Book Review: “Mao – The Unknown Story”

“Mao- The Unknown Story” (Click here to view the book on

We should be glad that the Chinese funded communist movements in Japan never gained momentum.

This book by Jung Chang (also know for Wild Swans), is apparently the first time anyone has taken a really deep look into Mao Tse-tung’s reign over China, from the inside, and published such a whopper of a biography.

The Daily Mail said “Few books are destined to change history, but this one will”.

I had never read a book on Chinese history that said anything like this. High-school history class told me that The Cultural Revlution took China from being a backward barbaric country, to a civilised modern country. Ms. Burrows neglected to mention the immense human carnage, and the fact that this was a small part of a much larger plan by one man to in fact take over the entire world, including Japan.

What intrigued me about this story, was how much the entire country of China, and many other parts of the Communist world, were controlled by the ideals and plans of one man, and how much he was able to succeed in his ambitions. Also how he was able to control the information coming in and out of China at the time so that the world saw a Mao that was very different to his image within China.

Of course this book is still banned in China, and Chang’s dream appears for it to be read by all the Chinese people, and thus changing China’s history somewhat. Her disdain for Mao comes through strong, punctualised by unneccesary personal comments right at the end of each chapter, but aside from that, it reads very smooth. All 750 pages.

It’s a doorstopper, but if you have the time, I highly recommend it.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: “Mao – The Unknown Story””

  1. Thank you for your book review of Mao, the Unknown Story. I am actully reading this book, and have been attracted to it. I have also read Wild Swans by Jung Chang twice. I think she is a serious writer about history. I agree with you at the point that she too often put her personal comments between the lines and guided readers in her direction of thoughts and feelings, but this does not prevent the book from being a doorstopper as you mentioned.

    I was particularly intrigued by the period of history from 1927 to 1937 because these ten years were mostly glossed over by most of the publications or even distorted and removed by the official version of the Chinese history books. What we see from Jung Chang’s book is a wicked Mao who climbed his way for personal power through various schemes. The book debunks many myths that we as Chinese have been imparted since early childhood as heroic stories, for example, the battle of Luding Bridge over the Dadu river during the Long March. According to Jung Chang, there was no battle over the bridge at all. What is more, the Long March itself is a myth because it was Chiang Kai-shek who deliberately facilitated the Red Armies to march to the northwest of China to pursue his personal agenda.

    I am still reading it, so more will come.

    Jerry Zhao

  2. Chang and Halliday’s Mao, Unknown Story is good, but it is not good as The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Zhisui Li

    Chang and Halliday’s Mao, Unknown Story provided a brand new version and perspective of Chairman Mao. It is the first time to portray Chairman Mao as a bloody mass-murderer. In their book, Chairman Mao was a large-scale murderer during a Chinese peace era. Nearly 80 million people were dead by his Utopian idealism: that was an unbelievable number. It is four times the number of deaths of the Soviets in the war between the Soviet Union and Germany. He used drastic violence to suppress people who he believed stood in his way for industrializing China. He ignored the death of 30 million people during the starvation period of the Great Famine, which was caused by his foolish “Great Leap Forward” for overtaking the British and catching up to the Americans. After the Great Famine, his lunatic behavior reached new heights. He launched the culture revolution, which was completely insane. He became a maniac. Under his direction, the violence was propelled to its bloodiest high tide. The horror broke historic records. Elementary school students unbelievably beat their teachers to death. The death toll was continuing to pile up until the day he died. From Mao, Unknown Story, the figure of Chairman Mao was drawn as a vicious monster and mass-murderer.

    No wonder, horrible bloody killings described in Mao, Unknown Story truly happened in China from 1949, when Chairman Mao took over China, to 1976 when Chairman Mao died. Chairman Mao did everything so lunatic, and insane. From the catastrophe which he brought to China, he deserves to be considered a bloodthirsty monster and a bloody mass murderer. Overall, the book is good and correct.

