BRIAN LAMB, HOST:
Philip Short, author of "Mao: A Life." Who was he?
Mr. PHILIP SHORT, AUTHOR, "MAO: A LIFE": An extraordinary man who was actually many men--a poet, visionary, military strategist, philosopher. Not a--not a terribly good philosopher, it has to be said. A very sensual man who liked women, a very ruthless man, a man who was, above all, marked by quite extraordinary determination—the will to dominate, the will to succeed. He was several men and he lived several lives compressed into one long life of his own, but he also compressed immense changes in China over a very short period. China, when he was born, was a--a feudal empire which hadn't really changed for 2,000 years. When he left, when he died, it was a great power, a major power, member of the UN Security Council, with satellites, with intercontinental ballistic missiles, with nuclear weapons. It was a modern state.
LAMB: How long have you spent in China?
Mr. SHORT: I first went to China in 1977. I was based there for the BBC until the early '80s. I opened their office there. And then I'd been back for periods of, oh, up to a couple of months, pretty regularly ever since, almost every year for the last decade or so, less often in the--in the previous--previous 10 years.
LAMB: This is a big book, close to 800 pages.
Mr. SHORT: Yeah.
LAMB: W--is there--is there new...
Mr. SHORT: But i--but it's not supposed to seem like that.
LAMB: Is there--is there new--new material in here?
Mr. SHORT: Oh, there's--yes. I mean, the--the point is there has not been a new biography of Mao for 20 years. The last one--the last major biography was Ross Terrill's in 1980, and over the last 20 years, so much has emerged, so--I mean, facts, documents, memoirs by people who were around Mao, that huge areas which we didn't really understand or we understood wrongly are now much, much more clear. It--it's possible, I think, for the first time--you say it's a long book. Yes, well, he lived a very long life and a jammed-packed life, full of--of--of adventure and excitement and ideas, and--and, you know, in a way, he--he lived a life of--of a--of a character in a—in an epic novel. And i--i--there--there was so much to put into it because now one has the information to draw around a portrait whereas it really wasn't possible 20 years ago.
LAMB: How long did it take you?
Mr. SHORT: Six years. I--I--I was working on other things, I mean, I had to earn a living with the BBC for some of that time, but, yeah, it--it was six years of research and the last two, two and a half years doing nothing but.
LAMB: Is your wife's name Ren Qwon?
Mr. SHORT: Ren Twon.
LAMB: Is that a Chinese name?
Mr. SHORT: Yes, she's Chinese, yeah.
LAMB: And where did you meet her?
Mr. SHORT: I first met her actually in--in Beijing, Peking in 1979 during the--the democracy movement that happened then. There was a great sort of outpouring of--of free expression and wall posters criticizing this and that. It was--it was a little bit like 1968 in Paris. So we first met then. And then 10 years ago, quite by—by chance, 10--10 years later, I should say, I met her again in Paris. And, you know, once is silly, but twice, you can't do much about.
LAMB: And what role did she play in the book?
Mr. SHORT: She played a very major role in two ways. My Chinese is--is, you know, like a--a six-year-old's. It's--it's--it's--it's not wonderful. So she went through reams of documents with me, and for the--all the trips that I did interviewing people and going to places, she was with me. She was--she was instrumental in that. And also because she is Chinese and she has a whole network of Chinese friends, it made it vastly easier to talk to people who would not normally have talked to a foreigner. You know, the Chinese are becoming much more outgoing. They're becoming much more willing to--to discuss sensitive topics privately--not publicly but privately. But even so, it makes an enormous difference if you have--I don't want to say blood ties--if you--you know, if--if you are Chinese or you--you have a--a network of Chinese to go through.
LAMB: How many years was he the ultimate, total top power in China?
Mr. SHORT: Well, '49--1949 was when he proclaimed the People's Republic and he died in 1976, so that's 27, but in the Communist areas, he was undisputed leader really from, let us say, 1937, '38--late '30s.
LAMB: What year was he born?
Mr. SHORT: 1893. So born in the last century, born under the empire, given a--very much a classical education, you know? He—he was made to learn great chunks--yes, that's him. That's him at the age of about 17 or 18. It's the earliest photograph we have at the time of the revolution, the revolution which overthrew the empire in 1911.
LAMB: And what were the circumstances of the revolution?
Mr. SHORT: Well, it--the empire had been--had been kind of crumbling and rotting away, I mean, some would say for a century but at least, you know, for--for the last--the last decades of the 19th century. And there'd been more and more revolts and some huge rebellions which aren't completely forgotten. The Taiping Rebellion--20 million people died in China, you know, whole provinces. A--a--a best part of a—of a century later you can still see the demographic effects of the slaughter that was--was wrought then. And--and this was 1850 to 1860, and there was a big Muslim rebellion, so the--the throne was very
And in 1908 the emperor, Qwon Shu, died, a child emperor came to the throne. It's more and more pressure on--on the throne, and the revolution itself started in October--October the 10th, 1911, in Wuhan in central China. Really in the--the kind of muddled way these things often do start, the conspirators were betrayed--some of them were arrested, some of the others decided to--you know, to go for it, army units r--rebelled. The man that they asked to take charge of the rebellion, to lead the rebellion was so scared of the idea that he hid and disguised himself as a scholar wearing a scholar's garb. But it did in--whereas most of these things earlier, all--all of these things had kind of fizzled out, this one kept going.
