In the great annals of historical biographies there are works from every possible viewpoint. From conservative lambasts to ass-kissing liberals there is a writing style which can depict a figure as either a tyrannical king or an equalitarian hippie. Because of this one dichotomy it is vital to choose a book which has a middle ground between the two especially when dealing with such controversial figures such as Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong.
In his seminal work “Mao: A biography” author Ross Terrill often does exactly this. Though the introduction is eye rolling and the post-scrip nauseating in its bourgeois opinion, the actual meat of the book usually stays within a neutral, or close to neutral, parameter.
Covering the personal aspects of Mao’s life Ross takes the reader on a journey. Starting with his subject’s dominated youth and ending with his absolute control of China upon his death, Ross Terrill is able to convey the subtler dimensions of Mao’s rule and personality.
Throughout the text one will discover that Mao’s parents were semi-wealthy landlords, that Mao himself rebelled against his father’s heavy handed parentage and work methods, and that during his time as a young man in college Mao was briefly attracted to the idea of Anarchism. Moving on to his early adult life the reader will discover his constant strife’s within the Chinese Communist Party, his preference to use Peasant armies in guerilla combat, as well as his great devotion to the Chinese nation; signified by his involvement within the Nationalist’s Party’s propaganda department when the two forces were cooperating on a United Front basis. Finishing up with the later segments about his rule as Chairman the reader is given a dose of pragmatism and hostility to both the Great Leap Forward as well as the Great Proletarian Revolution. The biography ends with Mao as an old man in questionable mental state.
Though riddled with unflattering poses about his efforts to construct socialism Ross Terrill’s book is one of the better biographies on Mao, especially coming from a Western academic source. With its Chinese edition selling over a million copies one cannot say that many others do not agree. So if one is looking for a biography on Mao which is mostly grey with some shades of criticism than consider “Mao: A Biography” for a decent introduction to one of the 20th century’s greatest leaders.