Frank Willems comments on Chang and Halliday book

From Saul Thomas <>
Date Tue, 29 Nov 2005 11:33:21 -0600

Forwarded from <>

Mao, The unknown story
J. Chang and J. Halliday, 2005
A critical assessment by Frank Willems

Mao was a monster, even worse than Hitler. He was liable for the death of 
millions of Chinese, and this not only during the civil war, but worse 
still,  during peacetime.  For those who were as 'fortunate' as to survive 
he transformed China into hell.  To be sure, this was not the result of 
policy errors in his strife for a lofty ideal, but the direct 
consequence  of his extreme egoism and his morbid thirst for violence and 
terror. This is Jung Chang's message; we can read it on the first and the 
last page of weighty  tome;  what is in between is an impressive, but 
fallacious attempt to give historical credibility to her theses.

As the book has been progressively released around the world, from the UK 
to the USA, in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and surely soon 
in France too, appallingly few mainstream media have questioned the methods 
used by Jung Chang; almost none challenge the message itself. Only a 
handful reviewers point to the obviously unscientific approach.

Frank Mc Lyn is one of those rare critical commentators. In The Independent 
under the heading 'Too much hate, too little understanding', he says: 
'There is a lot of bad history in all senses in this volume. Bad not just 
in the methodological sense -- but also in the interpretive sense.' ' To 
anyone who knows nothing of all this, this new life of Mao might serve as a 
useful introductory primer. But for anyone else this attempt at a 
"groundbreaking biography" will be deeply problematical'.' But everything 
is one-dimensional. It is all Mao and his rages, Mao and his women, Mao and 
his rivals, Mao and Stalin, but never Chinese social structure or the 
analysis of the peasantry.'  Mc Lyn  exposes Jung Chang's distortion of 
proven historical facts: 'Everything that can be construed as working in 
Mao's favour during his struggle with Chiang is freighted with a meaning it 
cannot bear, whether it is General George Marshal's visit to China in 
1945-46 (the authors are meanspirited and misleading about Marshal and do 
not even mention Vinegar Joe Stilwell, another American general who saw 
right through Chiang) or Stalin's many vacillating interventions in Chinese 
affairs. There is, for example, an obvious contradiction between the 
widespread destruction of plant and material by the Soviet Union when it 
entered the war against Japan in its last days in 1945 - and which so 
angered Mao - and the assertion that only with Soviet help did Mao prevail 
in the civil war On the Korean war the authors revive the old myth about 
"hordes" of Chinese swamping the American army and defeating them by sheer 
weight of numbers, which was simply propaganda put out by the Pentagon, 
embarrassed by the poor showing of the US Marine Corps. And who is their 
historical source for the Chinese "human waves"? Michael Caine. Come again? 
Yes, I do mean that Michael Caine, the movie actor, whose personal memories 
of the Korean War are given the status of holy writ.'' If you can believe 
that Chou-en-lai, the master diplomat who wowed everyone from Kissinger to 
Orson Welles, really was a hypermasochistic craven nonentity who played 
lickspittle and toady to Mao for no apparent reason (at least the authors 
do not suggest one), or are interested in the number of minor actresses Mao 
bedded, this book has a certain entertainment value.'
Jug Chang, well aware that some of her specific allegations go straight 
against the conclusions of the experts , without a spat of modesty declares 
them all wrong. Not surprisingly, The Indpendendent asks:
'But why bother with the tiresome discipline of historical research when 
you can make wild assertions buttressed by unknown or suspect oral sources 
that are (in the authors' recurrent mantra) "little known today"' and 
concludes 'But it is neither serious history nor serious biography'.