From Wuhan, it--it spread and Mao was--was present in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, when that city fell to the rebels, again in a very disorganized fashion. He left a wonderful account of seeing the battle outside the city walls and the troops storming the gates, the--the rebels storming the gates and--and bursting in and eventually hoisting a flag over the--the--the--the--the governor's palace. Well, actually, all that was later imagination. It didn't happen that way. It was a muddle and a mess. But he--he was there and he did see the flag lifted when the c--the city fell.
LAMB: Who's Sun Yat-sen?
Mr. SHORT: Sun Yat-sen is--was the first president. Sun Yat-sen--an--an old, old revolutionary, born, I think, in 1866. He was the leader of the Nationalists and--and he was the man who became president of China's--first president of the Republic of China in 1912 after--after the emperor abdicated. The--the party he founded, the Nationalist Party, was later to be taken over by Chiang Kai-Shek,
later to be the--the great opponent of the Communists. The civil war in China that followed was between the Communists and the Nationalists and under Chiang Kai-Shek to set up a--an alternative regime in—in Taiwan, still in power to this day.
LAMB: How big is China today in population?
Mr. SHORT: One point--well, good question, 1.3 million.
LAMB: And how big...
Mr. SHORT: Sorry--billion. That little single consonant is quite important; 1.3 billion.
LAMB: And how many people live in Taiwan?
Mr. SHORT: Around 20 million. The--the difference is important because people so often say, `Well, look, Taiwan's a democracy.' It is. Don't decry the Taiwanese achievement. It's--it's very considerable. But it's really happened in the last 10, 15 years after Chiang Kai-Shek's death. You know, he kept a stra--a stranglehold—a dictatorial stranglehold on that island. But now it is a democracy. But you--you have to think 20 million people in one island with a lot of foreign aid as against 1,300 million people in a huge, disparate country, which has always been very difficult to rule. It's not. Y--it's apples and oranges. You can't really compare.
LAMB: There is a photo in the book of the village or--it's really not the village; it's the farm...
Mr. SHORT: The farmhouse, yes.
LAMB: ...the original farmhouse of Mao Tse-tung's father.
Mr. SHORT: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Where is this?
Mr. SHORT: It's in a place called Shao Shan, which is, oh, I guess, about 30 miles from--from the capital of Shensi. And wh--what is interesting it--the--the farmhouse is, to a very considerable extent, been reconstructed. But it--it's--it's genuine. It is as it was. What's interesting is that it's so big, you know, it's--it's--Mao had his own room, his brothers had their own rooms. It's very unusual for a--a family--a farmer to be as prosperous as Mao's father was, so he--Mao was not the child of a poor peasant. He was the child of quite a well-off small landlord.
LAMB: You can see on the map where Hunan is and then where Taiwan is, right off the coast.
Mr. SHORT: That's right. I mean, the maps of China are--are, in a way, misleading 'cause the place is so big and the map is small. But Hunan, in--in the center--just center, south of China; Taiwan off the coast.
LAMB: What was his father like?
Mr. SHORT: If we were to believe Mao, his father was a niggardly, skinflint, bigoted, narrow-minded old tyrant, and Mao was constantly, by his own account, rebelling. Yes, that is a formal picture with the--the little round cap and--and the button and an apron, a--a lower garment over his trousers and a silk jacket. He--he...
LAMB: Who's that right next to him, while I've got the picture there, on the other side?
Mr. SHORT: On the other side? The n--the p--next picture?
Mr. SHORT: Mao on--Mao is on the right of that picture. He's the tall one, his mother is sitting, and his two brothers, Mao—Mao Tse-min and Mao Tse-t'an, the youngest brother. So--so that's—that is the Mao family. He actually looks quite like his mother. His mother has a very rounded face and Mao has that same rounded look.
But, no, Mao was exceedingly ungrateful to his father, because his father put up with him, you know? Mao's account--his--his father was impossible, but actually Mao must have been a terrible cross to bear as--as a young man and certainly was constantly offending against traditional precepts of--of propriety and good behavior, the way children were expected to behave.
LAMB: When was his first marriage?
Mr. SHORT: His first marriage was when he was 14 to a--a peasant girl. It was an arranged marriage, arranged by his--his parents, and very, very little is known about it. She died soon afterwards. Mao, by his own account, refused to live with her. She--she--Miss Wall died by some accounts three months after they were married. I think that's correct. That's what I found when--from people in Shi Shan; others say about two years. But in any event, it didn't last. According to Mao, it wasn't consummated. Well, was it; wasn't it? Who knows? And it's something which he has very consciously tried—he tried to kind of push under the table.
LAMB: Here's a photo of his second wife and children.
Mr. SHORT: Yang K'ai-hui, yes, and the--the--the two little boys, An-ying and An-ching. There was a third child born, Ad Long, but died when--when he was young of dysentery. Y--Yang K'ai-hui was the daughter of his favorite professor and--and a man who--who influenced him greatly, a very liberal, open-minded man. And they were married in 1920--the winter of 1920 and lived together until 1927. 1927 was when the real clash between the Nationalists and the Communists began. Chiang Kai-Shek cracked down in a--a--really a massacre of--of—of Communists in--in Shanghai. And the Communists went underground. Mao went to the mountains and began the guerrilla struggle; Yang K'ai-hui stayed with her children in--in--in Changsha. And Mao then married again and he had two wives at the same time, but these--these things were kind of looked over fairly tolerantly.