    Even though the book is good and correct, it cannot compare with Dr. Zhisui Li’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao in deeply and lively describing of Chairman Mao. No less than Dr. Andrew Nathan pointed out, all of biographic writers have a limitation in deeply and lively describing their objects. Because they have never served their objects, they have no chance to observe them closely. Also they have done a lot of research, but the inherent defect is that they don’t really know their objects’ personality and psychology. They don’t know their objects’ courtyard operations; their objects’ retainers, and the relationship between their objects, their objects’ retainers and the government officials.

    Dr. Zhisui Li’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao did not portray Chairman Mao as a bloodthirsty monster and a bloody mass murderer; instead of that, it focused on details of Chairman Mao’s personality, psychology and his courtyard operation. Owing to Dr. Zhisui Li’s position, it made him as so called: inside man. He could know a lot of Chairman Mao’s important information that an outsider could not know. Even Chairman Mao’s former public health minister told Dr. Li to come see him anytime if Dr. Li wanted to tell him about any of Chairman Mao’s activities. In the same way, Chairman Mao’s former chief commanding officer of guards also was available to Dr. Li with no appointment.

    The deepest impression for me about Dr. Li’s book is the Chairman Mao’s courtyard and his retainers. Chairman Mao’s medical doctor, chief commanding officer of guards and secretaries comprised his retainers. They were called “Group One”. Chairman Mao’s retainers formed a powerful and vicious retainer circle. Their power was even above party officials. The party officials were not servants of people. Instead they were servants of Chairman Mao. They cared for Chairman Mao’s retainers a lot of more than they cared for people. The gossip of those retainers could cause party officials a serious trouble. People were powerless and ignored. The party officials entertained Chairman Mao’s retainers with the best Chinese whiskey and the best Chinese cuisine while the Chinese commoners had a little of meat to eat. During the starvation period of the Great Famine, Chairman Mao even stopped eating meat. But his retainers flaunted the banner of celebrating Chairman Mao’s birthday, and required the local party officials to hold a grand dinner party for them. The dinner fulfilled the best Chinese cuisine, seafood, and the best Chinese whiskey, wine, beer. The party was in the name of celebrating Chairman Mao’s birthday, but Chairman Mao didn’t even attend. Dr. Li found it very hard to swallow that tasty food. However his colleague exhorted Dr. Li, saying that unless he wanted to leave “Group One”, he had better wallow in the mire with them. Some party officials even colluded with some of Mao’s retainers making a fraud deal in secret. The fraud deal deceived party treasurers by saying that Chairman Mao ate more than one thousand chickens in three, four days. Actually, the party officials took chickens for their own meals. Chairman Mao even had never known it until he was dead.

    The factions in Chairman Mao’s retainers circle were stricken by each other fiercely. Opponents attempted to topple their counter part desperately. A vicious atmosphere permeated daily life. Nobody felt safe. Chairman Mao’s wife was frequently involved in the factions’ conflicts. In this vicious atmosphere, even Chairman Mao himself suspected somebody of crawling on his bedroom roof at midnight. He did not trust any of his retainers. He even suspected that the swimming pool in his palace was poisoned.

    Dr. Li’s dream to be a great neural surgeon became a surviving nightmare. Although Dr. Li wanted to avoid touching this vicious politics, he could not stay out from it. For survival he was forced to stay with one faction. Later, the factions’ grappling escalated to a cross line battle between the retainer circle and party officials, and eventually led to a palace coup after Chairman Mao was dead. Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues were arrested. However, Dr. Li survived successfully.

    I feel that Dr. Li portrayed the figure of Chairman Mao and his courtyard operation more close to the true Chinese history, what was really happened in China from 1949 to 1976. Compared to Dr. Li’s book, Chang and Halliday’s Mao, Unknown Story seems pale.

  3. The story in Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story is about the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. However, the story is Chinese folklore.