British author Philip Short  whose own biography of Mao was published in 
1999, has argued that Chang and Halliday have reduced Mao from a complex 
historical character to a one-dimensional "cardboard cutout of Satan" and 
that Chang is guilty of "writing history to fit her views"." (source: 

In Australia Hamish MacDonald has collected some comments from around the 
world for  The Age:
Thomas Bergstein of Columbia University; New-York: 'The book is a major 
disaster for the contemporary China field'. 'Because of its stupendous 
research apparatus, its claims will be accepted widely, yet their 
scholarship is put at the service of thoroughly destroying Mao's 
reputation. The result is an equally stupendous number of quotations out of 
context, distortion of facts and omission of much of what makes Mao a 
complex, contradictory, and multi-sided leader.'
Steve Tsang of  Oxford University refutes the allegation by Jung Chang that 
the famous battle of Luding during the Long March is a mere 
communist  invention. This is not a detail: the bridge over the Dadu river 
was the only way out for the red army encircled in a narrow valley by the 
Kuomintang troops; no battle, according to Jung Chang, means that Chiang 
Kaishek deliberately let the Red Army escape; it is the centerpiece of her 
theory that Chiang never tried to annihilate the communist leadership. But 
Tsang has searched the archives and confirms that 'Chiang Kai-shek did not 
on this occasion or, as far as the Chiang Kai-shek papers reveal, on any 
other occasion let the Red Army escape during the Long March'. Jung Chang 
pretends to have interviewed  the last surviving eyewitness at Luding; the 
correspondent of The Age went to Luding, did not find a trace of Jung 
Chang's  witness, but found another eyewitness confirming that a battle 
happened indeed.
For his part, Steve Tsang concludes 'that in this case, as generally in the 
book, the authors
had been "appallingly dishonest" in the use of sources they claimed to have 
Prof Davin , emeritus of Leeds University, points in the Times Literary 
Supplement a number of historical errors and speculative assumptions; some 
examples: 'Chiang Kai-shek's son had gone to Moscow in 1925 with his 
father's permission, to study, rather than being virtually kidnapped there as
Chang and Halliday imply' 'The execution of Wang Shiwei, which the authors 
say was used to
terrify the young intellectuals at Yanan during "rectification" campaign of 
1942, did not actually take place until 1947'.'The authors must have noted 
the account of the Chinese commander in the Korean War, General Peng 
Dehuai, about how he told Mao about the death of his son, Mao Anying, from 
an American bomb. Peng, whom the authors quote approvingly elsewhere, 
recorded that Mao trembled so violently he couldn't light his cigarette. 
After several minutes of silence, Mao said there would be sacrifices in 
revolutionary war and Anying was one of many. Chang and Halliday prefer to 
quote Mao's secretary as saying Mao had not "shown any great pain".' In the 
authors' eyes the death of Mao's heir does not show that Mao refused to 
favour even his own family, it is just another proof of his lack of human 

British essayist James Heartfield  (Spiked essays) notices that ' Jung 
Chang and Jon Halliday struggle to explain Mao's victory in their Unknown 
Story, because their hostility to their subject forbids any credit 
whatsoever. In this telling the Red Army's victories over his Kuomintang 
rivals are explained away as increasingly bizarre conspiracies. In the 
decisive campaigns, they allege, the Kuomintang troops were led by CCP 
spies infiltrated into the leadership 22 years earlier, when they were all 
on the same side, and these generals deliberately led their men to disaster 
after disaster .Worse still, the Western diplomats advising Britain and 
America that the Kuomintang were corrupt and brutal, Archibald Clark Kerr 
and Lauchlin Currie, were Soviet agents'.
In the same spirit Jung Chang represents the Japanese invaders as 
quite  moderated; their ambition was to conquer only some minor parts of 
China; but they were lured into the 'total war' by a communist spy 
infiltrated in the Kuomintang army chief of staff. The motive behind that 
was Mao's intention to 'use the total war in order to force a Russian 
intervention in his favour'( note: all quotes of the book  are based on the 
Dutch translation; they have been  translated back into English, which may 
cause minor discrepancies with the original English book). .
Jung Chang eulogizes the idyllic character of old precommunist China that 
was so brutally destroyed by Mao. By doing so she blatantly  contradicts 
the vivid depiction of  her grandmother's life of hardship that she gave in 
her own bestseller 'Wild swans'. Jon Halliday does not do any better. In 
unsuspected times, he  wrote about the British colonial oppression in China 
and Hongkong; now Halliday blames the bloody repression in Hongkong in 1967 
on provocation by Mao. The Korean war (1950-53) too is largely blamed on 
Mao, whereas in an older book he stressed the role of Truman as warmonger 
already in 1949. James Heartfield continues:' In Chang and Halliday's 
telling, Mao's determination to string out the war led America to bomb, in 
US Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk's words 'until there was nothing 
left to bomb'. No doubt Mao's cynical recklessness exacerbated the 
conflict, but in the end it was America, not China that destroyed Korea.'

