Mao: A Biography by Ross Terrill; The Role of Ch'i in Mao Tse-tung's Leadership Style by Lam

Lai Sing
Review by: Nick Knight
The China Quarterly, No. 139 (Sep., 1994), pp. 822-824
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the School of Oriental and African Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/655159 .
Accessed: 06/06/2014 06:34
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
.
Cambridge University Press and School of Oriental and African Studies are collaborating with JSTOR to
digitize, preserve and extend access to The China Quarterly.
http://www.jstor.org
This content downloaded from 142.150.190.39 on Fri, 6 Jun 2014 06:34:40 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
822 The China
Quarterly
in
place.
If The Man Who
Stayed
Behind is flecked with
contradictions,
the more remarkable fact is that after 16
years
of torment
Rittenberg
could write such a
fascinating
work. He even offers an
apt
motto for his
China career: "I wanted so hard to believe that I saw what I wanted to
see"
(p. 448).
Idealism and fanaticism danced in
tandem;
how
absorbing
it is to observe the
coupling!
Ross TERRILL
Mao: A
Biography. By
Ross TERRILL.
[New
York & London: Simon and
Schuster, 1980,
revised edition 1993. 524
pp.
$16.00. ISBN 0-671-
79803-0.]
The Role
of
Ch'i in Mao
Tse-tung's Leadership Style. By
LAM
LAI SING.
[San
Francisco: Mellen Research
University
Press,
1993. 322
pp.
?39.95. ISBN
0-7734-2224-2.]
The
centenary
of Mao
Zedong's
birth in 1993 was celebrated in China
by
the
publication
of numerous books and articles about his life and
thought.
While it did not
pass entirely
unnoticed in the
West,
it received in
comparison very
little fanfare. The occasion was not
lost, however,
on the
publishers
of Ross Terrill's Mao: A
Biography.
Published first in
1980,
the book
has,
according
to its
publishers,
been
"fully updated"
for
republication
to coincide with the
centenary.
This is an ambitious
claim,
and
unfortunately
is not true. Terrill does utilize some new sources from
China and
elsewhere,
but
many previously
unknown texts
by
Mao
published during
the
1980s,
particularly
his
writings
on
philosophy,
have
been
largely ignored;
so too have most of the
writings
of the
huge
field
of Mao studies in China.
This material
may
have been
ignored
because it
points
in a direction
different from the one Terrill wants to take. In
particular,
the new
material on the sources of Mao's
philosophical thought suggests
that he
was far more influenced
by
orthodox Soviet Marxism
during
the 1930s
than was
previously
realized; indeed,
this is a conclusion which has been
drawn
by
a number of
prominent
Chinese Mao scholars.
However,
throughout
Mao: A
Biography,
Terrill insists that Mao's life is over-
whelmingly
to be understood
by
reference to Chinese tradition and the
Chinese
context,
and that
Marxism,
if
significant
at
all,
was
merely
a
foreign
veneer
overlaying
the real substance of Mao's
thought
and
actions. Terrill
consequently provides
the reader with such
deep insights
as "Mao seemed more
traditionally
Chinese than 28B
[the Twenty-eight
Bolsheviks],
or
Chiang [Kai-shek],
or the leaders of the Democratic
League
... He often wrote with a brush. He still liked to sink his mind
into the archaic realm of Chinese historical novels"
(p. 184). Elsewhere,
Terrill
suggests
that with Mao's
recognition
of the
importance
of the
peasants
to the Chinese
revolution,
"Karl Marx sank into the rice
paddies
of Asia"
(p. 104).
The traditional
concept
of
datong (great harmony),
particularly
as
interpreted by Kang
Youwei,
is
given
more credence as an
This content downloaded from 142.150.190.39 on Fri, 6 Jun 2014 06:34:40 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Book Reviews 823
influence on Mao's socialist
leanings
than the ideas of Marx and Lenin.
The
image
of Mao the Chinese is
constantly impressed
on the reader
through frequent quotation
from his
poetry.
It is a shame that Terrill
could not have
given equal space
to theoretical texts
by
Mao which
suggest
the
powerful
influence of Marxism.
One of the
problems
with Mao: A
Biography
is the
style
in which it is
written. Terrill
peppers
the reader with assertions which
pass
for
facts,
glued together by
his
imaginative
and,
in
places,
fanciful
prose style.
The
book is full of
throw-away
lines which
beg deeper
and more extensive
analysis.
And I wonder too what readers not versed in modern Chinese
history
will make of Terrill's construction of Mao's life. Mao is
placed
at centre
stage,
with numerous other characters
wandering
on and off as
required, usually
with
only
the most
perfunctory
of
explanations
as to
their
identity
and
significance.
There are also dubious factual assertions.
For
example,
Terrill
suggests,
almost
certainly incorrectly,
that in 1938
Mao wrote a manual for
military
officers entitled Basic Tactics
(p. 172).
He also claims that the four volumes of Mao's Selected Works
(what
happened
to the
fifth?)
include "all his main
philosophic pieces" (p. 195);
again,
this is not the
case,
and if Terrill had
genuinely "fully updated"
his
biography
of Mao he would know it.
