The Private Life of Chairman Mao – Dr. Li Zhisui
On September 9, 1976, Mao Zedong took his last breath in Beijing, China. The late Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, had ruled the country since the defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek’s and the Kuomintang political party in 1949. Mao became a legend in China, lionized by ardent followers but reviled by those opposed to communism and appalled at the actions of his administration. Today, China continue to reinvent itself but Mao’s face remains and can found in many places across the mainland. To the older generation he is both everything that was needed in China and everything that was wrong. His policy of the ‘Great Leap’ forward, instituted programs intended to redevelop China and transform it into a world superpower. The failure of that police and its effects are well-known and a case for study. The closed-door policy that existed between the United States and China resulted in a division of understanding between the east and west that continues to this day. Mao’s meeting with President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 gave hope that the two world powers would form some sort of bond bringing each closer to mutual understanding. Nixon’s visit set a precedent with nearly all subsequent presidents visiting the communist nation.
Mao remains a figure of mystery and his personal life is the source of intrigue for historians and scholars. Dr. Li Zhisui, his former physician, penned this memoir at the urging of his late wife. He knew ahead of time that the publication of the book would require that he leave China for good. In the face of unfavorable odds, he finished this book that takes up behind the scenes to witness the private life of a 20th century icon. Zhisui immigrated to the United States and remained here for the rest of his life. He died in 1995 having never returned to China. Drawing upon his memories as the caretaker of Mao’s health, we step back into time during Mao’s control of China and climate of deceit and distrust that became pillars of his rule. Deadly games of double cross incited by thirsts for power, play out before our eyes. A key player is Mao’s own wife, Jiang Qing, a former actress who would be convicted following Mao’s death on counts of treason as part of “gang of four”. Mao’s infidelities and Qing’s own insecurities are key issues in the book and serve as catalyst for the climate of suspicion that engulfs their lives. She appears prominently throughout the book and is a repeated antagonist forcing the doctor into a number of uncomfortable situations. Mao does nothing to diffuse the situations and as come to learn through the doctor’s words, his true motives behind his actions are shocking and shrewd. The true tragedy however, is that the games that were played and nefarious intent of its participants, resulted in suffrage by the citizens of the republic. Often referring to this follower as “paper tigers”, his administration became a giant chessboard with Mao using the cabinet members like chess pieces in game that never was intended to end.
Rumors surrounding Mao’s health and hygiene have persisted since his death. In this book, they are put to rest and the record is set straight. And what we come to see is a leader that will be the subject of discussion for years to come.