Inspired by her blind hatred Jung Chang's scoops are sometimes frankly 
ridiculous. Mao launched the idea to build the Berlin wall; Stalin died 
from heart attack, when reading a report on Mao's manoeuvres ; Kim Il Sung 
's fatal  heart attack was caused by his fearof the forthcoming publication 
of Russian documents reporting on his suspect dealings with Mao. During the 
1968 student riots in Europe, Chinese-trained Europeans experts in 
subversion were sent back home by Mao. There are numerous such accusations 
in the book, unfortunately it is not always so evident to expose them as 
mere fantasy. When Jung Chang dwells over the 'more than 50  villas owned 
by Mao', it takes some background information to identify these as the 
guest houses built to accommodate  high ranking officials on their frequent 
inspection tours in the provinces; and what to think of the fresh fish 
brought in from 1000 kilometres away? Of course she does not mention how 
rarely  that happened, for which very special occasions, for which 
important foreign guests. When Mao engages an aide to help him run his 
communist bookshop, Jung Chang interprets: he was too lazy to work himself, 
but put the money in his pocket. When Mao stands up for the peasants, it is 
not because he wants to improve their situation, but because he is 
parroting party mantras. When, on top of all the misery that comes with the 
civil war, Mao gets separated from his wife and children, for the authors 
things are evident: he did not mind about them at all and never made the 
effort to visit them. When from the Tian An Men rostrum  in 1949 Mao 
pronounces his famous words:' The Chinese people has finally stood up', 
Jung Chang calls the content of his speech 'particularly dull' . When China 
provides aid to third world countries and liberation movements; for Jung 
Chang Mao's only target is to become the leader of the (third) world. And 
when Mao is on his death bed, Jung Chang is even able to read minds: 'His 
mind was clear till the last moment, he was occupied by only one thought, 
that about himself and his power'.
Jung Chang masters  the basic principles of propaganda: lie, lie and lie 
again, there will always be something left, and where there is smoke, there 
is fire.

Jung Chang consulted something like 1.200 written sources, the majority of 
them in Chinese, published in the People's Republic. She claims to have 
interviewed 400people. The reader is flooded with about 2.000 reference 
notes . Impressive, at first sight. They only make this biography more 
fabricated and the book more fallacious.
Making the effort to sort out the references leads to the straightforward 
conclusion that the authors have squeezed all this impressive material 
through the filter of their own preconceived opinions, serving the reader 
only the drab.
This conclusion  is corroborated by the testimony of one of the interviewed 
in The Age:  Sydney University's Teiwes recalls meeting Chang and Halliday 
in Sydney during their research: 'She just had her views so set, and was 
unwilling to entertain other opinions or inconvenient evidence. I remember 
we were talking about 1956 and whatever her actual view was, I tried to 
say, "Wait a minute, if you look at Mao's meeting with Zhou Enlai at the 
end of April you can see something different". She just didn't want to hear 
about it.'

