15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2011
This book is devastating for Mao and for those who perpetuates the myths about him. Contrary to the image of Mao leading a homegrown revolution, the support of Stalin and Russia appears to have been of crucial importance, both in establishing Mao as the supreme party leader and in securing the Communists' victory in the civil war. As ruler of China Mao caused the worst famine in history. To pay for his rush to build a military superpower Mao squeezed so much out of the peasants that 38 million died of starvation in 1958-61. "The peasants want freedom but we want socialism", Mao said to his comrades. However, Liu Shao-chi and others opposed Mao's policies, which caused Mao to launch a great purge, the Cultural Revolution. Not until Mao died in 1976 was it possible for China to start recovering. Authors Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have done an excellent job.
793 of 885 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2007
Jung Chang's young intellect was formed in an environment where totalitarian propaganda substituted for reason and evidence. After she came west, she was unable to make the adjustment. She still thinks and argues the same way. Her one-sided ram-it-down-your-throat approach, her strained interpretations, and her outright distortion of sources are the very characteristics of Maoist propaganda. She has learned nothing. This approach, and her endless repetition, make it clear that she does not trust the reader to make up his or her own mind. She should stick to reminiscences, at which she is adept, and leave history to competent historians. There are much better arguments against Mao than this. Philip Short, in just one example, makes an equally scathing case against Mao, but uses reason and an honest appraisal of sources. It is a compelling case. Chang's totalitarian mode of argument is so silly that it actually undermines the case against Mao by making it the subject of mockery. She thus gives comfort to the Maoists. Nobody except fanatics can take this book seriously, and the case against Mao should be taken seriously. As for Halliday, he should know better. "What does it profit a man...?"
684 of 764 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2007
All history is biased because we observe objective facts through subjective prisms, and because history's real value is interpretation, which is by its nature personal. However, some histories are more biased than others. This one doesn't even attempt to be fair. Its judgements are so extreme that they undermine the reliability of a massive, indeed impressive, body of research. Unreliability makes for poor history. What a waste of so much energy, labor, and potential! Yes, we all know that Mao was evil and the biggest mass murderer in history, surpassing even Stalin and Hitler. We also know that Mao would still have been a disgusting human being even had his politics been admirable, and none of us would have liked to have him home for dinner. Certainly not I. There is no need to excuse or romanticize anything about Mao. He was bad. But his successes were stunning and world-shaking, not only uniting China but freeing it from foreign control, creating the industrial base that allowed the economy to flourish under a less bandit-like regime, and making China a world power to be reckoned with. We are still dealing with the consequences. Does the end justify the means? Of course not. But there should be room in the authors' model for considering political brilliance or anything else positive. There isn't. They see just will, luck, cunning and ruthlessness. And they see everybody else as just gullible, even Chou En Lai. Can it be so simple? The book goes further. It attributes all evil anywhere in Asia like the Korean and Vietnam Wars solely to Mao. Wow! That's a lot of power! I didn't realize he was omnipotent. (Doesn't the looney left make the same assumptions about the CIA?) There is no subtlety in this investigation, and no sense that either human beings or historical causes can in any way be complex. This book is simplistic, simple-minded, anti-intellectual, and juvenile. It is not history. It is catharsis.
A word on style. People in this book don't just disappear; they "disappear from the face of the earth." This book reads like a seventh grade composition drawn from "Dial a Cliché." The editors couldn't improve the poor historiography, but they certainly could have done something about the pedestrian prose. Depravity, after all, can be interesting, at least in small doses. These authors make it dull.
523 of 584 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2007
I come from the former British colony Hong Kong. My family members were murdered and humiliated in the Cultural Revolution. I have absolutely no sympathy for Mao. Yet I can tell you this book is heavily biased both in terms of its selection of evidence and its interpretation of historical materials.
As a history graduate of Oxford and a post-graduate at Peking University, I would say this book fails to live up to its promise of representing a historical, truthful Mao. Partial selection of materials in favour of one's argument is no honest history, no matter how abundant the footnotes may seem. For those who can read Chinese, do read some Chinese books for a more balanced perspective. For those who cannot, Philip Short's is a far better (if no less critical) alternative.
124 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on 18 October 2005
This book stands to remain the tome of first resort for most casual readers seeking to learn more about Mao Zedong. It is impressively researched, and the authors have clearly gained access to many people whose intimate knowledge of Mao has thus far remained undocumented in the English language, and only to a small degree even in Chinese.
However, the ultimate flaw in this book is its failure to reconcile the differences between a personal biography and a political one: the approach that worked very well in the first half of the book, recounting his personal rise to prominence and leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, is inadequate in explaining the decisions made by 'Chairman Mao' once he had been installed at the head of the government of the most populous nation on the planet.
