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New book: Mao's Last Revolution


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Today while I was browsing through the boks on Chinese history in a bookshop, I came across a recently-published book I didn't know about. It is Mao's Last Revolution by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, just published in the US.

The book deals with the Cultural Revolution, covering the whole period between 1966 and Mao's death in 1976 (thirty years ago yesterday). The book looked very very interesting, and I nearly bought it. It has good black-and-white pictures and, from what little I read, it seemed quite good. At least all proper names were correctly romanised unlike the mess of that Chang/Halliday book.

Has anyone here got this book? I think I will end up buying it, but I'd like to know what others think if anyone has already read it.

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It got a good review in the Economist. Here is part of the review:

"“Mao's Last Revolution” is nothing like the same rip-roaring read. Indeed, the painstaking level of detail that is among its greatest strengths may make it too much for readers with anything less than a consuming interest in China. But with their scholarly credentials, their assiduous selection and use of sources and their even-handed approach, Messrs MacFarquhar and Schoenhals have produced a work that will hold up far better.

There is, for example, a useful unpacking of the domestic and international political dynamics that inspired Mao to launch the Cultural Revolution: Mao felt his supremacy threatened by rivals at home, and the future of the communist revolution threatened in the Soviet Union by Khrushchev's revisionism and, perhaps more to the point, his denunciations of Stalin. “The Cultural Revolution”, write the authors, “had always been about the rearing of revolutionary successors.”

If explanations are offered, no punches are pulled in recounting the sheer recklessness and cruelty with which Mao responded to these perceived dangers. The heart of the book is a detailed chronicle of how Mao cynically twisted ideology and manipulated those around him, setting off hysterical and murderous attacks on everything from Confucian morals and bourgeois culture to intellectuals, “capitalist roaders” and “class enemies”.

Using sources that range from official party and government documents to letters, diaries and interviews with surviving participants and victims, the authors document the orders that went out, the mayhem that resulted and the fear it all struck in the hearts of people across the country. And it is chilling stuff. In August and September of 1966, for example, as thousands were being murdered in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere, Mao put out the word that the police were not to interfere. Faithfully relaying Mao's instructions to the Beijing police force, the public security minister assured them that, “After all, bad persons are bad, so if they're beaten to death it is no big deal.”"


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