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Mao: The Unknown Story

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  11,860 ratings  ·  828 reviews
The most authoritative life of the Chinese leader ever written, Mao: The Unknown Story is based on a decade of research, and on interviews with many of Mao's close circle in China who have never talked before -- and with virtually everyone outside China who had significant dealings with him. It is full of startling revelations, exploding the myth of the Long March, and sho ...more
Paperback, 801 pages
Published November 14th 2006 by Anchor Books (first published September 1st 2002)
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John Suter Did you ever find the notes? I'd like them as well . …moreDid you ever find the notes? I'd like them as well . (less)

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Dec 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: history buffs
I was very much looking forward to this highly touted book, as it's widely considered to be the most thorough and in depth study of Mao ever done. It's true, actually. The amount of detail is pretty incredible.

The thing that has been turning me off of this book is that it falls victim a little too much to the author's personal feelings for Mao. I understand that a lot of what he did was atrocious. I just wish that I didn't feel like I was being force fed the author's point of view quite so blata
Horace Derwent

As we all know, he was the man who killed the most
But many people might not know this:
The only right thing he ever did was DIE
Still there many many many many many people here are worshipping and adoring him, seeing him as a God

Finally received the tome today thru by a longtime shipping freight, expensive and risky(you got it), but worthy and deserving

This book of untold stories of him tells the world a lot about(not only about the dictatorship
James Murphy
Jun 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
This isn't balanced biography. This is more like character assassination. It reminded me of the harsh biographical treatment Albert Goldman gave Elvis Presley some years ago. Whatever detail of Mao's life Chang writes about, the negative aspects are emphasized. The facts of his marriages are glued together with the ways he crippled them and damaged the wives. Writing about his children, the author underlines the ways he mistreated them. Every lash of the whip is here: not writing to his children ...more
Aug 25, 2015 marked it as aborted-efforts
I can't decide whether to keep going with this book, which is one of the most annoying biographies I've ever read. The tabloidish whiff of the subtitle -- The Unknown Story! -- is misleading: this book should have been called Mao: What a DICK! Its tone is bizarrely vitriolic and hysterical, as the authors take every single conceivable opportunity to spell out after each example that, see, look, Mao was a real DICK.

Here's the thing: we already know that Mao was a dick! And if we somehow didn't, s
Jun 19, 2013 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Mikey B.
Okay, I put my hands up...this book has me defeated. At page 228 I am giving up. It is just too dense, and too filled with battle and political strategy to be my cup of tea.

I have however gleaned some interesting points from what I have read. (view spoiler)
Andrew Macneil
Aug 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in modern history
This is a comprehensive hatchet job on the Western myth of Mao's "making of modern China". It should be read by everyone who grew up in the post-war years, with the recurrent fascination our society had with the internal convulsions of the "People's Republic" and its growing influence on its neighbours.

It is well written - I noticed a few repetitions, but nothing annoying, and it kept my interest throughout.

I'm sure the passion that comes through the book's relentless examination of Mao's beha
Jul 03, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: no_fiction_here
How do I review a book like this? I don't know, because I have decidedly mixed feelings about Mao myself. Jung Chang wrote the amazing "Wild Swans" biography/autobiography, but her voice there falls far short of the voice here. I'll be honest. It's very, very biased. She presents the work as *factual* when it's not actually quite that factual. Much of her interpretation and statements are based off of things like, "a dear friend of Mao's said..." and yet, the friend is *not* named or referenced. ...more
Mikey B.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”
Quote of Mao Tse-tung

“Long Live Chairman Mao”

“Chairman Mao Tse-tung is the Saviour of the Chinese People”

During the 1960’s and ‘70’s Mao was a much revered world leader – particularly adored by the college crowd (I know I was one of them) who put Mao on a pedestal. He was placed among the great leaders of the 20th century like Gandhi. His stature in Western society was likely similar to that of Stalin who was also glorified during the 1930’s and
Apr 12, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: books-i-hated
I should clarify my review; I majored in Chinese modern history and did my thesis on historical revisionism and historiography of the Nanjing Massacre (from both Chinese and Japanese perspectives). I loved Chang’s book Wild Swans, but too much of this ‘biography’ is filled with personal invective with questionable evidence. Mao was certainly a monster, and a perpetrator of genocide, but too much of the author’s personal bias (and she does have some very serious personal tragedy relating to Mao’s ...more
Jeff Chappell
Mar 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm going to have to come back to this; it's an exhaustive read. I will say this: I would have given it five stars but for the fact that the writing itself is extremely textbookish. At times, reading it was a chore that ranks up there with getting through John Galt's 60-page speech in Atlas Shrugged. But Mao is so well researched and such an interesting topic, covering a fascinating period in Chinese history ...

