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Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang
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Mao: The Unknown Story (2005)

by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday

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English (35)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (40)
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  BurlingtonReader | Jul 20, 2014 |
Jung Chang and her husband tell the story of one of China's most important figures and one the twentieth century's most infamous in a well-written and interesting biography.

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. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
This is a really well-researched book that is also very readable, but it is also seriously flawed. Chang and Halliday set out to prove that Mao was basically a sociopath, seeing in each of Mao's actions a machiavellian tendency to turn any situation to his advantage regardless of the lives destroyed. Showing that Mao was a sociopath is not that hard, but the authors take it to an extreme. They seem to think they know Mao's inner thoughts and motivations, even when there is no evidence to support them. It weakens an otherwise very interesting book because they overstate what they actually know. It reads more like an extended public lecture on the evilness of Mao. It entertains, but it also glosses over trying to prove some of its assertions.

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. ( )
  Scapegoats | May 17, 2014 |
Mao the Unknown Story by Jung Chang

Mao-

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.
1 vote Urquhart | Jun 17, 2013 |
I don't know enough about China to know just how historically accurate Chang's work is, but the book makes for a great read and provides considerable insight to Chinese history since about 1930. What I have come across that is contrary to what I've read before does not seem outlandish or implausible. ( )
  bradleybleck | Jun 4, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679746323, Paperback)

In the epilogue to her biography of Mao Tse-tung, Jung Chang and her husband and cowriter Jon Halliday lament that, "Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital." For Chang, author of Wild Swans, this fact is an affront, not just to history, but to decency. Mao: The Unknown Story does not contain a formal dedication, but it is clear that Chang is writing to honor the millions of Chinese who fell victim to Mao's drive for absolute power in his 50-plus-year struggle to dominate China and the 20th-century political landscape. From the outset, Chang and Halliday are determined to shatter the "myth" of Mao, and they succeed with the force, not just of moral outrage, but of facts. The result is a book, more indictment than portrait, that paints Mao as a brutal totalitarian, a thug, who unleashed Stalin-like purges of millions with relish and without compunction, all for his personal gain. Through the authors' unrelenting lens even his would-be heroism as the leader of the Long March and father of modern China is exposed as reckless opportunism, subjecting his charges to months of unnecessary hardship in order to maintain the upper hand over his rival, Chang Kuo-tao, an experienced military commander.

Using exhaustive research in archives all over the world, Chang and Halliday recast Mao's ascent to power and subsequent grip on China in the context of global events. Sino-Soviet relations, the strengths and weakness of Chiang Kai-shek, the Japanese invasion of China, World War II, the Korean War, the disastrous Great Leap Forward, the vicious Cultural Revolution, the Vietnam War, Nixon's visit, and the constant, unending purges all, understandably, provide the backdrop for Mao's unscrupulous but invincible political maneuverings and betrayals. No one escaped unharmed. Rivals, families, peasants, city dwellers, soldiers, and lifelong allies such as Chou En-lai were all sacrificed to Mao's ambition and paranoia. Appropriately, the authors' consciences are appalled. Their biggest fear is that Mao will escape the global condemnation and infamy he deserves. Their astonishing book will go a long way to ensure that the pendulum of history will adjust itself accordingly. --Silvana Tropea

10 Second Interview: A Few Words with Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

Q: From idea to finished book, how long did Mao: The Unknown Story take to research and write?
A: Over a decade.

Q: What was your writing process like? How did you two collaborate on this project?
A: The research shook itself out by language. Jung did all the Chinese-language research, and Jon did the other languages, of which Russian was the most important, as Mao had a long-term intimate relationship with Stalin. After our research trips around the world, we would work in our separate studies in London. We would then rendezvous at lunch to exchange discoveries.

Q: Do you have any thoughts about how the book is, or will be received in China? Did that play a part in your writing of the book?
A: The book is banned in China, because the current Communist regime is fiercely perpetuating the myth of Mao. Today Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, and the regime declares itself to be Mao's heir. The government blocked the distribution of an issue of The Far Eastern Economic Review, and told the magazine's owners, Dow Jones, that this was because that issue contained a review of our book. The regime also tore the review of our book out of The Economist magazine that was going to (very restricted) newsstands. We are not surprised that the book is banned. The regime's attitude had no influence on how we wrote the book. We hope many copies will find their way into China.

Q: What is the one thing you hope readers get from your book?
A: Mao was responsible for the deaths of well over 70 million Chinese in peacetime, and he was bent on dominating the world. As China is today emerging as an economic and military power, the world can never regard it as a benign force unless Beijing rejects Mao and all his legacies. We hope our book will help push China in this direction by telling the truth about Mao.
Breakdown of a BIG Book: 5 Things You'll Learn from Mao: The Unknown Story

1. Mao became a Communist at the age of 27 for purely pragmatic reasons: a job and income from the Russians.

2. Far from organizing the Long March in 1934, Mao was nearly left behind by his colleagues who could not stand him and had tried to oust him several times. The aim of the March was to link up with Russia to get arms. The Reds survived the March because Chiang Kai-shek let them, in a secret horse-trade for his son and heir, whom Stalin was holding hostage in Russia.

3. Mao grew opium on a large scale.

4. After he conquered China, Mao's over-riding goal was to become a superpower and dominate the world: "Control the Earth," as he put it.

5. Mao caused the greatest famine in history by exporting food to Russia to buy nuclear and arms industries: 38 million people were starved and slave-driven to death in 1958-61. Mao knew exactly what was happening, saying: "half of China may well have to die."



(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:44 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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. --p. [4] of cover.… (more)

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