The Premature Ending of The Unknown Mao

The following is the translation of a story about the Chinese-language edition of the book "Mao: The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.  Originally scheduled to be released in May, the project has now been aborted by its Taiwan-based publisher.  This story explains how it came to this.

Please be mindful that there has been a long raging debate about the book conducted in the Chinese-language forums and blogs.  None of that shows up in English.  This story gives only the briefest summary of the culmination of those debates.

(ChineseNewsNet)  The Unexpected Premature Death of Jung Chang's "Mao: The Unknown Story".  By Huang Kun (黃琨).  April 21, 2006.

The Chinese-language edition of "Mao: The Unknown Story" by Chinese writer Jung Chang and her husband was originally scheduled to be released in May.  Recently, the news came out that the project has been aborted.  The chairman of Yuanliou Publishing Company (遠流出版公司) Wang Jung-Wen (王榮文) announced that he has abandoned the effort to publish the traditional and simplified character versions of the book.

When the English-language version of "Mao: The Unknown Story" came out, it raced to the top of the bestseller lists in Europe and America.  It was translated in French, German, Russian and Japanese.  Even President George W. Bush said that he has read the book, and the new Germany chancellor Angela Merkel talked about the book when she visited the United States.  But many of the points of view in the book also led to huge debates, as many historians and sinologists in Europe and America including Yale University history professor Jonathan Spence (in the New York Review of Books) all wrote to point out the weak bases for many of the arguments.  In the Chinese-language world, the debate between affirmation and negation is even more vigorous.

The Chinese-language edition had been delayed.  ChineseNewsNet had learned that the book had been translated by Jung Chang herself, and then given to Yuanliou Publishing Company to distribute the book globally in traditional and simplified Chinese character forms.  The information was that Jung Chang made partial amendments based upon the background of the Chinese-language readers.  According to Yuanliou chairman Wang Jung-wen: "For the Chinese people, there are many background things that do not have to be explained.  It may be necessary to be more verbose for the western reader, because he may not know the background of contemporary Chinese history, but there is not need to write in such detail for the Chinese reader.  Therefore, there were some additions and deletions.  She personally handled the work."  He also added: "Of all the language editions, the Chinese version is the most important one for her."  Yuanliou said at the time that it expected to print 20,000 copies each of the traditional and simplified character editions. 

The Chinese-language edition was originally said to be released at the end of 2005.  It was then pushed back to April this year, and then later to May.  Various rumors began to appear in the streets.

According to an informed insider, the major reason for the premature death of the Chinese edition was not about the assessments and arguments with respect to Mao Zedong.  Instead, the book's categorical assessments of other persons caused a huge controversy, especially since the book stated categorically that President Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石)'s favorite general Hu Tsung-nan (胡宗南) was a "Red sleeper."  Not only do the academics think that the proof was inadequate, but Hu Tsung-nan's son Hu Wei-jen (who is the current Taiwan representative to Singapore) protested.  Later, all the Taiwan alumni of the Whampoa Military School's Seventh Branch School wrote to protest that "the quotations were inaccurate to the point of utter absurdity, the facts were twisted and there is the suspicion of malicious slander and libel of a dedicated loyalist with damages to the achievements and reputation of the Hu Tsung-nan's life of honesty, loyalty and sacrifice to the nation."

They negotiated with Jung Chang and Yuanliou chairman Wang Jung-wen and asked  Jung Chang to revise or even remove chapter 29 related to Hu Tsung-nan or else they would sue for libel.  After many negotiations, Jung Chan insisted on keeping the section.  As a result of the unsuccessful negotiations, Hu Wei-jen (胡為真) asked for an order of injunction from the appropriate departments: if the section of the book concerning General Hu Tsung-nan is not fully edited, it cannot be published; if it is published elsewhere, then it cannot be imported in Taiwan.  The penalty otherwise is confiscation plus huge fines.

Concerning the assessment in the book of Hu Tsung-nan and other people, Taiwan's China Times reporter Fu Jian-chung (傅建中), mainland Chinese scholar Zhang Lifan (章立凡) and others have written reports and essays to say that they find it hard to accept Jung Chang's conclusions.  Their doubts were sharply rebutted by Jung Chang's younger brother Pu Chang (張朴).  These questions and responses were fully covered by ChineseNewsNet.

Last month, the representatives of the Taiwan alumni of the Whampoa Chinese Academy's Seventh Branch School visited Yuanliou.  There was a 2-1/2 hour protest with citations of evidence.  Yuanliou workers described the situation as a "grand sight to see so many stars in the sky," in reference to the many generals who came.  Faced with these immense pressures, chairman Wang Jung-wen said that Yuanliou had invited Academia Sinica academician Professor Chen Yung-fa (陳永發), who specialized in the history of the Chinese Communist Party, to write the foreword to Jung Chang's book and that this controversy can be handled after Professor Chen studied the matter.