LAMB: This is the third?
Mr. SHORT: This--this is the third wife, Ho Tzu-chen, started living with him when she was quite young, about 18 or 19 years old on the very remote mountain, Fasners, called Chingkam, where Mao and his guerrillas had taken refuge. But two years after Mao and Her Sir Gin came together, Yang K'ai-hui was arrested in a--in a roundup by the Nationalist leader in--in Changsha and executed along with Mao's adopted sister. The children were smuggled to Shanghai because otherwise they might well have been killed as well, you know? Things were not done by half measures in China in those days. It was a very brutal society.
The children were smuggled to Shanghai. They had a very, very rough time because the Communist apparatus was--was being dismantled, was under tremendous pressure. Part of the time they lived on the streets and in the mid-'30s went to the Soviet Union. One of the two children, Yang Chin, the younger boy, became mentally disturbed and--and he's still alive but has remained mentally--had--had serious mental trouble all his life. The other boy came back and--but we're getting ahead of ourselves--in the 1940s, came back to--to--to—to China and was with Mao.
LAMB: All alon--and he's got a fourth wife, we might as well talk about her briefly.
Mr. SHORT: All right. Get the women out...
Mr. SHORT: ...get through the wives. The fourth wife--well, Ho Tzu-chen--Ho Tzu-chen was an interesting woman. She went right through the long march with him. She bore him children. Then she decided she'd actually had enough of Mao. She walked out on Mao, and he was--he was devastated.
LAMB: This is his fourth, right here on the screen.
Mr. SHORT: The fourth wife, Chiang Ch'ing, he started living with shortly after Ho Tzu-chen left him, and he said himself later, it was an extremely bad choice. She was a young Shanghai actress with a dubious past and there were quite strong efforts made within the party to discourage, or at least, c--you know, say, `Is this--is this the right thing to do?' But you do not tell someone like Mao if he's—if he's the party leader of a--of a Communist Party--you--you--there's no way that you can say to him, `Well, look, you can't marry this woman.' He made up his mind and it turned out t--to be really a--a fairly disastrous marriage. She had one child, but by--by the early 1950s, they were--they were effectively estranged, and later--much, much later towards the end of his life, Mao used Chiang Ch'ing as a political tool--as a political--I mean, he exploited her as a political instrument, because he knew that she was completely loyal to him. You know, the one person who depended on him completely and whom he could have complete trust in was Chiang Ch'ing, so he used her for his political dirty work, put it that way.
LAMB: She was a member of the `Gang of Four'?
Mr. SHORT: She was. She--she tried to use him for her political dirty work. I mean, it was no--it was one of these interesting relationships which is not very edifying.
LAMB: And at what point in--in the--do you remember the year that they actually married?
Mr. SHORT: Well, they didn't go through a marriage ceremony. I mean, we talk about mar--Mao--Mao having been married several times. I'm not at all sure Mao was actually ever formally married in the sense that--except possibly to his very first peasant wife, in the sense that we would regard a marriage. They just started living together. I think he probably did formally marry Yang K'ai-hui as well, the--the professor's daughter, 'cause I don't think the family would have--w--you know, would have stood for--for--for anything different. But Ho Tzu-chen, they just started living together. With Chiang Ch'ing, I mean, th--they started living together and they were deemed to be married when Mao invited his colleagues to a dinner at which Chiang Ch'ing played the role of hostess. That was it.
LAMB: There is a--yeah, it's rare in--in 11 years of BOOKNOTES that there's a quote in a book that you can't read because of the language, and I think you know what I'm talking about. There is a quote in this book...
Mr. SHORT: Uh-huh.
LAMB: ...that you've got from the doctor about...
Mr. SHORT: Oh, yes.
LAMB: ...what Mao...
Mr. SHORT: Comparing with Meitron? No?
LAMB: No, no, no, no. The--the quote about what he does with his private parts, you know, in reference to women, when he'd have all the women--you know, he sa--you say that he--that whole area where you talk about there are four or five women in his bed and he...
Mr. SHORT: Yes.
LAMB: Explain that whole lifestyle that he had, and is this new? The--the doctor's book the first time we heard about this?
Mr. SHORT: The doctor's book is the first time we've heard about it. And there was some skepticism--not in the West. I mean, in the West it was accepted. But in--in China, you had people kind of coming out of the woodwork and saying, `Yes, this enormous--this enormous bed.' And, you know, that is the bed which was left in Mao's study after his death. But people who knew him say the--the bed he actually used was even bigger. And if we--if we believe, as--as I think we should, that he did like to have several women, several young women, up to five young women in bed with him, and, of course, his books, because his books were important to him--and there were always books on his bed no matter what he was doing--then a very large bed was clearly required.
Look, this is--Mao with Chiang Chi'ing, it--it didn't work, this—this fourth--fourth marriage. And you can say it's part of the imperial tradition. I--I think it's much more like--in a sense like groupies, you know, in--in modern pop music stars or--or whatever. Mao found that with young women he could have a normal contact that was denil--denied. Now you may question the word normal, but sexual intercourse is a normal human activity. And just about every other aspect of all Mao's activities was politically regulated or motivated
or had a--a hidden purpose. This was something terribly basic, terribly earthy in which he--he had a--a human relationship with other human beings. From his point of view, that was it. With his bodyguards who were young peasant soldiers, again he had a sort of surrogate family when any kind of normal family had--had, you know, gone long ago. And I think that was--that was his side of things.
