A Critique of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Book (Mao, the Unknown Story) Part 1

Chairman Mao was the founder of New China. He is still widely revered in China, but has a somewhat tarnished image in the West. This is no thanks to books written by a few authors in the West which potrait him as a monster.  Many ordinary people have mistakenly believe that the book written by Jung Chang as authoritative work on Mao. Infact, that is far from the truth. 
I have divided this long article by Jin Xiaoding into 4 parts. I suspect the original version was in Chinese, and the translation into English was not expertly done, but the message is clear enough for all to understand. An understanding of the Chinese history of 20th century, including the Long March is required if one is to follow through the arguments soundly.
My assertion is that Mao is neither a monster or a saint. He is much misunderstood in the West. It is without doubt that he is a complex figure, a product of the history of the time, who has great qualities as well possess some  flaws.
By Jin Xiaoding
Introduction ’s economic development is one of the most significant events in recent times. It is at least partially the consequence of her social and political evolution/revolution in the past century. If the west wants to understand modern China, it is essential not to misunderstand her founder, Mao. However, the book of J. Chang (JC) and J. Haliday, Mao, the unknown story, is misleading the Western public into profound misunderstanding of Mao, China’s modern history and China itself.


The central theme of the book is to condemn Mao as an evil monster, “as bad as or worse than Hitler”. The western media immediately accepted this claim. When the book was first published in UK in June 2005, it was hailed by all major media with great enthusiasm, involving many well known China experts from polity (e.g., C. Pattern, the last British governor of Hong Kong), journalism (e.g., J. Mirsky, the Time’s East Asia editor) and academia (e.g., M. Yahuda, the ex-chairman of the Department of International Relation, London School of Economics). According to these experts, everyone with a reasonable mind should be totally convinced by the book beyond any doubt. On this issue there is a rare harmony in which the voice of the Guardian is indistinguishable from that of the Daily Mail. Within one week, the book jumped to the top position of the non-fiction best selling list. Jung Chang has become the authority on the Chinese history. A person, who asked challenging questions during one of her seminars, was deemed by others as “an obvious Maoist” and could not finish his questions. Some western readers condemned a less complementary comment regarding the book on the Amazon web site as “ugly Chinese propaganda”.  


The supporters have such unlimited confidence partially because the book is supposedly the outcome of 10 years of intensive research, based on secret archives and hundreds of interviews in many countries. Unfortunately, a careful reader can see clearly that there are huge gaps between its sensational claims and vast references. Moreover, the evidence in the book often contradicts, rather than supports, the claims. This review will point out these contradictions and inconsistencies which may have escaped most readers’ eyes and been ignored by the Western media.


To reveal the overall quality of the book, we take on its 17 major claims, which are evenly distributed across Mao’s life. Instead of picking up its weaknesses or minor points, we focus on those issues, which tarnish Mao’s character most and are praised most highly in the Western media as solidly proven. These issues are dealt within 17 sections:


