When President George W. Bush met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in the Oval Office this month, the talk turned to Merkel's childhood under Communism, then wandered into the subject of Bush's latest bedtime reading: "Mao: The Unknown Story," an 814-page biography that presents the Chinese dictator as another Hitler or Stalin.
There's the title of the book. I wonder if the publisher will now have to order a reprint. Even if the article is written with the intention of casting a negative light on Mr. Bush, just that paragraph alone makes you want to rush out and buy it; not because Bush is reading it, but because it sounds like a damned good book (and accurate, as well).
Emperor worship is something that Mao wanted to eliminate, but the Chinese people ended up trading one form of emperor worship for another and one form of tyranny for another. (That is usually the case when a leftist revolution takes place. See: Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela et al.)
Mao became a god and was revered even when he layed on his deathbed too incapacitated to run the country, like other Chinese leaders afterward. No one dared make a move until they were dead. There was no doubt some backroom jockeying going on, but nothing overt. Nothing that would show the slightest disrespect to a perceived elder statesman, would have been tolerated. (Confucianism still plays a strong philosophical role in the value system of the Chinese people and the Communists certainly exploited it, when it was in their interests to do so.)
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said last week that Laura Bush had given the book to her husband as a gift and that the president had just finished reading it. Asked why Bush liked the book, McClellan said he would find out, then reported back on Friday that Bush had told him that it "really shows how brutal a tyrant he was" and that "he was much more brutal than people assumed."
Sounds like a resounding endorsement, at least to me anyway.
One expert, Andrew Nathan from Columbia University is skeptical that it helps us understand today's leadership:
But they still allow their leadership to stay in power until they die. Many times no one is really in charge of the most populous country in the world, when their leader decides to be leader for life. I call that a dictatorship by committee, which was the the old Soviet system. They can claim they have overthrown the Maoist agrarian socialist economic system in favor of free markets and capitalism, but their government is still patterned after the Stalin's model.
"Today's Communist Party is a highly developed bureaucracy like IBM or General Motors," Nathan said. "It's not the Communist Party of Mao's time."
At least one historian said that perhaps people were reading too much into Bush's choice of reading, and that sometimes a book on Mao is just a book on Mao.
They got that part right. A book on Mao is a book on Mao. And since Mao was a tyrant, it's a safe bet that it is a book about a tyrant. Get it at your local bookstore, I plan to.