In romanising Chinese names I have used the state-sponsored pinyin system of transliteration, both because it is the style used in the majority of writing on China and because it bears the closest relation to their pronunciation. The only exceptions to this are those people or places whose pinyin forms are entirely different from the names by which they have come to be known in the West – such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. To prevent confusion, the romanisation of names in some quotations has been altered. All persons mentioned in the text can be found in the glossary, where the older form of their names is also given, and all places mentioned are marked on the map.
Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung)
Chiang Kai-Shek – leader of the Guomindang and ruler of China 1928-49. From 1949 until his death he was dictator of Taiwan.
Zhu De (Chu Teh) – co-founder of the Red Army, leading member of the ruling class from 1949 to his death in July 1976.
Zhou Enlai (Chou En-Lai) – manager of the state machine and Mao’s real deputy right up to his death in 1975. Protector of the “modernising” faction.
Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-P’ing) – head of the “modernising” faction of the ruling class. Disgraced during the Cultural Revolution, he returned to power in 1973, was dismissed in 1976 and made a second comeback in 1977.
Lin Biao (Lin Piao) leading Red Army general during the 1930s and 1940s, who became Mao’s heir-apparent during the Cultural Revolution and was murdered on Mao’s orders in 1970 (allegedly for plotting to kill Mao).
Wei Jingsheng (Wei Ching-Sheng) – leading member of the “Democracy Wall” movement, jailed for 15 years in 1978 for attacking Deng Xiaoping in his journal.
Chen Yun (Ch’en Yun) – veteran economist, leading figure in the “conservative” opposition to Deng Xiaoping since the early 1980s.
This is a very partial survey of what has been written on China, as the literature is vast. I have just picked out the most important or most accessible works on each period. Books marked * were in print at the time of publication (1987); those marked ** were only available in the USA, though they may become available in Britain.
The definitive history of the first Chinese revolution is Harold Isaacs’ Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution*. Trotsky’s Writings on China* are also essential reading.
The most readable account of Mao’s rise to power is Lucien Bianco’s Origins of the Chinese Revolution* though his analysis is quite uncritical.
The standard work from a Maoist perspective is Edgar Snow’s Red star over China*. Snow rewrote sections of the book in the early 1970s to downgrade Lin Biao’s role in the Red Army, so it should be read critically; but it contains much fascinating material. Harrison Salisbury’s The Long March* is illuminating on some of the myths surrounding Mao. And Wang Fan-Hsi’s Memoirs of a Chinese revolutionary is an inspiring account of how Chinese Trotskyists kept a revolutionary tradition alive in the 1930s and 1940s despite the odds against them.
The best thing to read on China since 1949 is Nigel Harris’ The Mandate of Heaven, a revolutionary socialist analysis of the new state up to 1978. The core of this pamphlet owes a great deal to Harris’ book, as it does to Tony Cliff’s pamphlet, Deflected Permanent Revolution*.
On the Cultural Revolution, the essential work is Simon Leys’ The Chairman’s New Clothes, a blow-by-blow account of the infighting written with wit and venom. Leys may not a have a precise analysis of the Chinese bureaucracy, but he knows that they are the enemy. Son of the revolution by Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro is the story of an ex-Red Guard which gives a compelling insiders’ view. Chen Jo-Hsi’s The execution of Mayor Yin** is a collection of short stories that gives a sense of the terrors of the period. And Stanley Kernow’s Mao and China* is well-researched but over-written – well worth ploughing through.
For the early 1970s, the best factual account is to be found in Bill Brugger’s China: Radicalism to revisionism*, but the flavour of the period is best captured in Simon Leys’ Chinese shadows and Broken images. Gregor Benton’s Wild lilies, poisonous weeds is excellent on the “Democracy Wall” movement and its subsequent history; a good account is also to be found in Jonathan Spence’s Gate of Heavenly Peace*. Beijing street voices* by David S.G. Goodman, contains a reasonable selection of the movement’s writings.
There is as yet no one good overview of the changes in China since Mao’s death. The best attempt to date is Lynn Pan’s The new Chinese Revolution*; the title gives away its essential weakness. Orville Schell’s To get rich is glorious** is good impressionistic journalism. It is also good on the realities of repression under Deng Xiaoping, as is Fox Butterfield’s Alive in the bitter sea*.
Two of the best pictures of the new order come from books written about specific groups in Chinese society. Beverley Hooper’s Youth in China is a good account of the alienation of the young from the system, written quite sympathetically, and Margery Wolf’s Revolution postponed* is a sustained demolition of the myth of women’s liberation in China, which is particularly sharp on the realities of life in the countryside.
Last updated on 6.3.2002