An Open Letter Critiquing The Memoirs of the Private Physician of Mao Zedong

This open letter was originally written in Chinese,   first published on Feb. 18, 1995, by The Asian American Times, a Chinese language weekly paper in Queens, N.Y.
Li Zhisui,  who was once the "baojian" (literally "ensuring the health of")
doctor of Mao Zedong, published last fall Chinese and English editions of his
memoirs. The English edition, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, was published
by Random House of the United States; its Chinese edition, Memoirs of the
Private Physician of Mao Zedong, by China Times Publishing Co. of Taipei. The
publication of this book has received prominent attention in the U.S. media.
It was given front page coverage in The New York Times. Excerpts of the book
appeared in The U.S. News and World Report. The book was reviewed by a number
of noted scholars. Professor Andrew Nathan of Columbia University was closely
involved in the publication of the book and wrote a foreword for it. 
 The book portrays socialist China under Mao’s leadership in a
negative light and relates some "inside stories" and "scandals" concerning
Mao’s sex life. Attacking the personal life of political opponents is nothing
new. In the early 80’s, criticizing Mao became something of a fad in China
and Mao’s private life was subjected to intense scrutiny and discussion among
the public. The fad, however, was short-lived. Mao Zedong is still the most
revered figure in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people today. Clearly
they revere him not as a saint devoid of human emotions and desires; nor do
those who hate him do so on account of his private life. 
 Personal attacks on a historic figure normally do not merit rebuttal.
One wonders, however, why the unfounded allegations in the book have so
riveted the attention of the U.S. media. The so-called exclusive inside
stories have been recounted with gusto in media reports and scholarly reviews
by the likes of Andrew Nathan. They all spout a common theme: Mao was a
ruthless, sex-crazed feudal despot and Chinese communism is a dictatorship
that devours its own people. On the basis of our readings of the English and
Chinese texts and, in particular, the revealing differences or discrepancies
between them which can not be explained by legitimate editorial or
translation needs, we, the undersigned, have concluded that the main
accusations against Mao in the book are either products of wild imagination
or outright fabrication, malicious personal attacks and slanders well beyond
the normal confines of the expression of personal opinions or observations.
Andrew Nathan’s involvement in the publication and promotion of this book
flout the basic norms of academic probity and we have reasons to question
whether he has in fact knowingly participated in an endeavor that can only be
described as intellectual fraud. Moreover, we are of the view that the widely
disseminated slanders and fallacies trotted out by certain China scholars and
journalists, saturated with stereotypes of the Chinese nation and society
habitually found in Eurocentrist narratives, have not only smeared Mao’s
image but also insulted the Chinese people. Andrew Nathan’s foreword is a
particularly offensive text which oozes with cultural imperialism’s contempt
for the Chinese people. 
 On the threshold of the 21st century, China is entering a period
marked by choices of world-historical magnitude. The opinion whipped up by Li
Zhisui, Andrew Nathan and company is by no means isolated or merely
anecdotal; it raises questions that need to be addressed by all who are
concerned about the dignity and future of the Chinese people and Third World
people in general.  Here then are some of our considered views.
 How much truth is there in Dr. Li’s accusations and attacks against
Mao? A clue can be found in the way the putative scandals are presented.
While a selling point for the book is the disclosure of lurid "scandals" in
Mao’s private life, all that the so-called scandals amount to are laconic
allegations about Mao’s sexual life interspersed in Dr. Li’s reminiscences
with no substantiation or corroboration. It is such unsubstantiated
assertions that the mainstream media have picked up and eagerly touted as
scandals. For example, the book repeatedly mentions that Mao enjoyed ballroom
dancing and often danced with young females who were members of  Cultural
Work Troupes. This in itself is no news for it has been reported elsewhere on
many occasions; but the author did not  stop there, and went on to regale the
readers with his "insider" information that many of those pretty, young
ladies had sexual relations with Mao. Any responsible author making such
shocking revelations would document their account with facts and details. Dr.
Li has not followed this practice of responsible scholarship. 
 Throughout the book, Dr. Li gives the minutest account of anything he
witnessed, or even merely heard of, no matter how trivial, that had anything
to do with Mao, sometimes in incredible detail; the sexual mores of other
figures such as Li Yinqiao and Deng Xiaoping are illustrated with far greater
detail. Why does he skimp over details when it comes to the shocking and
tantalizing revelations about the central figure’s sex life? The explanation
can only be that they did not have any basis in fact.
