In This Review

The Private Life of Chairman Mao

The Private Life of Chairman Mao
By Dr. Li Zhisui, with the editorial assistance of Anne F. Thur
663 pp, Random House, 1994

Dr. Li Zhisui met Mao Zedong for the first time on April 25, 1955, late in the afternoon. The doctor had finished a busy day in his clinic, but Mao was just starting his day's work. On a wooden bed beside his indoor swimming pool, the chairman lounged "naked beneath an open terry-cloth robe . . . his lower body loosely covered by a towel." Dr. Li was impressed by Mao's healthy appearance: broad shoulders, a big belly, thick black hair, "skin like butter, delicate, and hairless." Dr. Li, summoned by the awesome and remote Great Leader, was nervous, but Mao soon put him at ease, while at the same time impressing him with his wisdom. Mao made it clear that Dr. Li's education in missionary schools would be no bar to his holding a position of the greatest trust under the chairman. He reminded the doctor that the great second emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Li Shimin, had made a general with a questionable background one of his closest and most trusted aides.

Li became Mao's personal physician, and there were only a few periods between that first interview and Mao's death on September 9, 1976, when he was not immediately responsible for his medical care.

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  • John E. Wills, Jr., a Professor of History at the University of Southern California, has written widely on the history of Chinese foreign relations. His most recent book is Mountain of Fame: Portraits in Chinese History.
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