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Was Mao Really a Monster?: The Academic Response to Chang and Halliday's "Mao: The Unknown Story" Paperback – 30 Jun 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (30 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415493307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415493307
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.2 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 809,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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About the Author

Gregor Benton is Professor of Chinese History at Cardiff University. His book Mountain Fires: The Red Army’s Three-Year War in South China, 1934-1938 won several awards, including the Association of Asian Studies’ best book on modern China. Recent work includes Chinese Migrants and Internationalism: Forgotten Histories, 1917-1945; Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution (also published by Routledge)

Lin Chun is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, UK. She is the author of a number of books, of which the most recent is The Transformation of Chinese Socialism.


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Format: Paperback
Gregor Benton, Professor of Chinese History at Cardiff University, and Lin Chun, senior lecturer in Comparative Politics at the LSE, have produced this excellent collection of 14 reviews of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story.
The reviews are by internationally respected specialists in modern Chinese history, mostly previously published in scholarly journals. The reviewers all explicitly engage with the earlier writings on Mao's life, unlike Chang and Halliday who write as if nobody had ever researched Mao's life before.
Chang and Halliday's book is a Nazi-style hymn of hate against China and Mao. The reviewers show that the little that is good in the book is not original and what is original is not good Far from being the unknown story about Mao, the book is a farrago of gossip, hearsay, insults and lies.
All too many of Chang and Halliday's sources are "interviews recorded with Mao's relatives, friends, and acquaintances, done in the 1960s, unpublished." As Professor Michael Yahuda noted in the Guardian of 4 June 2005, "There is no discussion of the quality of the sources or how they were used. The motives of people in general and of Mao in particular are asserted rather than evaluated." There is no economic, social or political evidence or analysis, just repeated abuse.
Some of the writers, Nicholas Kristof, for example, note Mao's successes: "Land reform in China ... helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women ... moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao's assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world's new economic dragon.
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Format: Paperback
What a naively asinine title for a book about Mao!

Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of the outstanding "Stalin The Court of the Red Tsar", has no qualms about labelling Stalin, who killed less people than Mao, a monster (p.665) so why not Mr Mao?

Most (and more) of the good things done to China under Mao could and would have been achieved with far less murder, famine and terror if China had been ruled by a Communist Party under any other leader, or under a KMD regime of Chiang Kai-shek, if one can judge from what actually happened in Taiwan. Either of these alternatives would have been the lesser evil to Mao's misrule. All other arguments to ameliorate this misrule imply the ends justify the means, however heinous. They deserve from his victims obloquy.

Whatever the deficiencies of the Chang biography of Mao there is enough evidence in another book - Frank Dikotter's "Mao's Great Famine" - to condemn Mao as a mass murdering monster responsible for the premature deaths (by murder and gargantuan incompetence etc.) of at least 45 million human beings (p.x-xi) in the Great Leap Backward. Mao's colossal failure to care for the Chinese people provoked critics and opposition to his tyranny. To purge the nation of these critics and to secure his power Mao launched the Cultural Revolution.

