Assigned Reading. We have all been forced to read something for class, ever since we learned to read. Most of the time these books are pretty bland, and most students do not enjoy them. But every once and awhile, a book is assigned that you actually end up liking. Books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or maybe“The Crucible” come to my mind.
However, since I have arrived at Allegheny, none of the books that I have read for class have made me feel the same way. That was the case until I picked up “China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed” by Andrew Walder, which is one of the required books for History 272: Socialism and Post-Socialism in China.
This book delves deeply into the history of Maoist China, a period which I was not previously familiar. “China under Mao” surprisingly starts at the end of Mao’s story, his funeral. This first chapter lays out the confusion that fell over China after Mao’s death and describes the topics that will be discussed later in the book.
From this point forward, history is discussed in chronological order, starting with the civil war between Mao’s Communist Party and the previously ruling Nationalist Party. After the surprising victory of the Communist Party, China is quickly transformed in almost every facet of life. Both the transformation of rural areas and of China’s large industrial cities are discussed.
After this initial revolution, Walder discusses the two biggest successes of Maoist China, the “Socialist Economy” and the “Communist-Party System.” I find these particular chapters both informative and interesting because it discusses the two previously mentioned major concepts about communist countries that often are not deeply explained.
Next, Walder discusses Mao’s greatest failure, “The Great Leap Forward,” a disastrous attempt to push China into becoming an industrial society. The biggest result of this social and economic campaign was a great famine that killed between 20 to 40 million people.
Following this, “The Cultural Revolution” is explained. This was a period of tension between Mao and his enemies. Mao decided that he would purge the capitalist remnants from China and with them, his enemies. Walder discusses the “Red Guards” in great detail and explains their rise and fall.
To finish up the history of the Mao era, Walder describes his downfall. Following this, Walder takes a final look back at Maoist China and illustrates its failures and successes.
Overall, Walder is critical of Mao. He particularly notes Mao’s failure to stray from his values even in his final years. Although his dedication made him popular with the people, it also had disastrous consequences for China as a nation, in the form of “The Great Leap Forward” and “The Cultural Revolution.”
This book is not a page turner, and it is not light reading. “China under Mao” is a deep and negative critique of Maoist China. It is incredibly informative and kept me interested the whole way through. Although it can be dense at times, it has so much informational value that I believe makes it worth reading.
I loved the way that this book explains historical events. Walder is an amazing author and really draws you into the story of Communist China. However, at times his analysis can be a little lackluster. He’s critical of Mao, which I can understand and appreciate, but some more depth in analysis would go a long way.
This book is especially relevant with the rise of Bernie Sanders. With his rise in popularity, socialism is becoming a popular topic of discussion. Although Bernie is not advocating for communism, “China under Mao” can provide insight into socialism and communism as a whole.