The Future of China after Mao Analysis

Ross Terrill

The Future of China after Mao

Ross Terrill may well be one of the most readable authors of Chinese current events, and in The Future of China After Mao, he maintains this reputation, even though this is probably his most intellectual analysis of the country. The book is based on the events which shook China during 1976 and 1977, including the death of Prime Minister Chou En-lai, the earthquake of Tangshan, the death of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leader Chu Teh, the death of Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the struggle between leftist Chiang Ch’ing (Mao’s widow) and her Gang of Four against present Chairman Hua Kuo-feng, and China’s economic and strategic position in the world.

Unlike his other books, in which he weaves the contents around his travels in the People’s Republic of China and uses different incidents to emphasize points he wishes to make about life in China, much of the information in this book consists of Terrill’s interpretation of articles which appeared in the People’s Daily and other publications. The author retains his colorful use of the English language. For example, he describes Hua as having “The charisma of an insurance clerk,” and mentions “The Year of the Snake—1977—slithering in.” Given a few facts, he vividly reconstructs major events, such as Hua’s coup over the Gang of Four.

A chronological list of the major events of 1976 and 1977 prefaces the book and allows the reader to keep time sequences straight during some of the extensive descriptions. Also included is a glossary of important persons and events which is very helpful to the reader who may still be easily confused by Chinese names and terminology. Terrill’s introduction, consisting of an overview of America’s changing attitudes toward China, is a refreshing change from the usual descriptions of Imperial China and the Dynastic Cycle which generally comprise the introduction of most books about China. After establishing China’s place in the world today, Terrill describes the events in China at the time of Mao’s death by giving brief biographies of major persons such as Mao, Chou, Teng Hsiao-p’ing, Hua and Chiang Ch’ing and the Gang of Four, and the part they played in Chinese political affairs in 1976-1977. Finally, Terrill offers an analysis of Chinese relations with Russia, Taiwan, and the United States.

Many of the chapters overlap, and Terrill’s major points, such as the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, are discussed in the light of the main topic of various chapters. A chapter on Chou En-lai, for example, reveals the effect this man had on opening talks between the United States and China. Another chapter, on the Gang of Four, mentions the leftist reaction to United States-Chinese relations and speculates as to what might have occurred had the Gang won the struggle for power following Mao’s death. Finally, Terrill uses his chapter on Sino-United States relations to reiterate and thereby emphasize his major premises and objectives.

Terrill makes no attempt to conceal his feelings toward many of the people he mentions. In the chapter on Chou En-lai, it is clear that Terrill feels a tremendous respect for Chou and considered him a better statesman and politician than Mao. His animosity toward Chiang Ch’ing and the Gang of Four is apparent, although it is difficult to determine whether this reaction springs from the groups’ leftist ideology, or from Terrill’s belief that ideology would hinder China in establishing diplomatic relations, and certainly cultural exchange, with other countries. One of the major points Terrill uses to discredit the Gang of Four is the conflict over ideology which has been brewing in China during the past two decades and which was demonstrated in the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s.

According to Mao, the purpose of the Cultural Revolution was to let young people experience revolution by purging the bourgeoisie and “capitalist roaders” who were gaining control in China, and at the same time to set up the controlled contradictions which would move China toward its goal of “pure” Communism. However, Terrill considers the Cultural Revolution a power ploy directed by Mao against the growing bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party. He states that China at the time was “classless” and that the villains against whom Mao rallied the country, economically speaking, did not exist, which created a credibility gap in the ideology of the party.

Terrill accuses Chiang Ch’ing of prolonging the Cultural Revolution in terms of the credibility gap, but does not show how it relates to the “red-expert” which was one of the major movements of the insurrection and which, in reality, formed the basis of the conflict between the Gang and the Hua-Teng regime. In the Cultural Revolution, the “red-expert” conflict was illustrated in the “Hsia fang” movement, assigning “experts” consisting mainly of students to common laboring jobs in the country. Chiang Ch’ing stressed redness (political purity) and used this philosophy to control...

(The entire section is 2088 words.)


Choice. XV, December, 1978, p. 1439.

Kirkus Reviews. XLVI, April 1, 1978, p. 427.

Library Journal. CIII, May 15, 1978, p. 1060.

New Republic. CLXXIX, August 19, 1978, p. 37.

New York Times Book Review. July 2, 1978, p. 4.