    In Chinese modern history, there was a most important event. It was the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues were arrested. The event led to China discontinuing Chairman Mao’s policy. The new leader opened the door to Western countries and China eventually became a world manufacturer.

    In Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story, the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976 was described as a Chinese army marshal and a Chinese army general who hatched up a plot to launch a Palace Coup to arrest Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues to end Chairman Mao’s policy. Their source was from Chinese folk publications. The source is not reliable and the story is not true.

    There were three different stories about the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. The first one said that Chairman Mao’s successor launched the Palace Coup and arrested Mao’s wife and her three colleagues. This story was printed on all of party official’s books and newspapers. The second story was a Chinese folklore, namely a Chinese army marshal and a Chinese army general hatched a plot to launch the Palace Coup to arrest Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues. The third story, told by Dr. Li’s memoirs, The Private Life of Chairman Mao said the bane of the event was the long fighting in Chairman Mao’s retainer circle, and escalated to cross line fighting between the retainers and party officials. Especially, Chairman Mao’s wife was involved in the both the retainers conflicts and party officials conflicts, finally caused the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. After Dr. Li’s memoir was published, there were quite a number of memoirs written by eyewitnesses about the event. They proved that Dr. Li’s story was true and denied either of the official story or the folklore.

    Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story adopted the second story, the Chinese folklore. It was not true for the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976. Their adoption proved Dr. Andrew Nathan’s viewpoint, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story was not a serious scholar work, instead it was a “Chinese Da Vinci Code” research work.

    For the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976, Dr. Li’s memoir’s description was the most authoritative and reliable. A Chinese dictum said one cold day could not create the ice sheet three feet deep. The Palace Coup happened on October 6, 1976, but it had been ignited long time ago. Dr. Li’s memoir provides us the full details.

    In 1956, Chairman Mao’s secretary and Chairman Mao’s second commanding officer of guards, Lee were allies. Together they were beating down Chairman Mao’s first commanding officer of guards, Wong. They both slandered him to Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao’s wife slandered Wong too. They ignited Chairman Mao’s anger to Wong. Finally, Chairman Mao dismissed Wong from his post, and relegated Wong to a provincial officer. Wong was very angry and hated all of them, except Chairman Mao. He resented Chairman Mao’s wife actions at a crucial time. He told Dr. Li, he would take revenge on Mao’s wife. That was in 1956. 20 years later, he became the first plotter and executor of the Palace Coup. The new Chairman of the party and the old army marshal stayed as the second and the third characters in that event. Dr. Li unconsciously became Wong’s future ally. Chairman Mao’s wife kept a deep hatred within herself. 20 years later, the hatred erupted like a volcano eruption, and engulfed her and her three colleagues.

    After Wong was dismissed, Chairman Mao’s second commanding officer of guards, Lee took Wong’s position as the sole commanding officer of Chairman Mao’s guards. He was very complacent. He competed with Chairman Mao’s secretary for supremacy of Chairman Mao’s courtyard and told Chairman Mao and his wife how bad Chairman Mao’s secretary was. He won those battles. Chairman Mao and his wife believed in Lee’s slanderous talk, and became discontented with Chairman Mao’s secretary. Chairman Mao’s wife told everybody, that Chairman Mao’s secretary did not work, but spent his time drinking, eating, and entertaining. Chairman Mao avoided seeing his secretary, and let Lee work for him. Chairman Mao’s secretary grumbled at Dr. Li. He said he had done a lot of duty work for Chairman Mao; but he did not appreciate it, and attempted to kick him out here. Under the rage of Chairman Mao, he told everybody that Chairman Mao was a womanizer. Eventually, Chairman Mao knew what he said about him, but Chairman Mao could not do anything to him.