There was--there was also the business he knew he was getting old. He had the power. He could do it. Chinese emperors had always done it, and for the girls themselves, well, you know, sleeping with God because that was how he was seen, probably didn't seem wrong.
LAMB: There are a--a lot of terms that you used that we're familiar with. I want you to just tell us what they are quickly so we can then go back and go over them. What was the great leap forward?
Mr. SHORT: The great leap forward was an economic movement launched in 1958 where Mao tried to mobilize the Chinese people to--by--by--with the strength of their hands and with their spirit to work economic miracles. Backyard steel furnaces--everyone would make steel. Grain yields that were, you know, out of sight--catch up Britain in 15 years; catch up America in a bit longer.
LAMB: What was a August harvest uprising?
Mr. SHORT: The August harvest uprising was--we're going right back in time, 1927, when--when the--the--the fighting between the Nationalists and the Communists began, the autumn harvest uprising was the ri--the--the failed--desperately failed uprising which Mao tried to ferment in Pur Nam at the time when he--he was starting his guerrilla warfare and retreated into the mountains.
LAMB: What was the long march?
Mr. SHORT: The long march was a very, very long march. It was in--from 1934 to '35. The Communists had a base in Southern China, a place called Changsha, and the Nationalists closed in and had--were--were on the point of wiping them out. When the Communists decided to make a strategic retreat--and it turned out to be a march of 6,000 miles, which took them right across China to the Northwest, through--I--I--I've traveled the whole route of the long march, and it--it's a great thing to do if anyone's thinking of it. It is fascinating.
LAMB: Do they have it marked?
Mr. SHORT: No, it's not, but th--the--I mean, there are memoirs. There's an excellent book by Harrison Salisbury on the long march which--which has a--a--a very detailed account of--of where they went, but it is possible now to follow that route. And they went through the most remote and backward areas because those were the areas where the Nationalists' forces were weakest, so they went, you know, over the--over the mountains of the edge of Tibet, through the grasslands, which is a terrible area of--of--of swamp and bog at 10,000 feet between Tibet and--and Sichuan and finally down into what is still an arid desert country up in the Northwest, which is where they—from 1935, they--they made their new headquarters.
LAMB: And what was the cultural revolution?
Mr. SHORT: The cultural revolution was Mao's final attempt to ensure that China remained on a revolutionary and ideological pure red, revolutionary path. And, of course, it failed.
LAMB: The first thing I think that I noticed was how much the Russians had to do with a lot of the early beginnings.
Mr. SHORT: There would have been no Communist Party if they hadn't artificially created it in China. Yeah, absolutely.
LAMB: What's the Comintern?
Mr. SHORT: The Comintern, the Communist International, set up by Lenin to--you've got to remember this was a time when Russia, the Soviet Union, was under enormous pressure from the Western countries. There were white Russians fighting against the Communists. The Comintern was set up in order to promote the Soviet Union's cause abroad--forge links with workers' movements in other countries; create Communist parties in other countries.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. SHORT: 1919...
LAMB: The Re--the Bolshevik Resolution...
Mr. SHORT: ...the Chinese party's--nin--1917.
LAMB: ...Revolution was 1917.
Mr. SHORT: Yeah.
LAMB: And so right after that.
Mr. SHORT: Yeah, very soon afterwards.
LAMB: And how was it set up in China?
Mr. SHORT: Well, the Comintern was based in Moscow and took its orders from Moscow. In 1920, the first emissaries were sent to make contact with Chinese left-wingers, and the Chinese Communist Party itself was founded in July, 1921, in, of all places, a--a--a--a—a girls' boarding school in the French sector of Shanghai.
LAMB: Otto Braun, who was he?
Mr. SHORT: He was a Communist military adviser, a German. His identity was not known for ages. When Edgar Snow, the American writer, went to--to--to--to visit Mao in the 1930s, he--he met Otto Braun, but he only knew him by his Chinese name. He didn't know who he was and Braun wouldn't talk about him. So anyway, in—in the--the--much, much, much later on in the 1960s, Braun, in East Germany, started to write his memoirs. He was the military adviser sent by the Comintern to work with the Communists in the--the early 1930s, and he l--tried to impose, you know, strict adherence to Russian military principles, which of course, didn't work in China. He--he's often made a little bit of a scapegoat for the--the Chinese Communists' own mistakes, but on the other hand, he--he was a very rigid, Orthodox man, who was--who was not prepared to do things in the Chinese way.
LAMB: I'll apologize to you and audience for--I'm jumping all over the place and--and there's just so much to cover here, and I'm not sure that we're getting into it in the right way, but you mentioned Edgar Snow. Here's a photograph of him. He seems to be through your whole book.
Mr. SHORT: We--we are jumping all over the place because this is Edgar Snow much later on.
LAMB: Yeah. But he was--he was active of what you--what was the first time--yeah.
Mr. SHORT: But--but let's talk about Edgar Snow for a minute, yes. Edgar Snow there in 1970 with Mao and an interpreter and on the left, just out of the picture, Lin Biao, the defense minister, on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. And it's an interesting story in itself. Let me just tell it.