If Terrill's book leans
heavily
to the view that Mao's life is to be
understood
through
the
prism
of China's
culture,
history
and
contempor-
ary
context,
Lam Lai
Sing's analysis
of the
origins
and nature of Mao's
leadership style goes
even further
by focusing entirely
on China's
politi-
cal culture as a tool for
understanding
him.
Indeed,
Lam
argues
that
Mao's
approach
to
leadership
drew almost
exclusively
on the
concept
of
qi (ch'i)
to be found in traditional Chinese
poetry,
novels,
classics and
proverbial sayings,
and
particularly
in the
writings
of China's traditional
political figures. Qi,
the
"spirit
of the
cosmos,"
is "a kind of conscious-
ness,
an internal human force
expressed outwardly
in terms of
super-
human
phenomena";
it is
represented
in traditional Chinese
writing
as
"hyperbole
and astronomical
power" (pp. 7-8).
Consequently,
when Mao
made
statements,
common in his
poetry,
such as "Dare to command the
sun and the moon to
bring
forth a new
day,"
this was an instance of
qi.
Mao's
writings
are,
according
to
Lam,
replete
with this
exaggerated
conception
of his
capacity
to alter the universe
according
to his own
prescriptions.
If Mao could
acquire
what he needed in terms of
qi
from traditional
Chinese culture and
philosophy, why
should he have been interested in
Marxism-Leninism? Lam
suggests
that Mao
perceived
in Marxism-
Leninism a doctrine for
"revolutionizing
the
earth,"
for it
represented
the
"conscious
magniloquent
demand for a new world"
(p. 109).
In other
words, Marxism-Leninism not
only
stimulated Mao's
qi,
it
provided
it
with a focus; the
target
of Mao's
"hyperbolic
and astronomical
power"
thus became
imperialism,
feudalism and the
capitalists.
The same is true,
according
to Lam, of Mao's
glorification
of Chinese
utopian movements,
for these also
suggested
the
possibility
of dramatic transformation
This content downloaded from 142.150.190.39 on Fri, 6 Jun 2014 06:34:40 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
824 The China
Quarterly
through
a
"sweeping
movement of
history" (p. 105).
Lam
proceeds
to
trace Mao's
qi
in action
through
the various
stages
of China's revolution
and socialist construction. Lam has no trouble
identifying passages
from
the Mao texts which
supposedly
demonstrate his
application
of
qi
to the
achievement of his
earth-shattering goals, particularly
the elimination of
capitalism.
Lam's
argument gives
a new twist to the
portrayal
of Mao as a
voluntarist and
revolutionary utopian.
This tired
argument
has conven-
tionally
been cast in terms of Mao's deviation from the "determinism" of
Marxism: where Marx
supposedly perceived
the forces of
production
as
the motive force in
history,
Mao
emphasized
the
superstructure (political,
ideological
and
military struggles,
the human
will)
to force the
pace
of
historical
change.
As
unconvincing
as this
simplistic opposition
has
been,
Lam's
deep penetration
into traditional China's
political
culture to seek
the
origins
of Mao's
political
behaviour is even less
convincing.
Mao was
Chinese,
Marx was
German,
Lenin was Russian and Althusser was
French: are their ideas
only
to be understood
by
reference to their location
within a
particular
cultural context?
My impression
is that cultural
relativism is much more
pronounced
in
analysis
of Mao than it is in
Western
analysis
of
European
thinkers. This is not
only
inconsistent but
unconvincing.
It is clear that Chinese have
adopted quite radically
differently political
and
ideological
stances
during
the course of this
century.
How is this to be
explained
if a cultural determinist
perspective
is
invariably adopted?
Not
only
is China's cultural tradition
diverse,
its
influence
has been modified
and,
in the case of
many
Chinese,
diminished
as a result of intellectual currents and
political
movements from
abroad;
individual Chinese have been
influenced
by
and reacted
against
these
influences
in
many
different
ways.
Mao's
thought
and
actions,
like those
of most
humans,
were the
product
of a
very complex
web of
influences,
and his
response
to them. Continual
harping
on his "Chineseness"
(as
though
this is a
palpable
and unified
entity
which dictates a uniform
cultural
response) precludes
the
possibility
of a
sophisticated
and bal-
anced
analysis
of the
major
influences
on
Mao,
one of which was
undoubtedly
Marxism. In
1936,
Mao told
Edgar
Snow that
"by
the
summer of 1920
I
had
become,
in
theory
and to some extent in
action,
a
Marxist,
and from this time on I considered
myself
a Marxist." If the
volumes
by
Terrill
and Lam are
anything
to
go by,
Mao
might just
as well
have saved his breath.
NICK KNIGHT
Deng Xiaoping
and the
Making of
Modern
China.
By
RICHARD EVANS.
[London:
Hamish
Hamilton,
1993. 339
pp.
?20.00. ISBN 0-241-
13031-X.]
In a Nelsonian
gesture, Deng Xiaoping
once turned off his
hearing
aid at
a Politburo
meeting
where the
Gang
of Four was
savaging
him. This is
the kind of detail which enlivens what is otherwise a
necessarily
dull
This content downloaded from 142.150.190.39 on Fri, 6 Jun 2014 06:34:40 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions