao biography. I'd suggest anyone who is serious about China examine Jocelyn and McEwen's account of what was so wrong with that chapter of the Mao book.

Having also recently read the Long March by Sun Shuyun, I found there was a lot of inevitable common ground between the two works, but also some very important differences. Sun's account is occasionally touching and sometimes shocking. Like Jung Chang, she seems to feel betrayed by Mao and Communism. There seems to be a glut of these kinds of female Chinese authors. Overall I preferred this more objective, contemporary account. I especially liked the writing style, which contains a certain kind of British sense of humour. Their accounts of being arrested, for example, are very funny. But most important for me was some of their startling new findings, of which I had not heard before. Incredibly, along the route, Jocelyn and McEwen locate a woman who they say is the long lost daughter of Chairman Mao! They also claim to have measured the true distance of the long march more accurately than Mao himself. They seem to have got themselves into all kinds of trouble with this distance claim.

I would conclude by saying that this book is a real one-off. It's got new material that is essential reading for those who want to understand modern China and the importance and relevance of the long march. These gentlemen really helped me understand much more about the Chinese peasant and Chinese ethnic minorities. I only wish there were more books like this out there: a marvellous, refreshing history book. Jolly well done, chaps!

Daughter of China: The True Story of Forbidden Love in Modern China: A True Story of Love and Betrayal
Daughter of China: The True Story of Forbidden Love in Modern China: A True Story of Love and Betrayal
by Larry Engelmann
Edition: Paperback

10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beats Red China Blues, 5 Oct. 2006
There are so many more famous books on China by more famous authors with more famous scar stories from the Cultural Revolution or Tiananmen or the Chinese gulags that inevitably, this little book about a rather ordinary girl and her rather extraordinary life gets overlooked in the bookshelves.

Which seems a real pity for those who seek to learn something a bit deeper from an anti-Communist diatribe than "I believed in them and aw, shucks, they lied to me".

Perhaps the reason books as bitter as Wild Swans or as pedestrian as Red China Blues continue their print runs while this little book is now probably out of print has something to do with the massive messages that appeal to the western readers' simple prejudices and stereotypes about an exotic 'Red China'.

Much as I enjoyed Red China Blues, this was the book that actually taught me something new, that changed my ideas of China into something more complex and confusing than I had previously been served. The persistent, poetic anecdotes got inside my head and threw up deeper, more universal ideas than East Meets West. Let me offer two examples: the old man who cried wolf about the Communists at the very height of the Cultural Revolution and survived because nobody took him seriously. His neighbours all assumed he had senile dementia. And yet the reality was a society gone completely insane. Only the fool on the hill could see the world spinning round.

Or take the story of the water buffalo and the little village girl who rides his back on a warm summer day, shares secrets with him, chats, sings to him. One day, the buffalo gets too old and so, like so many other facts of countryside life, the terrified old animal is brutally slaughtered. Meihong sings to calm and comfort her old childhood friend even as he is cut to pieces, like a Chinese "Boxer" from Animal Farm.

Of course it's true this book is an incomplete, imperfect story. Perhaps it could be better edited like its more famous alternatives. For example, the central romance of the book we discover actually ended in a divorce. No happy ever-afters for the protagonists. It's a disappointing ending, with a complicated and contradictory subtext, and throws up all kinds of unanswered questions about the Chinese people and their government. In other words, it's real life and it's hard to understand. Go figure it out for yourself and stop looking for simple answers.

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East
by Robert Fisk
Edition: Hardcover

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I find his weaknesses are strengths, 23 Aug. 2006
Bring on the critics.

I welcome intelligent criticism being made of this book by the more informed readers to help me understand just why it is I find Fisk is such a special talent and this book such a great and moving read.

Where others find it too long, I found it too short. The sheer depth and range of experience in regions around the Middle East is almost impossible to match: it demands more space, not less. I read every footnote hungrily. I wanted to know more about the Israeli military machine and the various Afghan debacles from the point of view of history, not less. For the first time I read about Bin Laden and Khomenei as believable human figures rather than those wacko bearded nutjobs we all love to demonise.

Where others find this book too disjointed, I find it too joined up. Fisk cannot resist helping the reader by employing his vast intellect to connect the dots I would like the narrative to be more present tense, more chaotic. Present the full chaos for me. Forget the "why" and let me figure it out for myself later. Supply me with more clues and evidence, less smooth transitions and logical argument. Let the editor take a holiday and let me try to figure out the structure of the reality as Fisk experienced it.

Some say it is too biased. I say it is not biased enough. Fisk tries too hard sometimes to be objective. I want more of his emotions, more of his outrage, more passion. That is when he writes best. Like that reporter who picked up an orphan and took the child back to Britain: make a stand and show your colours. Take sides when it is necessary. I can't stomach all this fake "balanced" objectivity coming out of the BBC's anus about the recent Lebanon invasion when a simple glance at the casualty figures tells anyone all they need to know about the reality on the ground.

From my point of view, one criticism so far holds water. I am sure there are many others. A mean-spirited little poker (did the writer read the book?) points out that Fisk does not speak Arabic. He is hardly alone in this weakness. But it's a fair point, if true. It's an important weakness that I imagine Fisk himself would willingly acknowledge. It makes me wonder what more might have been written if Fisk had been able to overhear more conversations. Time for a little Arabic 101, Robert.

One thing so far even the critics don't deny: great writing. Nobody argues against the power or quality of the writing. An Iranian judge slurping down vanilla ice cream through a mini red plastic spoon on the day he orders public executions is the kind of thing that gets more mainstream reporters a Pulitzer.

If Robert Fisk ever does win a proper award, then it will be time to stop reading him. His poignant and emotive writing style is just too precious to be diluted by the know-it-all subs and publishers back in London.

Mr. China
Mr. China
by Tim Clissold
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read, 11 May 2006
This review is from: Mr. China (Paperback)
I think this book is great for a fast look at business life in mainland China, although understandably a little out of date in places: a lot of China has moved on since this was written.

Nonetheless a lot of the old stories ring true and provide a helpful insight into what your Chinese business partner might be thinking or at least, the kind of things he might have been thinking a few years ago.

Clissold's humility holds the whole thing together.

The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng
The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng
by Harrison Salisbury
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, reliable, authoritative, 23 Mar. 2006
Harrison Salisbury has an eye and an ease with the nature and landscapes of China as well as an incisive sense of the political realities. Whether he is following Mao through the paddy fields or Deng Xiaoping through the Cultural Revolution, he creates a sweeping and convincing narrative. I was recommened this is as a China primer and I would recommend it to others who want to know the basics before moving on to details. Perhaps it's a little dated now, but useful nonetheless.

Mao: The Unknown Story
Mao: The Unknown Story
by Jung Chang
Edition: Hardcover

44 of 68 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Maoist-style propaganda diatribe against Mao, 24 Nov. 2005
This review is from: Mao: The Unknown Story (Hardcover)
An astonishingly bitter and prejudiced work that reveals much more about the authors than Mao himself.
To criticise this book is like criticising Israel. The moment anyone attacks Israel, he can be sure of being charged with being "anti-Semitic".
Likewise to suggest that this passionately anti-Mao book is extraordinarily biased makes many a reader assume one is a bit too pro-Mao.
Nothing could be further form the truth in my case. I abhor the man. Mao was a person of rare evil, Machiavellian genius. It's time somebody showed his real nature. I urge readers to read Phillip Short's book instead of these conspiracy theory rantings.
I loved Wild Swans, perhaps making this book all the more disappointing. Instead of demolishing Mao point by point through diligent scholarship, the authors have constructed an elaborate and fanciful counter-myth, filled to the brim with ludicrous and obvious falsehoods.
You can't trust a single word they write so naked and obvious is the prejudice.
They do a great dis-service to those of us who revile Mao. Through sloppy propaganda like this, they fail to land a single meaningful punch. Any Chinese person who suspects Westerners are wrong to criticise their exalted leader need only turn to this book for valuable ammunition: a series of obvious lies and misleading statements are passed off as fact by the angry authors.
Bitterness informs every sentence of this tedious and unscholarly diatribe. That's right: unscholarly. It's not enough to list a million sources to suit your own thesis.
You have to weigh up the evidence, not just throw in everything you can find to support your own ideas.
I wanted to see Mao finally cut down to size. After reading about this clumsy cartoon bad guy, I struggle even more to understand the sometime poetic, charming nature of the mass murdering tyrant.
If Jung and Halliday wrote about Hitler, they would deny he was a vegetarian. They can't take their blinkers off even for a second to acknowledge even the possibility that Mao was a great charmer, a poet or a tactician. If only in real life the monsters were so easy to spot.
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