Friday, November 11, 2005

A Book Changing History

Barnes´┐Ż&´┐Ż - Mao: The Unknown Story - Jung Chang - Hardcover

Now and then there arrives a book that one knows will have a profound and lasting impact on the way in which we look at the world and at our times.

Jung Chang's and Jon Halliday's biography of Mao Tsetung is undoubtedly such a book. Just out here in the US as well as in London, it is already very much the center of the debate about the rise of China.

A decade ago, Jung Chang's book "Wild Swans" thought us more than we really wished we knew about the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and what it really meant to ordinary people in the Middle Kingdom.

And now it's Mao Tsetungs turn to be exposed. He emerges out of these intense pages as one of the true tyrants of our time.

A generation ago, it was Edgar Snow's "Red Star over China" that shaped the image of the West of the rising Communist power in the East and its dominating leader. Fused with the romanticism about China that is rooted in admiration of its culture and history, this book shaped the rather naive image of the regime that lasted for decades.

Now, a new book will shape a new image, and a very different one.

There will be controversy around the book. Jonathan Spence, who's probably the most respected scholar on China at the present, in a review in The New York Review of Books essentially endorsed the overall picture of Mao, but was anyhow somewhat uneasy with such a dark picture emerging about such a central figure in modern Chinese history.

The debate will be worth following. We can take it for granted that the book will not be published or allowed in today's China.

But it will shape the image of the regime. These day's, Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Germany after having visited the United Kingdom and on his way to the ASEAN Summit in South Korea and receiving President Bush as he comes to China.

China's peaceful rise is undoubtedly one of the greatest stories of our time - and a profoundly positive one.

But it is worth noting that Mao tsetung's giant portrait still hangs over the entrance to the Forbidden City at the Tiananman square in Beijing.