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Reviewed by:
  • A Critical Introduction to Mao
  • Jing Li (bio)
Timothy Cheek, editor. A Critical Introduction to Mao New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. xxi, 392 pp. Paperback, $27.99. ISBN 978-0-521-71154-8.

When the Great Cultural Revolution started in 1966, Bo Xilai, eighteen years old at the time, eagerly joined the rebellion as a leading Red Guard. As it happened, Chairman Mao’s revolution-within-a-revolution did not work out too well for Bo personally, whose father, a veteran Communist and vice premier of the People’s Republic of China, came to be persecuted as a “capitalist roader.” Labeled the son of a chief class enemy, Bo Xilai sat through reform study sessions and toiled quietly at a factory for much of a decade.

The experience, however, did not destroy Bo Xilai’s admiration for Mao. While serving as the CCP party boss in charge of Chongqing, the largest city in Southwest China, Bo made quite a name for himself by promoting many of Mao’s ideas, countering the market-oriented liberal reform in the post-Mao era. In particular, the so-called Red Song movement that Bo launched, in which large numbers of Chinese gathered to sing the praises of Mao, the Communist Party, and socialist China, caught on in Chongqing and in other parts of the country. Bo created such a stir with his Neo-Maoist platform that Henry Kissinger, who likes to ingratiate himself with China’s top leaders and rising political stars, made a trip to Chongqing, where he attended a Red Song chorus with tens of thousands of singers. The recent removal of Bo from his post in Chongqing, under mysterious circumstances, has generated much anger and agony across the country, which testifies to his popularity among China’s new left.

So, thirty-five years after his physical demise, Mao lives on and serves as a key link between history and contemporary China. These two incarnations of Mao — the historical figure and his legacy in the present world — are the subjects addressed in A Critical Introduction to Mao, a collection of essays edited by Timothy Cheek. As Cheek notes in the preface to the volume, “The book . . . [End Page 39] seeks to present the historical Mao and explicitly juxtaposes that Mao with the very significant but importantly ahistorical Maos that so deeply concern millions of people across the globe today” (p. xi).

Penned by leading scholars on Mao and modern China, the essays collected in this volume cover Mao in various historical stages and multiple aspects of his personality and policies. Together, the experts tell a story of Mao and his legacy that is rich, complex, and thought-provoking, which effectively dispels simplistic notions about Mao that are still widespread in the West and China itself. In their presentation of facts and ideas, the authors draw from both primary sources and secondary literature, including many that became available in recent times, which make their writings up-to-date and substantial. This enables readers, as authors have intended it, to learn not only what we know about Mao but also how we get to know what we know (p. xii). The book also provides an annotated list of additional readings, which comes in handy for those who want to explore the covered subject further.

A Critical Introduction to Mao contains a total of fourteen articles. Timothy Cheek leads off with an essay that highlights major themes inspected in the book. Joseph Esherick follows with an overview of Mao’s revolution in the larger context of twentieth-century China. Seven other experts then examine Mao chronologically and topically. Brantly Womack covers Mao from the 1920s to 1937, focusing on Mao’s transition from an urban radical to a rural revolutionary, a key development that secured Mao’s position as the top Chinese Communist leader. Hans van de Ven considers events in the period from 1937 to 1956, which features tension between Mao’s sinicization of Marxism and his search for modernity. Michael Schoenhals completes the chronological coverage with what he terms “consuming fragments” of Mao in the chairman’s last twenty years.

The grouping of the years from 1937 to 1956 as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 39-42
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-09
Open Access
No
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