The Private Life of Chairman Mao
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The Private Life of Chairman Mao

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  969 ratings  ·  85 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,248)
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Paul
Jan 18, 2011 Paul 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 3 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Matt
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
Troy Parfitt
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
blake
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...more
Bookworm
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...more
Chad
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...more
Sue
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
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
Britt
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...more
Teddee
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
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).

Unputdownable.
Dana
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...more
Shane
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.
Holly
This is the best book on Mao. Written by his personal doctor.
Mary
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...more
Michael Connolly
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
Louise
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...more
Scott
Really a good read. At over 800 pages thought it might be too long, but now that I have finished, I really miss it. Seemed to fly by. Very detailed and very interesting. A really good first hand account
Frederick
The author was Mao's personal physician. He wrote it many years after Mao's death. I was amused by one particular anecdote. Mao, taking a train ride across China at the height of his power, saw lush greenery wherever he went. He'd look out the window and he'd see endless vegetation. In farm country he saw healthy crops through the window of his gliding train. Well, the Party made sure that, along the entire route, people would place rows of trees, crops or flowers so that Mao, whenever he'd peer...more
Pamela
An amazing inside look at Chairman Mao Tse Tung. This was eminently more readable than Jung Chang's biography, but I thought both were important books in uncovering the life of a man still much-revered in China, and both concurred on many points. His total disregard for the lives of those who worked closely with him or for the peasant he supposedly represented takes one's breath away. His main concern was gathering, keeping, and protecting his own personal power base. All in all, an incredible l...more
Lily
It was amazing to learn about Mao's intimate life details through the eyes of his personal physician who was with him until Mao's death. The book presents Mao not merely as the leader of the Communist Revolution, but also a man riddled with idiosyncrasies-- strange sleep patterns, sexually transmitted diseases, paranoia, patriotism. It reveals a very vulnerable side of Mao that history doesn't remember him for.
The book gets a little boring when it rattles off lists of names and titles and rela...more
Scott
Aug 29, 2007 Scott rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Power analysists & meglomaniacs
Gee Mao was a odd duck. Juicy gossip, sex, power struggles, mass murder, infidelity, revolution & counter revolution, bad teeth - what's not to like about the book? The author was Mao's private physician and recounted this history of Mao and communist China (remember when China was communist?) from memory 10 years after he left China. I found the sections on the power struggles between the Party hierarchy most revealing about power, change and organizational structures. The Party had no stru...more
Crystal
Man, there was some effed up stuff going on behind the scenes of the Chinese government during the Mao era. In these memoirs of the private physician of Mao, you can see the inside politicking and decision making in an era which shaped modern China. Yes, Mao had some peculiar habits (you can read about his insatiable thirst for sleeping pills and women), but I was most stunned at Mao's rudimentary grasp of economics, which led to devastating policies in the Great Leap Forward, and how his self d...more
Laird
Nov 23, 2008 Laird rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
I have read this book now for the 4th time. As I read this book, I can feel this man's goodness be challenged over and over by the circumstances thrust upon him. I really feel for his position and thought it was quite an eye opener into the behind the scene look into China's politics. Think for a moment if you gave the presidency of the United States over to some farm hick who knew little if any world politics and you have this story an ocean away. It made me think and realize what honest people...more
Writerbj
Fascinating memoir of the tolerant, kindly doctor who was pressed into service as Mao's private physician. For decades Dr. Li cared for Mao's physical ailments and was also used as an English tutor. Dr. Li was a member of Mao's inner court, observing the rising and falling fortunes of other political figures, the comings and goings of Mao's many mistresses, and Mao's interaction with Jiang Qing. Ultimately it is a heartbreaking book, as Dr. Li was forced to spend his entire professional life ser...more
Rebecca
Fascinating look into Mao Zedong's life from the 1950s until his death. Of course, the perspective is somewhat limited because of Dr. Li's changing position in Mao's staff. He tends to focus on the medical aspects of Mao's life, since he is a doctor. Also, since Dr. Li developed an animosity towards Mao later, some of this should probably be taken with a grain of salt. With that in mind however, it is still a great account from someone actually within Mao's inner circle.
Yuen
Borrowed this book from a library and I am grateful to read it. One of the best books I've read by far. A narrative book which provided undeniably compelling arguments. It might seem to contradict almost everything way from the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution till the day Chaiman Mao died which the Politburo of the Communist Party of China decided to reveal to the masses. Nonetheless, it was proven necessary and this is why this book is much recommended.
Sarah
This book is fascinating, though it could use some editing. It's a very detailed account of the inner workings of the communist party under Mao and of Mao's personal life as told by his personal physician of 22 years. The level of political backstabbing is insane and the adherence to Mao's policies regardless of the starvation and destruction they caused is just mind-blowing. Definitely worth reading.
Sharon Edelmann
Unbelievable account of Mao's personal life told first-hand by his lifelong personal physician. Frightening to learn the details of how Mao's senseless, irrational, and ill-informed ideas shaped, and at times crippled, an entire nation of people who were willing to make him into a god-like figure. The only downside to this book for me was its length, which could have been edited down a bit, in my opinion.
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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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