 A close reading of the Chinese and the English editions is very revealing. The two editions match in general but when it comes to the sexual life of Mao, supposedly the most intriguing part of the book, significant discrepancies appear. Here are a few examples. 
One "scandalous" anecdote relished by the media is about Mao transmitting his venereal disease to his sexual partners. In fact, neither edition dares make the outright assertion that Mao had venereal disease. There is only an indirect reference to VD in the English edition: "with so much sexual activity, venereal disease was
practically inevitable"(p.363).  The book then goes on to describe Mao’s trichomonas vaginalis–which is not a venereal disease–transmitted to a host of sexual partners. In the Chinese edition, there are no hints or innuendo tosuggest Mao had venereal disease. 
 In his foreword, Andrew Nathan decided to go beyond an indirect hint
of VD; he put a spin on the aforementioned allegation of the spread of Mao’s
trichomonas vaginalis to assert directly that Mao had caused "the spread of
venereal infection among his female companions." In the Chinese translation
of this foreword, Dr. Li found it necessary to do a reverse spin: Andrew
Nathan’s direct reference to venereal disease was struck out; in stead, the 
Chinese text of Nathan’s foreword now states that Mao had caused "the spread
of trichomonas vaginalis among his female companions." Why the removal of any
reference to venereal disease? Because trichomonas vaginalis is caused by a
parasite and communicable easily through clothing and it is not a venereal
disease. If Mao had had VD, Dr. Li should have been able to name the disease.
Not having the nerve to openly lie about Mao’s having VD, he had to alter his
own memoirs and Nathan’s foreword for the Chinese edition. The VD claim in
the English edition was fabricated to create media publicity for the book and
to smear the name of Mao. 
 The English edition claims that Mao adopted the Daoist practice of
complementing Yang with Yin via sex. In the Chinese edition, the book states
in its typically laconic fashion: 
 "Mao became a practitioner of Daoism then [when he was 67]: sex was
 intended to prolong life and not just for pleasure." (p.343)
That is all there is to the sensationalist story of Mao practicing Daoist
sexual methods. No mention of Yin or Yang or any other details. In the
English edition, this sentence is slightly altered:             
 "It was then that [Mao] became an adherent of Daoist sexual
 practices, which gave him an excuse to pursue sex not only for
 pleasure but to extend his life.[italics added]"  
Then the "editors" of the English version proceed to add two entirely new
sentences that are not in the Chinese edition: 
 "He was happiest and most satisfied with several young women
 simultaneously sharing his bed.  He encouraged his sexual partners
 to introduce him to others for shared orgies, allegedly in the
 interest of his longevity and strength." (p.358)
On the same page, the "editors" also insert a long footnote, amplifying the
term "Daoist Sexual Practice" with the explanation how Yin could be made to
complement Yang. There is another reference to group sex in the English
 "[It was at] the height of the Cultural Revolution, that Mao was
 sometimes in bed with 3, 4, even 5 women simultaneously."(p. 517)
There is no explanation of who saw this or under what circumstances it was
observed. The Chinese edition makes no mention whatsoever of group sex for
the simple reason that the Chinese would see through the lie.  Likewise, the
Chinese Edition does not make the assertion that Mao also liked to have sex
with men as is alleged in the English edition.(p358–359) 
 On a separate occasion, Dr. Li also demonstrated his penchant for
making farfetched statements in English which he would not have the audacity
to make in Chinese. When interviewed by BBC, Dr. Li, in alluding to Mao’s
peasant origin, asserted that the only pastime for the Chinese peasants was
sex! In an attempt to offer some insight on Mao’s sex life, such a statement,
instead, offers ample insight into the mentality of Dr. Li himself.
