in October, 2005, the Jung Chang and Jon Halliday biography about
The Unknown Story challenges every other Mao biography that
came before it. Its central assertion is explosive enough:
Mao was responsible
for the deaths of well over 70 million Chinese in peacetime, and
he was bent on dominating the world. (Authors’
comment on Amazon.)
The book also
specifically repudiates a number of myths about Mao, all of them
central to his stature as a great leader. I have rather arbitrarily
enumerated 10 of these myths from the Chang book, extracting from
the wealth of detail there. All page references are from the 2005
Knopf hardcover edition of 832 pages.
#1: Mao loved the peasantry and worked for their benefit.
Mao hated the peasantry, especially his father (p. 6), cared nothing
for workers (p. 30), and did not write an article about their sufferings
until 1925, when he was 31 years old (p. 9, 39).
#2: Mao was an altruist who devoted his life to the service
of the Chinese people.
If Mao was an altruist, he was one who believed that everyone should
sacrifice to his, Mao’s, whims and not the other way around.
This principle he stated clearly in a commentary written at age
24 on Friedrich
Paulsen's A System of Ethics (p. 13), which was fully realized
in his subsequent actions.
#3: Mao was one of the key founders of the Communist Party in
The Communist Party in China was founded and subsidized by the Soviet
Union, first through its agent Grigori
Voitinsky in Shanghai in 1920. Mao ran a subsidized Communist
bookshop in the city of Changsha in his home province of Hunan at
age 27, but was not a fervent supporter (p. 20, 32). He did not make
the final decision to embrace Communism until 1927, when he was
33 (p. 46).
#4: Mao led the 1927 u201CAutumn Harvest Uprising,u201D a peasant revolt
against the rich in Hunan province which started the Communists
No such uprising ever occurred (p. 52). Zhou
En-lai led the mutiny of some 20,000 Communist soldiers out
of the Nationalist force at Nanchang (p. 50), and Mao talked 1,500
of them into becoming a gang of bandits in Hunan's Jinggang mountains
(p. 52). When Zhou's mutineers were defeated by the Nationalists,
a remnant of 4,000 led by Zhu
De joined him (p. 62).
#5: After taking over command of the Red Army on the Long
March in January, 1935, Mao saved it from destruction by the
Nationalists. In a key victory, the daring Communists crossed a
burning wood and chain bridge
over the Dadu River at Luding under heavy fire on May 29, 1935,
without a single casualty.
Mao was personally responsible for the biggest defeat on the Long
March, at Tuching, where 10 percent of the 40,000-man army was killed
or wounded (p. 144). Mao wandered in circles south of Sichuan province,
losing all but 10,000 of the rest (p. 157) because he needed time
to secure his grip on this part of the army, which was to meet a
larger force led by Chang
Kuo-t'ao in Sichuan (p. 152). The only u201Cstrategyu201D was that of
their pursuer, Chiang
Kai-shek, who drove the Communists through the Western provinces
to scare warlords into joining his Nationalist forces – and
who often gave the Communists safe passage to effect this strategy
(p. 147). As for the Dadu River bridge assault, there were no casualties
because there was no opposition in Luding: the incident is pure
propaganda (p. 154).
#6: As reports of the time prove, Mao's Communists were the
only credible group in China in the 1930s dedicated to fighting
the Japanese. When Japan started the Sino-Japanese war in July,
1937, Mao joined his Communist forces with the Nationalists, suppressing
his own ambitions in favor of a common front against the invaders.
This myth has its source in two books published in 1937: Mao
Tse-tung Autobiography (actually written by Shao Li-tzu) and
Red Star Over China by Edgar
Snow. The first author was a PR man loaned to Mao by Chang Kai-shek
in exchange for helping secure the release of Chiang's son, who
had been abducted to Soviet Russia as a hostage (p. 191). Snow did
not have access to most original sources, but in any case, like
so many Communist fellow-travelers of the 1930s, he deeply wanted
to believe what he was told (p. 192). Ernest Hemingway, who was in
China in 1941, wrote the following:
an exaggerated idea of the part [the Communists] have played in
the war against Japan. Their part has been very considerable but
that of the Central Government troops has been a hundred times greater
never saw the light of day, however. Hemingway, on the advice of
FDR's special envoy to China Lauchlin
Currie – u201Cthe man who lost Chinau201D according to American
Communist defector Elizabeth
Bentley – suppressed it.
war was started by Zhang
Zhizhong, a Communist mole within the Nationalist army, on instructions
from Stalin, who wanted to divert the Japanese from any strike against
Russia. u201CMao did not want the Red Army to fight the invaders at
all. He ordered Red commanders to wait for Japanese troops to defeat
the Nationalists, and then, as the Japanese swept on, to seize territories
behind the Japanese lines.u201D (p. 204) The Communist leading the war
against Japan was Wang
Ming, under direct orders from Stalin, not Mao (p. 206). Wang,
who thus emerged as a serious rival, was repeatedly poisoned at
Mao's direction (p. 262). Wang died in exile in Moscow in 1974 (p.
battles pitting Communists against Japanese, removing his commander
in chief Zhu De from fighting in 1944 (p. 222). The only significant
Maoist victory against the Japanese that was not merely a harassing
engagement was won at Pingxingguan
in 1937, by Lin
Biao, acting in defiance of Mao (p. 205).
