I have no plans to read the new book by Jung Chang, despite the fact that I finally got around to reading her widely acclaimed multigenerational memoir, Wild Swans, when I first returned to China this July. Like that first tome, her latest work–a comprehensive biography of Mao Zedong, titled, simply, Mao–is reputed to be a bit too prolix to be a fun read, and despite (or perhaps because of) my previous ultra-leftist leanings, I’ve never been all that interested in the life and crimes of the Chairman. His story piques my interest just long enough to sustain me through the sometimes-wise and sometimes-annoying Nicholas Kristof’s review of it in the Times. His writing is clearer (and more humorous, surely) than Chang’s, as evidenced by the way he opens his review:
If Chairman Mao had been truly prescient, he would have located a little girl in Sichuan Province named Jung Chang and “mie jiuzu”- killed her and wiped out all her relatives to the ninth degree.
But instead that girl grew up, moved to Britain and has now written a biography of Mao that will help destroy his reputation forever. Based on a decade of meticulous interviews and archival research, this magnificent biography methodically demolishes every pillar of Mao’s claim to sympathy or legitimacy.
Despite his early praise for her efforts (which were actually done in tandem with her British historian husband), he goes on to give me every reason not to bother cashing out for this ponderous re-evaluation of the man whose ugly face is still relatively ubiquitous in China (and in the t-shirt shops of the East Village). Still, I felt the need to post about it here, if only because its publication is a common topic of conversation among Beijing’s more literarily inclined expats at the moment, and because the book and issues of magazines with reviews of it have been banned by the Chinese government. I’m just doing my duty here, reporting on the cultural zeitgeist of Beijing’s international community and making news of the book’s contents available in at least one more place in which Chinese readers might be able to access it.