Book Reviews

Portrait of Mao as a greedy, cowardly, deceitful, manipulative egoist

By April 8, 2007 No Comments

In the study of the monsters of the 20th Century, Mao Zedong largely escaped the detailed scholarship that examined Hitler and Stalin. This is a pity because in many ways he was much worse than either. Hitler, at least, was known to have been physically courageous as a young soldier in the First World War. Mao never risked his hide in any way. Stalin cared (somewhat) for his wives and children; Mao seem untroubled by what befell several of his wives and children.

At least Hitler and Stalin were well groomed – Mao never brushed his teeth and wasn’t known to have taken a bath or shower in his 27 years as the master of China. Hitler’s sex-life is a matter of considerable curiosity, but there doesn’t seem to have been much of it; Stalin’s sexual drives were normal enough and never mastered him. Mao was insatiable in his appetite for young women (what they thought of his hygiene is not recorded).

In a dictator, the man begets the monster; and Hitler and Stalin’s murderous legacies are well known but still seemed to have some slight limits. Mao knew none whatsoever. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s superb biography Mao: The Unknown Story (Random House, New York 2005) details a man who seems more callous, more cruel, more manipulative, and far greedier than either of his two contemporaries. The book also lifts the lid off many aspects of his career: How Mao went through the Long March carried on a litter; how double agents engineered the collapse of the Nationalist Armies in 1947-48; or how his petty machinations against party rivals destroyed tens of thousands of his own troops needlessly.

This book should be essential reading for any student of 20th Century history.