July 2005

Arts & Letters

‘Mao: The Unknown Story’ by Jung Chang & Jon Halliday

By Gideon Haigh

In a 1970 interview with a favoured apologist, Mao Tse-Tung described himself in Chinese as literally “a man without law or limit”. This self-assessment was rendered in English as “a lone monk”. Similarly sympathetic mistranslation of his motives and methods have helped preserve The Great Helmsman’s reputation. “Oh yes, bit of a tyrant, I suppose. But nothing compared to Halliburton.”

Jung Chang and Jon Halliday will have none of that. Their account begins on the day of Mao’s birth, ends on the day of his death and wastes nary a word between, reinstating historical omissions like Mao’s disastrous generalship at Tucheng, demolishing myths like the Dadu Bridge Crossing and depicting the Long March as, at least for its instigator, the Gentle Constitutional. To Mao’s crimes, they apply an arresting calculus. The siege of Changchun, for instance, was bloodier than the rape of Nanjing; the resources ploughed into the Chinese bomb cost more lives than the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All that can be said in his defence as a politician is that he kept promises. “We believe in dialectics, and so we can’t not be in favour of death,” he stated at the Party Congress inaugurating the Great Leap Forward, with its toll of 38 million.

Mao’s shortcoming is that its sourcing, while exhaustive, is undifferentiated. Documented fact, memoir, interview, rumour, conjecture – all co-exist in uneasy equality. And Mao, while we learn that he was addicted to sleeping pills and obsessed with his bowels, remains even at the end – dare one say it? – somewhat inscrutable. But Chung and Halliday have, at least for the moment, pushed Mao to the top of the tyrant charts. With a bullet.

Cover: July 2005

July 2005

From the front page

Image of Minister for Skills Michaelia Cash

Cash-strapped

The looming training overhaul will need to be watched closely

Cold was the ground: ‘Sorry for Your Trouble’

Richard Ford delivers an elegant collection of stories of timeworn men and women contemplating the end

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull

Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Child's illustration

The screens that ate school

What do we really know about the growing presence of Google, Apple, Microsoft and more in the education system?


In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Comment

Fragments of a swooping mind. Raw tissue, ragged editing

Jonathan Caouette’s ‘Tarnation’
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Street talk

Twist & whisper

Perth shyboy Richard Nicoll has come a long way from green polyester flares

More in Arts & Letters

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull

Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Still from ‘The Assistant’

Her too: ‘The Assistant’

Melbourne-born, New York–based filmmaker Kitty Green’s powerfully underplayed portrait of Hollywood’s abusive culture

Photograph of Dua Lipa

Snap-back: Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’

The British singer’s serendipitous album delivers shining pop with a reigning attitude of fortitude

Still from ‘The Platform’

Consolations in isolation: ‘The Platform’ and ‘Free in Deed’

What is the future of cinema without cinemas?


More in Noted

Cover of ‘The Trials of Portnoy’

‘The Trials of Portnoy’ by Patrick Mullins

The finely detailed story of the legal fight in Australia against the censorship of Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’

Cover of ‘The End of October’

‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright

A ‘New Yorker’ journalist’s eerily prescient novel about public-health officials fighting a runaway pandemic

Cover of ‘Fathoms’

‘Fathoms: The World in the Whale’ by Rebecca Giggs

The Australian writer’s lyrical consideration of our relationship with whales is a new and ambitious kind of nature writing

Cover of ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’

‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’ by Cho Nam-Joo (trans. Jamie Chang)

The coldly brilliant, bestselling South Korean novel describing the ambient harassment and discrimination experienced by women globally


Read on

Cold was the ground: ‘Sorry for Your Trouble’

Richard Ford delivers an elegant collection of stories of timeworn men and women contemplating the end

Image of Australians queuing at Centrelink in Brisbane.

Moral bankruptcy

Robodebt stemmed from the false ideological division between the deserving and undeserving poor, but the government still clings to moralistic language

Image of Gough Whitlam in October 1975

It’s about time

The High Court’s landmark ruling on the ‘Palace Papers’ is a win for Australian social democracy

Image of Robyn Davidson

Something mythic

For Robyn Davidson, her acclaimed memoir ‘Tracks’ was an act of freedom whose reception hemmed her in


×
×