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--this is the most authoritative life of Mao ever written. 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 intricate relationship with Stalin went back to the 1920s, ultimately bringing him to power; he welcomed the Japanese occupation; and he schemed, poisoned and blackmailed to get his way. After he conquered China in 1949, his secret goal was to dominate the world. 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. This entirely fresh look at Mao will astonish historians and the general reader alike.--From publisher description.
The most surprising fact about Mao was that he didn't believe in communism. From his early Randian ramblings on, he was interested in power. Joining the Communists. If another party had offered him a better way to power, he would have jumped ship. Not feeling any allegiance to party and idea proved to be a tactical advantage in the power struggle with his peers who often chose to sacrifice themselves for the party's sake. In contrast to most human beings, Mao only cared about himself, abandoning allies, wives and his children without qualms. Chiang Kai-shek let himself be controlled by Stalin holding his son hostage. Mao didn't care about the fate of his son held by Stalin.
Mao's supreme management incompetence is another unexpected finding of this biography. Time and time again, Mao managed to exhaust and destroy territories and armies put under his command. Most of his rivals were much more capable in command. Like a clumsy cat, Mao managed to land on his feet and walk elegantly away from the debris of his latest catastrophe. Despite a track record of failure, Mao fell upward and upward. Stalin somehow admired his survivor capability. Mao would not quit.
Regarding his management style, he was supreme at using Richard Nixon's Orthogonian technique of relying on building coalitions of less efficient but totally dependent toadies. They knew that they owed their position to Mao, a fact Mao made clear by humiliating them in public, again and again. Mao's meanness knew no bound: He even denied Zhou Enlai cancer treatment.
The biography also reveals that many of the commonly told stories need to be revised, e.g. Mao and the Communist leadership did not march but was carried on litters by starving and dying porters during the Long March. The Communists were also not in danger from Chiang Kai-shek who had pre-arranged the destination of the march with Stalin and used the Communists to gain entry into warlord-dominated Sichuan. Only when Mao foolishly deviated from the script was blood shed. Mao also needlessly prolonged the march by senseless deviations. He also didn't fight the Japanese during WWII, using them to weaken Chang Kai-shek and waiting for the war to end.
Overall, a stunning read about the 20th century's greatest butcher. One wonders where China might be now if its economic recovery process had started at the same time as the Wirtschaftswunder. Highly recommended.
I read Jonathon Spence's book on Modern Chinese History, which I liked very much. His NYRB review was guardedly critical, mostly because of their attitude, but he didn't seem to criticise specific elements in terms of their veracity.
The authors' overreach is unfortunate because they have done a tremendous job of digging into Mao's past. This is the most thorough biography of the man I have seen. Showing that Mao had no empathy for anyone and was a monster is not hard, so they didn't need to stretch their argument so far.
There are a lot of good points for the book. They do a great job of showing Mao's machinations of the Red Army on the Long March and again during the Rectification Campaigns in Yenan. This is where they pull together some very compelling evidence for his ruthlessness in removing enemies through intrigue and assassination. They also do a good job of showing how Mao used terror to cement his rule. The picture they paint is almost straight out of 1984.
They dismiss Mao's strategic capabilities in both WWII and the Civil War that followed. They instead give credit to his subordinates while also pointing to incompetence or betrayals of key Nationalist figures. While there is certainly some truth to the fact that Mao's reputation for genius is overstated, the authors make it seem like the ultimate victory of the Communists in the Civil War had almost nothing to do with Mao's leadership.
When discussing the Great Leap Forward, they have a plethora of sources, so I can't complain about their conclusions. They paint the GLF in an international context, showing how Mao wanted to supplant the Soviets as the leader of international communism. This led to increased grain exports at below cost prices, which contributed to famines in the countryside. They argue that the famine was initially kept from Mao, but when he found out about it, he considered the reports of famine exaggerated and a price worth paying for the greatness of China (meaning the greatest of Mao). This was probably the best section of the book.
The Cultural Revolution was a little more suspect. The period was full of confusion and contradiction, but the authors seem to think Mao had a plan the whole time, although that plan changed several times. They also attribute a lot of control to Mao, most likely overstating how much he was able to dictate things.