#7: Despite the greatest provocations, Mao strove to avoid a
civil war both during the Sino-Japanese war and after the Japanese
surrender in 1945. But Chiang Kai-shek would not have it, and Mao
had to once again demonstrate his military genius, this time against
instructed his commanders to skirmish with Nationalists so as to
put them at fault for starting a civil war (p. 215). In December,
1940, in the worst such provocation, known as the New
Fourth Army Incident, Mao ordered that army east from Cloud
Mountain instead of north as both he and Chiang had agreed, straight
into an unsuspecting Nationalist force, which thought it was an
attack. Mao then suppressed cables between the armies that sought
to correct the blunder, resulting in the slaughter of his own 8,000-man
force, and, as planned, the death of its general and his political
rival Xiang Ying
(p. 231). Thanks to misinformation from Edgar Snow and Evans Carlson, FDR blamed
Chiang, and threatened removal of America's considerable Nationalist
support (p. 231).
war did break out, Mao's u201Cbrilliant victoriesu201D were given to him
by moles at the highest level of the Nationalist military. General
Hu Tsung-nan ordered tens of thousands of Nationalist soldiers
to repeated piecemeal death by ambush in the northwest (pp. 301–4);
in Manchuria, Wei
Li-huang concentrated his half-million-man Nationalist army
into scattered northern cities, where they were surrounded and slaughtered
(pp. 307–8); General
Fu Tso-yi, who led Nationalist forces in the Peking-Tianjin
Campaign further south, was not a Communist, but his daughter was,
and she relayed his every move to his Communist opposite, dooming
Fu's 600,000-man army (pp. 308–9). The strategies of u201Csurrounding
the cities from the countrysideu201D and of u201Caiming mainly to eliminate
enemy forces, not to defend or capture citiesu201D prominent in Communist
literature extolling Mao, were those of Liu
Shao-ch'i and Lin Biao, respectively (p. 291).
Of far greater
importance as u201Cthe man who lost Chinau201D was American General
George Marshall (pp. 294–5), who was completely ignorant of
Mao, and who secured for Mao a cease-fire just at the critical moment
in the civil war when Chiang was about to retrieve the Nationalist
disaster in Manchuria. But much of the blame for the loss belongs
to Chiang Kai-shek himself, who refused to weed out generals suspected
of Communist collaboration, and who allowed his relatives, especially
the Soong and K'ung families, to extort and swindle in areas under
#8: Mao committed Chinese troops to North Korea in the Korean
War to aid an Asian ally.
Mao launched the Korean War as part of a deal with Stalin: China
would fight the Americans as a Russian proxy in exchange for Soviet
technology and equipment (p. 358). By 1951, Mao had taken 100,000
casualties and was expecting and ready to expend another 300,000
in human wave assaults (renhai zhanshu), in exposure to minus-30-degree
cold, and in starvation (p. 366).
#9: The Great Leap Forward was a noble but failed socialist
experiment aimed at modernizing the Chinese economy.
The Great Leap Forward began in May, 1958 to accelerate Mao's u201CSuperpower
Programmeu201D (p. 426). It was not a socialist agricultural experiment,
but rather a forced work program aimed at confiscating every item
of agriculture for exchange to Russia and Eastern Europe for military
goods and services, and as such was completely military in nature
In the context
of reports that peasants were being worked to exhaustion, Mao said
on November 21, 1958, to his inner circle: u201CWorking like this, with
all these projects, half of China may well have to die. If not half,
one-third, or one-tenth – 50 million – die (p. 439).u201D Mao's
number two, Liu Shao-ch'i admitted that 30 million had died in the
famine caused by the Great Leap Forward (p. 438). Chang herself estimates
38 million deaths, and says that none of these would have happened
if food exports to Russia and Eastern Europe had not been made (p. 438).
Even after its failure, the government killing did not stop. Deng
Xiaoping estimated that afterward another 10 million of its critics
were killed in purges, including many doctors who had spoken up
to authorities (p. 451).
was in no way a u201Cfood shortage.u201D It was a famine, the largest man-made
famine in history. In the countryside there was cannibalism (p. 438),
and grass, leaves, tree bark, and worse were eaten. Chlorella, a
type of algae that grows on stagnant pools of urine, was even recommended
by Chou En-lai for its taste and nutrient value (p. 437). Horrific
punishments were meted out to those who stole food, including amputations,
the burying of offenders alive, and the cutting off of noses. In
one case, wire was strung through the ears of hungry children who
were then hung from a wall (p. 436).