 A comparison of the two editions brings out something unprecedented
in book publishing in the world. In the English edition, Li Zhisui is listed
as the author and Tai Hung-chao as the translator; on the cover of the
Chinese edition, Li Zhisui is the author, Tai Hung-chao, the English
translator and Li Zhisui, the Chinese translator– without specifying which
edition is the original. If the original is in English, why did it need to be
translated into English? If the original is in Chinese, why translate it into
Chinese? And how does one account for the numerous discrepancies between the
two editions? We believe that there’s more to the book than simply personal
memoirs. As pointed out in the acknowledgments in the English edition, Andrew
Nathan was involved in the publication of the book from the outset;
researchers were assigned the task of checking other works concerning Mao.
One American, Ms. Anne Thurston, participated in putting together the English
edition and a Chinese, Mr. Y. Xu, was involved in polishing up both editions.
This latter fact is omitted from the acknowledgments in the Chinese edition
and the contribution of that Chinese went without recognition. The
discrepancy between the two editions leads one to believe that the English
version has been embroidered and spiced up with lurid anecdotes such as cited
above, which are absent in the Chinese edition but have been invented and
tucked into the English edition.
Another example is a "scandal" mentioned on
p.314-315 of the English edition, not to do with Mao’s private life but with
Deng Xiaoping’s, who, during the period of Lushan Conference, allegedly
stayed in a hospital in Beijing, got a nurse pregnant and later forced her to
have an abortion. This episode was also deleted from the Chinese edition.
 No notable inside stories are told in the book about Zhou Enlai and
Deng Yingchao, but insulting words of character assassination describe Zhou
as Mao’s slave, who, like a faithful dog or butler, answers the master’s
every beck and call submissively. His wife Deng Yingchao is painted as a
self-serving smooth operator who consolidates her own position and power by
fawning on the powers that be.
 Li Zhisui was packaged and heralded by the media as an honest person
whose memoirs are an honest record of events. His words and deeds, however,
belie this reputation of honesty. Li, as Mao’s doctor, enjoyed Mao’s trust
for more than two decades, was a confidant of Wang Dongxing, the security
chief of Mao’s China and a politburo member, and, according to himself, was
privy to the inner workings of the factions at the top, including the
top-secret plan to arrest the Gang of Four, which was carried out under the
direction of Wang. With the death of Mao, he suffered setbacks in his career,
lost his prestigious position as director of Hospital 305, and finally came
to the U.S. Before Mao’s death, he was considered a faithful apostle of Mao
Zedong Thought and Communism; once in the U.S., he ingratiated himself with
the anti-Communist scholars here and made a profitable living out of
vilifying Mao and Communism. 
 A manipulative author who bowdlerizes his own work to suit different
readerships is no honest and trustworthy witness but a swindler out to make a
name for himself and to hell with truth. To be sure, one is entitled to
change one’s political belief, but not at the expense of one’s integrity and
national dignity. Disregarding a physician’s obligation to protect his
patient’s confidentiality, he disclosed information about Mao’s physical
health; revealed state secrets he had privileged access to, and collaborated
with imperialist anti-Chinese elements to concoct "facts" to drag Mao’s name
through the mud. By the yardstick of both Chinese and Western moral values
and legal norms, what he did was unconscionable. 
 Andrew Nathan touted these memoirs of fabrications and slanders as a
work recording historical facts. It is disingenuous for him to claim in the
foreword that other works published in China corroborate many details in Dr.
Li’ account but differ from his by leaving out unflattering aspects of the
story of Mao’s life, for what is at issue here are not those parts of Dr.
Li’s account that are consistent with other works but those intended to
illuminate the dark side of Mao’s life which other works have purportedly
left out. The final English edition has been the product of years of
‘editorial work’, headed by Anne Thurston, personally selected by Andrew
Nathan for Random House; and it is to be expected that the finished product
of such extensive ‘editorial work’ would not blatantly contradict published
accounts whose accuracy is generally accepted. What is truly of central
relevance here, however, is the fact that most of the passages crafted to
depict Mao’s dark side can not even be corroborated by a different language
edition of the same book., the above cited examples being only a fraction of
the innumerable discrepancies between the Chinese and the English editions.
By attributing unique historical value to the lurid anecdotes in the book,
Andrew Nathan violated the basic tenets of scholarship. 
