Andrew Walder. 2015. China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed

Published date01 August 2019
Date01 August 2019
AuthorNicholas Khoo
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Book Reviews
Andrew Walder. 2015. China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 413 pp. ISBN: 978-0-
Andrew Walder has written a clear, concise and authoritative political history of
the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under Mao’s leadership (1949–1976).
China Under Mao sets the standard for future surveys of PRC political history.
Originally released in hardback in 2015, it was published in paperback in 2017.
Walder’s focus is less on what happened (even if, at slightly over 400 pages, there
is a good deal of that) and more on why things developed the way they did. At the
centre of the narrative is Mao Zedong. The core theme, stated in page 6, is that the
consequences of the Great Helmsman’s initiatives were ‘often unintended,
unanticipated, and unwanted, not only by the broad population, and the party
leadership, but by Mao himself’. In the author’s view, ‘Mao’s personal failings’,
which are covered in vividly tragic detail, ‘do not take us very far’ in accounting
for the history of this era (p. 6). According to Walder, we need to focus our
analytical attention on how Mao’s interventions were transmogrified by the PRC’s
institutions: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the centrally planned
economic model which the party transplanted from the Soviet Union.
After a quick preface and a first summary chapter, subsequent chapters are
broadly arrayed in a chronological order. There is an overview chapter focusing
on how the CCP went from being a movement to seizing power in 1949. The
author discusses the intra-party purges during Second World War, the ‘extremely
modest’ (p. 22) CCP contribution to the victory over the Japanese, and the civil
war between the CCP and their Guomindang rivals. In the successive chapters,
Walder proceeds to describe how, over the course of a decade, the party
consolidated power in rural and urban China. Through land reform, the CCP
extended its power to the village level, marking a departure from Chinese imperial
dynasties, whose governing structures had previously stopped at the county level.
By means of a series of mobilisation campaigns, the party also consolidated power
in the cities. In both the rural and urban spheres, violence and death rates escalated
well beyond the party’s intentions.
A valuable chapter on how a socialist economy operates is followed by one
that discusses the party system. This sets the context for the heart of the book,
which covers the various events and campaigns that rocked CCP-led China:
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin and the consequences
this had for China, the resulting Hundred Flowers’ Movement; the Anti-Rightist
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
6(2) 217–227, 2019
The Author(s) 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/2347797019842704

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