The New Emperors

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Harrison Salisbury is a veteran China-watcher who has a total command of the written sources on that country. In THE NEW EMPERORS he draws on that background and many personal interviews to shape a coherent account of the tumultuous events that have wracked China since Mao Zedong established the Chinese People’s Republic in 1949.

Salisbury illuminates the events surrounding China’s entry into the Korean War. Despite American policymakers’ conclusion that China was responsible for North Korea’s aggression, it was the Soviet Union that masterminded the war. Mao—whose son Anying died in the war—was betrayed by Stalin, whom he always detested, and forced into a war that came just when he had begun to demobilize and plan for economic reconstruction.

At the same time, in 1950, fearing U.S. intentions, Mao began what is known as the Third Line project, turning a remote area in western China into “an impregnable arsenal.” Deng Xiaoping was chosen to carry out this task, but by the time he had established the necessary transportation and other facilities the political winds had shifted and it was the nearby western neighbor that worried Mao most.

Two terrible errors crippled Mao’s reign almost fatally: the disastrous Great Leap Forward, which began in 1958 and was phased out only in 1962 after it had caused widespread famine; and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which Mao initiated in 1966 and which brought China...

(The entire section is 449 words.)