 Li Zhisui and Andrew Nathan not only assailed Mao but also insulted
the Chinese people. They totally negated China in Mao’s time and considered
Chinese socialism an unmitigated disaster. To them, China after liberation
fared worse than during KMT rule. Their logic inexorably leads to the
conclusion that the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people living under
communist dictatorship were either ignorant or suppressed their hostility
toward the regime. Andrew Nathan’s foreword affords a telling glimpse into
his Eurocentrist prejudice and his contempt for the Chinese people. He
viciously caricatured Mao and his entourage: "Women were served to order like
food"; "the party and army political departments" had the task of recruiting
beautiful young women of proletarian background "for possible service in his
bed."; at the same time, he praised Li’s western training and  ‘foreign
tincture’;  that Dr. Li’s  open expression, soft cheeks and neat clothes
betrayed him as one who came back from the west, and made him stand out among
his stony-faced Chinese cohorts. In his eyes, the overwhelming majority of
the Chinese people are ignorant peasants and only a small number of Chinese
such as Dr. Li with western training and ‘foreign tincture’ are capable of
joining him in modernizing China. A group of so-called leaders of the
democratic movement have coagulated around a project he put together at
Columbia’s Institute of East Asia Studies called "China and
Constitutionalism". Never mind that hundreds of millions of Chinese people
are working hard for a better future, in Andrew Nathan’s eyes, he is the sole
arbiter and judge of the Chinese people’s enterprise. And he has condemned
the path chosen by the Chinese people on the mere allegations of scandal by a
physician whose track record has shown him to have no scruples whatsoever,
capable of saying anything to curry favor with his actual or potential
 Cultural imperialists need someone like Li Zhisui to help spread the
gospel of the west in China and, alas, it’s not hard to find Li’s kindred
spirits in China. Li is a Chinese who agreed to openly vilify the Chinese
people but chose to do it on foreign television. He claimed he wanted to be
history’s witness and denounce the crimes of Chinese communism. For such a
weighty undertaking, he allowed ghost writers to churn out an English edition
first and then had it translated into Chinese and reimported into China.
Andrew Nathan claimed that this book is the most revealing book ever
published about Mao’s true nature; we believe that, on the contrary, it has
revealed the true nature of Li Zhisui and Andrew Nathan who have stooped to
such baseness. 
 Major representatives of U.S. media such as CNN, BBC, The New York
Times and scholars like Andrew Nathan are in the habit of setting  themselves
up as supreme judges of Third World countries’ politics, history and
morality. This book reveals the length they will go to manufacture public
opinion in favor of their verdicts.
 Mao Zedong is a great Chinese and world leader. The Chinese people
are exceedingly proud that China produced such a towering historical figure.
He is revered and remembered for his lofty political vision to which he
dedicated his entire life with admirable courage, bold initiative and
selflessness. More important, he showed the Chinese people a bright future: a
just and egalitarian society.  Some people revile him today, precisely
because there are so many Chinese people who still revere him, miss him and
cherish his vision. 
 Serious assessments of a political figure should be based on his or
her public words and deeds and eschew vulgar speculations about his or her
private thoughts or doings. Some people attack Mao on the grounds of sexual
mores, but it is precisely in the field of women’s liberation that Mao’s
theory and practice have left a powerful legacy recognized around the world.
He showed that institutionalized gender discrimination could be eradicated
and that the concept of male superiority could be effectively fought.
Longstanding social ills such as prostitution and concubinage disappeared
from new China.
These achievements put the old society to shame. 
 It cannot be denied that in little over a quarter century, China shed
its hundred-year legacy of being bullied and carved up by foreign powers and
became a world-class power to be reckoned with. This metamorphosis was made
possible by Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, whose leadership sparked the
Chinese masses’ nationalism and socialist enthusiasm and blazed a path
unpalatable to the imperialists and achieved results that cultural
imperialists before Andrew Nathan had never dreamed were possible. 
 China faces both bright prospects and an inevitably tortuous road
ahead. Prospects are bright because under Mao’s leadership, China has
regained its independence and sovereignty and laid the groundwork for
national renaissance; perils loom ahead because imperialists do not relish
China’s reawakening and there are too many Chinese who volunteer to spearhead
the cultural imperialists’ invasion of China and denigrate nationalism as
Boxer mentality and treat socialism as a scourge. 