    Lee became the master of the Chairman Mao’s courtyard. Nobody could control him, and he did everything what he wanted. He even neglected his duties, and went shopping during his work hours. In Shanghai, Chairman Mao woke up and called Lee, but Lee wasn’t there. Chairman Mao became very angry, and yelled and swore at Lee loudly. At that moment, the Shanghai local party officer had come to pick up Chairman Mao for a meeting, and heard Chairman Mao’s yelling and swearing. He was surprised and shocked, and worried about Chairman Mao’s safety. He suggested that Chairman Mao call his old commanding officer of guards, Wong back to the position where he was dismissed. Chairman Mao agreed with him. In 1960, Wong came back to Chairman Mao’s courtyard and took back his old position. Chairman Mao’s wife was doomed by this move. 16 years later, Wong arrested her.

    Wong’s first action after he came back to Chairman Mao’s courtyard was to rectify the corruption of “Group One”. The number one target was Lee, and the second target was Chairman Mao’s secretary. Wong convened meetings everyday to strike at Lee. In the meetings, everybody criticized Lee as corrupted, impudent in his duties, and acted badly as Chairman Mao’s secretary. Chairman Mao himself even taught the guards what to say to beat Lee and the secretary. As a result, Lee and Chairman Mao’s secretary were both dismissed from their positions. Wong controlled Chairman Mao’s courtyard. Wong dismissed all of the officers from important posts, and placed his trustees on those posts. It included the commanding officer of the central garrison. At that time, Chairman Mao’s wife still did not see any evil omen looming ahead.

    After Chairman Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s wife was promoted to Chairman Mao’s spokeswoman. She became a very powerful party leader. Chairman Mao’s commanding officer of guards, Wong, gained a powerful party leader position at the same time.

    At this moment, between Chairman Mao’s wife and Dr. Li, a conflict broke out. Chairman Mao’s wife accused Dr. Li as an Americans’ intelligence agent, and wanted to murder her. She asked the premier to issue an order to arrest Dr. Li. But the premier refused to do it. She asked the party second authority’s wife to do her a favor and find poisoned elements in her medicine, which she got from Dr. Li. The party second authority’s wife brought the medicine to a military institute laboratory to analysis the chemical elements. After she got the report, she brought the report to Chairman Mao’s wife. The report did not found any poisoned elements in the medicine.

    Chairman Mao’s wife read the report. She became very angry and bawled out the party second authority’s wife. She said all of you are American intelligence agents. This conflict between Chairman Mao’s wife and Dr. Li led Dr. Li to become Wong’s ally. Dr. Li and Wong started to stick together to fight Chairman Mao’s wife. Wong told Dr. Li that he would arrest Chairman Mao’s wife. He tested Dr. Li’s attitude to Chairman Mao’s wife. Dr. Li told Wong to be very careful or he could get into trouble by his talk. Wong said that it was not necessary to be very careful. He asked Dr. Li if he would tell anybody what he had said to him. Dr. Li said, of course not.

    Wong and Dr. Li were secret allies against Chairman Mao’s wife. Later, Wong placed Dr. Li to another important post, the commanding officer of the military hospital 305. To that day, Wong’s trustees were spread all over Chairman Mao’s courtyard. Actually, Chairman Mao’s wife was already monitored by the commanding officer of guards, Wong. Chairman Mao’s wife’s every move would be reported to Wong.

    Finally, Chairman Mao’s wife’s ominous day was coming. Chairman Mao was dead. Chairman Mao’s commanding officer of guards, Wong asked Dr. Li to watch Chairman Mao’s wife closely, reporting all of her activities. Meanwhile, he colluded with Chairman Mao’s successor, the new Chairman of the party and the old army marshal to launch the palace coup. They requested Chairman Mao’s wife and her three colleagues to attend a meeting. Chairman Mao’s commanding officer of guards, Wong ordered the guards and the central garrison to surround the conference hall and arrested them.

    Dr. Li’s true story about the Chinese Palace Coup on October 6, 1976 is more lively and exciting than the Chinese folklore in Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao, the Unknown Story.

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