Mao, in 1970--re--re--relations between China and Russia were terrible. There were some serious fears of a Chinese-Russian war. Mao was signaling to Nixon that he wanted better relations with the United States. One of the signals he used was to invite Edgar Snow, an American, on China's National Day, October the 10th, to stand with him and be photographed on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. To the Chinese mind, that was an obvious symbolic way of telling the White House, `We are interested in better relations with America.' Kissinger c--confessed years afterwards they completely missed the signal. They didn't understand the significance of it at all because it was much too elliptical, and there were other kind of mismatches of that kind.
But to go back to Edgar Snow, the point of Edgar Snow is he was the first Western journalist, the first Westerner really, to--to go to the Communist areas. In 1936, he went to Bao An, which is in this arid desert part of northwest China, where the Communists finished up after the long march. Edgar Snow went and he interviewed Mao, and he produced a book called "Red Star Over China." It is a--a--a--a basic source because it has Mao's only account in his own words of his life up to that point. And Snow continued to go back. So this...
LAMB: Why did Mao talk to him?
Mr. SHORT: Because at--various reasons. Mao, at that time, was affirming himself as leader of the Communist Party. I mean, he wasn't still undisputed leader, but he was beginning to get there. But more interesting than that--the real reason why he talked to Edgar Snow was that the Second World War was looming, the Communist policy was—was changing. Stalin wanted Communist parties to work together with non-Communists in order to create an alliance against Fascism.
Well, the way that worked in China was that--that the Communists made overtures to the Nationalists, which eventually succeeded and they fought in the Second World War, sort of together, against the Japanese. But also Mao was signaling that first time with Edgar Snow that Mao was interested in having better relations with anti-Fascist Western countries. It was all the context of the Second World War.
LAMB: How much did Mao travel outside of China?
Mr. SHORT: Very little. And it--it might have been a slightly different story if he had, because so many of the early Chinese leaders did. Chou En-lai, Deng Xiaoping, they all went to France or--or Germany and so on. Mao didn't. And the reason in a way that Mao was able to dominate, to, you know, outdistance all his rivals was precisely that he was instinctively, deeply, profoundly Chinese. His roots, his thinking were Chinese so he could respond and--and appeal to Chinese.
He didn't go outside China till the 1950s--19--late 1949. His very first journey after winning power in Beijing was to see Stalin; he went to Moscow. And they had a very difficult time together. That Chinese-Soviet relationship was always very difficult. And then he went again in 1957 to Moscow, when Khrushchev was in power. Those were the only two foreign journeys he made.
LAMB: If you followed him around all those years, what--what would he--wha--how tall was he?
Mr. SHORT: Oh, I can't give you in feet. I'm gonna say something, you know, bland like...
LAMB: Well, wa--was he tall or...
Mr. SHORT: For...
LAMB: Six-feet tall or...
Mr. SHORT: No, no. For--but remember, Chinese w--were less tall, on average, than Americans or Europeans. No. He was, oh, I guess probably we'd be talking about 5'7", 5'8", quite--which means quite tall for a Chinese. He was always described--and if you see him in photographs next to his--as--as very thin and tall and bony in--as a young man. And even--even a--a--an old man, quite a lot of bulk. Chou En-lai...
LAMB: Chou En-lai's the one on the left.
Mr. SHORT: Chou En-lai is the one on the left. I think it's a very telling photograph that Mao is behind the door. He's got a very mischievous--you--you don't know what that enigmatic expression on his face--you don't know what that face is--is thinking.
LAMB: How old are they here?
Mr. SHORT: That's 1936, about then, I would say. So Mao there is 43. And Chou En-lai is a little bit younger, 40.
LAMB: What was their relationship then?
Mr. SHORT: What their relationship was for almost the whole of their career; Chou En-lai was Mao's loyal servant. Mao used Chou. Chou did not--with one or two very rare exceptions in the early days, Chou did not try to resist because he realized, I think very--very early on--yes, that--that picture there, Mao in the middle with Chou En-lai on his--on Mao's right and the third figure, the military commander in chief, Zhu De, they were the triumpherant--triumvirate that--that won power for the Communists in China.
LAMB: Could Mao speak other languages?
Mr. SHORT: He tried very hard. He tried. He spent most of his life trying to learn English. And he did, but he--no, he couldn't speak it. He could read it to some extent. He couldn't--he--he gave up on Russian. You see, Mao's Ch--Mao's Chinese was--was--was wonderful. He had an enormous vocabulary and a knowledge of classical Chinese, but his pronunciation was Hunanese. And Mao, throughout all his life, is from that part of--of--of--of China. He was not gifted with an ear for languages, even his own.
LAMB: This picture?
Mr. SHORT: There, he's--th--this is 1949, Stalin's 70th birthday. Behind--between Mao and Stalin, there's Boganon and the--the bearded man on the right is East German Leader Walter U--Ubricht. Mao and Stalin had a real tussle of wills on that occasion, with, basically, Mao refusing to leave until Stalin agreed to--to talk and to talk seriously about the relationship with China. But it--it was an ex--for--for two countries supposedly Communist, supposedly allied, it was a very edgy, uncomfortable relationship.
LAMB: Go back to--go back to that time period when things started to coalesce, at--at the--at the point when Chiang Kai-shek was the head of the Nationalists in China. How many people were under his control?
Mr. SHORT: Depends when you're talking about. I--I--in the early days, I mean, Chiang Kai-shek--one sometimes asks, you know, how on earth could he have lost China? And the answer, of course, is venality, corruption and no real vision of where he was taking the country. But he had almost everything. You know, 19--by 1930, Chiang Kai-shek had won control of all of China, except for a very--few very small kind of sp--red spots, which were Communist-based areas; so-called because this was where the Communist army would--armies—and they were very small; they were a few thousand men, that's all—would carry out guerrilla-raiding activities, sporadic attacks.
Then 1935, the Long March, 100,000 people, 86,000--the figures people will argue over, but let's say 86,000 people set out on the Long March, Communists, Communist leaders and troops. At the end, of those who'd set out, only 5,000 survived in one year. I mean, for an army to be able to hold together in--in any sense and continue as a fighting force, losing 95 percent--you talk to the Pentagon about that kind of attrition rate. They'd say it's impossible. And it was, but they did hold together.
LAMB: How much of that was--they were either killed or how much of it just died of starvation and all that?
Mr. SHORT: Well, a lot of it was--in the early stages, they had some--some appalling disasters. This--the early stages of the Long March, Mao was not in charge. He--he was out of power, one of the many times early in his career when he was out of power. And a—at that point, they--they had some real military disasters.
Middle of the Long March, crucial meeting, Mao readmitted to the leadership a--in a--in a--as an effective leader. So they--they—they did--they made fewer mistakes after that. They still made mistakes, but they made fewer mistakes. But they fought 200 battles in 300 days, you know. I mean, it was--the Long March was not just a—a promenade. It was--it was a very, very difficult military exploit. But...
LAMB: Where'd they get their weaponry?
Mr. SHORT: From the Nationalists. They captured—basically cap--captured weapons from the Nationalist side. That was their main source...
LAMB: Where'd the Nationalists get their weapons?
Mr. SHORT: Well, from America. Initially not. Initially, they got their weapons by buying them on the open market. But later on, as the civil war really hotted up, they had more--more American aid, very substantial quantities of American aid.
LAMB: Where were the Japanese at this point?
Mr. SHORT: The Japanese--we're talking about the time of the Long March, OK? 19--mid-1930s when, as I say just to get back, Chiang Kai-shek had control of virtually the whole of China. And Mao had tiny, tiny forces...
LAMB: But they're--and the--Mao's forces...
Mr. SHORT: ...but--yeah?
LAMB: ...being fed by the Russians all the time with...
Mr. SHORT: No. No, r--no Russian aid at all.
LAMB: Not--not Russian at all.
Mr. SHORT: Not even any...
LAMB: If--but having--but having...
Mr. SHORT: Not even any contact at that time.
LAMB: Not at that time, but they had earlier. They had a lot of contact.
Mr. SHORT: They had a lot of contact, but they--and they--in the ver--yes, in the very early stages, they got financial aid from Russia. That was how the party started going. They didn't get weapons from Russia. There was no way the R--the Russians could send weapons. You know, the--h--how could they physically get them there? They didn't. They didn't get money when--again, there was a--wh—when the base areas of the--the Communists really started fighting, they got no aid from Russia.
LAMB: Would--would China be Communist today without the Russians?
Mr. SHORT: I'm only hesitating because of the role the Russians played in--in starting the party. They sowed the seed, not...
LAMB: It was all their idea?
Mr. SHORT: No, it wasn't all their idea. There were Communist groups in China already.
LAMB: Who--but what--what did they read...
Mr. SHORT: So I think, yes. I shouldn't even hesitate. The answer is yes, China would be--I mean, later on, the Russians gave—the Russians gave very little help all along the way. The--the only crucial help they gave was actually in the formation of the party. There were already Communist groups, but they hadn't coalesced to form a party. And I--I--I think that would've happened with--with the—if the--had the Russians helped or not.
I--I--you know, we're talking speculatively. Who can know the answer to your question? But--but, no, it was the p--whole point about the Chinese revolution is that it was indigenous. It was not triggered from outside, it was not financed from outside. It happened from within.
LAMB: The Japanese--I interrupted--where were they?
Mr. SHORT: Well, you can very well ask if the Japanese had not attacked, had not tried to occupy China, would China had become Communist? That, I think, is a--is a much more questionable proposition, and Mao certainly recognized it. Years later, when the Japanese prime minister visited Beijing to establish diplomatic relations, he thanked him and said, `Thank you very much. You know, if you hadn't--you helped us to power.' And they did.
LAMB: Why did the Japanese invade?
Mr. SHORT: Because the Japanese--the Japanese were undergoing a ph--a--a phase of h--highly nationalistic expansion in the 1930s, as you know, as well as anybody else. I mean, you know, America felt that, too. They initially occupied Manchuria, and then they started expanding, occupying other parts of China. And full-scale war between China and Japan was declared in 1937.
Now without that war to unify the Chinese behind a national cause, to give legitimacy to the Communists, because Chiang Kai-shek couldn't at the same time fight the Japanese and fight the Communists--it—it became untenable for him to do so. Therefore, he had to make a truce with the Communists. The Communists then used that truce to win legitimacy, credibility and to vastly expand their influence, the areas under control--under their control and everything else.
Now after the war, still, Chiang Kai-shek had--after the Japanese were defeated, he still had much greater resources than the Communists, but his regime was corrupt. It didn't use the American aid. I mean, you've got marvelous accounts by American military advisers talking about just how impossible it was in the late ni--the--the mid-1940s to work with Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists, because whatever you tried to do, the aid was siphoned off. The men weren't properly fed. I mean, the Nationalist ar--army was a disaster.
