MAO by Philip Short


A Life
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A masterful biography by Short, former BBC correspondent in Beijing (The Dragon and the Bear, 1982), that incorporates much material, mainly from Chinese sources, that has only recently become available. One significant result is to illuminate a good deal that was shadowy in Mao’s early life. Two-thirds of Short’s account deals with Mao’s career before the Communist Party came to power in 1949. His youthful embrace of anarchism was linked to an explicit rejection of revolutionary violence. Within a few years, however, Mao had begun ruthless purges of any comrades even remotely suspected of treachery. Most historians now believe that —tens of thousands— of members of the Communist forces and their allies died in the early 1930s. These waves of executions may account in part for the fact that six times between 1924 and 1932 Mao was pushed aside by his comrades. Short believes that the seeds of China’s later disasters were sown as early as 1933, when class origin rather than worth became the ultimate determinant of one’s fate. But Mao’s dominance of the party also began at that time, and was rooted in the success of his strategies. Short skillfully traces the ways Mao used that dominance to promote policies many of his colleagues knew were absurd: to surpass Britain in steel production, for example, in a year, Russia in two years, the US in four; and to purge anyone who was not sycophantic or agile enough. He had “an extraordinary mix of talents,” Short concludes, this “visionary, statesman, political and military strategist of genius”; but his rule “brought about the deaths of more of his own people than [that of] any leader in . . . history.” The most measured, thoughtful, and complete biography of Mao now available in English. (24 pages b&w photos, 4 maps)

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 2000
ISBN: 0-8050-3115-4
Page count: 784pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1999


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