Update: If you really are a glutton for punishment and want to read what I really thi
Czarny Pies
Sep 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Modern China
Recommended to Czarny by: I read it in spite of all the negative reviews. No one recommended it.
Shelves: asian-history
I am giving this book four stars for two reasons. The first is that the research effort by Ms. Chang was extraordinary. The second is that her husband conducted exhaustive research in the Russian archives something that I suspect no other Western academic following China would have been able to do. The result is a book which is rich in detail on Mao and which presents the best description of Mao's relations with the Russians thus providing the best explanation of how the communists were able to ...more
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Man, this was a 2 1/2 month project to slog through. That's not to say it isn't a good book, I just had a hard time in the first half when we just have example after example of Mao killing thousands of his own men because he's either scared of losing power, scared of Stalin, scared of Chiang Kai-Shek, or greedy for something or other. It actually gets sort of redundant.

The book really picks up in the second half when things get considerably more interesting with the Russians and when, little by
Feb 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china-and-tibet
This book is anti-Mao, for sure, but from what I've read in other books, that seems to be justified. Mao is responsible for the worst man-made famine in all of history--30 million people died. He caused the deaths of more people than Hitler and Stalin put together. A lot of people don't know that because it isn't part of Western history, but it is true. My only problem with the book was the exhaustive detail. Sometimes it was just too much. But I found it well-researched and informative. ...more
Aug 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: Helen S
I was given a copy of 'Mao: The Unknown Story' for Christmas in 2016. I read 200 pages during January 2017, found the Long March so depressing that I put the book aside for more than three and half years, then read the remaining 600 pages in two days. This isn't atypical behaviour for me and also reflects the nature of the book. It is written in highly readable and involving style, yet the content is horribly depressing. I have been very fond of Jung Chang's writing since I came across Wild Swan ...more
Apr 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
Just like when I read Wild Swans byt Jung Chang, there were times when my eyes almost crossed when she is writing of politics and military maneuvers. However, I felt that anyone interested in 20th Century China should read both. There has been some controversy about the accuracy of some of the information, but overall, from what I have read, there is some new information that has been verified (Russia's involvement in Chinese politics during the civil war, for example).

Sometimes, I think Jung C
Jan 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asian-culture
At first, I was put off by the heavily polemical style and constant sneers at Mao. But I pushed on, and I'm glad that I did. Read the book, not as academic history or as a scientific investigation, but more as a bill of indictment. Chang and Halliday spent ten years digging up an extraordinary wealth of material, and I doubt anyone will ever match what they have done. They had access to Russian archival material and various aging eye-witnesses in China that have not been available to previous hi ...more
John Farebrother
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent read - thorough, painstaking research and incisive insight presented in a manner that tells the story of one of the leading historical figures of the twentieth century. Even readers with little or no knowledge of Chinese history will conclude this book with a thorough understanding of how we got to where we are today in the Far East, and of the inside life of this most evil of men. Like Hitler and Stalin, he not only wiped out entire communities in their millions, but also tended to ...more
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Along with Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein, Mao Tse Tung was one of the most evil men of the 20th century, as anyone with respect for human life will attest.
The auhtors illustrate how Mao's thirst for blood is what led him to choose the Communist Party, over the Nationalists because the Nationalists put limits on the brutality their forces allowed and only the Communists could provide him with a means to assuage his mania for murder and destruction.
From even before his participation in the civ

Shocking, traumatizing, depressing, text-bookish but brilliant. This is the sequal to Jung Chang's first international best seller, "Wild Swans - Three Daughters of China".

