Author Frank previously published his spellbinding investigative account, The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957, about the rise of Mao Zedong and the formation of the People’s Republic of China. That was followed by Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Here he returns with a third expose of the movement that changed the course of Chinese history. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proudly declared the new republic following the defeat of the Kuomintang forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek. The new communist government sought to emulate its Soviet icon and instituted the disastrous policy of collectivization under the banner of the “Great Leap Forward”. But as Dikotter showed us, reality soon set in as the aura of the new country began to fade as famine set in, the government began to seize property and a climate of deceit and suspicion spread across the country. The book was thorough in examining the failures of the program as the harsh effects it placed upon the people of China. In this third book, he takes us deep inside the revolution, showing us the very dark side behind the late Chairman’s government.
I forewarn the reader that this book is not for the faint at heart. The things we learn although factual are ugly to say the least. Behind the facade of a nation of comrades committed to revolution, was a society breaking away at the seems as anarchy ruled and those in charge plotted against each other as they sought to maintain their hold on power and avoid the Chairman’s wrath. Today it is no secret that the “Great Leap Forward” failed in many ways. But what is often not discussed and examined are the very things we learn in this book. Similar to Himmler’s SS, the Red Guards, under the guise of filtering out counter-revolutionary’s, unleashed a wave of terror across the country against anyone suspected of being against the regime, from a lower class family or related to those who held high positions in society before the revolution. The Third Reich used the classic technique of divide and conquer to control the people and purge those suspected of not harboring unwavering loyalty to the Führer and his ideology of the master race. In China, the faces were different but the same climate of suspicion and spying by one person on another is prevalent. In fact, one example we learn of is a child that turns in their own parent.
Dikötter as usual has done a great job researching this book. To say that it is eye-opening would be a severe understatement. Not only does he show us what really happened behind the closed off borders of China, he highlights the political battles that raged behind the scenes. His writing style is engaging, pulling the reader in from the beginning and refuses to let go. The lives and actions of major places at the time are examined in detail. Names such as Jiang Qing (1914-1991, Madame Mao and leader of the Gang of Four), Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), Zhou Enlai (1898-1976), Lin Biao (1907-1971) and Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) appear throughout the book as the deadly politics of Communist China come to light. The members of the old guard have long passed but they still remain a part of China’s complicated history. What shocked me the most was the ease at which accusations were hurled and lives ruined in nearly every case without a shred of proof. Mao, concerned with maintaining an iron grip on his rule, let the division fester and rarely intervened. And as I think back to the book The Private Life of Chairman Mao by his personal physician Dr. Li Zhisui, I remember his words that the Great Leap Forward was used by Mao to expose those plotting against him. In fact, as I read the book, I found it increasingly hard to believe that those in charge actually did have concern for the millions of people affected by their actions. Dysentery, famine, pillaging and even cannibalism, turned the revolution into a living nightmare.
China continues to be haunted by the legacy of Mae Zedong. His successor, Deng Xiaoping, continued the government position of suppression of dissent and the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 became some of the most memorable of the twentieth century. Time will tell if democracy will ever take hold and if the young generation will be able leave Mao in a past that many do not care to relive. For students of the Cultural Revolution or those curious about what really happened across the country under Mao’s leadership, this book is a great addition of any historical library.
When we think of the second world war, images of the battles of Stalingrad, Iwo Jima, Normandy and the Holocaust often come to mind. Although an exact number is hard to come by, it is widely believed and agreed that more than 6 millions Jews died during the war. The Final Solution nearly eradicated all of Europe’s Jewish population. Japan in seeking to establish its own sphere of influence, invaded China resulting in the deaths of millions of Chinese men, women and children. Cities such as Nanking and Shanghai were almost completely destroyed. Stories of the atrocities committed by the Japanese army became known as far as the west and to this day are a source of the strained relationship between China and Japan. Following the war, millions of European and Asian survivors immigrated to other parts of world including the United States. Among these was a young couple and their five children in search of a better life in America.
Veronica Li is the author of three books and was once a journalist for the Wall Street Journal. It is here that we are told the story of her mother’s life in her mother’s own words. Li turns over control of the book and her mother tells her life story in an autobiographical format. After reading this book, it quickly became one of my favorites and for good reason. Her story begins when her mother Flora, is a young woman studying in Beijing during the second world war. The Japanese army has already started its assault on China with bombings, shootings and pillage becoming their tools of the trade. Flor remains determined and finishes her studies before beginning a career of her own. It is at the point where she meets her future husband that her life changes and the story changes courses resulting in the title of the book. She becomes the mother of five children, one of whom struggles in education. Faced with limited opportunity for growth and no course of remedy, Flora and Hok Ching make the decision to leave China and move to the United States, making the journey across the four seas. Their story is one that is common to millions of immigrants that have come to the United States to live the American dream. For those of us who are natives to America, it may be hard to fathom moving a family of seven to a new country with a new language. But the actions of Flora and Hok exemplify the power of will and determination. And as more immigrants are faced with a life altering decision to leave the only place they have called home, some can look back at this masterpiece and find inspiration and reassurance in their decision to make the move of a lifetime.
This is Flora’s story about life if the Far East, war, education, love and family. So take a step back in time and join Flora and her family as they make the journey of a lifetime.
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.