Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Mao

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Mao

The Unknown Story

by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday

Mao by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2005, 832 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2006, 864 pages

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Jung Chang was born in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. She was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen and then worked as a peasant, a "barefoot doctor," (A lay health care worker who received 3-6 months training in basic medical principles), a steelworker, and an electrician before becoming an English-language student and, later, an assistant lecturer at Sichuan University.

She left China for Britain in 1978 and was subsequently awarded a scholarship by York University, where she obtained a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1982, the first person from the People's Republic of China to receive a doctorate from a British university.

Her award-winning memoir Wild Swans, was published in 1991.

Jon Halliday is a former Senior Visiting Research Fellow at King's College, University of London. He has written or edited eight previous books. 

Halliday and Chang are married.  

Did you know?

  • Chang was once so indoctrinated with Maoist beliefs that, as a young girl, she chastised herself for feeling sad when Mao ordered all the grass and flowers should be destroyed.  However, her vision cleared on the eve of her 16th birthday when she witnessed the brutal denunciation of her parents and the subsequent raid on their apartment. 
  • Wild Swans is still banned in China, and Mao won't be published there either.  However, Chang is working on a Chinese translation that will be published in Taiwan.  She is confident that, like Wild Swans, copies will find their way into her native country.

Controversy:  Mao was widely lauded by critics (most of who are not Sino-experts) when first published in 2005.  However, it was not long before adverse comments began to surface from some quarters.  One critic was Columbian professor Andrew Nathan, who wrote a lengthy article in the London Review of Books in which he says, "many of their discoveries come from sources that cannot be checked, others are openly speculative or are based on circumstantial evidence, and some are untrue". You can read the full article by clicking the link above.

This article was originally published in October 2005, and has been updated for the November 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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