“Mao: The Unknown Story” by the formerly leftist husband-and-wife team Jung Chang and Jon Halliday is currently the talk of the book world. As well it should be, because of the embarrassment the book must be provoking to all those intellectuals of the 1970s who wore caps with little red stars on them, displayed copies of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book on their hand-hewn coffee tables, and went gaga along with Shirley MacLaine over the supposed equality of the sexes in the People’s Republic of China where everyone of both sexes was forced to wear the same drab, ill-fitting pantsuit. And then there was the much ballyhood Cultural Revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, an undergrad’s dream come true in which students got to cut class, denounce their professors and have them shot, and vandalize and destroy priceless cultural artifacts galore just for the fun of it. In the Cultural Revolution, Marxism-Leninism met the frat house on a Saturday night beer binge.

Too bad for them to have to read in “The Unknown Story” that the kindly father of the new socialist order was actually a poorly educated genocidal megalomaniac who killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined and essentially made up all that glorious history of  of the Chinese people’s gloriuous struggle against the U.S.-supported dictator Chiang Kai-shek.

Here are some excerpts from China hand Stephen Mosher’s review of the book for the Washington Times:

“Take the tale of the Long March. PRC history books recount how Mao, guns blazing, fought his way out of encircling Nationalist armies and through hostile provinces to reach the red base of Yenan. But this heroic epic is a complete fabrication. In reality Chiang Kai-shek, who had encircled the Red Base with a 500,000-man army and four lines of blockhouses bristling with machine guns, allowed them to decamp. He opened “one side of the net,” thereafter using his superior forces to herd the increasingly pitiful Red forces along like sheep until they reached his intended destination. Chiang made absolutely sure that the Reds would flee to Yenan by allowing the communist base there to flourish, while others elsewhere in China were vigorously stamped out. The so-called Long March should be remembered in the history books as the ‘Forced March’….

“Mao famously claimed that he was fighting with ‘only millet plus rifles,’ but research in the Soviet archives convinced the authors that “a huge secret program of action and subversion for China” was already underway by 1919. Young Mao was in Moscow’s pay from 1921 onward, and the book includes a receipt for US$300,000 (worth about US$ four million today) signed and sealed by none other than ‘Mao Zedong.’ Without this generous and continuing support from his Soviet ‘older brothers,’ which included, after World War II, the entire arsenal of the surrendered Japanese Army in Manchuria, Mao would have remained a minor bandit on China’s periphery….

“The collectivization of agriculture was carried out not to create public-minded new socialist men and women, contra the propaganda of the time. Rather it was to allow the state to more efficiently extract food, work and other resources out of the peasantry to speed industrialization and create a first-class war machine. The pinnacle of state exploitation was reached with the people’s communes, which were so efficient at squeezing China’s villagers that tens of millions of them starved to death as a result. The food exported to pay for Mao’s atomic bomb, the authors conclude, cost 38 million lives. Such losses were inconsequential for this ruthless megalomaniac, who blithely declared that, in pursuit of hegemony, ‘half of China may well have to die.’

Nonetheless, our onetime Mao-besotted intellectuals still can’t get the idea out of their heads that Mao was a well-intentioned idealist who happened to make a few mistakes here and there. Here’s the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristoff dredging up the classic Breaking a Few Eggs to Make an Omelet excuse:

“But Mao’s legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao’s entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world’s new economic dragon.”

Sounds as though Kristoff went to a few too many screenings of MacLaine’s feminist/goo-goo China-“documentary” “The Other Half of the Sky” back in 1975.

And here’s a convincing argument from Kristoff on why Mao wasn’t so bad:

“Perhaps the best comparison is with Qinshihuang, the first Qin emperor, who 2,200 years ago unified China, built much of the Great Wall, standardized weights and measures and created a common currency and legal system – but burned books and buried scholars alive”

Oh.well, that explains it. Of course Mao left China an economic and cultural basket case when he died.