THE CLAWS OF THE DRAGON: Kang Sheng--the Evil Genius Behind Mao--and His Legacy of Terror in People's China by John & Robert Pack Byron

THE CLAWS OF THE DRAGON: Kang Sheng--the Evil Genius Behind Mao--and His Legacy of Terror in People's China

Email this review


A compelling and well-detailed biography of Kang Sheng, Mao's sadistic, Machiavellian head of secret police. Byron (a pseudonymous ""veteran Western diplomat"") and Pack (coauthor, Speaking Out, 1988; Edward Bennett Williams for the Defense, 1985, etc.) exaggerate less than you might think in claiming that ""next to Kang Sheng, Mao himself seems to shrink in importance and interest."" Convincingly comparing Kang to Beria, head of the Soviet secret police under Stalin, the authors show how Kang rose from obscure roots in feudal Chinese society to become the mastermind of the Communist police state and the ""bad cop"" of the terrifying Cultural Revolution. Kang entered Chinese politics as a renegade revolutionary living the secret life of a Communist in Shanghai under the Kuomintang. Shrewdly riding coattails into the Party's inner circles, he soon took over the Chinese Communist secret police, travelling to Moscow (a ""finishing school for sadists"") to learn from Stalin's purges gruesome techniques for liquidating opposition to Communism. After the 1949 Revolution, Kang's ascent continued via a calculated flattering of Mao's egomania--and the execution of hundreds of thousands of Chinese. All the while, private passions and eccentricities such as opium smoking, manic-depression, and expert ambidextrous calligraphy made him a bizarre, shadowy player in Mao's inner circle--one who helped orchestrate such calamities as the Hundred Flowers Movement, the suppressions of the Cultural Revolution, and the purging of Deng Xiaoping. Kang's reputation lasted until shortly after his 1975 death, when his secret conspiracy with the hated Gang of Four was made public. In 1980, he was expelled posthumously from the Party. Despite occasional repetition and much melodrama, a mesmerizing peek into China's veiled backstage politics.

Pub Date: Jan. 27th, 1992
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster