Mao Zedong, once the Helmsman, Great Teacher and Red Red Sun in Our Hearts, and still the Chairman, died in 1976. Even today his giant portrait gazes down over Tiananmen Square, where in 1989 his successors massacred hundreds of students and workers. After so many years and books and articles, can anything new be said about him? Although Andrew Walder, a Stanford sociologist and leading China scholar, writes that his comprehensive and deadly analysis is primarily for non-specialists, he has made me think.
President Xi Jinping, who will make a state visit to London in October, speaks highly of Mao. Such praise, concludes Walder, requires ‘highly selective historical memory and a great deal of forgetting’. What has been erased in many memories is that Mao was a monster (not a word used by Walder), responsible for countless Chinese deaths, not least the 30 million, between 1958 and 1961, who starved during a famine that owed everything to his manias (and the co-operation of cronies like Zhou Enlai).