The narrative of 'Mao the self-serving and ruthless power seeker' gives way in 1949 to the narrative of 'Mao the ruthless tyrant'. While neither of these portrayals are wholly inaccurate, 'Mao the ruthless tyrant' is an inadequate framework within which to analyse the policy choices of the head of the most populous nation on earth. The tyrant's over-riding policy objective is laid out in vague terms as being 'to dominate the world' through massive investment and expenditure on the military in general and nuclear weapons in particular. The main effects of these policy choices are given as the irrefutable suffering that befell the Chinese populace as a result. However, 'world domination' while being an objective, is not in itself a policy; nor is massive military expenditure an end of any worth if it is not to be used to implement a coherent foreign policy. This is where the weaknesses in this book come to the fore. If the argument is that the tyrant's pursuit of a foreign policy objective was his main motivation over 25 years, then his foreign policy choices cannot be examined in isolation from each other and only detailed in terms of their effects on the general populace.
To use one example, when Sino-Soviet tensions reached such a peak in mid-1969 that the Russians seriously contemplated a pre-emptive nuclear strike against China's nuclear facilities, the effect of this is not given in terms of China's opening to the USA and Nixon's subsequent visit, but rather in terms of the number of Chinese who were corveed into building underground bomb shelters. Likewise, Nixon's visit is later portrayed as simply a 'P.R. stunt' of Mao's, whereby Nixon was, like so many others, duped by the dictator; the geopolitical import of this major reorientation in China's Cold War policy is not even given the most scant of treatment. Furthermore, like the distortion of the motives behind Sino-American rapprochement, Chang and Halliday's dating of the origins of this process is inaccurate.
Overall, this book is a useful insight into the personality and character of Mao Zedong, and also his most dangerous of accomplices, Zhou Enlai. However, for anyone seeking to gain an understanding or explanation of the policy choices made during Mao's 27-year regime, this book tells no story at all.
300 of 339 people found the following review helpful
on 13 July 2005
The book feels like reading an editorial from the Sun Newspaper.
Find it petty, no historical context. The author expresses her opinion in every sentence.
This seems to be the new "mode" in biographies, based on slanted and biased comments.
Give us a well researched account on somebody's life and keep your comments to yourself. After all it is up to the reader to make up his/her mind.
242 of 275 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2006
This is a terrible book. I agree with the authors that Mao was a monster but the book reads like ranting and is unconvincing. After reading 50 pages or so you can predict where every part of the rest of the book lead to - Mao was the most evil, calculating, manipulative and incompetent man on earth. How then did he become the leader of the most populous country, etc? As I read through it I wonder if the authors have any respect for my intelligence as a reader. The book seems to say more about the authors than about Mao.
346 of 394 people found the following review helpful
on 18 July 2005
Of all the ten or so books on Mao and his role in China's history that I have read, I have never been so disappointed as I was with this book. Heavily hyped, voluminous, with copious references, this book looks like it should be a serious scholarly work and a fascinating read. Not only that but the author is a well-known "expert" on Chinese affairs with a wealth of first-hand experience of the excesses of Mao's China. This should be the book's biggest strength but is also its biggest weakness. It is clear that the authors had an agenda from the outset; that they were not going to admit that Mao had any redeeming features at all. In doing so they have produced a polemic that drips with bile, bitterness and ever worse, that is contradictory and undermines its central theme.
According to the authors Mao is, by turns, lazy but hyperactive and overly industrious; polically naive but able to worm his way to the top of first the Nationalists then the Communist Party; contemptuous of the pesantry but in the space of four months leader of a pesant army. At one memorable point the authors castigate Mao for his indifference to the plight of the workers, but half a paragraph later they are taking him to task for "abandoning" his second wife (did I mention they had Mao down as deeply unattractive to all human being but fail to explain his four marriages) while she was giving birth to their first child, as he was "away negotiating on behalf of the builder's union". Even more bizzarely, the authors seek to paint Mao as ineffectual, uninspiring, uncharismatic and a poor organiser, but in the next breath blame him for being directly responsible for practically everything that went wrong in China from the 1930's onwards. He is naive, insensitive and stupid, but a few pages later he is underhand and cunning enoughg to upstage Nixon,
Mao was a terrible tyrant. His violence, treachery (the Hundred Flowers Campaign and The Anti-Rightist Campaign) and misguided policies (Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution) cost tens of millions of innocent lives and brought misery to millions more. The statistics speak for themselves and a book laying bare the bald truth of these horrors would have been far more damning. Unfortunately, the author have let their blind hatred of their subject cloud their objectivity and in so doing they undermine their central thesis.
History is rarely simple and people even less so. The Mao of this book is a one-dimensional evil phantom with no positive personal qualities. This kind of pantomime villan would never have succeeded in becoming the international figure (for good or evil) that he ultimately was.
After saying this it seems almost churlish to point out that the prose is as ham-fisted and amateurish as the treatment of the subject (average sentence length 10 words). There are much, much better books on Mao than this. They are better written, more balanced and cheaper.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2013
If you are interested in modern Chinese history, read this book. The picture of Mao of a heartless, paranoid Stalinist is unrelenting and horrific. Although the writing style can be annoying, with it's constant invective and insinuation, the facts speak for themselves. It is still a very well told and fascinating story - and one you will never forget.
221 of 254 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2006
As a fiction book, this one is a good one. A lot of thoughts, quite a lot of drama, and it quite fit the taste of Western world.
As history book, there are so many subjective conclusions that make it quite obvious that the writer just wanted to put Mao this way. It may work very well guys never read any proper historical book.