In their new book, Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday estimate that under Mao Zedong’s rule in China at least 70 million people were killed in one way or another in the name of making a socialist utopia. Jung Chang was a youthful victim of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, and wrote about this gruesome episode in modern Chinese history in her earlier work, Wild Swans (1991). Having been among Mao’s multitudes of victims, she has spent more than ten years researching the history of the man who brought so much tragedy to her native country.
Anyone who has read The Private Life of Chairman Mao (1996) by Mao’s longtime personal physician, Li Zhi-Sui, would already be disgusted with the man: his failure to bathe or brush his teeth for decades; his wanton use of hundreds of innocent peasant girls (to whom he passed a variety of venereal diseases) for his seemingly insatiable sexual desires; his pleasure in humiliating and hurting even his most loyal followers and fellow communist leaders; and his total disregard for any human life other than his own.
But Jung Chang and Jon Halliday show Mao to be a man of absolute evil. Like many Marxist leaders, Mao was not born into a working-class family. At the time of his birth in 1893, Mao’s father was a relatively successful middle-class farmer in the province of Hunan in south-central China. From an early age Mao was interested neither in physical labor nor systematic education. He preferred to loaf about and read on his own. (Throughout his life he absorbed a vast amount of literature on many subjects, and had special editions of books prepared for himself that became forbidden works for the masses.)
Like Stalin in the Soviet Union, Mao seems to have had neither personal charisma nor the gift of oratory. Rather, he had the ability to manipulate people and situations to his own advantage, slowly rising to the top of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1920s and 1930s. He was ruthless with both friend and foe, viewing everyone he encountered as mere tools to use and then dispose of in pursuit of absolute power.
Mao was married four times. He treated each wife miserably, as he did most of his children, whom he often abandoned to their fate and sometimes to their deaths. During the famous Long March in 1934–1935, when Mao lead the Chinese communist forces from south-central China to a new Red-controlled territory in the northwest region of the country, he made his third wife abandon their baby son as Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist armies were trying to surround them. Years later, she unsuccessfully hunted the countryside to find her lost child. Her only clue was the assumption that the son might have two of Mao’s distinguishing characteristics: oily ears and an especially pungent underarm odor.
Both before and especially after the Long March, Mao instigated reigns of terror and tyranny on the Chinese peasants who fell under the sway of his forces. Slave labor, starvation rations, and merciless propaganda and indoctrination sessions late into the night became the hallmarks of Chinese communist rule.Cruel and excruciating tortures and methods of execution were devised to assure destruction of all opposition and disobedience to Mao’s power. (The authors describe many of them in indelicate detail.)
Contrary to the left-wing myths of the time, especially in the American press, that Mao’s Red Army was the main Chinese fighting force against the Japanese during World War II, Mao instructed all his commanders to avoid battles with the Japanese. Instead, he worked to conserve his forces as a prelude to the Chinese Civil War that began in 1945 and ended in the communist conquest of the Chinese mainland in 1949.
The authors detail how Mao’s victory would have been impossible without the assistance of Stalin’s Soviet army, which overran Manchuria in the last weeks of the Pacific war. Stalin allowed Mao’s forces to occupy most of Manchuria behind the Soviet shield and turned over vast stores of captured Japanese weaponry.
The authors also explain how General George C. Marshall, then secretary of state in Harry Truman’s administration, was totally manipulated and duped by Mao and his chief diplomatic negotiator, Chou En-Lai. They persuaded Marshall that they were merely “agrarian reformers” wanting justice for the Chinese people in a coalition government with the Nationalists. All the while they were strengthening and positioning the Red Army for a grand attack to seize the rest of China. They succeeded in making Chiang Kai-shek seem to be the stumbling block to a political compromise,which resulted in the U.S. government cutting off all armament sales to the Nationalist government in 1947, just as victory was possibly in the grasp of Chiang’s armies.
Using Chinese and Soviet archival materials, the authors show that Mao happily assisted, with Stalin’s help, in the North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950. Mao began assembling Chinese forces to enter the Korean War long before the United Nations forces pushed back the North Korean offensive and then crossed the 38th parallel to unify a free Korea. Mao was ready to continue the war indefinitely to kill tens of thousands of Americans in a conflict of attrition, even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers’ lives. Only Stalin’s death in 1953 and the desire of the new Soviet leadership to calm international tensions forced Mao to accept a ceasefire and an end to the Korean conflict.
At an international conference of communist parties in Moscow in 1957 marking the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Mao delivered a speech calling for the start of a nuclear World War III against America. He declared that it did not matter if half of China’s population was killed in the cataclysm, because there would still be hundreds of millions of Chinese left to rise out of the rubble to rule a communist world. Shortly after that, Chou En-Lai told a Soviet envoy visiting Beijing that they should be planning a new capital city for such a communist-controlled world somewhere on a manmade island in the Pacific, since both Moscow and Beijing would likely be incinerated in the nuclear destruction that was to come.That didn’t seem to bother Mao at all.
In the 1950s and 1960s Mao pushed China into a crash program to make his country an industrial and nuclear superpower. Ignorant of all economic concepts, including the ideas of scarcity and tradeoffs, Mao crushed the Chinese population into abject poverty in an attempt to make himself ruler of the world.
While tens of millions of Chinese starved and died, he lived a life of luxury with dozens of atomic bombproof mansions built for his pleasure around the country, all with large swimming pools constantly heated in case he were to show up. But he spent most of his time in Beijing, lying in bed for days on end, eating his specially prepared foods, reading books banned for everyone else, and enjoying group sex whenever the urge came over him.
The authors explain that the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976 was all a grand plan of Mao’s to settle scores with real and imaginary enemies in order to assure his absolute and unchallenged power over China. In the process, the country was pushed into horrific violence and terror that almost destroyed everything left of civilization in China.
Mao Zedong died in bed, an old and sick man in 1976, at the age of 82. His legacy was the murderous destruction of an entire society.