The New Emperors

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Mao Zedong’s establishment of the Chinese People’s Republic on October 1, 1949, culminated a long struggle by Mao and his confederates, first against the Chinese warlords, then from 1922 onward against Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalists. Mao was born in 1893 in the isolated little village of Shaoshan in Hunan Province, son of a hard, grasping peasant intent on becoming a successful middle-class landholder. Mao was pleased to have his bodyguards call him Lao Tu, the Old Peasant.

When Mao died in 1976, he was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping, one of his oldest and most trusted intimates in the Communist Party. Deng was born in the nondescript hamlet of Paifangcun in northern Sichuan Province to a family much more prosperous than Mao’s. Deng enjoyed the blessings that came with being the oldest son of rural gentry. As a child, he was known as Xianwa, or Good Boy. Whereas Mao, the Old Peasant, stayed close to home, Deng was in France on a work-study program when Mao helped found the Chinese Communist Party on July 1, 1921. In 1927, when Chiang Kaishek turned against the Communists and slaughtered thousands of them in Shanghai, Deng Xiaoping disappeared into the Shanghai Communist underground and Mao retreated with his followers to Jinggang Mountain in Jiangxi Province. A Soviet faction drove Mao from command in 1932, but during the Long March of 1934-1935, Mao regained the power that he held until his death. Deng made the Long March as one of Mao’s supporters, and their lives were closely intertwined from then on.

During the protracted war against the Japanese from 1935 until 1946, Mao and his Communists stayed entrenched at their base in Yanan in Shaanxi Province. When they emerged, it took them three years to wear down Chiang’s Nationalists, but by 1949 Chiang was isolated in Taiwan and Mao felt confident enough that autumn to proclaim the Chinese People’s Republic on October 1. The events of the next thirty-two years form the substance of The New Emperors, and they constitute an engrossing story.

Chairman Mao’s first big challenge in guiding his new republic was to establish satisfactory relations with Joseph Stalin. When Mao’s forces had captured Chiang Kaishek in 1936, Stalin had ordered him released immediately. From then on, Mao had distrusted Stalin, but in 1949 he believed that he had no alternative but to look to the Soviet Union for help, since it was clear that he could expect none from the United States.

In December, 1949, Mao traveled by train to Moscow for the events surrounding Stalin’s seventieth birthday. When Mao returned two months later, after a trip fraught with a bad cold and many annoyances, he and Stalin had patched together a treaty agreement on defense, friendship, and mutual aid. Stalin gained more from this pact than Mao did, and United States policymakers saw in the agreement a capitulation to the Kremlin that made Mao’s China little more than a Soviet puppet state.

How wrong this assessment was has become clearer as the political maneuvering regarding the Korean War has come to light. Salisbury believes that North Korea began the fighting on June 25, 1950, at Stalin’s orders (a Central Intelligence Agency report of June 19, 1950, concluded that the Soviet Union had complete control over North Korea) and that Mao was as surprised by the attack as Harry Truman was. That Mao had no military ambitions in Korea is suggested by his severe cuts in the People’s Liberation Army in preparation for invading Taiwan and seizing Tibet.

Stalin soon had Mao committed to sending ground troops into Korea, but he backed out of his promise of air support after Mao had gone too far to withdraw without losing face. By early November, Mao had surprised Stalin by his grit and moved 350,000 soldiers into North Korea. (American intelligence reported 10,000.) All of these events support Salisbury’s long-held contention that Stalin’s purpose was to shove China into a fatal war with the United States.

In the same year, 1950, Mao sent the reliable Deng Xiaoping to southwestern China to supervise what became known as the Third Line project. This was Deng’s homeland, an area of more than a million square miles. Deng’s first two responsibilities were to eliminate any of Chiang Kaishek’s troops that remained and to establish power in Tibet. Beyond these two comparatively routine operations, Deng was to create the highly secret military-industrial complex that made up the Third Line—a fortress retreat that was to keep China’s essential powers safe from American attack deep in the Chongqing-Chengdu-Guiyang triangle in Sichuan Province.

The centerpiece of this undertaking was to be an expansion of the manufacturing center Chiang had already begun in Chongqing. To connect Chongqing to the rest of the country, Deng had first to build a railroad, very quickly, to Chengdu, through impassable mountains and gorges. He did it in...

(The entire section is 2020 words.)