1. The Purge in the Ruijin Base,                         

2. Chiang Let the Reds Go (I)

3. Chiang Let the Reds Go (II)                         

4. The Fake Battle at the Luding Bridge,            

5. Mao Carried through the Long March,              

6. Mao Did Not Fight Japanese,

7. The Trap for the New 4th Army,             

8. Mao Sacrificed His Brother Tse-min,  

9. The Rectification Campaign,                     

10. Opium Sale,  

11.   3 Million Deaths in 1950-51,                       

12.    27 Million Deaths in Jails/Labor Camps,  

13.   The Superpower Program,                       

14.   38 Million Deaths in 1958-61,  

15.   3 Million Deaths in 1966-76,                       

16. Mao’s Aim of the Cultural Revolution,        

17. Mao Compared with Hitler.


This review has been sent to many Western media outlets since early August 2005, but received no response. However, it is not the only negative review on JC’s book. Four months after its first publication, critical voices began to emerge from outside of Europe. For instance, in an article in the New York Review, J. Spence of Yale University singles out two false stories in the book. In the New York Times, a former correspondent in Beijing N. Kristof reveals that one of alleged interviewees listed in the book, Zhang Hanzhi denies that she had ever been interviewed by the authors. An Australian H. McDonald reveals in The Age that a recent visit by reporters to Luding Bridge confirms the battle 70 years ago, which JC claims to be a complete invention. He quoted from T. Bernstein of Columbia University that "the book is a major disaster for the contemporary China field". Also, “Princeton’s Perry Link have felt compelled to criticise" JC’s “factual errors and dubious use of sources”. Moreover, “many scholars point out that much of what Chang and Halliday present as a previously ‘unknown story’ has in fact been exposed long ago. . . . But no credit is given to these earlier writers”.


 In London Review of Books, A. Nathan of Columbia University provides plenty of evidence showing that “Chang and Halliday are magpies: every bright piece of evidence goes in, no matter where it comes from or how reliable it is”.


This review differs from those of Western academics in two aspects. First, it shows the total fallacy of the book, instead of just a few inaccuracies. Secondly, it demonstrates the book’s major flaws without substantial references regarding Chinese history, by only using the information and references mainly coming from the book itself. In so doing, the review raises a further question: why did most media and experts in the UK fail to see these obvious inconsistencies and contradictions in the book? If it cannot be excused by the ignorance of Chinese history?


Although this review met absolute silence in the west, it has drawn some attention from overseas Chinese. One of the web sites, which published this review, Duowei, interviewed Jung Chang in New York in October 2005, and asked her my questions (see the article at: http://blog.chinesenewsnet.com/?p=3467, or the entire interview video at: http://www.berm.co.nz/cgi-bin/video/play.cgi?lz1JaUtTdSM). This is what Jung Chang said about this review: “I have read it, and read carefully. Some questions are quite good. I do hope to have opportunities to answer them. I think it is very important. However, there are many issues, I do not know either he did not understand English, or did not look at the references provided at the back of the book. There are many details, the origins of the figures, all in the back of the book. Among 800 pages, there are 150 pages of references, the sources of the references. One has to read those sources from the references. I think he either did not understand English, or did not read references carefully. I have looked at his questions, and can give easy answers to all of them”.


In the interview, Jung Chang indeed responded to three of my 17 questions, namely, (2), (3) and (4). A reader can look at the paragraphs marked by * signs below, in each of the three sections to appreciate her “easy answers”.

After the appearance of this review, Jung Chang’s brother, Pu Zhang (a translator for the Chinese version of the book), claims in October 2005 on the Duowei web site that, my Chinese translation seriously distorted JC’s words, and he would post the direct comparison of the original text and my translation on the web for readers to see the difference. However, despite readers repeatedly asking him to keep his promises, his English-Chinese comparison has not be seen anywhere so far.


1. The Purge in the Ruijin Base

Jung Chang’s first major accusation against Mao is that his purge in the Ruijin base, the first Red State in China, caused more than 350,000 deaths, or 10% of the total population. Her figure is grossly exaggerated because she assumes the reduction of 0.7 million in Ruijin’s population was the result of people either being killed in battles or dying of persecution under Mao. She ignores civilian deaths and emigration completely.


From 1931–35, “the population of Red Jiangxi fell by more than half a million . . . The fall in Red Fujian was comparable. . . . . Altogether some 700,000 people died in the Ruijin base” (p. 113). JC apparently deduces this figure from the population ratio of Red Jiangxi to that of Red Fujian. But from her “half a million” population reduction in Jiangxi, we should get Ruijin’s 700,000 population reduction, not deaths.


Then, as “238,844 people in Jiangxi were counted as ‘revolutionary martyrs’, i.e., people who had been killed in wars and intra-party purges” (p. 114 fn), JC uses the population ratio again to get the total number of martyrs in the whole of Ruijin, which is 238,884×700,000/500,000 = 334,438. The rest of the reduction in population, 700,000 – 334,438 = 365,562, i.e., “More than half”, she concludes,were murdered as ‘class enemies’, or were worked to death, or committed suicide, or died other premature deaths attributable to the regime” (pp. 113-114).


