Conventional Chinese history claims that Mao Tse-tung (Zedong), known to the world as Chairman Mao, is the national hero who founded the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1920 and People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October, 1949.
But Chinese writer Jung Chang and her English husband John Halliday spent a whole decade digging through mountains of documents in and out of China and conducting interviews with family, close associates and opponents to uncover some of the darkest secrets in PRC and Mao’s 27-year reign.
From Mao’s peripheral role in the early years of the CCP, his relationship to Joseph Stalin, previously unknown personal traits like laziness, gluttony, lifelong constipation, addiction to sleeping pills, perversion, fear of physical labour to his outrageous perceptions of marriage as a “rape league” and glorification of death and destruction, Mao: The Unknown Story is so explosive that it was banned in China, and still is, after its publication in 2005.
“Why should we treat death differently? Don’t we want to experience strange things? Death is the strangest thing, which you will never experience if you go on living… I think this is the most wonderful thing,” Mao outlined his outrageous thoughts in one of his articles as a youth living in his native province of Hunan in 1920s. “When we look at history, we adore the times of war when dramas happened one after another… when we get to the periods of peace and prosperity, we are bored”.
These surreal thoughts were to be actualized during Chairman Mao’s 27 seven year iron-fisted reign over China during which more than 70 million Chinese died-the largest civilian deaths in peace time in the twentieth century-from starvation, torture, hard labour and execution as “capitalist-roaders”.
While many of the deaths, the authors note, were carried out during bloody purges and the infamous Cultural Revolution, more than half (38 million) of the victims starved to death as Mao exported food to USSR to bribe Stalin for the atomic bomb technology.
The millions who perished during the state-induced famine in the Great Leap Forward between 1958-61, where Mao infamously exclaimed that “half of China may well have to die”, is 95 times the number of those who died during the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85.
“Mao knowingly starved and worked these tens of millions of people to death. During the two critical years 1958-9, grain exports alone, was almost exactly 7m tons,” the authors of Mao: The Unknown Story, who terms the famine as the worst in recorded human history, says. “Had this food not been exported (instead distributed according to human critea), probably not a single person in China would have had to die of hunger. Mao’s Bomb caused 100 times as many deaths as both of the bombs Americans dropped on Japan”.
The tightly controlled media led by the Communist paper People Daily never reported this catastrophe accurately, hence most of the world never got to know the real story.
Frustrations in Mo China led to so many suicides among civilians and state officials that it bordered on a national crisis.
While his personal philosophy advocated for people to embrace death, the “Great Leader” apparently did everything to ensure he postponed his as long as humanly possible. The explosive books points out that “throughout his own life he was obsessed with finding ways to thwart death, doing everything he could to perfect his security and enhance his medical care”.
The measures also included carrying his personal cup everywhere as a rebel leader for fear of contamination, grounding all planes in China when he was airborne, ensuring no train was mobile when his was on the move and living in fortified nuclear-proof bankers.
Speaking sense to Chairman Mao, the writers note, meant instant arrest, detention and more often than not execution.
Among members of his inner circle that found themselves on the wrong side after trying to correct the despot included Defense Minister Peng De-huai, purged in 1959, figurehead President Liu Sha-chi, detained and tortured to death for stopping the Great Famine in 1961 and the powerful CCP number two Li Biao, whose plane crashed as he fled to Taiwan with his family.
While his timid Prime Minister of 27 years Chou En-lai was denied treatment after being diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1974 to ensure he dies before the Chairman, the book says Mao led 9,000 Communist troops to a massacre in a bid to destroy brilliant Red Army Brigadier Xiang Ying who was threatening a military takeover.
Even the diminutive Deng Xiao-ping, the man who would later succeed Mao and set China on its current economic flight path, was purged a record three times.
When it came to quest for power, the Chairman spared no one including his blood relations. Besides laying siege on a city while his wife Kai-hui and two sons were still living there (she was later was executed by the city’s administrator), Mao Zedong had no qualms in leaving his two year-old son Little Mao with unknown peasants at the beginning of the Long March.
“Years later, watching a film about an orphan in Shanghai, An-ying (one of Mao’s sons) became very emotional and told his wife that his brother and he lived a similar life,” the revealing biography notes. “Sleeping on the pavement and scavenging through rubbish dumps for food and cigarettes stubs. During all these years Mao had never sent a word for them”.