Many articles promoting the book mention the 'basic ideology' of Mao, 
exposed in chapter 2. Jung Chang plucks 16 short text fragments out of 
themarginal notes on the 159 pages  'Ethics' of German philosopher 
Paulsen,  written by Mao at the time  when he was influenced by European 
liberal thinking, before becoming a communist ; 8 of the fragments are 
mutilated, and 3 of them are used to complete a sentence that she starts 
herself. These short fragments are then joined together with 3 pages of her 
own comments, resulting in what indeed can only be called a monstrous 
ideology, which allows her to conclude:' This vision, that he expressed so 
clearly (sic!) at the age of 24,  remained the core of Mao's ideology for 
the rest of his life'. When Mao makes a philiosophical note on the eternal 
renewal of universe, she concludes he wants to destroy everything; when he 
elaborates on the relation between the ego and the external world, he 
becomes for her the most abject of egoists, and so on.

  Entirely consistent with her way of working, she does not quote or even 
mention any of the important works Mao wrote later as a revolutionary 
leader, and which squarely contradict this chapter. In her book we only 
find truncated 'sayings' of Mao, usually out of any context but useful to 
add some more horror to the story, such as 'Dead bodies make the land more 
fertile' or 'If necessary, half of the Chinese will die'.; According to 
Jung Chang, Mao said this at the 1957 congress of the CCP; it is again  cut 
and paste work; this time the original source is not an official CCP 
congress document ,  but an unofficial collection of Mao-texts published in 
the USA. In reality, under the 1950's US-threat to use nuclear weapons 
against China, a threat to be taken seriously after Hiroshoma, Mao had made 
the analysis that in a nuclear war half of the Chinese might die. Jung 
Chang does not attack the immorality of Eisenhower's threat but the 
analysis made by Mao. Jung Chang is using again and again the old tricks 
from Cold War propaganda: isolate declarations of communist leaders from 
their context and frame them in such a way that you create a strong 
impression of callousness.

. Under the nose of the unsuspecting reader Jung Chang mixes up reliable 
material with gossip and slander, adds some data plucked from an unrelated 
context, seasons it with preferably anonymous testimonies of bloody and 
cruel incidents and then lets her unbridled imagination and denigrating 
language flow freely in order to fabricate the 'irrefutably proven' history 
of 'Mao and his henchmen', the champion of egoism, callousness, intrigue, 
murder, violence and terror.

  The Long March is just a myth; it is a key contention of Jung Chang's. It 
is difficult to deny the Red Army's march for thousands of kilometres in 
very harsh conditions, with only about 4.000 from the original 80.000 
participants arriving. But for Jung Chang, this was not a heroic feat at 
all: Chiang Kaishek deliberately let the communist leaders escape to the 
north-west, afraid of destroying them because his son was kept hostage in 
the Soviet Union; no evidence is given for this theory; nor is the question 
asked why Chiang was not afraid to annihilate the communist party in 
Shanghai in 1927, at a time when his son was already in the Soviet Union.
Mao did not march himself, he was carried on a litter. In case the reader 
might have missed the point the first time, Jung Chang comes back to it 
twice. Of course she does not explain when and why Mao was carried. Sick 
and badly wounded leaders were carried; and at the start of the Long March, 
Mao's health was in a dire condition; it was even considered to smuggle him 
out of the besieged base and send him off to Moscow for treatment, or 
alternatively, to leave him back in the base.

In 1940, at the time of the anti-Japanese front between the Kuomintang and 
the CCP, Chiang Kaishek attacks and decimates a communist army by surprise. 
Juggling with data, documents and events the authors try to create evidence 
that it was Mao himself who provoked the slaughter in order to eliminate an 
army leader with whom he had to settle some old accounts.

During the Great Leap a lot of new infrastructure was built, including dams 
and reservoirs. Jung Chang mentions that even 20 years after Mao's death 
there were still more than 10 million people displaced for the sake of 
reservoir building ptojects; she omits that at that time, in 1996, most 
displaced persons had this status because of building projects started a 
long time after Mao's death!

A politician should to be judged by his political practice. The greatest of 
all Mao's political opponents, Deng Xiaoping, gave as his final verdict 
that Mao had been 70% correct and 30% wrong, mainly at the end of his life. 
in order to get a 70% correct score from your greatest political adversary, 
you have to be good!
Political evaluation may be a matter of discussion.  Jung Chang however 
does not evaluate, she only condemns: in her eyes Mao was a  criminal who 
became a politician by accident; for her he is100% malicious and liable for 
anything that went wrong, whether in reality or in her imagination.
In each and any of the many violent clashes in  modern Chinese (and often 
also in Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian and even Russian) history, Mao is 
the main culprit. His opponents - warlords, private militia of landlords, 
the dictator Chiang Kaishek, the Japanese conqueror's army, 
US-imperialism  hardly play a role or bear a responsibility in the death of 
50 million Chinese between 1927 and 1949.

Errors or problems in the construction and the development of New China 
cannot be political mistakes by Mao; they can only be explained as an 
expression of  his unremitting zeal to starve and terrorize the Chinese 
people to destroy the country and transform it into a compliant instrument 
for his 'Superpowerprogram', that is supposed to make him the master of the 
world. Mao is like the bad guy in a James Bond  movie.
Large chunks of real history are notably absent from the book. Whatever 
does not fit the image of the psychopath is ignored or explained by means 
of complot theories or simple platitudes. How could Mao's peasant army beat 
a  much larger army like that of the Kuomintang which moreover was well 
equipped thanks to US-support ? Only thanks to all-out support from the 
Soviets (disputes with Stalin? never heard of them!) and communist moles in 
Chiang's army. How was the New China under Mao's 27 years of leadership 
able to climb out of underdevelopment slowly but steadily and by its own 
efforts ? There was no development. How did Mao ssucceed in mobilizing the 
overwhelming support of the Chinese people again and again? The population 
was brainwashed and terrorized.

Mao was  the first to recognize the peasants as a revolutionary force in 
China. He organized them and started distributing the land of the 
landowners to the landless. In doing so, he managed to organize a 
relatively large red base in the countryside, whereas the party leadership 
which focussed on workers' revolts, was virtually exterminated in he 
cities. Mao had to form an army, without having money to pay for it: his 
solution was to organize the rural population to defend their newly 
acquired rights. Mao's work with the peasantry, that makes him so unique as 
a revolutionary leader and until today an inspiring example for third world 
liberation movements, is simply ignored in the book. The lasting popularity 
of the communists in the countryside as a result of their actions in favour 
of the poor peasants, the long search for an adequate balance between 
expropriating landlords or only drastically  reducing rents paid by the 
small tenants, apparently these are  all non-events. We learn only about 
the smashing of violent resistance by some landowners and their hired 
troops, all naturally explained as pointless terror by Mao,

Fighting against a much stronger adversary, Mao waged a guerrilla war. His 
recipe: avoid battle, unless the local conditions are such that you are by 
far the strongest. When during the Long March the Red Army was trapped by 
the Kuomintang army at the border of Sichuan, he played cat and mouse for 
months. Jung Chang interprets this as another of Mao's intrigues: he 
deliberately lost four months,  because if he had gone to Northern Sichuan 
immediately his army would have had to join the stronger forces of his 
'rival' Zhang Guotao.

Mao went to great efforts to conclude an anti-Japanese alliance with his 
arch-enemy Chiang Kaishek. Jung Chang gives the merits exclusively to 
Chiang, notwithstanding the historical fact that he only  accepted 
negotiations with the CCP under the treat of being killed by one of his own 
generals. The unnatural alliance was exactly the move of genius by the 
communists that made history tilt in their favour.

China's 20th century was particularly violent and the revolution was no 
dance-party, as Mao rightly pointed out.
While searching for the right strategy, the CCP lived through a number of 
twists and turns. Several erroneous strategies were punished by all but 
extermination; internal discussions under such circumstances were far  from 
academic. Jung Chang zooms in on the internal conflicts and 'purges'; in 
her caricature the communists are portrayed as  a band of scoundrels, Mao 
of course being the top villain. But nailing Mao to the pillory for 
whatever had gonee wrong since the beginning of the party is more than one 
bridge too far: he became party leader only after the Zunyi conference in 
1935, in the middle of the Long March at a moment when everything seemed 
lost. From there on until the final victory in 1949, the odds turned in 
favour of the CCP, not in the least thanks to Mao. Jung Chang may try to 
minimise that, she will not be able to deny it.

After 1949 the CCP faced the immense and unprecedented challenge of 
developing and modernizing an immense peasant country with relatively few 
natural resources. Mao formulated answers to the questions of the day. 
After the land reform and the distribution of the land, he argued in favour 
of a fast collectivisation of the hundreds of millions small farms; larger 
scale farms would make for more efficient farming and produce more to feed 
a new  class of workers that was building  the state-owned industry; 
collectivisation would set free agricultural manpower at the countryside, 
opening possibilities for  wide ranging infrastructure works, a rural 
administration, trade, rural industry serving local needs, basic medical 
care and education. In Jung Chang's distorted view, all this is reduced to 
terrorizing the peasants to extort more food.

After expropriating the small number of large capitalists - foreign firms 
and some Chinese closely linked to the Kuomintang-dictatorship - , smaller 
industrial or trading capitalists were mainly bought out, often through 
joint-ventures as a first step. 1953 saw the launching of the first 
Soviet-style five-year plan, the very first blueprint to develop China 
as  a socialist industrial nation. Many of the main guidelines put forward 
at that time are still influential today. The reader will hardly find any 
relevant information about these times of great changes in Mao, The unknown 
  Jung Chang only sees repression against speculators, people practising 
fraud, corrupt officials, Kuomintang saboteurs, but also against the 
peasants who starve from hunger even before the Great Leap; for her it is 
just another seemingly endless series of cruelties, conveniently fitting in 
what she calls Mao's 'Superpowerprogram' , a spectre she isconjuring  up 
time and again without ever proving its existence or even clearly 
explaining what it is.

In the sixties Mao became more and more preoccupied with the future sort of 
socialism: he noted the widening gap between the leading bureaucratic 
officials and the common people and got alarmed by what was happening in 
the Soviet Union; he criticized party cadres who proposed to 
introduce  what he considered capitalist measures and behaved in 
'bourgeois' ways; he had strong ideas on socialist culture as something 
radically new whereby the difference between blue collar and white collar 
workers would disappear and every worker would be impregnated by the common 
interest; he first tried to advance his ideas through a rectification 
campaign at the countryside, but starting in 1966 radicalized the movement 
by calling the youth and the workers for large scale mass movements 
targeting even top officials. This Cultural Revolution quickly turned into 
chaos and severely slowed down the economic development during the second 
half of the sixties. Deng Xiaoping would later declare that Mao made the 
wrong analysis when launching the Cultural Revolution. Deng's analysis is 
political , a matter of discussion. Jung Chang  on the other hand keeps 
dishing up the same old story: the CR is Mao taking revenge on his 
political opponents and trying to consolidate his personal dictatorship. 
She does not advance any real argument for her thesis, but that is not 
really a problem: this narrow vision on the Cultural Revolution has long 
since been pushed trough by the mainstream media and  so does not have to 
be proved anymore.

Today Mao is still revered by a large majority of the Chinese people as the 
founder of New China. But even taking this into account Jung Chang is 
unable to admit that he had at least some merits. For her, the older 
generation  has been brainwashed and the younger simply does not have any 
historical background.

For all their acknowledging that Jung Chang's historiography is a grotesque 
fabrication, almost all mainstream reviewers nevertheless feel compelled to 
kowtow to the theory that Mao indeed was a mass murderer.
Well, what to think about the alleged 70 million victims of Mao? Victims in 
peacetime moreover, a little calculating trick that ranks him before 
Hitler. Should we accept  Jung Chang's figures as scientifically correct?

In 1958  the collectivization of agriculture, already started in 1953, was 
accelerated. Agricultural cooperatives were merged into people's communes, 
with the active support of the government. In the communes, there was 
centralized management of the land and all the tools of several villages, 
in total about 20.000 people. This created conditions for more efficiency 
Surplus manpower would not only create new infrastructure, but also 
industrialize the rural areas through small scale workshops, thereby 
starting to solve the old and universal problem of the modernisation of the 

Initially, the system seemed to work, with a record grain harvest of 200 
million metric tons in 1958. Overambitious by this success, the planners 
predicted an output of grain and steel for the coming years going far 
beyond realistic targets; fake success reports by  opportunistic local 
cadres pushed the ambitions even further. The infantile diseases of a 
completely new organisational system, poor overall planning, a wrong 
concept of industrialization (we need steel, so let's produce it 
everywhere), made the grain output in 1959 tumble to 170 million tons, a 
critical but not catastrophic level. In some places the grain was not 
harvested because the farmers had to produce steel. Correcting measures 
were only taken half 1960; too late; grain output sunk further to 144 
million tons; there were no reserves left to support areas with poor 
harvest due to local bad weather conditions, resulting in severe local 
famines. To make the catastrophe complete, the industrial production 
suffered from the rupture with the Soviet-Union. It is significant how Jung 
Chang arrives at her very high-end figure of 38 million victims, she makes 
a correct calculation with a margin of only 10.000, based on  the yearly 
population figures and mortality rates of the concerned period. 
Irrefutable? Well, how to explain then that she finds a population decrease 
of 15 million  in 1960, whereas the official party history also based on 
official figures only finds a 10 million decrease? The answer is 
astonishingly simple: there are no official yearly population figures; all 
figures circulating are extrapolations of censuses made in 1953, 1964 and 
1982. Jung Chang's irrefutable scientific calculations are based on shoddy 
data. Applying a straight extrapolation to the official censuses results in 
a missing population of 20-25 million, a figure that is frequently quoted 
by more serious western analysts; the official party history in 1992 
suggests 10 million people missing; this document was published at a time 
when Deng Xiaoping was frantically trying to undercut the Maoist influence 
in the party, so we should not expect  any bias in favour of the Great Leap 
in it. All these missing Chinese are not  premature deaths; a substantial 
part can be traced down to much lower birth rate in times of food shortage. 
The late Dutch sociologist professor Wim Wertheim as well as emeritus 
professor Ching-Yuan Tung of University of Maryland stress that the 
censuses were actually crude samplings with a fairly large error margin, 
and as far as 1953 and 1982 concerns,  a political bias upwards. In 1953 
China needed a lot of people to counter the American nuclear treat, and in 
1982 a high census result was good to make the one-child family policy more 
acceptable. This creates the impression of a larger than real cohort of 
missing Chinese in 1964. Wertheim who did extensive rural fieldwork after 
the Great Leap, in 1964, concludes that the real number of premature deaths 
must be substantially under 10 million.

The way Jung Chang arrives at 27 million victims of forced labour in 
prisons is even more dubious. Starting from 'common estimations' of 10 
million political inmates on average, and based on anonymous testimonies, 
assuming a mortality rate of 10% per year, it neatly gives 27 million 
victims in 27 years. The reader will not find sources for these 
estimations. She knows why: such  estimations come exclusively from old 
Kuomintang propaganda in Taipeh and other unreliable rightwing publications 
such as the  'Black book of communism'. In a report to the ILO in 1957, the 
Taipeh government then exclusively representing China announced 25 million 
forced labourers in  prisons of the People's Republic; the ILO did not 
publish those unreliable data. Reliable testimonies about harsh living 
conditions resulting in high mortality rates are equally non-existent.

In order to arrive at 70 million victims, Jung Chang invents another three 
million during the Cultural Revolution. This time she frankly admits that 
it is entirely her own 'minimal' estimation. In 1980-81, the Gang of Four, 
the ultra-leftist group held responsible for most of the excesses of the 
Cultural Revolution, was put on trial for the death of approximately 35.000 
people. This may not be the full picture, but we are two orders of 
magnitude lower than Jung Chang.