Yet even at
the height of the famine it was easy for Mao to fool the West. The
February, 1959, a report of the CIA on Chinese food output stated
that there were u201Cremarkable increases in productionu201D (pp. 459–460).
This report is typical of the merry band that thought up Operation
Mongoose to discredit Castro by making his beard fall out, Operation
Acoustic Kitty to wire up cats to eavesdrop on Soviets, the
Project to telepathically extract Soviet intelligence –
typical of the acronym-spouting kiddies who failed to foresee the
the Shah of Iran in 1979, who even missed the fall
of the Soviet Union in 1989. Stupidest of all had to be China
CIA chief James Lilley, who thought his infiltration of China was
u201Ceasyu201D (p. 462), yet still passed on misinformation, oblivious to
the starvation all around him (p. 467).
Mao would have
continued the murderous Great Leap Forward, had not Liu Shao-ch'i
hijacked the January, 1962, Communist Party Conference in Peking
to force a reduction in food levies (p. 477). For this Liu was later
purged and tortured, along with his entire family, for over three
years until his death in prison in 1969.
If you find
all of this beyond belief, find corroboration of Chang's account
of the Great Leap Forward in Jasper Becker's Hungry
Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine.
#10: For all his faults, Mao was a good man whose foremost thought
was the betterment of the Chinese people.
It is difficult
to argue that Mao had the betterment of the people of China in mind
when he grew opium as a large-scale cash crop while in Yen'an after
the Long March (p. 279). Many of the people there in fact became addicts.
Also, how to explain the fact that that he hid the death of his
son An-Ying in Korea from An-Ying's wife for years (p. 379), and that
he had over 50 personal estates throughout China (p. 329), all of
them lavishly maintained even when China was starving?
While it is
true that Mao cared little for things such as fancy clothes or gourmet
food (fish head soup was his favorite), it is also true that his
first standard was his own comfort and indulgence. Although Chang
describes Mao's relentless womanizing, probably a more pathological
account is offered by his personal physician, Li Zhi-Sui in The
Private Life of Chairman Mao. This latter work describes
Mao's complete indifference to giving venereal disease to the hundreds
of young women who shared his bed.
How could so
great an evil – a privation
of the good we are reassured – have so completely succeeded?
Reading the river of blood that was this man's life, feeling a palpable
nausea in knowing that each page shows the triumph of evil, one
at last opens onto a fetid delta of redaction in trying to account
for it all.
Shall we meander
along Arendt's notion of the banality of evil, or Rand's notion
of the sanction of the victim, or the complicity of intellectuals,
la trahison des clercs, best given by Czeslaw Milosz in his
Captive Mind? Laurels await the one who can explain the
success and continued appeal of this bloodthirsty and completely
callous man. But more than that, we humans are fascinated by the
theme: We want to be able to say that we navigated the whole course
of evil, understood it, and at last locked it up in a book.
and grew in evil – he made a career of it, starting from earliest
childhood. We might say that then the key lesson was learned: that
by manipulating people, reality could be controlled. He realized
that by making imperious demands through his mother he could get
his father to do what he wanted: he could do as he liked and not
have to do any real work, especially not peasant work. And how ironic
that the justification for his power should come from Marxism, a
philosophy that romanticized work, as if it too were a foreign subject
or a story in a book!
that most people are obedient, that most people are fearful and
do not want to risk family and capital in any confrontation –
and that those without such scruples have them by the throat. He
learned that witnessing physical torture gives pleasure, and even
wrote poems to the suobiao, or lance, that his men used to
hack u201Clandlordsu201D and u201Canti-Bolsheviksu201D to death in the 1930s in
his Hunan home province.
in the early 1940s was a special finishing school. There he learned
the macabre Gesamtkunstwerke
of mass terror. He learned that once people are whipped into excitedly
pronouncing something as a group, they all tend to believe that
thing, no matter how false; that when they experience a public murder
in such a state, they will all exonerate
themselves. He learned that most people will do anything and
commit any deed to avoid being cast out from the group; that u201Cself-criticismu201D
or public confession can make the law not an external command but
rather the very voice of a person's own consciousness.
avoid the obvious comparison of these techniques to those of religion.
Of course apologists from Burke to von
Kuehnelt-Leddihn would say that temptation to use such techniques
is man's nature and that religion holds them in check. This is worth
pursuing elsewhere. What's important to note here is that Mao did
advance theory – not the flimsy idea of a rural proletariat,
but totalitarian theory of how to control the thought of the masses.
One great theme of von Kuehnelt-Leddihn is surely right: the appeal
of such totalitarian systems endures in the face of all logic and
fact because it is rooted in a profound impulse that is essentially
religious. In this sense we might better say that having navigated
the whole course of evil, that we should lock up its knowledge not
in a book but in a priesthood
that that will never have political power.
Hulsey [send him mail] is a writer
living in Fort Worth, Texas.