It was not an easy read and certainly a challenge to empathize with Jung Chang's anger and open contempt for Mao. Her intense personal feelings established this book as a personal journey of discovery which took her ten years of intense research. Although most of the facts can be verified, there are others, supplied by peo
I'm currently reading The Gulag Archipelago Abridged An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn brilliant, impassioned indictment of the Soviet system of suppression and imprisonment. This paragraph from an NY Times review convinced me to read Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's biography of Mao next.
The authors assert, for example, that he was not in fact a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party, as is widely believed, and that the party was founded in 1920 rather than 19
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very much a history not only of China, but also of the West.
The Vintage edition (2007) seems somewhat shortened in comparison to that of A. Knopf (2005). Mostly — a number of footnotes have not been reprinted/been omitted (e.g. p. 225 with p.185, 247 with 203 ... respectively).
Jeffrey Mollerup
Aug 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I once owned a t-shirt that I bought while vacationing in China that had a picture of Mao that is identical to the one on the cover of this book. Had I known how narcissistic, evil, diabolical, cruel and ruthless this man really was, I would have torn the shirt to shreds. I thought Hitler was evil...Mao Ze Dong was responsible for at least 10 times the number of deaths that Hitler was. In the tradition of the cruel emperors of China's past, Mao set himself up to be a god who required unquestioni ...more
Dec 20, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china, non-fiction
A minutely researched story of how Mao came-to and stayed-in power, with a lot of behind the scenes information, detailed accounts from diplomatic meetings and interviews of people who came into contact with him.

Is it well written? It’s good, but not outstanding, and it feels biased. There is a wealth of interesting information on how his regime functioned, but Mao as a person doesn’t come fully through. There are some repetitions, some things are unclear, some information seems willfully omitte
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of history or page-turners.
This long, detailed biography of Mao contains loads of information. It also goes at a good clip. Mao is presented as a sadist who used both terrorism of large groups and elimination of competing individuals to solidify his position alone at the top. The content is as gruesome as that of any war history book. Mao's sadistic side is brought out in a number of ways: his enjoyment of viewings of torture and killing; his treatment of his wives and close relatives. Mao is presented less as a strict co ...more
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Jung Chang and her husband are both respected university professors who attempt to present a biography over 20 years in the making. Every comment in their book is also extensively sourced with a bibliography at the end that illuminates they extensive span of their work. The problem is readership be it by academics or otherwise fails to differentiate that the book is not her opinion but rather a collection of other authors facts, many of them from unclassified documents in Russian KGB archives. U ...more
Right, this is not an unbiased and objective look at the life of Mao. This is the necessary counterpoint so that there might one day be an unbiased and objective account of the life of Mao. This opened my eyes to just how ignorant I am about a lot of the history of that region and the role of Mao especially. The book opens with Chang positing that Mao killed more than 60 million of his own people, more than any other dictator during peace time. He deliberated starved his own people, taking the h ...more
Mar 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
Wow. I bet Batman would write a less biased hate filled book about his parents killers then what Changs got here. But both do deserve to be in a pulpy comic book world due to the sensationalism and over the top delivery they'd contain. This book doesn't stray too far away from Mao's life, but it does often take a break from history and dive off the deep end into hate fueled digression. Does Mao deserve such ferocious posthumous honors? You'll certainly think so after spending time with him in th ...more
It is very peculiar that a book could be written of such length and full of such needling and petty detail while touching its subject so shallowly. The authors seem to view their job as to ascribe all evil to Mao, but it is not enough to say he was evil- what drove him?

The book reaches a hilarious level of propaganda language. No opportunity for universal hyperbole is missed; no closing statement of doom is left unsaid. Some of them made me laugh out loud, probably not the authors intention but
Jun 28, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, asian, biography
Jung Chang wrote a beautiful story in Wild Swans, the biograpy of her own family through the Mao era, but this biography she has written of Mao Zedong is flawed in that she clearly lets her overwhelming hatred for what her family went through keep her from being an objective biographer. Chang paints Mao as a monster. He did fail as a leader, but he also did many good things for China. A historian--the role Chang is attempting to assume here--needs to look at all sides of these issues of power an ...more
Jan 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
I hated this book. The author felt like the least objective person in the world, which was crazy, because her source material is one of the nastiest people to walk the face of the earth. All she really had to do was present her copious research to the reader and then let the reader fill in the blanks on how despicable Mao was. Instead, it was endless speculative leaps and questionable conclusions.
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Jung Chang (simplified Chinese: 张戎; traditional Chinese: 張戎; pinyin: Zhāng Róng; Wade-Giles: Chang Jung, born March 25, 1952 in Yibin, Sichuan) is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but banned in mainland China.

See also ユン チアン, 張戎.

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