Jung Chang and Jon Halliday came to Tel Aviv University in Israel for the launch of the Hebrew version of "Mao – the unknown story". They both gave fascinating speeches about 20th century’s China and Mao’s regime, but Jung Chang was the center of the event – capturing the crowd with her inspiring personality.
I owe much of my Chinese addiction to Jung Chang. "Wild Swans", which I bought while I was staying in Saigon-Vietnam, was a key factor in triggering my China fascination. Her personal story touched me in ways few have before, and I immediately felt an overwhelming sensation of strong empathy towards Jung and the Chinese people. Jung Chang is more than just a book author or a Chinese who grew in Mao’s China, to me – Jung is a hero and a leader, taking a role that confronts everyone written about Mao – from the Chinese government to the western and Chinese Mao scholars. Faced with relentless criticism she goes around the world fighting for her cause – the right of the Chinese people to remember and discuss their past and feelings about the past.
Jung Chang’s opening speech
Here are some of the points made by Jung in her opening speech about the book:
- The book introduces endless new data, including documents and interviews, which all have some story behind them. For example, the interview with Mamboto of Zair on his relationship with Mao. While staying in Hongkong after two months of interviews, Jon Halliday found out that Mamboto was staying at the same hotel as them, and told Jung that she should try and get an interview. Being extremely tired, she told Jon that she’s too tired and all she wants is to head off to the hair salon. But, surprisingly, there at the salon was Mamboto, trapped for long under the hear fan machine and so she ambushed him there and got the interview.
- They met with Emelda Damascus who was flirting with Jon. The interview allowed getting a unique photo with Mao kissing her hand passionately, which was forbidden for publication at the time. Emelda described the book as an Ideal combination of eastern heart (Jung) and western mind (Jon) and claimed that western men just don’t understand eastern women.
- Mao’s wife’s diary, which was well-hidden for year, was covered for the first time. The diary was discovered in the 1990s and was kept secret, partly due to endless details it included about how Mao treated women in general and especially his wife.
- Jung has always believed that the famine of 1958-1961 was the result of Mao’s economic mis-management, but it turned out that Mao knew this because he was exporting the precious food to Russia in achieve nuclear capabilities. When confronted about it Mao responded that for his projects “half of china well may have to die”.
- This is the first book that shows that Mao had higher ambitions of conquering the world, which was his life long single minded pursuit.
- Mao was vindictive, even towards his closest men. Liu xiao qi, Mao’s number two for years, eventually questioned Mao as well as other 7000 party officials, including Jung’s father, who sought to stop Mao’s policies. Mao wanted revenge, which tool the form of the cultural revolution. Mao enjoyed watched Liu’s denunciations. Zhuo en lai was considered by many as the most impressive Chinese statesmen ever (Truman), and was Mao’s slave for decades. Even so, Mao refused medical treatment for his bladder cancer.
- Mao mistreated all his wives. Number 2, who Mao said was the love of his life, could easily have been saved by Mao, but he was already well into his number 3. Mao was indifferent towards his abandoned children. Number 3 eventually suffered a mental breakdown after her child’s death and being hit by a bomb. Number 4, who was blamed for mao’s cultural revolution, said she “was Chairman Mao’s dog". Mao used her throughout the year to do all his the dirty work. She eventually committed suicide in prison.
- Mao is relevant in today’s China. Many Mao symbols have been kept – his portrait is hanging in Tiananmen square, his corpse is kept at the mausoleum, the leaders describe themselves as are mao’s followers.
- Jung will not accept a superpower that embraces a person like that as part of its history. The day Mao’s portrait is taken down and Mao’s legacy will be questioned is the day China will truly become a positive force in the world.
Jon Halliday’s opening speech
Here are some of the points made by Jon in his speech about the book:
- Turning on his party – Mao didn’t believe in Communism. He made a speech to the communist party – saying that Communism had no hope of ever winning in china and that the only way it would happen was if the Russians were to invade from the north.
- If you read Mao’s texts you can say that he never believed in democracy, suggesting that only force will work.
- It was quite shocking to see how strong Stalin’s role was in making China Communist. The Russians decide to go for a Communist China with everything they had, even if it meant getting it by military means. To give an example – there was not even one popular civil uprise throughout the whole civil war, which was to suggest it wasn’t a revolution caused by the people, but rather – it was full pledged military conquest.
- Most of the critic made is just pop shots. No body addressed the new paradigm suggested for Mao and the sources used. Despite the Chinese attempt to manipulate information on the subject, there is endless information available in places no one would look in like the Russian archives.
- Mao is still there, and most Chinese don’t know the truth about him.