Beloved Tyrant


Book: Mao: The Real Story

Authors: Alexander V. Pantsov with Steven I Levine

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Price: Rs 899

Pages: 755

Biographies of public figures are as much the story of their lives as the history of the times they live in. The biographer's competence lies, however, in telling the two stories simultaneously without one overshadowing the other. On this count, Alexander Pantsov and Steven Levine have been more or less up to the mark. Where this biography of Mao Zedong stands out from the others is the amount of previously unknown information that it reveals with the recent availability of archival literature from the erstwhile Soviet Union. The Moscow-based Russian State Archive for Social and Political History provided the authors with abundant material on Mao the only ruler who could be categorised as a ruthless dictator and a leader loved by millions. This biography excellently depicts the host of paradoxes which made up the persona of Mao.

Born and raised in a peasant family in a village in Hunan province Mao strongly disliked his father (who was a peasant-turned-trader) as he ill-treated his dear mother. That Mao's feminist ideas developed from this experience is not mentioned by Pantsov. During his formative years, Mao saw China go through turbulent times. His other biographers have not highlighted the dilemma he underwent in the period soon after the monarchy ended in 1911, in China. Pantsov vividly describes Mao, then a political activist part anarchist, part liberal who was keen to see his native Hunan province declare independence from China but was forced to give up the idea as his fellow activists remained opposed to it.

Mao's love-hate relationship with intellectuals began with his association with them in Beijing where university professors and students looked down upon him because of his heavy rural Hunanese accent and his modest job as a library assistant. He admired them for their deep understanding of China's problems, vision, writing and oratorical skills but was intensely uncomfortable with their snobbery and elitism. This dilemma remained with Mao all his life and he finally attempted to resolve it by labelling them class enemies and making them go through the unprecedented trauma called the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

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