Unmasking Mao by Ronald Radosh
Ronald Radosh delivers an in-depth review of the forthcoming monumental biography of Mao written by Jung Chang and her husband, Russian historian Jon Halliday. Unmasking the beaming, pudgy figure in the Mao suit, the smiling gnome of Little Red Book fame, they reveal a portrait of an evil despot who murdered and tortured millions for his own sadistic pleasure and at his own malign whim. In the process they shatter all the previously held myths promulgated by the left's romantic idolization of him as the benign agrarian reformer, and also shatter those comfortable theories promoted by "old China hands" who counseled many presidents. China has been and still is a mystery to the west, even more than Russia. This biography should go a long way towards opening the doors and shedding some much-needed light on that mysterious Middle Kingdom.
Along with this book, I strongly recommend the highly readable and fascinating book written by Jung Chung entitled "Wild Swans". Chang was born in China in 1952 and emigrated to England as a college student. She relates the wrenching history of China in the 20th Century through the personal stories of three generations of women in her family -- her grandmother, her mother and herself. Her grandmother was sold as a concubine into the household of a warlord and endured the barbaric ancient Chinese practice of footbinding, which left her hobbled for life. Her mother was a prominent and active communist leader and idealistic follower of Mao who eventually fell victim to his insane purges. And Jung Chang herself was forced to work as a barefoot doctor and participated in the Cultural Revolution as a reluctant Red Guard. For those who don't think they could wade through the Mao biography, Chang's "Wild Swans" is a mesmerizing and eye-opening window on the real China as viewed from the inside.
Jon Halliday is a former editor of New Left Review and a one-time ardent supporter of the communist regime in Albania. It is clear from this review that he has had a change of view and heart. There's nothing like being married to a victim of communist purges and horrors to open your eyes to reality and lift the clouds of intellectual romanticism and conceit.
Not surprisingly, neither "Wild Swans" nor "The Unmasking of Mao" is permitted to be sold in China which still actively promotes the Mao mythology.
FrontPage magazine.com :: Unmasking Mao by Ronald Radosh
Stalin is supposed to have said, “one death is a tragedy; thousands are but a statistic.” Let us, for a moment then, ponder this statistic, from the very opening sentence of Jung Chang’s and Jon Halliday’s majestic new biography of Chairman Mao: “Mao Tse-tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives on one-quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader.”
Think about that for a moment. The staggering figure exceeds that of the deaths caused by Stalin and Hitler combined. But while one can find almost no one in today’s world who extols the once current benign image of Stalin and Hitler- indeed, few would even admit to holding favorable views of these two tyrants- Mao’s reputation has remained relatively unscathed. The current government of The People’s Republic of China proudly hails Mao as its founder. His life size photo hangs over the balcony overlooking Tiananmen Square, where Mao once addressed the throngs of adoring “Red Guards,” and from which in 1949, he proclaimed the very birth of the new revolutionary regime. That regime’s very legitimacy stems from the creation of Communist China after Mao’s victorious Red Army successfully seized power, forcing the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-Shek to flee to the island of Taiwan.
[...]It is the importance and power of the new biography by Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday that the world’s understanding of Mao is about to undergo a cataclysmic change. The authors are well equipped to undertake such a monumental task. Jung Chang, born in China in 1952, suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution, where she was assigned to be a “barefoot doctor” who treated peasants without any medical training, as real doctors were arrested or killed. Her international best selling memoir of three generations of her family, Wild Swans, captured the ways in which giant cultural change impacted on her own family’s life. Halliday, a Russian historian at King’s College in Britain, was a former editor of New Left Review, and during one period in the 1960’s, a supporter of the Communist regime in Albania. Halliday obviously had serious second thoughts, and in this book, any romance with Communism and illusions about its role in the world have thoroughly disappeared.
[...]Then, of course, one cannot discount the impact of the 1960’s Left, much of whom glorified the Chairman as the world’s only remaining pure and selfless revolutionary. The support to the “Cultural Revolution” by many of that era’s New Left (a group of which co-author Halliday was once a part) was symbolized to me by the words of a well known Marxist-feminist, who upon returning from China, proclaimed that the Cultural Revolution “was about the freeing of women.” And the mythology extended to the Marxist intellectuals of the influential journal Monthly Review, whose editor Paul M. Sweezy pronounced that Mao was the world’s greatest Marxist, who had seen the need to break bureaucracy and keep the flame of Marxist revolution alive.
The brutal truth, to put it as starkly as possible, is that Mao Tse-tung was the last century’s most violent and vicious ruler – a power mad figure who dreamt of extending his rule to the entire world, a goal he pursued while engaging in murder, torture, rape and forced starvation, while demanding complete obedience to his every whim, all the while attended by personal servants who offered him every luxury he desired.
[...]What Mao was an expert in and took great delight was in the torture, repression and savage treatment of the peasants, for whom he had no concern at all. Rather than seek to build a peasant based socialism, Mao saw the peasantry as expendable; as a source of brute labor, who could always be forced to do without any basic means of simply having sufficient food necessary to live. Moreover, Mao was so unpopular with the people, that when the Red Army marched in to “liberate” cities in the last days of the civil war, in some areas not one person appeared to cheer them, since their population had experienced the wrath and reality of Mao’s terror in earlier days of temporary Red rule in the 1920’s.
[...]Mao’s base was not a supportive peasantry, but a population cowed into total obedience through the use of complete terror- a device perfected by Mao between 1941 and 1945. Areas controlled by the Reds witnessed interrogation after interrogation, and mass rallies, in which many were forced to confess to being spies and to name others in front of the large crowds that had gathered. All social life was banished – there was no singing and dancing allowed, and the only peace came from “thought examinations” in which people had to write at length about their own anti-Party thoughts. If one resisted, that was taken as proof that the individual was a spy; the purpose was to destroy all trust between people. Chang and Halliday argue that as a result, most of the people suffered what they call “brain death;” the inability to think or act on their own.
[...]Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have clearly written what will be regarded as the book of the year: the book that finally will have told all the bitter truth about Mao, and thus which will have completely destroyed any remaining reputation he may have had as an individual who helped free China from submission and imperial control. Under Mao, China slipped back from a move towards the modern world into pure barbarism, and the hell Mao created far exceeded any of the difficulties confronting the Chinese people during the short reign of Chiang’s nationalists.
It is hardly a surprise to learn that the current government in China – a regime that has moved China economically into the modern world by taking what Mao had condemned as the “capitalist road” – has moved to suppress the book and prevent its appearance and publication in the mainland. Politically the regime still calls itself Communist. It operates a one-party state, controls all sources of information , suppresses dissidents, imprisons them in the Chinese gulag, and engages in mass suppression of the peasants and factory workers, who are forbidden to organize and try to rectify the horrific conditions in which they live.
The ability to try to push this book past the walls of the Chinese government censors, and to make its findings known in the internet and then through China, is itself part of the struggle that will have to be made to improve the chances for a democratic development in China’s future. It is a difficult, but not impossible task. The Chinese people will someday thank and honor Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.
Ronald Radosh has served as a Senior Research Associate, the Center for Communitarian Studies at George Washington University; as Professor of History in The Graduate Faculty, City University of New York; Research Director for the United States Information Agency, and as Associate Director of the Office of the President, the American Federation of Teachers. He is the author, co-author, or editor of fourteen different books, including his most recent, Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left, and the Leftover Left.