The opening with the United States and his death offer very little new, but it is a very interesting and detailed account. As per usual, they attribute every utterance from his mouth as an attempt to manipulate the situation to his own advantage, but they seem to be on more solid ground for these areas.
Overall, this book is very detailed and readable, but it is long and goes on about Mao's sociopathy ad nauseam. I recommend it if you have a lot of time and really interested in modern China. It covers a lot of ground and tells a very good story.
Not a dedicated ideologue but a tyrant who needed money, military supplies, and intelligence from Russia in order to get where he wanted to go..
Not a simple man, but one who truly wanted to rule China and would do absolutely anything to make that possible.
His incredibly complex, cut-throat and self-serving machinations throughout his life were awesome.
He also gives a whole new meaning to terms like paranoid, sociopath, sadist, and criminally insane.
This is the guy who shaped China's history and in doing so shaped China past as well as China present and future. The book is fascinating.
Do great men shape history? This one sure shaped China’s history and he did it all for himself and the fact that 70 million people were killed along the way bothered him not one iota. Tolstoy did not think it was the big men in history and for a long time I agreed with him but no longer. I confess he has revised my view of history and how it is made.
Trust me, you cannot imagine what Mao did; not in the deepest part of your darkest imagination could you imagine what this guy did.
This is a fact based tour de force that leaves one staggering.
Is it well written? Not sure. A wealth of interesting information, yes, but some repetitions, some unclear stuff, some information willfully omitted. I have never had any doubts about Mao being a ruthless tyrant, and I didn’t need to be explicitly reminded of it every second sentence- I am perfectly capable of forming my own opinion given the facts, thank you very much. The account oozes with hate, and as a result there is a feeling of a biased view there, even if there is a possibility that it isn’t.
That said, it’s definitely worth persevering through, especially if someone is a history buff, especially if they harbour any illusions about Mao’s good intentions, or the quality of life he brought to the Chinese. Having lived in a communist country, I found it very interesting and I fully appreciate that everything written there is a true account of what was happening. Nobody in Poland has had any doubts what life in China under Mao looked like anyway, and if anybody complained that there was no meat or ham to buy in the stores, because there were endless transports of pigs going to the Soviet Union as the repayment for mostly obsolete technology, people jokingly reassured themselves that the life was better there than in the Soviet Union, and definitely better than in China where all the people had to eat were the flies they could catch and the leaves on the trees.
I’m sure the book is not only written to open Western eyes to the true nature of Mao’s regime, but it’s also written to open the eyes of the Chinese, and especially the Chinese youth, who are still brought up in the cult of Mao, and I can testify to that claim having taught scores of Chinese students from the mainland.
I must say that after reading a biography on Hitler that comparatively Mao is more cruel and distasteful than Hilter. Mao is responsible for the death, starvation, torture, and poor living conditions of more people than Hitler. It appears that Mao had one strong motive in life; to benefit himself.
Furthermore, the book provides an education on the real interworking of communism, which is rather appauling. Mao's brand of communism assumed complete control of the population by cruelty and deceit.
Chang pulls no punches in exposing Mao as a dictator whose cruel rule inflicting much suffering on the Chinese (though it does not explain why so many followed him so absolutely); nevertheless, it is a well-researched book, particularly concerning the rise of Mao and the CCP.
Though there are legitimate criticisms, particularly its polemical tone, Mao: The Unknown Story is still valuable for furthering our understanding of Mao and his rule.
Mao's amoral nature shines through this history. He really doesn't seem to care about the deaths he has caused; indeed, he thinks they are unimportant compared to turning himself into the world's leader. His colleagues are all pawns in his quest for power and determination to keep it, regularly at risk of denunciation, torture or murder. He treats his family, his wives and his children appallingly. The Mao in this book has no redeeming features, which seems odd; no matter how bad they are, most people have some kind of attractive characteristic. No doubt because of that, some reviewers have complained it has an anti-Mao bias; but the authors are careful to analyse their subject through recitation of facts rather than rhetoric. It is the facts than condemn Mao as a cynical, self absorbed and selfish, mass-murdering psychopath.
For anyone with an interest in China or twentieth century history this is worth reading. It isn't, though well written, an easy read, because of both the subject matter and as it is so densely packed with information.