Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World

A Concise History

Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: Published: August 2010

Author: Rebecca E. Karl

Asian Studies > East Asia, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, History > Asian History

Throughout this lively and concise historical account of Mao Zedong’s life and thought, Rebecca E. Karl places the revolutionary leader’s personal experiences, social visions and theory, military strategies, and developmental and foreign policies in a dynamic narrative of the Chinese revolution. She situates Mao and the revolution in a global setting informed by imperialism, decolonization, and third worldism, and discusses worldwide trends in politics, the economy, military power, and territorial sovereignty. Karl begins with Mao’s early life in a small village in Hunan province, documenting his relationships with his parents, passion for education, and political awakening during the fall of the Qing dynasty in late 1911. She traces his transition from liberal to Communist over the course of the next decade, his early critiques of the subjugation of women, and the gathering force of the May 4th movement for reform and radical change. Describing Mao’s rise to power, she delves into the dynamics of Communist organizing in an overwhelmingly agrarian society, and Mao’s confrontations with Chiang Kaishek and other nationalist conservatives. She also considers his marriages and romantic liaisons and their relation to Mao as the revolutionary founder of Communism in China. After analyzing Mao’s stormy tenure as chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Karl concludes by examining his legacy in China from his death in 1976 through the Beijing Olympics in 2008.


“[A] radical but balanced life of Mao and its skilful contextualizing of him, which raises it above works that dwell excessively on his temperament and faults. Lively and provocative, it is an ideal resource for classroom use and independent study and, in the present ascendancy of revisionist thinking about the great revolutions, a welcome antidote to the postmodern celebration of the death of utopia.” — Gregor Benton, The China Quarterly

“[Mao] made himself one of the most improbable, influential, infuriating, inspirational, and intriguing characters of the century. Karl fits all of this into a slim and affordable paperback, accessible to undergraduates and general interest readers, without sacrificing complexity or analytical edge. It is impressive.” — Alexander C. Cook, Journal of Historical Biography

“Both Mao's inspiring ideas and his vile actions are part of this history, and easy explanations do violence to that history. This book does justice to the complicated, painful, but often inspiring history of Mao's revolution and opens the door to non-specialists and students to continue the long struggle to sift the social dreams we need from the political nightmares we should strive to avoid.” — Timothy Cheek, History Teacher

“Karl cogently outlines Mao’s journey toward making a new Communist China. . . . Karl considers post-Mao China since 1976 an irreparable reversal of Mao’s revolutionary experiment. . . . [T]his is good supplementary material. Recommended. Undergraduate libraries.” — G. Zheng, Choice

“Rebecca E. Karl has written a rich, deeply analytical, yet highly accessible account of Mao Zedong... Its intended audience will learn a sufficient amount of Chinese history that characterizes the Mao era. Karl strikes a good balance between presenting an overall picture of Mao, Maoism, and Mao’s policies and more specific key moments of Mao’s revolution and the havoc it created.” — Yu Shen, China Review International

“Rebecca Karl has written an admirable volume, has achieved her aims, and her book should become the standard introduction to Mao and China in the 20th century.” — Paul Doolan, IIAS Newsletter

“Rebecca Karl presents a vivid and easy-to-understand account of China in the 20th century that is focused on Mao Zedong and the Communist Party. ... Her book is a clearly knit and well thought through depiction of China and Mao which will help students to gain at least one picture of China in the 20th century.” — Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, China Review

“The commercial ‘success’ of the demonizing narrative lies in its implicit affirmation of the superiority of Western liberal values. However, students and politicians, opinion formers and observers interested in exploring the sources of the Communist Party’s continuing success deserve something better. In treating China’s revolutionary past with critical and historical scrutiny rather than sensationalist distortions, Rebecca Karl’s lucid and measured account
does just this. Her starting point is a rejection of the polarized revisions of China’s recent past; she dissociates herself from them by refusing the alternatives of defensiveness or condemnation.” — Harriet Evans, Radical Philosophy

“Karl’s history offers readers a chance to see China as Mao might have seen it. She implicitly begs the reader to ask, what might Mao, whose portrait still looks out over Tiananmen Square, have thought of China as it rises today? And perhaps more importantly, does it matter? Given the proliferation of interest and intrigue surrounding Mao Zedong’s life, Karl’s history included, the CCP has done wonders to maintain the authority he created while forsaking the China he imagined.” — Angilee Shah, Zócalo Public Square

“Rebecca Karl provokes both China scholars and the general public to reassess the Chairman once again. Karl’s book departs from the tendencies to either depoliticize Mao or sensationalize his private life for popular consumption by recentering contemporary discussions around his public role in making revolution.” — Jeremy Tai, Twentieth-Century China

“Rebecca Karl’s important new biography seeks to contextualize Mao within the history of his time, aiming to restore a degree of sanity in discussing his life and role, warts and all, as the father of modern China; and simultaneously to rescue the history of the Chinese Revolution from its detractors in the West and at home.” — Tariq Ali, New Left Review

“Unlike many other works, [Karl’s] book blends historical facts with cultural analysis, creating a work that is informative despite its brevity. . . . After bringing Mao’s life-story to a close, the author provides a succinct yet meaningful analysis of his legacies. . . . [T]his is a very useful introduction to the most important leader in modern Chinese history.” — Survival

‘[A] reasonably balanced, clear-headed survey of the Great Helmsman’s career and influence. . . . [I]f I had a class of young students approaching the period for the first time, I’d consider this book a not inappropriate textbook to hand them. And by the same measure it can also be recommended to the educated general reader.” — Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times

“In this succinct and compact narrative of Mao’s personal and intellectual development, Rebecca E. Karl offers an impressive exposition of the formation and evolution of the theory and practice of the Chinese Revolution. Her analysis of ideological tenets in China's revolutionary movement is convincing and more sophisticated than other narratives of Mao’s life and thought.” — Ban Wang, author of Illuminations from the Past: Trauma, Memory, and History in Modern China

“Rebecca E. Karl has written a lively, readable account of Mao’s life and thought, showing how they fit into and affected the twentieth-century world.” — Delia Davin, author of Mao Zedong


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rebecca E. Karl is Associate Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of Staging the World: Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, and co-translator (with Xueping Zhong) of Cai Xiang's Revolution and Its Narratives: China’s Socialist Literary and Cultural Imaginaries, 1949-1966, all also published by Duke University Press. She co-translated and coedited (with Lydia H. Liu and Dorothy Ko) The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface and Acknowledgments

1. China in the World in Mao's Youth

2. From Liberal to Communist, 1912–1921

3. Toward the Peasant Revolution, 1921–1927

4. Establishing Revolutionary Bases: From Jinggangshan to Yan'an, 1928–1935

5. Yan'an, the War of Resistance against Japan, and Civil War, 1935–1949

6. Stabilizing Society and the Transition to Socialism, 1949–1957

7. Great Leap and Restoration, 1958–1965

8. The Cultural Revolution:Politics in Command, 1966–1969

9. The Cultural Revolution: Denouement and the Death of Mao, 1969–1976

10. Reform, Restoration, and the Repudiation of Maoism, 1976–present



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4795-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4780-4
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