In the spirit of The Black Book of Communism (1999), this grand narrative aims to show that Mao Tse-tung was among the greatest mass murderers in history—if not the greatest of them all.
“Mao Tse-tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader,” write China-born memoirist Chang (Wild Swans, 1991) and British historian Halliday in their provocative opening. Mao’s rise was improbable, argue the authors, because he was a rotter and an opportunist, and everyone knew it. As a young man, Mao read diligently, and the conclusions he took away from world history were that he was above the law and that “giant wars” were the normal order of things. Just so, late in life, having whipped up the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, Mao warned a palace guard, “Don’t cultivate connections. . . . Don’t have photographs taken with people.” He lived by such rules. Self-serving and secretive, Mao was ostracized by the Soviet-led leadership in the early days of the Communist Party; far from leading the Long March, by this account, Mao was borne into the mountains on a litter, half because of illness, half because it suited his imperial character, though he almost didn’t get to go at all. Still, amazingly, he managed to play off rivals and scheme his way to absolute rule, and woe to anyone who crossed him. Chang and Halliday document at length just how willing Mao was to kill innocents for presumed crimes or mere expediency, how quick he was to concoct schemes against even such essential comrades as Lin Baio and Chou En-Lai—and how willing the leaders of the world, among them Richard Nixon, were to bow to Mao’s wishes.
A startling document, one that will surely occasion revision of the historical record.