Mao Zedong
Jonathan Spence
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Buy *Mao Zedong (A Penguin Life)* by Jonathan Spence online

Mao Zedong (A Penguin Life)
Jonathan Spence
208 pages
August 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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During the Cultural Revolution in China, "no-one could wear bluejeans, tight pants, 'weird women's outfits' perfumes or beauty creams could be used. No one could keep pet fish, cats or dogs...No shop could sell classical books...children should criticize their elders, and students their service would be simplifed and complicated treatment must be abolished." The millions who died as a result of the purges underpinned by these stringent social regulations were the ambitious, the thoughtful, the successful - in other words, all who might oppose the will of "the Great Helmsman, great teacher, great leader, and the Red Red sun," Mao Zedong.

Jonathan Spence is an award-winning author whose books have directly and indirectly focused on the cultural and societal history of China, often drawing from personal stories that make history come alive. In this short but thorough biography, he eschews anecdote in favor of hard facts. He demonstrates through logical processes how Mao Zedong, who became the dictator of the world's largest and most populous country, rose from simple roots to attain his total domination. Spence's major focus is this remarkable ascension to power, so readers who want to learn more specifics about the Cultural Revolution, for example, or Mao's later life and death will be disappointed. However, this book's inclusion in the Penguin series indicates that it is an respectable resource.

Mao was not born among the poorest Chinese. He had educational opportunities and was a good organizer. No genius, he had persistence and the ability to speak well for his causes. Curiously the young Mao, very politically involved from an early age, might have made a good career as a bookseller. His store, run by his careful dictates and the background organization he founded, the "Cultural Book Society," managed to operate at a profit with Mao himself assiduously keeping the accounts. Proceeds went to fund cooperative political efforts which at first seemed as naive as most people's initial experimentations with power sharing and social change. However, Mao aspired to far greater power, basing his philosophy on Marxist tenets. He was eventually to command a fighting force of stalwarts who not only knew how to tough it out when times were hard, but to attack when the forces were at their best. More importantly, Mao and his loyal Red Army knew how to wait. Eventually they got what they were fighting for.

Once Mao ascended to power, he followed the Marxist line and rid his country of land-holding farmers, putting everything into the hands of peasants. In order to accomplish this, many lives were snuffed out and all meaningful discourse was suppressed, effectively making Mao a god-like figure who could not be questioned. In his later years, Mao became a moral degenerate in his private life so that others were able to grasp power in his stead while he remained a nominal figurehead.

Spence's book is not an analysis, but a rational progression. It will go far to initiate the reader in the basics of Mao's life and philosophy.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2006

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