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The Private Life of Chairman Mao

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  1,470 Ratings  ·  117 Reviews
From 1954 until Mao Zedong's death 22 years later. Dr. Li Zhisui was the Chinese ruler's personal physician. For most of these years, Mao was in excellent health; thus he and the doctor had time to discuss political and personal matters. Dr. Li recorded many of these conversations in his diaries, as well as in his memory. In this book, Dr. Li vividly reconstructs his extra ...more
Paperback, 736 pages
Published April 2nd 1996 by Random House (first published January 1st 1994)
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Li Zhisui served as a personal physician to Mao Zedong for twenty-two years. And yet he doesn’t have much to say in his 700-odd page memoir that could be considered worthwhile.

Zhisui in fact warns the reader in the introduction about his political naivety, so there's that. And it also doesn’t help that he wrote this memoir entirely by recollecting the incidents from memory.

Zhisui actually comes-off as a reluctant memoirist, which I consider unforgivably oxymoronic. For example, he finds sex to
Mar 05, 2008 Matt rated it really liked it
Wow. This man is insane. Forget the failed economic policies. Forget 30 million people killed (some say 60 million and I've even heard 90 million) as a result of his tyranny. Forget the underground city he built. This man's private life is more insane. His insanity seemed quite contagious as the book starts out with the author in charge of preserving the man's corpse with pressure from other high officials. This was immediately hilarious as you read about Mao's face falling off and his body beco ...more
Paul Bryant
Jan 18, 2011 Paul Bryant marked it as to-read-nonfiction
If I was a dictator
Yadda badda biddy biddy bom
All day long I'd hydroelectrify everything
Eeedle deedle didle deedle dum

Yeah. What else? Hey, open the window, i can hear somebody singing.

A-breakin' rocks in the - hot sun
I fought the Chairman and the - Chairman won

Cool. You know, China, you deserve me.

The rest of the world... you'll just have to wait.
Erik Graff
Dec 17, 2012 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: modern China fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
This book is flawed in many respects. First, its author is an admitted naif as re politics, history, psychology etc. Although he delves into such perspectives, he doesn't get much beyond the surface. Second, as he also admits, his class background was bourgeois, his exposure to the lives of ordinary Chinese only coming late in his career. Third, he only entered the scene late, after the revolution. Fourth, having burned his original notes, his memoir is based on memory.

All of those consideration
Troy Parfitt
Mar 07, 2011 Troy Parfitt rated it really liked it
This is one of the best China books I've read and I've read about 50 of them. It's long and very involved, but written in a clear and fluid style. It is, quite simply, fascinating; brimful with interesting episodes and tidbits impossible to find anywhere else. Details about Mao's illnesses, drug addictions, sex life, and death are particularly salient, while figures and topics you can find in nearly any China book (Jiang Qing, Lin Biao, the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, etc.) are ...more
May 27, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, china
This doctor could have had a comfortable and fulfilling life but chose to join the spirit of the new China. He, like so many idealistic youth, went back to China (as some went to Russia after its revolution) to join the "new society" only to be buried in a world created by the revolutionaries in whom they had put their trust.

Dr. Li's suffering was made meaningful in his writing this book. This may be the world's first up close portrait of a national dictator/cult leader. Some of the things that
Sheng Peng
Jun 28, 2016 Sheng Peng rated it it was amazing
Damn It Feels Good To Be A Dictator!

I liked House of Cards, but I love this book! Breathtaking power struggles filled to the brim.

It would not be a cake walk for a non-Chinese to fully appreciate this book, but it should definitely be no harder to read than the Lord of the Rings. Only the traitors more traitorous and monsters more monstrous. And upon finishing this book, the reader would finally truly fully understand why the Ring, or Power in this book, is so PRECIOUS.

It's easy to take the mora
Aug 07, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it
Interesting read - I'd recommend this.
One anecdote that stood out to me is how when Mao traveled by train during the famine, the local governments moved all the crops in the fields and put them near the train tracks so it seemed like they were having a plentiful harvest. In the process, they basically killed the few crops they had left. Overall, pretty crazy reading about how detached from reality he was.
Also, having your personal doctor write a novel about you must be pretty devastating. Defin
Happy to have found it. Absolutely unputdownable. Saw dreams about this book and Mao's court in Zhongnanhai.
Oct 09, 2013 blakeR rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
I came to this book looking for a credible, respectable, fly-on-the-wall account of Mao Zedong's life. It ended up only partially meeting one of those three basic criteria; it was neither respectable nor was the source very credible, and for large portions (especially the later years, when Dr. Li had admittedly fallen out of favor with Mao) we did not even get eyewitness accounts.

