Book Review of Mao Zedong A Life
Mao Zedong: A Life
by Jonathan Spence
The author of this book, Jonathan Spence, teaches at Yale University. his awards include a Gugenheim and MacArthur Fellowship so it was of no surprise from the very first pages to read criticism of Mao with many false claims adding no sources to validate the slander found in this book. Spence's ludicrous claims of Mao being disinterested in education 'browsing through newspapers for months' seemed humorous, I thought, who believes this shit? Mao was known for his intense study and his ground breaking theory reflects this.
As I navigated through the bullshit I found glimpses of history peppered throughout ' a life', I found interesting Mao's early years pre-1920's Chinese civil war. His Book Society Club and being editor of the progressive journal "New Hunan" seemed to build public opinion during these early years. I did enjoy reading in Chapter 4 of the formation of the Chinese Communist Party which was assisted by the Soviets, at this time Chinese were sent to Russia and France to study who would return to help build China. Spence did give a brief description of the Chinese Communist Parties first congress, which was ultimately held on a boat on a Zhejiang lake, and the secrecy that was needed at that time, the first congress decided they would focus on organizing factory workers for the immediate future.
In chapter 5 Spence points out that in 1925 British forces shot Chinese civilians demonstrating and sparked popular movements against imperialism. According to Spence, in 1925 communist party membership was under 1,000 but by 1927 it expanded to over 57,000. What Spence fails to point out is it took public opinion and the communist party to seize these opportunities to show the people, teach and guide them to action against the imperialists acts of atrocity to create over 57,000 members in the CCP.
In Chapter 5 Spence begins surprisingly well when describing how in 1926 Mao was one of those chosen to organize the peasants in the countryside including in his homeland of Hunan, which proved a success, and how the poorest of peasants seized power from the dominating landlords and how in the liberated areas women were no longer enslaved by husbands. The petty criminals, secret societies and even children began to partake in the new liberation areas. However, the credit was short lived as Spence got back to criticizing Mao's attention to detail in his writings with tables and neat rows of figures on the size and location of each peasant association. Later in the book Spence even criticizes Mao in his later years for not being detailed in his writings as before.
Every now and then Spence will give Mao his due respect, one such instance is in chapter 6 when describing Mao's guerilla episodes when Mao and his forces used the JiangXi county town of YongXin as their "center" and as a base for organizing "insurrection" in the neighboring counties. At this time Spence goes on to say "Mao was 34, lean from privation, rich with experience from his organizational work among the peasantry, and a storehouse of knowledge about communist and Guomindang party leaders." Spence goes on to criticize the long march with much death and disaster, however he fails to note that had Mao not initiated the long march, the communist troops would have been wiped out by the Guomindang at "Jiangxi soviet" which was the new communist base area on the FuJian border.
There were three pages on Stalin and Mao's meetings that were informational yet when discussing the cultural revolution Spence seems to limit this great achievement to closing brothels and construction of buildings. When discussing the Korean War Spence goes on to mention how Mao's oldest son died in this war and goes on to say "when Mao was finally told of his son's death by Peng DeHuai in person, he agreed to let the body remain in Korean soil, as an example of duty to the Chinese people." This I think shows Mao's character and what kind of leader he was.
Overall this was a horrible book about Mao, written with a blatant imperialist bias. I thought I could sort through the bullshit and pick out good information but I had many headaches attempting to do so, Spence often cites "facts" about Mao without any notes or references as to where he found these "facts."