Mao's monstrosity lay in his directly and indirectly causing the deaths, mind manipulation, and terror of the Chinese through his callously egomanical pursuit of power through the barrel of a gun!
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars 13 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful Critique of the Chang/Halliday bio 31 July 2014
By Donald F. Donahue - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An interestingly schizophrenic book recapitulating the academic response to Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's 2005 biography of Mao. It's important to read as a detailed critique of the Chang/Halliday book, but you certainly come away with the feeling that the reviewers are "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" -- taking issue with specific points in the biography but (generally) passing by the reality that the answer to the book's title is unquestionably and emphatically "yes." That said, some of the essays do provide important analysis of various arguments in the Chang/Halliday book, fleshing out the background and the different elements of the debate about issues that Chang and Halliday address with flat assertions that are far more controversial than Chang and Halliday acknowledge. Worth reading as a companion piece to the bio, so you have a good sense of the evidence around some of the major issues in Mao's life (and, by the way, how solid the case is that he was, in fact, a "monster").
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a worthwhile read but heavily skewed to negative reviews of Chang/Halliday 12 Feb. 2013
By Harvy Lind - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Neither the editors of this edited volume nor Chang and Halliday aimed at a really balanced presentation of the controversies they tackled, but that does not mean that you should not read either the Chang/Halliday biography or the Benton/Lin edited volume. It would be better to read both books, though if you have time for only one tome about Mao Zedong, the new biography Mao, the Real Story by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine presents a more balanced and impartial account of Mao's life and political career, and particularly his interactions with his Soviet Russian patrons and rivals. Pantsov and Levine present Mao not as a monster but as a human with both strengths and especially weaknesses, including his ruthlessness and callousness toward those who suffered or died as a direct result of his often disastrous policies.
Overall, the contributors to the Benton/Lin volume were mostly so incensed by the Chang/Halliday biography that 80% of their assessments were overwhelmingly negative to the point where a reader who found them totally convincing would probably not want to read the aforesaid biography at all. The only mostly positive presentation of the biography was that of Arthur Waldron--one of the most interesting chapters, though placed near the end of the book by the editors. Andrew Nathan's chapter was probably the book's most balanced presentation, pointing out both nuggets of value and fresh information in the biography while persuasively criticizing the book's outspokenly negative portrayal of Mao and the book's opacity and omissions in its citation of source materials--which makes it sometimes impossible to check or verify the biography's claims.
Chang and Halliday were not aiming to achieve an academically dispassionate tone in their book, and often presented educated guesses about Mao's private thoughts at a given time as if they were certain that they knew what he was thinking when they actually could not know. This is an ahistorical or literary approach to writing history that we often find in Chinese reportage literature and even historical works such as the Han dynasty scholar Sima Qian's Historical Records--in which the writer conjures forth dialogues and interior monologues for which there is no basis in the surviving records of the time, but instead require the sorts of educated guesses that novelists regularly make. If we read Chang and Halliday's book as a blend of history and reportage literature and judge it in those terms, we are likely to get more out of it than if we read it as a strictly academic tract, which it is not.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Her accusations are much better suited to a critique of the life and career ... 22 Nov. 2014
By sleepvark - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Another in the growing corpus of works that points out the errors of omission and commission that Jung Chang tosses off as historical research in her book Mao: the Unknown Story.
In my opinion, Jung Chang was after the wrong target. Her accusations are much better suited to a critique of the life and career of Chiang Kai Shek (Sign My Check, as he was better known)
The sore losers of history lash out a little indiscriminately sometimes. Jung Chang unfortunately falls into that category.
To her credit(?), she did make a ton of money with her anti-Mao book, and the rebuttals will in no way diminish her income.
There will certainly be some witless McCarthyists who dislike my review. Get over it, you lost 50 years ago.
4 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars 200 academic pages of damning existentialism 7 April 2013
By danT - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When one is a refugee from Communism who maintained constant contact with them over a lifetime of their power while also studying archives, it is clear that the Red "New Man" is more a stereotype in the being than in the caricature. The Nazis never succeeded in doing this. Of course, urban raised American and English scholars whose only claim of access is having learned the Chinese language but never having lived the Chinese life,are hardly able to comment on the intimate details of personality imbued with a culture as can another native. And then there are also Chinese whom, according to many of my scientific Chinese colleagues I have come to know with no interest at all in the realm of Maoist historiography, have become incredibly metamorphic sycophants indebted to their Western scholar masters in whose hands sits their temporary visas. Who is whom and who is doing whom I CANNOT SAY and would not wish to say. But I involve myself only because have laboriously read the writing of the above critics and can think of many criticism that can be made of their unsubstantiated stories. Afterall, like the Chinese who desperately needed permission to continue staying in the West as undeclared refugees, the Westerners desperate for permission to stay in Mao's China were forced to similar various levels of sycophany. I recall one of the Western "scholars," one deemed a "leading" scholar, who got up after the Tienanmen Square episode at a conference and did his mea culpa: "WE WERE WRONG, WE WERE ALL WRONG!!! T

This was courageous....no, I don't see why. His reputation was facing death by a thousand documents and verification of refugee claims about the Cultural Revolution. Well, Mao gave a lot of people access to himself and his nation and even his documents. But other than the Russians few spoke of what Chinese experienced in the Cultural Revolution and ever before. We had Mao's personal physician's account. He tells us that when he erroneously told Chou Enlai that Mao was dying, Chou pissed in his pants. This tells us a lot about Mao's degrees of freedom. So, I'm not cursing the old "house experts" nor impugning their scholarship. But I would say that if your jealously stinks so badly, brush your teeth, gargle with mouthwash and ward deodorant when you throw stones.

