‘Mao was bad, not mad’
Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday, authors of Mao: The Unknown Story, took their seats. Dressed in a light-brown Chinese-style gown, Jung was cheered by a group of girls who were waving copies of her bestselling memoir, Wild Swans.
Coming straight to the point, Jung said straight on that Mao was ‘bad’. “That’s what I wrote in Wild Swans. In writing his biography, I approached Mao with an open mind and discovered why he did what he did and how he got the power to do those horrible things.”
Halliday, Jung’s husband, is a Russia-expert. It was his discovery of various files on China in the Russian archives that led to the foundation of their book. During the session, Halliday rarely looked at the crowd. His head was down and he would look up only to add another detail to caricature of Mao.
Together the couple painted the portrait of a man who was responsible for the death of 70 million people — and was a “tremendous womaniser”. Jung and Halliday also pointed out how he never took a bath or brushed his teeth.
Jung recounted growing up during the Cultural Revolution. She was withstood electric shocks fives times a month while being forced to work as an (untrained) electrician.
The two also reminded the book-loving crowd that Mao was a book-lover himself. “Since I’m a Chinese, I translated the Chinese sources,” Jung told the audience. “Unfortunately, Jon knows many languages so he got the rest of the world.”