BookBrowse Reviews Mao by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday

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Mao

The Unknown Story

by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday

Mao by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday X
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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An entirely fresh look at Mao in both content and approach. It will astonish historians and the general reader alike. Biography

From the book jacket: 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 intimate and intricate relationship with Stalin went back to the 1920s, ultimately bringing him to power; he welcomed Japanese occupation of much of China; and he schemed, poisoned and blackmailed to get his way.

After Mao conquered China in 1949, his secret goal was to dominate the world. In chasing this dream 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.

Comment: Jung Chang's family memoir, Wild Swans, was published in 1991 (two years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, at a time when people in the West were hungry for information about China) and went on to become the biggest grossing non-fiction paperback in publishing history, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide and being translated into 30 languages, transforming Chang from a life of extraordinary hardship to literary stardom almost overnight.

After the success of Wild Swans, many would have rested on their laurels, perhaps churning out a follow up memoir or two.  Not Chang; instead, she and her husband, historian Jon Halliday, took advantage of the financial independence provided by the success of Wild Swans to focus the next ten years of their lives on a book about Chairman Mao - a book that they believe reveals the true character of the man who ruled China for 27 years.

"Seventy million killed at the absolute minimum. We didn't even count people like my grandmother's death - which should really be on Mao's account. That figure only includes people who were murdered by Mao - and in peace time, which is completely unprecedented in the history of the world." - Jung Chang.

"We want people to understand it; we didn't want to write a book for our peers, for other historians. We want the general reader to know about Mao."  - John Halliday.

"Ever since the spectacular success of Chang's Wild Swans we have waited impatiently for her to complete with her husband this monumental study of China's most notorious modern leader. The expectation has been that she would rewrite modern Chinese history. The wait has been worthwhile and the expectation justified. This is a bombshell of a book." - Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, writing in The London Times.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2005, and has been updated for the December 2006 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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