The highly publicized Long March, the 6000-kilometre trek by the Communist forces under across the vast country after their defeat by the ruling Nationalists (Kuomingtang) Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in 1934 is unmasked as a hyped historical propaganda.
Although the event took place, it was never the adventurous military retreat full of heroics as the world is made to believe but a disastrous flee where the Red Army lost 70,000 men- three quarter of its original army- to the Nationalists, weather, starvation and diseases.
Even the route, from Fujian to the far flung province of Sichuan in Eastern China, was dictated upon the Communists through constant harassment by Nationalists’ warplanes and special force crack units.
The authors factually point that Communist historians later blew small skirmishes in The Long March into “major battles”, aimed at projecting Mao as the Chinese Genghis Khan in order to raise his national and international profile. These overplayed events endeared him to the CCP creator and chief financier Joseph Stalin who eventually facilitated his elevation as the “Chairman”.
The Chinese society and the world at large, Mao: The Untold Story claims, was conned into believing the “Mao Lie” through three books commissioned by the CCP and written by American journalist Edgar Snow between 1937-38. They were The Mao Tse-tung Autobiography, The Red Star Over China and Impressions of Mao Tse-tung.
“Mao covered up years of torture and murder, such as the AB purges, and invented battles and heroism in the trek across China, astutely now titled “the Long March,” Chang and Halliday narrates. “He led Snow to believe that, except when he was ill, he had ‘walked most of the 6,000 miles of the Long March like the rank and file”, which was a lie since he was carried by porters on a litter all the way.
These books not only sanitized the image of Mao and CCP in China and the West but also inspired impressionable youths to join the Communists in their millions. Other instruments of cult worship includes Mao’s anthem The East is Red, Little Red Book and huge portraits everywhere, including a humongous one that stills stands next to his mausoleum at the Tiananmen Square to date.
Mao’s role during the Sino-Japanese war, the biographers notes, was twisted to hide the fact that he supported the Japanese invasion since it worked for his strategy to grab power from the Nationalist government, which put him at loggerheads with his political godfather and Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.
The Japanese played a critical role in weakening the Chinese national army leading to its eventual defeat by Mao and his Red Army in 1949.
“Yenan Terror”, the reference to the bloody reign of the Communists in their South East China capital of Yenan for ten years before they conquered the whole country, created the dreaded “Chairman Mao”, a figure that would trudge through the vast Asian country as a colossus for the next three decades.
Mao, and CCP historians, set out to change history by alluding that he, and not the Nationalists’ leader Chiang Kai-shek, was the father of modern China.
But this, the books says, was a lie because Chiang is the one who led the war against Japan occupation and championed the recognition of China among the Big Four alongside Britain, Russian and the United States which eventually led to a permanent seat at the United Nations.
Although, the authors say, the Communist regime eliminated prostitution, crime and corruption since they were punishable by death, this did not apply to the atheist Mao and his coterie.
While posting couples in different sides of China hence denying them conjugal rights Mao’s sexual indulgence was almost legendary, picking and dropping mistresses across the country with abandon and forming a unit of young beautiful women in the Praetorian Guard for his own “use”.
Hastily conceived mega projects meant to make China an industrial power during the Great Leap ended up being death traps where tens of thousands of labourers died, with some being considered a danger as late as early 2000.
There were other tragic national campaigns like eliminating sparrows by mobilizing the entire populations to wave brooms and sticks, which ended up killing huge numbers and increasing pests that the birds fed on. Mao had to “borrow” 200,000 sparrows from the Soviet Union to replenish the Chinese population.
The writers also reveal, for the first time, that the CCP planted thousands of acres of opium for export in the 1940s to fund their revolution.
“To a small circle, Mao dubbed his operation ‘the Revolution Opium War’. In Yenan opium was known by the euphemism ‘special product’,” the book quotes a close associate. “When we asked Mao’s old assistant, Shi Zhe, about growing opium, he answered: ‘it did happen’ and added: ‘if this thing is known it’s going to be very bad for us Communists”.
To show the sensitivity of the information in the banned book in today’s China, the only Chinese sources the authors reveal are those in Taiwan and abroad. Mainland China sources remains anonymous for their safety.
“Today, Mao’s portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital,” Mao: The Unknown Story notes in its epilogue. “The current Communist regime declares itself to be Mao’s heir and fiercely perpetuates the myth of Mao”.