In This Review

Mao Zedong: A Biography. Vol. 1, 1893– 1949
Mao Zedong: A Biography. Vol. 1, 1893– 1949
By Pang Xianzhi and Jin Chongji
Cambridge University Press, 2020, 1018 pp

One wonders why a prestigious university press decided to publish a three-volume work on the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong by official Chinese historians. The respected scholar Timothy Cheek validates the project in reserved terms in his thoughtful introduction, acknowledging, “For most scholars, Jin Chongji’s unrelentingly positive assessment of Mao is unlikely to convince.” By tracing Mao’s movements in numbing detail up to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949, this first volume does provide many fresh facts from China’s closed archives, as Cheek says. And for what it’s worth, it faithfully reflects the current official Chinese interpretation of Mao’s life, which no longer treats him as a god but does not delve into his humanity. Episodes of factional strife are described as Mao’s patient, infallible rectification of internal discord. The violence against critics between 1942 and 1945, during the Yan’an period, is attributed not to Mao but to Kang Sheng, the chief of Mao’s secret police. Mao’s complex love-hate relationship with Stalin fades into rote formality. Mao’s affair with his eventual fourth wife, Jiang Qing, merits a mere three sentences. Only specialists will have the patience to pan for the specks of gold that this first volume contains, and they might as well consult the Chinese edition.