Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Mao Zedong: A Life from Beginning to End – Book Review

This is a short biography of the controversial Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, who is regarded by some as the architect of modern China and others, as a brutal dictator comparable to Hitler and Stalin (incidentally, he had a close relationship with the latter).

Mao had a modest beginning, and considering the standards back then, he was from a wealthy family considering they held a farmland of their own and the book goes on to describe how his father instilled the discipline in Mao. It then goes on to talk about his failed pursuits of higher education and as to how he was suddenly inspired by the ideas of revolution, the communist ideology even though he differed with the Soviet version as he believed China was more agrarian than Russia. It then went on to describe the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists and how they united to face the common enemy in Japan. It then goes on to talk about Mao’s retreat – the long march, followed by his eventual victory against Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists, thus officially establishing a Communist State in China (barring Taiwan where Chiang Kai-Shek was in charge of the government in exile) and what he did later, the policies he had in place, the Red guards that he created, among various other things.

The book was very detailed, and gives a glimpse of the situation in China, with regard to the society, their leanings and their inclination towards the nationalists. It also gave a reasonable account of their role in the Second World War against Japan and some of the gruesome events as part of it. It also established Mao’s personality in detail, the pragmatist, idealist who wouldn’t hesitate to impose his ideology and his relentless fight against imperialism. As aforementioned, Mao’s effectiveness is debatable and this book made a reasonable effort in touching upon both good and bad aspects of his administration.

However, the extent of detail was a demerit as well, considering, while the Nanking Massacre during the Second Sino-Japanese war is an integral part of modern Chinese history, they failed to establish as to how it was relevant in this book considering Mao stayed relatively silent during the period. Additionally, although I did state that the book did touch upon some of the bad aspects of his administration, it failed to quantify any of it, wherein, it is alleged that through his flawed policies, he has been responsible for the deaths of close to 71 million people (upper limit) through the purges he conducted against counter-revolutionaries, his failed industrialisation policy leading to a mass famine, and the atrocities committed in the name of The Cultural Revolution. Considering the seriousness of his flawed policies, I felt it required much more attention than whatever it managed to garner and in that sense, it is a failure of this biography.

I would say this was a decent biography considering they didn’t try and go out of the way to justify every action of Mao but then, I felt the attention was fully on Mao the revolutionary and very little on Chairman Mao. Considering that, I would award the book a rating of five on ten.

Rating – 5/10

Have a nice day,


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