THE MESSIAH AND THE MANDARINS: Mao Tsetung and the Ironies of Power by Dennis Bloodworth

THE MESSIAH AND THE MANDARINS: Mao Tsetung and the Ironies of Power

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Another drubbing for Mao. Bloodworth (The Chinese Looking Glass, An Eye for the Dragon) belongs to the ""Chinese character"" school of historical interpretation, so his young rebel Mao is an improviser, not a systematic, consistent thinker: a hit-and-run, guerrilla Marxist. This supposedly reflects the Chinese penchant for survival over dogma: ""Mao's dedicated perfidy . . . was born of Chinese instincts that spring from the deep soil of the Chinese past--patience, caution, fortitude, a single-minded determination to survive and succeed."" But survival for Mao meant moving away from his guerrilla tactics and adopting dogmatic positions that repeatedly threw the country into spasms of frenzied activity--the Great Leap Forward, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution--aimed at turning the society over and creating a new world. The mandarins of the title are the Communist cadres whom Mao manipulated from above and below--now giving them new direction, now stirring the masses against them. Through all this, Bloodworth sees only power struggles between an aging Mao and rivals like Lin Biao, Chou Enlai, and Liu Shaoki, and between Mao and his own fate (the Gang of Four, Mao's self-designated successors, Bloodworth dubs the ""gang of four pygmies""). In sum, Mao's recklessness gave China the impetus to throw out the old, but his insistence that only he was right, and his resulting desire to hold on to power, left China 20 years behind. Mao thus embodied the good and the bad in the Chinese character: ""he was a very Chinese hero."" Rather than illuminating the history of 20th-century China, this paternalistic approach gives us a latter-day Emperor--who has no clothes. Insubstantial and unhelpful.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum