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Mao's Last Revolution Hardcover – Aug 18 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1 edition (Aug. 18 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674023323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674023321
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 16.9 x 23.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #833,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Format: Paperback
(Disclaimer: this reviewer has not visited China and has no professional expertise on China. This is strictly a book review, and not an assessment of Chinese politics.)

This book has been highly praised as a magisterial history of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR, the official term). Other reviewers have been impressed by its detail and high expectations for readers. It is certainly a valuable book for people interested in the history of the GPCR, but there are some serious caveats I have with the work.

The book suffers from a tendency of historians of Communist subjects to "work towards" the official story on China. The authors introduced the term "work toward" to refer to how members of a dictator's entourage try to figure out what he wants to ensure his continued patronage. In this case, the authors focus on the action at the very top of the political system, with other considerations outside the scope of the book. This allows them to present the leadership as acting in a virtually context-free environment. The choice of focus is, of course, required; but it just so happens to support the premise of an arbitrary and largely omnipotent totalitarian movement free to behave however it pleases (1). Possibly MacFarquhar and Schoenhals believe that "context" (i.e., compelling explanations for the decisions made by the principals) muddies the waters and exposes them to the charge of "moral relativism" (1). If so, that would explain their indifference to any of the un-sordid possible explanations for Mao's behavior--viz., those that existed outside of the Politburo.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Barry E. Boothman on Dec 29 2006
Format: Hardcover
There have been many accounts of the 'Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,' the era of purges and near-civil wars in China from 1966 to 1976. Most accounts have been based upon public documents, weighted toward the Chinese Communist Party's (often re-written, revised, re-created) interpretation of events. This incisive study starts with those sources but draws upon memoirs, interviews, and numerous other sources to provide the most comprehensive and objective overview of this tragic era in China's history. In the process, it debunks much of the mythology about the Cultural Revolution, written from western or Chinese sources.

People not familiar with this era, which is crucial to understanding the successes and continuing problems of China's political system, will find Mao's Last Revolution is easily the best study yet written. The scale of research carried out by the authors is staggering, with many individual stories of the 'victors' and 'losers' in the different stages of the Cultural Revolution: from Liu Shaoqi (purged as 'China's Khrushchev' by the extreme leftists in 1966), Lin Biao (Mao's designated successor and denounced as an arch-traitor in 1971 after a purported coup d'etat), the Gang of Four, and Deng Xiaoping (purged twice and the ultimate victor who spent the next twenty years undoing the damage triggered by Mao). The narrative enables a reader to grasp the order and logic of developments in a highly chaotic period. Mao's Machiavellian plotting is presented objectively and the authors carefully reveal how his own actions ultimately led to the failure of the Cultural Revolution and the rise of a leadership committed to alternate roads for China. This is a scholarly book without exciting prose.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By expatprofresearcher on Oct. 30 2006
Format: Hardcover
MacFarquhar has been writing about the Chinese (palace) politics for all his career. This new book is a laborious attempt to reveal the deeper things behind the infamous Cultural Revolution. It is very detailed study on the period, very interesting read.

But at the same time, he applies too much western concept on the Chinese politics and life, which is a great limitation. Unfortunately, this approach is very common among intl China scholars, though it may block our understanding of the issues in some ways. In this regard, this book is obviously limited in its depths and insights. A far more insightful book on the Chinese Communist system is this: China and the new world order: how entrepreneurship, globalization, and borderless business are reshaping China and the world, by outspoken Chinese journalist george gu, which sheds huge insights on the inner workings of the Chinese political and business world (including cultural revolution)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 24 reviews
58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
The Hows & Whys of a Historical Tragedy Sept. 1 2006
By Scot Carr - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A lot of experts say that there are four periods in modern times that helped shape present-day China: World War II, the Civil War & rise of the Chinese Communist Party, the Great Leap Forward & resulting famine, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. I'm not an expert, merely someone who's interested in History, but I tend to agree. This theory explains many things, including why true republicanism is coming so slowly to the People's Republic. But there is one further question everyone asks - How can something like the Cultural Revolution happen?

This book attempts to answer that broad question, as well as shows us how the Cultural Revolution is with China even today. The authors are experts in Chinese history and point out how the vision of one man - Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung as romanized in the older British system still used in Taiwan), founder and chairman of the CCP - almost destroyed his own creation through dithering, ruthless crackdowns, and borderline insanity.

This isn't an easy read by a longshot, but those who want to find out more about one of the most pivotal events in human history are well-served in reading it. The book dispells a lot of commonly-held views (such as Zhou Enlai (Chou En-Lai) being a moderating force on Mao) and gets the reader into the thick of it. Clearly demonstrated as well is, far from the clear-headed leader of Party propaganda, how indicisive Mao himself was in the direction of his Revolution (one example being the rise, fall, rise, fall, rise and ultimate redemption of Deng Xiaopeng (Teng Hsiao-Ping)). We see how politics apart from, but very connected to, Mao's vision of "continual revolution to route the rightist capitalist roaders" kept feeding the Revolution victims until it consumed those who created the CCP. And that includes the ones who most benefited from the Cultural Revolution's chaos.