This calculation is not professional. First, it ignores civilian deaths caused by the war, through killing, illness, economic hardship and starvation etc, which often account for a larger part of the loss of life in long lasting wars. During that period Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek launched five “annihilation expeditions” against Ruijin, one of which involved “half a million troops” (p. 125). At one time the Ruijin base “had been reduced to a mere several dozen square kilometers” (p. 103) from “50,000 sq. km” (p.104). Chiang’s army had occupied most of the area of the base.


Many people cooperated with the communists, even “children were used as sentries, and formed into harassment squads, called ‘humiliation teams’ to hound people into joining the army” (p. 110). Chiang’s army was not known for treating civilians with mercy. Even before the Red state came into existence, “tens of thousands of Communists and suspects were slaughtered” during Chiang’s campaign in 1927 (p. 47). Given all these factors, civilian deaths must have been significant.


Secondly, Jung Chang’s calculation ignores emigration out of the Ruijin area, which should be expected after five annihilation expeditions in five years. Especially, we are told that Mao’s policy in the Red base ‘was to confiscate every last single thing’ (p. 111), and “China’s first Red state was run by terror and guarded like a prison.” (p. 113). In that case, people should have escaped from Mao’s hell when Chiang’s army liberated them five times. So the number of refugees must have been significant too.


If we assume that the sum of civilian deaths and refugees together is roughly the same as the number of martyrs, there would be far fewer left who were “murdered as ‘class enemies’, or were worked to death, or committed suicide, or died other premature deaths attributable to the regime”. The number would be 700,000 – 334,438×2 = 31,124, less than 10% of Jung Chang’s figure.


2. Chiang Let the Reds Go (I)

Jung Chang’s second major discovery is to deny Mao’s contribution to the Red Army’s survival during the Long March. She argues that, it is Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek who let the Red Army go because he wanted an excuse to send his own army into Guichou and Sichuan. She gives no evidence for this. Instead, by her own account, Chiang did not need to use Mao’s army as his excuse because a strong Red Army had already been settled in Sichuan for nearly three years before Mao’s arrival.


There can be no doubt that Chiang let the CCP leadership and the main force of the Red Army escape”. “He wanted to drive the Red Army into these hold-out provinces, so that their warlords would be so frightened of the Reds settling in their territory that they would allow Chiang’s army in to drive the Reds out (p.137).


Jung Chang’s reference does support the well-known fact that Chiang considered his entry into Sichuan as a beneficial by-product of his pursuit of the Red Army. But it does not imply Chiang let the Red Army escape. On the contrary, in the autumn of 1932, another CCP leader Chang Kuo-tao had “moved to northern Sichuan, where he built a new and bigger base within a year, and expanded his army to over 80,000. Kuo-tao was undoubtedly the most successful of all the Communists” (pp. 147-148). At the time of Mao’s arrival in Sichuan, Chang Kuo-tao’s 80,000 soldiers “were well fed, well equipped with machine-guns and mortars and ample ammunition, and superbly trained(p. 163). On the other hand, Mao’s army was down to some 10,000, . . . The surviving remnant was on the verge of collapse” (p.163).

It seems odd that “the most successful” Chang Kuo-tao’s army of 80,000, after having settled down there for three years, still could not frighten the Sichuan warlords, and Chiang had to use Mao’s army which “was on the verge of collapse”. Why? Without an explanation one certainly has reasons to “doubt that Chiang let the CCP leadership and the main force of the Red Army escape”.

* Facing this question in her interview with Duowei, Jung Chang replied: “This is a good question. But we have studied it already. When Chang Ku-tao entered Sichuan, he was in the north; Chiang Kei-shek indeed wanted to follow. But Sichuan had a regional defense system then, each region had its own warlord, not together, all divided. Chiang Kei-shek drove the Central Red Army from the south into Sichuan. He wanted to conquer the south, the west, the north, also conquer the warlord in the east.”

