During the first week of June 1966, pupils from a middle school in Beijing felt suddenly impelled to declare themselves part of Mao Zedong's (
To make their intentions doubly clear, they added: "We will be brutal."
Then, in a rhetorical flourish which was dangerously close to bourgeois self-regard, they signed themselves "the Red Guard."
The youthful storm troopers of what was more a madness than a movement had acquired a name.
In Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday invariably, and with absolute justification, refer to the Cultural Revolution as "the Great Purge."
It so happened that the wrath of the Red Guard was directed against "intellectuals," loosely defined as anyone who had any pretensions to learning. But the method by which they were suppressed -- mass murder usually accompanied by gratuitous torture -- was the same as that which Mao employed whenever he felt it necessary to strengthen his hold over China and its people. His entire life was punctuated with slaughter of such a magnitude that it could only have been ordered by a man who was criminally insane.
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have not, in the whole of their narrative, a good word to say about Mao. In a normal biography, such an unequivocal denunciation would be both suspect and tedious. But the clear scholarship, and careful notes, of The Unknown Story provoke another reaction. Mao's evil, undoubted and well documented, is unequalled throughout modern history.
Mao: The Unknown Story
By Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Jonathan Cape 5
He was candid about his megalomania. "Morality," he wrote, "does not have to be defined in relation to others. People like me want to satisfy our hearts to the full."
His heart was satisfied only by the domination of his people, a term which he defined so rigorously that, even when he was indisputable ruler of China, he still wanted to dictate the thoughts of its population to ensure that they never even thought of turning against him. He safeguarded his position by murdering millions of his innocent compatriots.
These days, it is fashionable to point out that Adolf Hitler had redeeming features. He was good with dogs and other people's children. Mao was hateful with everybody -- his women, his wives and his son and daughter.
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday deny him credit for the one episode in his blood-soaked career which, his apologists claim, at least adds an element of heroism to the savage saga: the Long March was a fraud.
After breaking with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and fearing annihilation by Chiang Kai-shek's (
Accounts of that sort appear on almost every page of The Unknown Story, often describing tens of thousands or even millions of deaths. The purge of autumn 1934 was different only in so much as it preceded Mao's attempt to take 80,000 men and women (and his personal fortune) to north Shaanxi. When he arrived, his army was only 4,000 strong.