A bizarre warning comes in the very introduction when Dr. Li, who has just given a thorough explanation of his journ
Liesje Leest
An other one of those books I loved reading ,learned so much from, but did not finish. I've only got 200 pages or something left, but for now I give up.

This book is huge but well written. It almost reads like a novel, including what are almost cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. I like the authors honesty. He has worked with a regime, knowing horrible details and doesn't pretend he didn't know those things. He tells us he had no choice but to work along, and from what I read in the book it
Jun 20, 2009 Chad rated it it was amazing
A fascinating memoir of Mao's personal physician- Dr. Li Zhisui. I just finished reading this book for the second time and liked it even more than I did the first time.

This is a truly amazing story of power, corruption and how intrigues, infighting and Byzantine court politics affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people during the 'Great Leap Forward' and 'The Cultural Revolution'.

Anyone interested in understanding how one man gained so much influence and power and held such sway with h
Jul 20, 2016 Susan rated it really liked it
Learned so much from this book. Interesting as friends inside China don't believe it is true, simply western propaganda, but a friend (editor) in Hong Kong explained that it is absolutely true. Also discovered that the copies in China passed about "underground" in Chinese are actually different than the English version I found in Hong Kong.

Very brave of Mr. Li to publish this book.
Apr 28, 2014 Sue rated it really liked it
Riveting look at the absurd, corrupt, & paranoid machinations of Mao and his communist party from the standpoint of his Western-educated personal physician of 22 years. Well written.
Antonio Nunez
Sep 03, 2013 Antonio Nunez rated it really liked it
This is the autobiography of Mao's personal physician. When it came out it was scandalous. For example, it says that Mao loved ballroom dancing and kept with him a cadre of young women for this purpose. However, others risked persecution for bourgeouis deviationism if they indulged this harmless preference. The dancers also had to pleasure Mao sexually. Once, says Dr. Li, Mao acquired a VD. When the doctor offered to treat it Mao asked whether the disease would harm him in any way. the doctor sa ...more
Jul 31, 2007 Britt rated it really liked it
Written my Mao Zedong's personal doctor, this book gives an interesting and relatively unbiased (at least compared to other books on the leader in which authors focus not on Mao but on their personal hatred or admiration for him) account of interactions with Mao.

In addition to the standard biographical facts, this book includes some interesting medical testimonies about the leader's health including clarification on which STDs Mao had and did not have, and the fact that he never brushed his teet
Aug 31, 2011 Teddee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The most memorable part of this biography which I remember to this day are the salacious details of the ballroom dances organized for Mao's benefit with poor innocent country girls, whose parents were only too happy to make whatever contribution they could for the benefit of Chairman Mao. Refusing treatment for his VDs, Li (his personal doctor) would have to prescribe antibiotics to all the girls that he slept with. Who would have thought even someone like Chairman Mao? Pretty sure this one wasn ...more
John Hennessy
Oct 12, 2012 John Hennessy rated it it was amazing
I read many books on China, as I'm fascinated by the country and have visited four times to date. Mao is an interesting character, and his doctor's account is absolutely riveting. I found it so easy to read the 700+ pages, it is THAT good.

Li made his choices under a lot of duress - I think that is why the book is so good. It all feels very real...and I have to say I enjoyed this more than the Wild Swans book by Jung Chang (although that was still great).

May 03, 2014 Dana rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Despite its length, it was written clearly and each chapter was concise, entertaining, and easy to read. It offered fascinating insight into the Communist government in China, and it also described many other individuals who, before reading, I didn't even know existed. The descriptions of politics and political struggles were shocking and, frankly, rather terrifying.

