Was Mao Really a Monster?
The Academic Response to Chang and Halliday’s "Mao: The Unknown Story"
Edited by Gregor Benton, Lin Chun
Routledge – 2009 – 200 pages
Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday was published in 2005 to a great fanfare. The book portrays Mao as a monster – equal to or worse than Hitler and Stalin – and a fool who won power by native cunning and ruled by terror. It received a rapturous welcome from reviewers in the popular press and rocketed to the top of the worldwide bestseller list. Few works on China by writers in the West have achieved its impact.
Reviews by serious China scholars, however, tended to take a different view. Most were sharply critical, questioning its authority and the authors’ methods , arguing that Chang and Halliday’s book is not a work of balanced scholarship, as it purports to be, but a highly selective and even polemical study that sets out to demonise Mao.
This book brings together sixteen reviews of Mao: The Unknown Story – all by internationally well-regarded specialists in modern Chinese history, and published in relatively specialised scholarly journals. Taken together they demonstrate that Chang and Halliday’s portrayal of Mao is in many places woefully inaccurate. While agreeing that Mao had many faults and was responsible for some disastrous policies, they conclude that a more balanced picture is needed.
Introduction - Gregor Benton and Lin Chun Part I. Reviews in non-specialist academic publications 1: Dark Tales of Mao the Merciless - Delia Davin 2: Jade and Plastic - Andrew J. Nathan 3: Portrait of a Monster – Jonathan Spence Part II. Reviews in the China Journal 4: The Portrayal of Opportunism, Betrayal, and Manipulation in Mao’s Rise to Power - Gregor Benton and Steve Tsang 5: The New Number One Counter-Revolutionary inside the Party: Academic Biography as Mass Criticism - Timothy Cheek 6: Pitfalls of Charisma - Lowell Dittmer 7: "I’m So Ronree" - Geremie R. Barmé Part III. Reviews in other specialist academic journals 8: Mao and The Da Vinci Code: Conspiracy, Narrative and History - David S. G. Goodman 9: Mao: A Super Monster? - Alfred Chan Part IV. Chinese reviews 10: Mao: The Unknown Story, A Review - Yung-fa Chen 11: Mao: The Unknown Story: An Intellectual Scandal - Gao Mobo 12: A Critique of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story - Jin Xiaoding Part V. Other reviews 13: Mao Lives - Arthur Waldron 14: From Wild Swans to Mao: The Unknown Story - Bill Willmott
Gregor Benton is Professor of Chinese History at Cardiff University. His book Mountain Fires: The Red Army’s Three-Year War in South China, 1934-1938 won several awards, including the Association of Asian Studies’ best book on modern China. Recent work includes Chinese Migrants and Internationalism: Forgotten Histories, 1917-1945; Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution (also published by Routledge)
Lin Chun is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, UK. She is the author of a number of books, of which the most recent is The Transformation of Chinese Socialism.