Mao: The Unknown Story

“We the Chinese nation have the spirit to fight the enemy to the last drop of our blood, the determination to recover our lost territory by our own efforts, and the ability to stand on our own feet in the family of nations.” /Mao Zedong

Mao: The Unknown Story

Mao: The Unknown Story is a 2005 biography of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976) written by Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday. In conducting their research for the book over the course of a decade, the authors interviewed hundreds of people who were close to Mao Zedong at some point in his life, used recently published memoirs from Chinese political figures, and explored newly opened archives in China and Russia.

Chang has previously written Wild Swans which was her autobiography. Mao is a highly interesting book and also it’s a brick with over 800 pages.

I remember reading this years ago in high-school (I read everything but school books) and I was shocked by it. Book begins with following line: “Mao Tse-tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth century leader.” It does not just tell about Mao and his life. It also tells of death of over 70 million people and not just that but how they died.

“The country is so beautiful, where so many heroes had devoted their lives into it. Sorry that the Qin Emperor or the Han Wu Emperor lacks a sense for literacy; while the founders of the Tang and Song dynasties came short in style. The great man, Genghis Khan, only knew how to shoot eagles with an arrow. The past is past. To see real heroes, look around you.” / /Mao Zedong

It’s another devastating book. It’s great book for history lovers as it covers Mao’s life, The Long March, opium trade, campaigns against Mao’s opponents, Sino-Japanese War, Korean War… But then I remember detailed descriptions of how people died of hunger or because they were enemies of the state and for reasons I can’t understand. I think it’s also a great reminder when you think of China now. China is economically strong nuclear superpower. But it was achieved at unimaginable cost.

“People who try to commit suicide — don’t attempt to save them! . . . China is such a populous nation, it is not as if we cannot do without a few people.” / Mao Zedong

There is a one big downside to this book, it’s extremely biased against Mao. He did a lot of bad things yes but can we really blame one man for deaths of millions. It’s like if you see a bunch of money lying around, would you pick it up? If you see power, would you grab for it?  In the book he is portrayed as the most evil man that ever walked this earth. Void of emotion. And that bothered me a lot in this book because nonfiction and biographies are supposed to be more neutral no matter how evil the person was. On the other hand, Mao did hold the absolute power over China for many decades and could have stopped all of it or at least lessen the amount of the dead. He didn’t so that also says  a lot.
4/5 stars

How- To Read Mao: The Unknown Story
1. It’s a fantastic book to get a general picture of 20th Century China. It’s also a brick, over 800 pages long and it will take time to read through it. Also many deaths.
2. It’s extremely biased against Mao. Perhaps for a great reason but it’s definitely not neutral if that is what you’re looking for.
3. If you want to read something less biased, read Chang’s auto-biography + biographies of her mother and grandmother called ‘Wild Swans’ (1991)

Thoughts?

Featured image credit

 

3 thoughts on “Mao: The Unknown Story

  1. China is so interesting and so by extension this would be too. I grew up hearing about Mao a little bit but I’m sure there’s a lot I don’t know, and of course Chinese history is amazing. Thanks for highlighting this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. China fascinates me, decades and decades of great culture and civilization that was not destroyed even by Mao or the horrors that happened during his rule. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  2. I was fortunate to visit China twice on business, getting a sense of the massive potential of 1.4 billion people. (China: If they say you are ‘one in a million,’ there are 1,400 people exactly like you!)

    My sense is that you cannot understand China unless you go there, which I hope to do again with time to explore. If I do, I would first read a book like this, mindful of the excellent points you make about the construction of it. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

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