In This Review

Mao: The Unknown Story
Mao: The Unknown Story
By Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Knopf, 2005, 832 pp

This massive biography of Chairman Mao will alter how both laymen and specialists think about the founder of communist China. The husband-and-wife team of Chang and Halliday have nothing good to say about Mao, whom they depict as a cruel tyrant who did not even believe in the ideology he imposed on China; they make no effort to explain how so many people, both Chinese and foreigners, fell under the spell of him and his myth. They have done a major job of researching various archives and interviewing several hundred people, and Halliday's command of the Russian language led him to material that depicts Stalin as having had a bigger hand in the founding of the Chinese Communist Party than previously thought. But they tell a story that is not too different from what is found in standard histories of the period -- except for their unrelenting personal criticism of Mao. Thus, for example, while most histories treat "factional struggles" as standard procedure in Chinese party politics, Chang and Halliday present them as the work of the evil tyrant Mao. In the end, they may exaggerate his faults, but their work will surely succeed in tarnishing the legacy of the Great Helmsman.