Juggling with fantastic figures about people killed under communism, in 
casu under the leadership of Mao, is not new. Shortly after the leftist 
springtime in the Western world in 1968, the first horror stories appeared. 
But Jung Chang goes a substantial step further: the victims are no longer 
the consequence of a necessarily crude development strategy devised by Mao 
but of straight and deliberate criminal starvation and militarization.

Her evidence is based on ignoring whatever can be construed as positive and 
on systematic selectivity in favour of negative elements. That in the 
nineteen-fifties prior to the Great Leap the food supply improved from year 
to year notwithstanding the fast growing population, is not in  her book; 
the reader will only find anecdotal evidence suggesting widespread hunger.
Food exports by China to pay for  import  are presented as scandalous, Jung 
Chang does not explain how a country can pay for imports of necessary goods 
without exporting. Barter trade of food against machinery, with the German 
Democratic Republic -former East Germany- is simply called 'giving away 
food to the rich". The substantial development aid to some poor countries 
does not escape her wrath neither.
She makes mention of food exports in 1958 and 1959, but says nothing on 
food exports during the crisis years immediately thereafter.
Food export served only to import military goods, if we believe the 
'Unknown Story'. But Jung Chang has not been able to document any sizeable 
weapons import under the leadership of Mao. No problem, she knows that 
China imports weapons technology from Russia, including even nuclear 
weapons' technology . For the convenience she ignores that China tested its 
first nuclear weapon only in 1964, whereas the technological cooperation 
with the Soviet-Union stopped in 1961.
When manipulating statistics she systematically considers each new factory 
built as part of the military effort; any form of industrial investment is 
reclassified as military investment; not surprisingly, her Chinese military 
budgets reach astonishing heights.

In the end, is Jung Chang right to say that China would have been better 
off without Mao? Between 1949 and 1976 the life expectancy of 800 million 
Chinese increased from 35 to 63 years; to appreciate such a progress, we 
should compare that with today's  figures in Africa or India. How many 
premature deaths happen every year  in those countries through 
malnutrition, poverty, lack of basic medical care, and avoidable natural 
catastrophes? By almost doubling the life expectancy of the Chinese 
population, Mao has given an estimated 35 billion extra years of life to 
the Chinese people;

There are good reasons why Mao remains so popular in China, as well with 
the old generation who personally experienced his leadership as with the 
younger generation who only know him from hearsay. The present Chinese 
government follows a strategy fundamentally different from Mao's strategy; 
they are not he ones that create or sustain the Mao-cult.
In 1949 Mao Zedong woke up the sleeping giant that was already intriguing 
Napoleon. Mao put an end to several centuries of economic and technological 
stagnation, to more than a century of  colonial humiliation  and to decades 
of corrupt dictatorship. He distributed land to eighty percent of the 
population. At the time of his decease, the large majority of Chinese for 
the first time in history  had enough food, clothing and shelter,  access 
to medical care, access to primary school and to higher education for those 
capable of it. Mao tirelessly insisted on the women's liberation; he 
eradicated opium addiction, gambling and prostitution. The spectacular 
improvement of the living conditions made the population double in little 
more than 30 years, while the food consumption per head increased. The 
average growth of the economy was over 6%. Mao left his successors a stable 
rural economy, a fairly comprehensive heavy and light industry, a network 
of roads, railways, ports, airports, dikes, dams, irrigation canals, 
reservoirs, schools, hospitals...Without all this, Deng Xiaoping would not 
have been able even to consider his own great leap forward. Mao steered 
China into the UN and the security council and had it acknowledged as one 
of the big international players. Mao put China on the map of the third 
world as a reliable partner and support and for some as a source of 
inspiration till today. He realized  a drastic improvement of the sort of 
almost one quarter of humanity. Mao was not a monster; he was and remains 
one of the greatest politicians in the 20th century.