The issue is not details. We are now almost 50 years since Mao died and still a lot of "proof" of what REALLY went on is missing. But, just like Stalin, Mao interacted with a lot of people and, other than watch Mo on TV all day, here's really not much Communist cadres could do other than tell eachother of their experiences. Sure, sure, embellishment and confabulation may well have filled in a lot of the holes, but nothing allows the scholars to trash those who collected all sorts of minutia existentially. I always thought of Halliday as a "damned commie lover," yet a brilliant man. His giving his bona fides to Jung Chang, a refugee, and all that she lived and heard-- such an amalgam that that it's hard to say which is switch-- only proves that he was smitten by the veracity of her account, for there can be no other reason for him to be exposed to the rage of "academics." A tableau by the refugees is never a common picture. It is in every way a moving picture dipped in exploding controversy. This account of Mao deserves none of the effete hysteria academics throw at it. I recall another Chinese scholar who paid for his chance to tell a piece of the Chinese Communist story with 8 years of solitary confinement. Yet, his meticulous documentation was hysterically attacked by many scholars because: "he did not site MY work!"

Some of us have come to believe that most historians are historians because they couldn't pass calculus so they couldn't make it in a quantitative field. This may or may not be true, but the attacks on "The Unknown Mao" smack of a bit too much for nefarious motives. The 800+ pages were a tedious read....but the 200+ pages read like fingernails scratching a slate blackboard. I mean, how can anything set back "Studies" of a subject. In molecular biology now 30% of all PUBLISHED papers have to be withdrawn because of academic hanky-panky that makes them frauds. But we don't avoid reading the literature and getting excited by it. FACTS BUILD ON ASSUMED FACTS....that's the only way in which assumed facts become facts! Why not do the same with the Mao story as was done with the Stalin story....bit by bit, the facts link and the fakes fall by the wayside. Were we now debating policy as with Iraq where neocon fraud led to 4000+ dead Americans, hundreds of thousand dead Iraqis...and they still want us to go hit Iran (!!!)...then calling fraud fraud should be called thus loudly as lives are at stake. But Mao is dead and historians should be like construction workers collaborating in generating interest in history rather than trying to seem the tallest by putting down the others. Goldhagen's invented Holocaust had to be attacked because it sacrilegiously denigrated the real Holocaust with tricks, creating doubt in the minds of people and bringing prejudices against the current and many past generations of Germans. But this Mao Story invites research, even though much is still not allowed to be struck by daylight. To say that the authors paint a caricature of Mao that sets back scolarship and interest smacks od neocon BS, not only in their geriatric babble now even but back in their youth when they were Communist propagandists. The book is a cogent thesis, no more and no less. I bought it as such, not as a bible. The cost of this theological trial for heresy in response I deem a total waste of money....well not total, nothing ever is. But is doesn't help the reputation of pampered and tenured academics.

Sorry for typos and grammatical errors but it's too long a job to edit and I hope readers to the end judge it by the arguments rather than they keyboarding.
28 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glad to finally have this one! 4 Nov. 2009
By R. Mckown - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
While it has been possible for an interested layperson with the time and resources to access the scholarly deconstructions of Chang and Halliday's Mao demonology, Gregor Benton and Lin Chun are to be commended for bringing together for us this collection of scholarly reviews from a broad range of perspectives, both Western and Chinese, in one easily accessible form. For those readers who may wish to sample the book and get an overview of its place, purpose, and content, China Study Group has conveniently posted on their website the full text of Benton and Lin's Introduction ([...]).
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