Then, why did not Chiang Kai-shek drive Chang Kuo-tao from the north to the west, east and south, but had to drive the Central Red Army far away from Jiangxi? Jung Chang’s answer immediately leads to almost the same question again. It does not explain anything. Isn’t it too easy to “give easy answers” just like this?


3. Chiang Let the Reds Go (II)

To deny Mao’s contribution in the Long March, JC offers another theory to explain why Chiang let the Red Army go: he did it to get his son back from Russia. Jung Chang’s evidence only shows that Chiang wanted his son back, but does not show he let the Reds go. On the contrary, she shows that for his same beloved son, Chiang was not even willing to release two unknown spies.


According to JC, for Chiang Kai-shek’s decision of “letting the Reds go, . . . there was another, more secret and totally private reason. Chiang’s son Chin-up had been a hostage in Russia” (p. 138). “Chiang had devised a carefully crafted swap: the survival of the CCP for Ching-Kuo. It was not an offer that could be spelt out. He executed his plan in subtle ways” (p. 140).


It was so subtle that no record was left for JC to prove that Chiang did it, or even intended to do so. The only evidence is that Chiang worried about his son and asked Moscow to let him back. No swap was mentioned anywhere, not even in Chiang’s diary. But there was another swap that was spelt out. According to JC, Chiang’s “sister-in-law, Mme Sun Yat-sen (nee Soong Ching-ling), who was another Soviet agent”, “speaking for Moscow”, spelt out a proposal of “swapping Ching-kuo for two top Russian agents who had recently been arrested in Shanghai. Chiang turned the swap down” (pp. 139-140). 


Since Chiang was unwilling to let two Russian agents go in exchange for his son’s release, it is unlikely that he let the Red Army of tens of thousands armed men escape. If he did, one would wonder what kind of agents could be so important. Actually, the “two top Russian agents” are the Chinese couple Niu Lan and his wife. JC does not even tell their names, though a dozen other Russian agents are named in her book. Why? Maybe JC has some “more secret and totally private reason”.


* During her interview with Duowei, Jung Chang said: Chiang Kai-shek “wanted to trade the Reds’ survival for his son’s return. How did we get the references? There are many, many references. The first comes from the Russian Archive, how Chiang Kai-shek negotiated with the Russians. There are also many records in Chiang Kai-shek’s diary. Chiang Ching-kuo had an own account of the event; it contains such information as well. Moreover, as how Chiang Kai-shek let the Red Army go, there are many historical materials regarding the Long March, the telegraphs between the Kuomintang armies. We have given detailed explanations for all of them in the book.”


Of course I have read all of these detailed explanations. Precisely because of this, I wrote: “Jung Chang’s evidence only shows that Chiang wanted his son back, but does not show he let the Reds go”. JC just repeats what she wrote in the book, but still fails to show any evidence of how Chiang let the Reds go. Why didn’t she simply quote one sentence from her “many, many references”, which indicates that Chiang let or wanted to let the Reds go? Isn’t this an easier answer than to list many, many circumstantial references?


4. The Fake Battle at the Luding Bridge

Jung Chang’s claim of the nonexistence of the battle at the Luding Bridge has been widely publicized in the west as a fatal blow to the Red Army legend. In the official account, the CCP and Red Army were close to destruction near the Dadu River. If they had failed to secure the Luding Bridge, they would have been eliminated. The Luding Bridge battle is famous for its historic significance, not the scale.


Instead of disproving existing accounts, JC makes her claim mainly based on her interview with a 93-year-old woman. But, even according to that account, the Red Army did fire heavy weapons at the Bridge. JC does not explain why. Given the Reds’ limited ammunitions, it was unlikely they would have wasted them with no enemy in sight.


According to JC, the battle at the Luding Bridge “is complete invention. There was no battle at the Dadu Bridge”. “There were no Nationalist troops at the bridge when the Reds arrived” (p. 159). A 93-year-old woman lived there at the time. “She remembered the Communists firing as ‘only Yin a shell, and Yang a shot’ — a Chinese expression for sporadic. She did not remember her side of the river being fired on at all” (p. 159).


