Books: The Mao That Roared

A biography of the man who changed China paints an opinionated but vivid portrait of a brutal despot

When I first traveled to China in the late 1970s as a student and then a foreign correspondent, the Chinese were giddily beginning to explore the new boundaries of freedom after Mao Zedong's death. There was a propaganda onslaught against the Gang of Four--the quartet (including Mao's wife Jiang Qing) that was blamed for the Cultural Revolution, the decade of terror that Mao had unleashed and then nourished. Mao didn't count among the fiendish four, but when the plucky Chinese I encountered talked of the Gang, they would hold up five fingers, then fold the thumb back slowly to conform to...

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