For those who want to know more about China and the Chinese of today, this is an invaluable resource. Just be prepared for the density of the work.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Wondrous scholarship of an unfathomable time Jan. 13 2007
By David Robinson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although Mao's portrait still hangs above the Tiananmen Gate, modern Chinese will acknowledge that the Cultural Revolution was a "mistake."

But what was the Cultural Revolution? With detailed scholarship from original sources MacFarquar and Schoenhals document that for much of the time none of the participants really knew what the Cultural Revolution was all about. The thesis here is that, seeing the fall of Krushchev in Moscow, the aging Mao found it very convenient to support leftist radicals who removed (and humiliated and abused) the ossified and aging Chines Communist Party (CCP)leadership. With the old guard turned out, Mao was less likely to be shot from behind. A secondary motivation was that Mao's sense of self was bound up in being a revolutionary and revolutionaries struggle! The end results were that the CCP lost credibility and the country willingly embraced Deng Xiao Ping's de facto move to capitalism as anything was going to be better than the last 10 years.

For a jointly-authored book, Mao's Last Revolution speaks with a coherent voice making it a most enjoyable read. And the mechanics of the book are excellent: There's a list of acronyms in the front and a glossary of people in the back plus nearly 200 pages of notes which are conveniently indexed back to the text page numbers. These features make an exhaustive piece of scholarship not entirely exhausting to read.

This book belongs in every university library and will be appreciated by non-academics who have a personal interest in China.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Keep Wikipedia handy, and be aware of Kindle shortfalls Aug. 21 2011
By Benjamin Lefebvre - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
First of all, this book is a very valuable source of information relating to the Cultural Revolution - its why's, how's and who's. Knowing next to nothing about this important part of Chinese history, I felt that I was getting a great education, at least regarding the government level of what happened.
Having said that, I would offer two caveats. The first is that if you're not familiar with the who's who of Chinese Communist leaders in the 1960s or 70s, or the history of the Great Leap Forward, I would suggest you keep your Wikipedia handy (I read this right after consuming "Mao's Great Famine," and I still occasionally had problems keeping up with who was who). A little bit of background knowledge will carry you a long way when reading this book, especially in the first few chapters of what is otherwise a fascinating read.
The second problem is with the Kindle version, which I purchased. In plain language, you're getting gypped. Typos are common (formatting problems?) and in one or two cases almost make the text incomprehensible. Worse, there isn't even an attempt to include historic photographs. It's laughable - you pay near the price for the new paperback, but when it comes to dozens of photos you have to make due with a caption of the non-included photo and the phrase "To view this image, refer to the print version of this title." What a joke. If I would have known of these deficiencies, I would have bought a used version of the book.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
An encyclopedia of the Cultural Revolution Jan. 8 2007
By Sergey Radchenko - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is an exhaustive and remarkably well-written narrative of the Cultural Revolution. It offers a kind of a panoramic view - from detailed discussion of power struggles in Mao's court to close-up glimpses at the lives of ordinary people in the revolutionary chaos. The book is excellently researched, bringing just about every possible scrap of evidence from the Chinese side, much of it hitherto unknown in the West.

On the downside, the authors are ambivalent in their conclusions. Indeed, there is no real conclusion, and no real analysis of what the Cultural Revolution really was. MacFarquhar's long-time thesis is resurrected here in the form of "if it was only a power struggle, it would be over by 1967", and the authors try to make sense of Mao's revolutionary visions, but to no avail, because in the final count all their evidence does point to a brutal power struggle. So the well-known argument about Mao's revolutionary concerns floats over the narrative but fails to make contact with it; there is some uneasy coexistence between what the authors evidently wanted to say and what they actually say.

Even so, who can blame them, the Cultural Revolution was a hell of a mess. It is a great book anyhow, and for all the unanswered questions, I would not hesitate to use it in my upper-level Chinese history classes.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Interesting, though specialized; but don't buy the Kindle version Nov. 24 2012
By Steve Harrison - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Mao's Last Revolution" is not about Mao. And it is not really about the Cultural Revolution. Instead it tells the story of how high governmental officials and organizations were affected by the Cultural Revolution and how they jockeyed with each other, and with Mao, in deciding how to react to it. The point of the title is that the revolution was Mao's idea and that even people immediately below him didn't know what was going on, what the point of it was, or what they were supposed to do about it. The book describes the actual events of the revolution indirectly, if at all. It seems at times to assume that the reader already has a good basic knowledge of the Cultural Revolution and of the Great Leap Forward; that knowledge is not essential but is helpful.

The book is well-written and useful, though more for those with a special interest in the Cultural Revolution than for the general reader.

The Kindle version does not contain any of the book's photographs. To add insult to injury it does contain their captions -- with an instruction to refer to the printed version for the photos themselves! Nothing on the product page (now, at any rate), reveals that. In my opinion this is essentially misrepresentation on Amazon's part. The Kindle version also contains the formatting errors that we are becoming accustomed to seeing -- hyphens between paragraphs, gaps between words, etc. I read it on an iPad but at least one other review here also complains about this so its apparently not an iPad-only problem. And the footnotes are not hyperlinked.

I've been reading Kindle books since they were introduced. You would expect the technology to improve over time. But as Kindles are becoming more expensive they are also becoming shoddier.

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