That being said, I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had more knowledge of C
I wouldn't recommend reading this unless you have read a broader historical account of Mao. This one is written by his doctor, so you get an intimate look at Mao, and learn about his sleeping disorders and boils, but the context is limited. It is always interesting to me though to read accounts that give a sense of bad, bad, people as real humans.
Dec 15, 2015 Sanjana rated it liked it
Maybe from a literary and political point of view this book does not offer much. But for me it was exactly what I was looking for, a bare-it-all, real life peek into Mao's private life. Just as the name suggests. But mygod! Did it really have to be 700 pages long? Took almost an year to finish it. Phew!
May 03, 2014 Skye rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finally done with this- after two years of multiple sittings!!! The amount of political maneuvering is mind boggling. All at the expense of millions of lives. God knows what leaders of massive legions of people are thinking sometimes :/
May 16, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One image I'll always take from this book is a swimming party with Mao floating down the Yangtze river blissfully unaware of all the corpses of his countrymen drifting along beside him.
K8 Rowan
Aug 30, 2016 K8 Rowan rated it really liked it
If you thought you understood Mao before...this book offers astounding insight into the pure craziness of this man's life, especially his later years as a ruler. The first words that come to mind about this book are: crazy, shocking and wow. That is how you feel as you rapidly turn pages and discover how much this man's health, or lack there of, changed the world. In addition, you see how power changes hands in what might as well have been a kingdom. This book is banned in China, and many people ...more
May 23, 2014 Holly rated it it was amazing
This is the best book on Mao. Written by his personal doctor.
May 18, 2016 Nicola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite fascinating and a good companion to the books Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China & Mao: The Unknown Story. I feel that Mao is more of a believable human being in this work; although Dr Li disliked him intensely his portrayal of certain events makes more sense. To take one example when the Premier Zhou Enlai was diagnosed with cancer Ms Jung Chang gave us to understand that Mao refused him any form of surgery (which was true according to Dr Li) and the implication was that this was do ...more
Feb 07, 2015 Kevin rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Mao was a juvenile, perverted, uneducated, narcissistic, fat, disgusting and delusional excuse for a member of the human race. Thank god he's dead. Same applies to the rest of the Communist Politburo. Shocking that a group of people who didn't even have an elementary school education were in control of China and caused the deaths of millions upon millions of people... all due to their utter lack of intelligence, or abundance of stupidity, and the whims of an overgrown baby known as Chairman Mao. ...more
Michael Connolly
Jul 29, 2012 Michael Connolly rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, china
This book was written by Dr. Li Zhisui, Mao's personal physician from 1955 to Mao's death in 1976. Mao spent much of his time enjoying his harem of young girls and politically scheming to hold onto power. Mao often spoke to Dr. Li about things on his mind, so Dr. Li learned much about what was going on in China. When the Soviet Union left Manchuria at the end of World War II, the Chinese Communist Party seized much of the weaponry they left behind. Li also wrote that Stalin had been opposed to C ...more
Dr. Li served as Mao's private physician from 1955 until Mao's death in 1976. This painful blunt memoir is a must for any one interested in this period in China. Dr. Li ends this poignant memoir, written in the US, "I write this book in great sorrow for Lillian (his wife who died in the US) and for everyone who cherishes freedom. I want it to serve as a reminder of the terrible human consequences of Mao's dictatorship and of how good and talented people living under his regime were forced to vio ...more
Apr 28, 2016 Gilberto rated it it was amazing
An amazing book. It's a tough read, with a lot of details and names and dates so it reads slow and wont be good for anyone who is not deeply interested in the topic.

Dr Li's tale may be biased (it most surely is) but even if 50% is made up, the other 50% offers amazing insight into the life of Mao and the elite politics of China on those decades.

In the end the book is not about Dr Li or Mao as persons, but about the sacrifices made over a an ideology and seeing those sacrifices come to nothing
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Chinese physician who was the personal physician & confidant of Chairman Mao Zedong. Li received his medical degree from the West Union University Medical School in Sichuan province in 1945 & five years later was named director of the private medical facility that treated China’s top leaders. Beginning in 1954, when Mao chose Li as his personal physician, the two men began to develop a clo ...more
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“I want it to serve as a reminder of the terrible human consequences of Mao’s dictatorship and of how good and talented people living under his regime were forced to violate their consciences and sacrifice their ideals in order to survive.” 0 likes
“All the able-bodied males, the real farmers of China, had been taken out of agricultural production to tend the backyard steel furnaces.” 0 likes
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