LAMB: W--w--how many--I don't know which--which way to go with this, but wh--how many people did Mao--was he responsible for killing or torturing or all those stories you hear over the years? In the Cultural Revolution, how many of his own people were killed during that?
Mr. SHORT: Well, look, it--it's--it's an in...
LAMB: I know it's--there are a lot of different times.
Mr. SHORT: There are lots of different times, and it's an interesting and quite a complicated question. I mean, the bold answer is more than anyone else in history. Thirty million? You know, 20 million at least, possibly 25 million di...
Mr. SHORT: Twenty million, 25 million died in famine after the—at the f--the Great Leap Forward. You remember we were talking about it? This--this attempt to make China economically a great power very rapidly by mobilizing people was a disaster. It led to famine, a—a famine which was essentially manmade. Mao made it. He didn't make it on purpose, but his policies resulted in the famine in which 20 million, 25 million people died. So that--those deaths he was responsible for.
Then earlier on, the--in the--the time the Communists were taking--taking power in China, there was a--a campaign against the landlords, the land reform. Seven hundred thousand, 800,000 landlords were killed. They were not killed by Mao. They were killed by—by peasants seizing the land from them. That it was inspired...
LAMB: That the Horse Day incident?
Mr. SHORT: Sorry?
LAMB: Is that the Horse Day incident, is that about mi--somewhere...
Mr. SHORT: No, you've gone--you've gone back.
LAMB: Gone way back again. I'm--I'm sorry. This--it just is amazing how many different incidents there are.
Mr. SHORT: Well, I--I started saying to you this man compressed, you know, so many different lives into one--one person. And you've got so much history.
LAMB: Let--let--let me stop here and ask you, though, how did you do this? How did you do this book? I mean, we can't cover 100th of this book in this hour, but how did you--how did you keep track of it all? Where did you--how did you--what was your own procedure?
Mr. SHORT: Well, I did take a long time doing it, and I think that helped. And it's a subject I've been fascinated in for years before. A--a--a--so, I mean, the--the--the--that's really, I think, the best--I didn't have any spe--special method, but I tried--I tried very hard to--to follow--to follow--seem--to--to have kind of vectors of--which would carry you through the book; to--to trace trends in his life which you could see as a young man, again perhaps as a middle-age man, and then again in later life, to give the book a continuity.
And that was actually what was difficult, because it--you know, a biography is essentially chronological. You know, you can--you can follow it. But to give it a coherence when he is an actor of s--of--of--of Machiavellian duplicity, but in so--on so many different levels and s--on so--in so many different stages, stages like scenes, you know, th--that was--was difficult.
But I confess, you know, it--it absolutely impassioned me. I--I—I find it a totally riveting life that the man led, and I tried to convey some of that, because I think when you're totally fascinated by something, you usually manage to convey some of--something of your enthusiasm and fas--fascination.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
Mr. SHORT: In southern France.
Mr. SHORT: Because I like it.
LAMB: How long have you lived there?
Mr. SHORT: I--when I left the BBC, my last post was here in Washington. I was Washington corespondent. I went and taught for a year at Iowa, which I found very rewarding, and then moved to France. We built a house on a--an old stone--I say an old stone house--a stone tra--traditional stone house on a mountainside.
And why southern France? Well, I've lived all my life, you know, reporting on other countries. I would find it very difficult to live back in England now, because you--you, you know, develop a different way of living. And France--I love the food. I love the language. I--I think the climate is marvelous. And modern communications, doesn't matter that much more where you live.
LAMB: Where did you write the book?
Mr. SHORT: Ah, I started writing it in Tokyo where--where--'cause I was based in Tokyo at the time. I started writing it in Tokyo. I wrote some of it in Washington. I wrote quite a bit of it in Iowa and the last two-thirds probably in France, with a publisher standing over m--my back, not so much Henry Holt here on the stage, but my English publisher with a whip saying, `If you don't finish, we're going to put a bomb under you.'
LAMB: And i--if they took some of your research away from you, what would have been the most valuable of all this? What chunk of research helped you the most?
Mr. SHORT: I think, for me, the--the most interesting, because it's--it really is fairly new, is the discovery that--of how the Communists and Mao, in particular, turned to violence in the very early 1930s, in Fujian, in--in southern Jiangxi, because you have to explain--you know, these guys, Mao and the others, they were idealistic, patriotic young men, who--who really simply wanted to make their country strong and to do the best they could for it. And, I mean, it's a very simple phrase, but that--they--they started out with the best of intentions.
And how did it get from that to a--a system which destroyed millions of people's lives, which was--was totally ruthless and, in many ways, evil? You know, you have to make that transition. And those events in Fujian in the early 1930s, when Mao ordered a purge--and we now know that it--you know, it was his doing. There's a document which is the smoking gun that shows that he did it--in which, you know, almost everybody who was tortured to death or killed was totally innocent. It was--it was a fabricated purge against a non-existent opposition organization. That was when it really, really started to go badly wrong.
LAMB: In the back, you have a list of--What do you call it?—dramatis personae...
Mr. SHORT: Yes.
LAMB: ...where you list a lot of people.
Mr. SHORT: Because of the problem of Chinese names, I think you need something to refer to when you say, `Who--who on earth was that?'
LAMB: But the thing that you list under a lot of people's names is `deliberate medical neglect.'
Mr. SHORT: Ah. And...
LAMB: What's that referring to?