 The arrogance of Li Zhisui, Andrew Nathan and company thrives on
their perception that the Chinese government and people are docile and
passive and usually ignore an outrage of this kind. It is imperative to let
them know that they are wrong, for if we do not stand up to their onslaughts,
the unhealthy trend of self-promotion with the help of foreign patrons will
grow, further fueling the arrogance of cultural imperialism. Unity confers
strength. This open letter is intended precisely to show that such insults
and provocation can be and certainly will be effectively answered.
Signatories (organizational affiliation for identification purpose only):
C. H. Hua, Association for Peaceful Unification of China;
J. F. Wu;
Dr.Teng Li;
Nan Ping Tan;
Chung Wang, Institute of Sino Strategy Study, LA;
Juan Wu Lee;
J. P. Wang, China Unification Association, Taiwan;
Dong Ping Han;
Dr. Chung-wu Kung;
Dr. Chia-ping Huang ;
Dr. Xu L. Dong;
Spring Wang, Asian Pacific Women’s Political Caucus;
Professor H. Y. Yeh, U.C.L.A.;
Chi Weng, Institute of Sino Strategy Study, DC;
Chung Kwang Yang;
Professor Shiao Po Wang, World University of Journalism, Taipei, Taiwan;
Jian Kang Xu;
Professor John Chen, Temple U.;
Professor  Che-tsao Huang, York College/CUNY;
Heh Lee;
Nancy Sang;
Li Tsang, Asian Arts Foundation;
Shou Teng Hsu;
Dr. Sheng-hui Chang;
K. H. Yang;
Ai Ai Jing;
Prof. Y. Wang, Howard U.;
Nei Chien Chu;
Chang-chieh Lin;
Ching-li Su;
M. Chao;
Dr. C. Y. Tung;
Y.C. Chen;
Shih Hsiung Chang, Mainland-Taiwan Culture and Trades Exchange Ass.;
Dr. Sheng Yu Liu, Chinese Socialism Study Group;
Dr. K. C. Lin;
L. C. Chu;
Professor T. N. Mao, Chung Hsing U. of Taiwan;
S. C. Jiang, China Unification Association, Taiwan;
P. F. Lin, China Unification Association, Taiwan;
Tian Ming Liang;
Su Yang Lin, Association of Political Prisoners in Taiwan;
Li Fung Lin, Association of Political Prisoners in Taiwan;
Professor C. M. Chen, College of Chinese Medicine on Taiwan;
T. Y. Tang, Association for Advancement of Teachers’ Rights in Taiwan;
Tian. T. Liao, Overlook magazine;
Ming. S. Chang;
Li Hsia Wang, Taiwan Labor Party;
Dr. Ken Chang, Teh-lin Yen;
Jianiu Pan;
Andrew Kwan;
Professor T. Sun, SUNY at Binghamton;
Professor Hsing Sheng Tai, the National Academy of Sciences of
People’s Republic of China;
Yan Qiu;
Ling Zhi;
Zhu Zhong-hui;
Wendy Hsiao;
Z. Chi;
Chien-ping Juan;
Sze Tan Miou;
Meichi Lin;
Dr. Gu Wei-kuan;
Dr. Shen Song-qi;
Dr. B. C. Chow;
Dr. Zonghai Xie;
Robert Hsu;
Professor P. Y. Kin;
Shi Liu;
F. C. Hwang;
Y. H. Yang;
H. N. Chen;
Y. C. Lee;
Jian Hu;
Yong Lin;
G. D. Yang;
D. S. Lu;
D. Y. Lin;
C. C. Huang;
J. T. Chen;
Tong Liu;
H. T. Lin;
Feng Chou;
J. L. Yang;
Y. W. Lian;
T. C. Lin;
General Ce Shen;
J. G. Chang;
C. B. Chang;
J. L. Ren;
Y. H. Lin
*This is a revised edition of an open letter, originally drafted in Chinese,
which was first published , on Feb. 18, 1995, by The Asian American Times, a
Chinese language weekly paper in Queens, N.Y., and subsequently, by more
newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Any suggestions and help for wider
publication and dissemination of this critique will be greatly appreciated.
Please direct your communication to:   
C. H. Hua, 370 Riverside Drive, #2A, New York, NY 10025
Tel/Fax: (212)222-1699;
C. Y. Tung, 501 W123 Street, #5F, New York, NY 10027
Tel/Fax: (212)865-7132;

About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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