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Li had emigrated to the United States in the years after Mao's death. The book describes the time during which Li was Mao's physician, beginning with his return to China after training in Australia, through the height of Mao's power to his death in including the diverse details of Mao's personality, sexual proclivities, party politics and personal habits.
The book was well received by Western media, with reviews praising it for being corroborated by other sources and giving a detailed, fly on the wall perspective on Mao's personal life. The book was controversial and ultimately banned in the People's Republic of China , with other associates of Mao publishing Chinese language rebuttals in which they argued that much of it was fabricated by Li himself and by his English language translators.
Li Zhisui was Mao Zedong's personal physician for twenty-two years, and Li claimed that during this time he became a close confidant of the Chinese leader. The biography was based on his recollection of journals he had kept, which he had burned during the Cultural Revolution. The foreword to the book was written by Professor Andrew J. Nathan of Columbia University , and the book was published by Random House in After publication, several people criticized the publication process.
Tai claimed that the English-language publisher, Random House , wanted more sensationalist elements to the book than that which Li had provided them, in particular requesting more information about Mao's sexual relationships. Despite Li's own protestations, they overruled him, and put such claims in the published text.
Li believed that the Chinese language edition of the book was not directly based upon his original Chinese manuscript, but that it was instead a translation based upon the English version. DeBorja and Xu L. Dong highlighted what they saw as a variety of discrepancies in the text between the published English and Chinese versions of The Private Life of Mao , for instance, in the English edition, Li is recorded as saying "During our talk in Chengdu…" whereas in the Chinese edition, the literal translation is "Mao stated in his speech at the Chengdu meeting…"; as DeBorja and Dong note, these statements actually have different meanings.
The book discusses the 22 years for which Dr. Li maintains he was Mao's personal physician. After a brief summary of his family and personal history, Li discusses how he came to treat first the senior Chinese communist officials, then in Mao himself until Mao's death in Much of the text discusses the difficulties and frustrations faced by Li attempting to deal with the politics, infighting and personal conflicts of the upper echelons of the Communist Party of China , as well as the difficulties dealing with both Mao as a patient and other high-ranking officials, such as Mao's wife, the hypochondriac Jiang Qing , Mao's daughter Li Na , and the physically and possibly mentally unstable Lin Biao.
The book also discusses the political climate and events of China in the same period. These include Mao's role in orchestrating events such as the Great Leap Forward , the Cultural Revolution , and various purges of members of the Communist Party. A significant portion of the narrative involves treatment of Mao's physical and mental health complaints and Li's personal assessments of how Mao handled the personalities and disputes of the party members that surrounded him.
A significant theme in the book is Li's gradual transition from his initial sincere admiration for Mao as a leader of the country to his eventual disgust, contempt and personal dislike of the leader due to Mao's manipulation of people and events, odd sexual habits, abuses of power, substitution of slogans and cult of personality for knowledge of modern science or administrative ability, and above all Mao's indifference to the suffering of the general population due to his failed policies.
Throughout the book Li compares Mao to the historical Chinese Emperors in the tactics he used to control people around him, noting Mao's frequent references to and reading of the histories of Imperial China. The book was reviewed by The New York Times , which described it as "an extraordinarily intimate portrait" containing many details about Mao's time of rule and associations with other major figures in the government, but one that presented few new revelations about the political or diplomatic history of Maoist China.
The review stated that though there may never be absolute corroboration of the book and its many anecdotes, its contents are supported by the numerous pictures of Li with Mao on his many trips, as well as the consistency of the details with the information known by specialists of Chinese history and politics. The book also highlighted the hypocritical, often decadent lifestyle Mao experienced, while enforcing strict political and secular restrictions, as well as harmful ideological changes on the population.
Criticized for being based on Li's memory and a recreation of his journals in the originals were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution out of fear for their possible impact on Li or his family , the review stated that despite this weakness there is "no obvious reason to doubt that Dr.
Li is genuine and that his book represents a reasonable effort to record his experiences" and its credibility was enhanced for being edited and reviewed by scholars of Chinese history.