Mr. SHORT: In the Cultural Revolution, this is--this is at--at the end of these little potted biographies, how did they die? Well, a lot of them died--a lot, yes. It was a significant number--of--of Mao's colleagues, those who he decided were no longer useful; represented old ways of thinking, which China--he didn't want. They were not--they were injured in the Cultural Revolution by Red Guards or by secret police interrogators and not given appropriate medical treatment.
LAMB: And here I'm just showing how you listed a lot of these.
Mr. SHORT: Right.
LAMB: What about the pronunciation?
Mr. SHORT: …Pronunciation to help. It's—what can you do? You can't translate the names. People have tried to translate names. You finish up with lunacies, you know? It--it--because a name is a name. My name's Philip Short, but if you're English, you don't think, `Short--oh, yes, he's short,' you know? It's--it's just a name. Translating is a nonsense. It doesn't enhance understanding.
LAMB: And where are you from originally?
Mr. SHORT: I'm--I'm British.
LAMB: In what--were you b--London born?
Mr. SHORT: No, Bristol. Bristol, in the west of England.
LAMB: And how did you get into this business? Wh--what got you as--into the writing business or the BBC or The London Times?
Mr. SHORT: Oh, an in--an inability to do anything else constructive.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in it?
Mr. SHORT: When I left university, I had no idea what to do.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
Mr. SHORT: I went to Cambridge. And through a friend of a friend, I got a job with Drum magazine in South Africa. It's a magazine for--was a magazine for blacks in the townships. And I--I--I loved Africa. I then became a free-lance in a little country called Malawi with a very eccentric dictator called Hastings Banda, and I started working there for the BBC and The Times and other people. And I s—I would've stayed in Africa; I'd probably still be there now had I not been expelled repeatedly from one country after another. And so I joined the BBC, you know, there being no alternative but to get a proper job. And they sent me to Moscow and then to China.
LAMB: You say that--wrote this in your book that Mao is a visionary, a statesman, political and military strategist of genius, philosopher and poet, dogged mind, awe-inspiring charisma, fiendish cleverness. We missed anything? Would you have liked him?
Mr. SHORT: I don't think man was--Mao was a man you liked.
LAMB: Would you have respected him?
Mr. SHORT: I would certainly have been fascinated by him. Respect, it's almost--yeah, it's almost too weak a word, I think. I mean, he was a giant figure for good or ill. And anybody who reads the book will make a judgment, both good and ill.
LAMB: You say that he considered his two major accomplishments to be victory over Chiang Kai-shek and launching of the Cultural Revolution. How many people--how many people were murdered by these young kids in the mul--in the...
Mr. SHORT: A million.
LAMB: A million people? Million adults.
Mr. SHORT: Yeah. Adults and--and much younger people in many cases.
LAMB: And the year again of the Cultural Revolution?
Mr. SHORT: '66 to s--'69. But '66-'67 were really the firestorm.
LAMB: Who led that, and what--what age group?
Mr. SHORT: Initially, very young. Secondary school students started it, and then it went into the universities. University students were the main--the main force. Workers' groups joined in. And, I mean, it became horrific. They used anti-aircraft guns on each other. They beat each other to death. They blew up. They made their teachers sit on dynamite and light the fuse themselves. They did appalling things, which is why it's important to recognize that the Chinese did appalling things to themselves--to each other under the empire and in the early parts of this century. You know, it wasn't a sudden atypical explosion of brutality. It was, one might hope, a last spasm of a brutality that had been very deeply inculcated in...
LAMB: And, again, the purpose of it?
Mr. SHORT: To ensure--to try to ensure that Mao's ideas of a--of a red utopia, of a revolutionary state which would always be revolutionary and never degenerate into capitalism, as he would have said; that tho--those ideas--ideas would outlive him.
LAMB: There's a picture that we've seen a lot in this country that you have in the book here of Mao meeting with President Nixon. There's Henry Kissinger over there. What kind of shape was he in at this meeting?
Mr. SHORT: Pretty poor. He'd had, in effect, a stroke—something very similar to a stroke. It was--it was a--a--a more complicated condition than that. But he--at this meeting, he had just seen—he d--he'd just purged his defense minister, Lin Biao. The next picture next to it is even later when he's--he's really very, very weak, 1975. That is his last mistress, Jiang Yufeng--mistress, co--companion, in effect, by--by that stage, who was the companion of his last years.
LAMB: The Nixon visit was of what value to Mao Tse-tung?
Mr. SHORT: It lined up the United States as an ally of China against the un--the--the Soviet Union. I mean, here, we tend to look at it the other way around, and we say the Nixon visit lined up--you know, normalized relations with China, a--forged a strategic alliance. Well, alliance is too strong a word, but a--a--a--an accommodation—a strategic accommodation with China against the Russians, which was Nixon's--Nixon's logic.
LAMB: In this book, your biggest surprise--personal surprise as you were going through all those papers?
Mr. SHORT: Gosh, that's something I really haven't thought of.
LAMB: Either about him or the periods that you were studying.
Mr. SHORT: I think one of the things that has struck me most forcibly--you know, there's a tr--there's a--there's a view of Mao which says Mao is very good in the first part of his life. Then he became somewhat unhinged, detached from reality, and at the end he was a monster. Rubbish. It was always the same Mao. I find that vaguely reassuring.
LAMB: This is the book, and it's bright red--close to 800 pages. It's called "Mao: A Life." And our guest has been its author, Philip Short. Thank you very much.
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