- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

MAO: THE UNKNOWN STORY

By Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

Knopf, $35, 814 pages, illus.

REVIEWED BY STEVEN W. MOSHER

Thirty years a China hand, I was pretty sure I had Mao Zedong pegged. The serial butcheries that the late chairman of the Chinese Communist Party had visited on his own people were well-known to me. I had visited the graves of peasants who died in Mao’s famines, interviewed survivors of the prison system he had established, and witnessed forced abortions by his communist cadres. My opinion of this brutal and tyrannical ruler could sink no lower — or so I thought — but I was wrong. And so, it turns out, are the standard biographies.

Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s “Mao: The Unknown Story” is so chock full of revisionist bombshells that almost every chapter left me shaking my head in surprise. Yet it is so meticulously researched that its groundbreaking conclusions are unlikely to be seriously challenged in the future. Critical to this success is the unparalleled access the authors enjoyed inside of China. Not only did they interview dozens of individuals close to Mao about every detail of his personal life and rise to power, they had privileged access to party archives still closed to other researchers, and of course to the Chinese people themselves. Myths and lies that even today continue to prop up Mao’s image — and the People’s Republic of China itself — fall one-by-one before a no-holds-barred indictment of the man who is arguably the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century.

Take the tale of the Long March. PRC history books recount how Mao, guns blazing, fought his way out of encircling Nationalist armies and through hostile provinces to reach the red base of Yenan. But this heroic epic is a complete fabrication. In reality Chiang Kai-shek, who had encircled the Red Base with a 500,000-man army and four lines of blockhouses bristling with machine guns, allowed them to decamp. He opened “one side of the net,” thereafter using his superior forces to herd the increasingly pitiful Red forces along like sheep until they reached his intended destination. Chiang made absolutely sure that the Reds would flee to Yenan by allowing the communist base there to flourish, while others elsewhere in China were vigorously stamped out. The so-called Long March should be remembered in the history books as the “Forced March.”

Why did Chiang “relocate” the Red Army instead of simply destroying it? Ms. Chang and Mr. Halliday argue convincingly that the generalissimo was afraid that Stalin would execute his only son, Ching-kuo, who had been held hostage in the USSR for nine long years. The Confucian-minded Chiang did not want to betray his ancestors by leaving no male descendants. He herded the Reds to the north to please Stalin, knowing that the Soviet supremo wanted them where he could control them, arm them and use them against the looming Japanese threat. Chiang’s hopes for the return of his son went unfulfilled, however, and the Red Army was fatefully able to “link up” with Moscow.

Mao famously claimed that he was fighting with “only millet plus rifles,” but research in the Soviet archives convinced the authors that “a huge secret program of action and subversion for China” was already underway by 1919. Young Mao was in Moscow’s pay from 1921 onward, and the book includes a receipt for US$300,000 (worth about US$ four million today) signed and sealed by none other than “Mao Zedong.” Without this generous and continuing support from his Soviet “older brothers,” which included, after World War II, the entire arsenal of the surrendered Japanese Army in Manchuria, Mao would have remained a minor bandit on China’s periphery.

Instead, with Soviet help, he had by 1949 extended his writ to all of China. But it wasn’t enough. Even as a young man Mao had dreamed of controlling a global empire, musing in a poem: “I ask the boundless earth, who after all will be your master?” Once in power, he launched a program to industrialize and (secretly) to militarize China. Nuclear-tipped ICBMs were a particular priority. The end game was Chinese hegemony, as he bluntly told his inner circle in 1956: “We must control the earth.”

The Great Leap Forward must be understood, Ms. Chang and Mr. Halliday argue, as an outgrowth of Mao’s lust for ever-expanding power. The chairman wanted steel not just “to overtake Great Britain in steel production in three years,” as the standard histories relate, but to build a blue water navy for conquest. “Now the Pacific Ocean is not peaceful,” he told his leading generals and admirals on June 28, 1958. “It can only be peaceful when we take it over.” Lin Biao, Mao’s closest ally in the military, then interjected: “We must build big ships, and be prepared to land in [i.e., invade] Japan, the Philippines, and San Francisco.” Mao continued: “How many years before we can build such ships? In 1962, when we have XX-XX tons of steel [figures concealed in original]… .”Calling together his provincial chiefs later in 1958, Mao was even more expansive: “In the future we will set up the Earth Control Committee, and make a uniform plan for the Earth.” At that time, the authors observe, “Mao dominated China. He intended to dominate the world.”

The collectivization of agriculture was carried out not to create public-minded new socialist men and women, contra the propaganda of the time. Rather it was to allow the state to more efficiently extract food, work and other resources out of the peasantry to speed industrialization and create a first-class war machine. The pinnacle of state exploitation was reached with the people’s communes, which were so efficient at squeezing China’s villagers that tens of millions of them starved to death as a result. The food exported to pay for Mao’s atomic bomb, the authors conclude, cost 38 million lives. Such losses were inconsequential for this ruthless megalomaniac, who blithely declared that, in pursuit of hegemony, “half of China may well have to die.”

As Mao lay dying, according to those who attended him in the final years of his life, he gave no thought “for the mammoth human and material losses that his destructive quest had cost his people.” Rather he was consumed by self-pity, shedding copious tears for having failed to realize his grand ambitions to become the “master of the earth.”

If you plan (wisely) to read only one biography of Mao, let it be Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s “Mao: The Untold Story.” And as you do so, bear in mind that China’s current leaders, who know the murderous truth about the totalitarian degenerate who founded the People’s Republic of China, proudly declare themselves to be Mao’s heirs.

Steven W. Mosher was the first American social scientist allowed to carry out fieldwork in Mao’s China and the author of “Hegemon: China’s Plan To Dominate Asia and the World.”

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