JC does not clarify whether her definition of “Nationalist troops” includes the troops of Sichuan warlords which did not belong to the Nationalist regular army. Her source of reference suggests it does not. If so, her proof is flawed, because according to the official story, it was exactly the warlord’s army which defended the bridge.


On the other hand, JC acknowledges that the Red Army “shelled and fired across the river at Luding on the opposite side” (p.159), and “there was a fire in the town itself, caused, most likely, by Red Army shelling” (p. 160). The Red Army could not have used their gunfire as fireworks because their ammunition was very scarce. Just a month later, without any serious battle, it had “lost all its heavy weapons, leaving it only with rifles, with an average of five bullets each” (p.163). Its heavy weapons would have been used only if absolutely necessary. JC does not explain why the Reds shelled at all.


The shelling was unlikely due to a reconnaissance failure either. As “the bridge was not reduced to bare chains” (p. 160), sending a man over could have been done in a few minutes, probably more quickly than setting up the firing position. If it were a reconnaissance failure, the invention of the battle must have been used to cover it up. In that case, Mao, as one of the top commanders, was the cheated, not the cheater.


The only possible explanation left for the shelling is that it was to fake a battle for propaganda purposes, as seemingly suggested by JC. In this case, the Reds did not need to fire at all, unless they had a video camera then. Moreover, they would not have undertaken extra efforts which make it more likely that the sham would be exposed. But they held “a celebration immediately afterwards”, presenting each of 22 fake heroes with “a Lenin suit, a fountain pen, a bowl and a pair of chopsticks” (p. 160). Then the myth could have been exposed easily by any of these specifically identified fake heroes.


Furthermore, JC does not explain why the Nationalists did not expose this lie for 70 years. Their propagandists, not knowing Chiang’s plan to set the Reds free, should have no reason to keep the sham as an “unknown story”.  


Finally, who could benefit from this lie? According to JC, as Mao had just led the Red Army through a disastrous “2,000-kilometre detour” (p. 162), “a deep resentment grew towards Mao. . . . Everyone was furious with Mao” (p. 155). If Mao could have let the Red Army cross the Dadu River without firing a bullet, his image as a military genius and his popularity would have shot up the most. A fabricated battle could only have reduced his reputation, not enhanced it. Whoever made up the battle story was more likely Mao’s enemy, not his friends or himself.


* In her interview with Duowei, she answered my question this way: “Many of his arguments are because he did not read our references, even not our texts”. She said that her main evidence is not from the 93 years-old lady, “the main references are written documents, one of them shows that the 22 Red Army soldiers crossed the bridge first, these 22 men did not suffer any injury, and held a ceremony after crossing. Each of them got a bowl and a pair of chopsticks, and a pen. . . . He did not read our references, not even the text, but made comments, I do not know why. We also conducted a lot of research on which Kuomintang army defended the bridge, and explain in details in the book. We find that this army was moved away from here before the Red Army arrived. There was a telegraph from that time. Our references contain the origin of the telegraph. He does not mention this at all, it is not reasonable. Answering such questions would waste too much time”.


Sorry, it is exactly having read her text and reference sources, I could possibly write: “JC does not clarify whether her definition of ‘Nationalist troops’ includes the troops of Sichuan warlords which did not belong to the Nationalist regular army. Her source of reference suggests it does not. If so, her proof is flawed, because according to the official story, it was exactly the warlord’s army which defended the bridge”. From Jung Chang’s reply, we still cannot see “whether her definition of “Nationalist troops” includes the troops of Sichuan warlords”. Apparently, she does not want to waste her time to read a few words of my question, just “give easy answers”. But she said not only she had read my review, but also “read carefully”. “I do not know why”.


JC emphasizes that her major evidence that no battle existed is no death. I indeed did “not mention this at all”, because it is simply not an evidence. Even if “these 22 men did not suffer any injury”, we can only doubt the intensity of the battle, but cannot rule out the possibility of its occurrence. The warlord army which defended the bridge was called “double gunners”, one rifle and one opium gun, lack of basic training and experience. The mere fact of no Red Army death cannot prove that the battle “is complete invention”.



About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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