The book was praised for probably being the best, or only source for information about larger Chinese political events, disputes within the Chinese high command, and Mao's private life and character. The review highlighted criticisms of Mao's indifference and lack of awareness of the general suffering within the general population of the country, his sexual excesses and intolerance to criticism or challenge, while cautioning against using the personal details of the book to draw general lessons on the nation and revolution.
Writing for The Christian Science Monitor , reviewer Ann Tyson described Li's role as trapped dealing with a man he learned to despise, sacrificing his family life, professional goals, and personal convictions. Tyson also pointed out the threats made by Chinese authorities to confiscate his house upon learning he was writing a memoir, following through with their threat in Reviewing the book for the Daily News of Bowling Green, Kentucky , historian Robert Antony described it as an "intimate, candid account of one of the most powerful men in the modern world" and "a haunting tale of intrigue and debauchery in the court of Mao Zedong, as could only be told by a member of the inner circle" and described Li's journey from an idealized patriot who idolized Mao, to a critic disillusioned by Mao's hypocrisy and philandering.
Several people have questioned the authenticity of the book. A statement protesting that many of the claims made in Li's book were false was issued soon after its publication, signed by people who had personally known or worked with Mao, including Wang Dongxing , Li Yinqiao and Ye Zilong.
It was written by three people who had known Mao personally: his personal secretary Lin Ke, his personal doctor from to , Xu Tao and his chief nurse from to , Wu Xujun. They argued that Li did not only not know Mao very well, but that he presented an inaccurate picture of him in his book. Wu goes on to argue that whilst much of Li's memoir is devoted to talking about Mao in the period between and , Li was not his general practitioner during this period, and therefore would not have had access to the personal information that he claimed.
Lin et al. They also criticise some of Li's claims regarding Mao's personal life, for instance challenging his assertion that Mao was sterile, in which they are supported by Professor Wu Jieping, who was another of Mao's medical care-givers. They theorise that Li had fabricated this story in order to explain why Mao did not have many illegitimate children with the many women that, Li controversially claimed, he had sexual intercourse with.
Qi had been arrested and imprisoned at Mao's order in , subsequently spending the next eighteen years in prison. Despite his persecution at the hand of Mao however, Qi criticised Li's portrayal of the Chinese leader, claiming that "aside from his account of the support-the-left activities zhi zuo in which he [Li] personally participated, most of the Cultural Revolution part of his memoirs consists of stuff gleaned from newspapers, journals and other people's writings. To make Western readers believe that he had access to core secrets, Li fabricated scenarios, resulting in countless errors in his memoirs.
Due to this and other reasons, Qi believed Li's claim that Mao had affairs was a lie. Frederick Teiwes , an American academic specializing in the study of Maoist China, was also critical of The Private Life of Chairman Mao , arguing in his book The Tragedy of Lin Biao: Riding the Tiger during the Cultural Revolution that despite Li's extensive claims regarding the politics behind the Cultural Revolution, he was actually "on the fringe" of the events taking place in the Chinese government.
He went on to criticise the book as being overtly and polemically "anti-Mao", being "uncritical" in its outlook and being "dependent on the official sources" to create a picture of the revolution. He characterised Li's book as offering nothing new but "recycling widely available information and interpretations".
The Private Life of Chairman Mao was presented as revealing new information about Mao, but historian Mobo Gao has argued, "For those who are familiar with the literature in Chinese, there was in fact very little that was really new in the book when it hit the Western market.
For the significant figures and events described in Li's book, memoirs and biographies published previously in China and Hong Kong have revealed as much, if not more. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved The New York Times. Foreign Affairs. The Christian Science Monitor. Daily News. DeBorja, Q. Dong eds New York: China Study Group.
CS1 maint: extra text: authors list link Gao, Mobo London: Pluto Press. Li Zhisui London: Random House. Hong Kong: Liwen Chubanshe. Teiwes, Frederick Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Quoted in Gao Qi Benyu And Xu L.
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