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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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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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Top customer reviews
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and Halliday's sources are "interviews recorded with Mao's relatives, friends, and acquaintances, done in the 1960s, unpublished."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.Read more ›
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!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
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.
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.
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.
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