Mao: The Real Story
True, much of Mao's brutality has already emerged over the years, but this biography supplies substantial new information and presents it all in a stylish way that will put it on bedside tables around the world. No wonder the Chinese government has banned not only this book but issues of magazines with reviews of it, for Mao emerges from these pages as another Hitler or Stalin.
In that regard, I have reservations about the book's judgments, for my own sense is that Mao, however monstrous, also brought useful changes to China. And at times the authors seem so eager to destroy him that I wonder if they exclude exculpatory evidence. But more on those cavils later. Mao is not only a historical figure, of course, but is part of the tattered web of legitimacy on which the People's Republic rests.
He is part of the founding mythology of the Chinese government, the Romulus and Remus of "People's China," and that's why his portrait hangs in Tiananmen Square. Even among ordinary Chinese, Mao retains a hold on the popular imagination, and some peasants in different parts of China have started traditional religious shrines honoring him. That's the ultimate honor for an atheist -- he has become a god.
Mao's sins in later life are fairly well known, and even Chen Yun, one of the top Chinese leaders in the 's, suggested that it might have been best if Mao had died in This biography shows, though, that Mao was something of a fraud from Day 1. The authors assert, for example, that he was not in fact a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party, as is widely believed, and that the party was founded in rather than Moreover, they rely on extensive research in Russian archives to show that the Chinese party was entirely under the thumb of the Russians.
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In one nine-month period in the 's, for example, 94 percent of the party's funding came from Russia, and only 6 percent was raised locally. Mao rose to be party leader not because he was the favorite of his fellow Chinese, but because Moscow chose him. And one reason Moscow chose him was that he excelled in sycophancy: he once told the Russians that "the latest Comintern order" was so brilliant that "it made me jump for joy times. Mao has always been celebrated as a great peasant leader and military strategist.
But this biography mocks that claim. The mythology dates from the "Autumn Harvest Uprising" of But, according to Chang and Halliday, Mao wasn't involved in the fighting and in fact sabotaged it -- until he hijacked credit for it afterward. It's well known that Mao's first wife or second, depending on how you count , Yang Kaihui, was killed in by a warlord rival of Mao's.
Mao : The Real Story
But not much else is known of her. Now Chang and Halliday quote from poignant unsent letters that were discovered during renovations of her old home in and in The letters reveal both a deep love for Mao and a revulsion for the brutality of her time and of her husband.
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Why are human beings so evil? Why so cruel? But he didn't lift a finger, and she was shot to death at the age of By this time, the book relates, many in the Red Army distrusted Mao -- so he launched a brutal purge of the Communist ranks. He wrote to party headquarters that he had discovered 4, subversives in the army and had tortured them all and executed most of them.
A confidential report found that a quarter of the entire Red Army under Mao at the time was slaughtered, often after they were tortured in such ways as having red-hot rods forced into their rectums.
The Real Story
One of the most treasured elements of Chinese Communist history is the Long March, the iconic flight across China to safety in the northwest. It is usually memorialized as a journey in which Mao and his comrades showed incredible courage and wisdom in sneaking through enemy lines and overcoming every hardship. Chang and Halliday undermine every element of that conventional wisdom. They argue that Chiang wanted to send his own troops into three southwestern provinces but worried about antagonizing the local warlords.
So he channeled the Red Army into those provinces on the Long March and then, at the invitation of the alarmed warlords, sent in troops to expel the Communists and thus succeeded in bringing the wayward provinces into his domain. Log In. Toggle navigation MENU. Email Address. Do you work in the book industry? Which of the following best describes you?
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But two new books out this fall emphasize the horrific degree to which — in both China and the Soviet Union — it was their fellow countrymen that the Communists destroyed instead. Former People , by Douglas Smith , tells the long-overdue story of the many ways in which the Russian aristocracy was crushed by the Soviet hammer and sickle.
This once-cosseted group about 1. Their servants turned on them, their property was confiscated, and they were jailed and killed by the score.
Smith notes the fate of a pair of Russian princes: One was killed at home in his manor house while the other was beaten to death at a railroad station. Many who stayed felt trapped, but others simply loved their country too much to leave it. Smith quotes a source who estimates that, four years after the revolution, about 10, noble families — 12 percent of the prerevolutionary nobility — were still in Russia.
Many of the stories Smith tells are tragic, but there are also instances of great courage and resolve. There were servants who gave their lives to help the families to whom they still felt loyal, and there were aristocrats who bravely marched off to labor camps and learned to harvest cabbages and haul garbage with the best of them. In China, tragic stories are as close as any thorough accounting of the life of Mao.
Academics Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Pantsov and Levine are not as unfailingly negative as are Chang and Halliday.
They credit Mao with genuine leadership skills and at least some degree of idealism. Both books end — like much of the communism itself — with ironic twists of fate. Already a subscriber?