ChineseNewsNet has learned that Chinese Communist Party history expert, Academia Sinica academician and Academia Sinica Institute of Contemporary History director Chen Yung-fa has completed the draft of the foreword of the book.  Based upon his research, "there is insufficient proof" that Hu Tsung-nan was a Chinese Communist Party spy."  "If Jung Chang wants to raise the issue, she must provide proof."  He also said that there are complicated reasons why battles are won or lost.  The defeat of Hu Tsung-nan by the Communists may be due to his being headstrong or making bad judgments.  "But we cannot say that all battle defeats are the results of espionage."

Yuanliou Publishing Company chairman Wang Jung-wen confirmed late night on April 19 that after many mediations, the editor and writer could not reach an agreement about how to edit the disputed sections of the book towards a "neutral narrative."  Therefore, Yuanliou has decided to abandon publication.  Wang Jung-wen emphasized that Yuanliou is taking a cautious approach in the editing and wished that the evidence on which the claims are made could be more convincing.

Wang Jung-wen said that Yuanliou abandoned the publication because there was no direct evidence in Jung Chang's work which could convince him.  As an editor, he had to take an editorial stand.

According to CTI TV, during the negotiations between publisher and author, many possibilities were brought up.  Wang Jun-wen explained that under the principle of "neutral narrative," Jung Chang can still express a high degree of integrity.  For example, in the more controversial statements ("Hu Tsung-nan might be a Red agent"), one can add "but this is not conclusive."  It is also possible to attach the website URL of Yuanliou Publishing Company which will publish the opinions of the Hu family.  Both sides were also willing to contemplate the precedent of the biography of German psychoanalyst C.G. Jung, in which the opinions of the descendants of Jung were included in an appendix of the book.  But after half a year of negotiations, no proposal was acceptable to all the parties.

Jung Chang was originally scheduled to come to Taiwan to promote the book, but the trip will possibly be cancelled.  Yuanliou has already notified Jung Chang and her literary agent Zhong Fangling about its decision.

"Mao: The Unknown Story" was originally offered up for auction to several Taiwan publishing companies, and Yuanliou won the bid.  Wang Jung-wen did not want to discuss the loyalty fees or quantities, but industry sources say that the loyalties should be between USD 50,000 and USD 80,000.

Wang Jung-wen expressed regret at "losing a popular seller" but he also experienced "a sense of loss."  He said that an editor must assume a loftier position with respect to historical materials.  He hopes that the discussion about the book can return to a rational academic discourse.

Jung Chang and her literary agent Zhong Fangling have not responded to the requests for interview by ChineseNewsNet.  But last week, Zhong Fangling said that she has "absolutely nothing to say about her position" in this matter.  According to information, Jung Chang is emphasizing that Yuanliou was forced into abandoning the publication of the book after pressure from the descendants of Hu Tsung-nan and his former subordinates.  She believes that the proposed amendments from the publishing company involve revising history and are therefore unacceptable.  Jung Chang said that to use historical materials to write about a historical figure such as Mao Zedong, she must hold that everything must have a basis and she used annotations to indicate the sources of her historical materials.  She holds no malice or hatred towards Hu Tsung-nan personally nor against his descendants.

CTI TV reports that the academic scholars commonly do not regard "Mao: The Unknown Story" as a serious academic work, as the historical materials cannot be said to be complete or reliable.  Chen Yung-fa said that opinions can be publicized so that people can make their own assessments and criticisms.  But he also said that Jung Chang's work contained "too many jumps to conclusions with a predetermined opinion about Mao Zedong."  Also the relationship between the evidence and the conclusions are not tight, and therefore this cannot be treated as a scholarly work.  He believes that "Mao: The Unknown Story" might be a "popular book with some scholarly foundation."

ChineseNewsNet has published many reports and opinion essays about this new book from Jung Chang.  For example, we have provided space for people to comment on the veracity of the Luding Bridge incident in the Long March of the Red Army, or whether Chiang Kai-shek went easy on the Red Army after Soviet Russia let his son return, or whether Shao Lizi and Zhang Zhizhong were Chinese Communist spies and so on.  Last year, ChineseNewsNet editor-in-chief He Pin interviewed Jung Chang during her visit in the United States and asked her to explain many doubts.  The exchange between the two sides is going on unabated in the ChineseNewsNet blogs.

Many commentators say: They object to this book not to defend the reputation of Mao Zedong, and they are definitely not advocating returning to the Mao Zedong line.  They do so to restore history in a pragmatic manner and to provide objective and fair historical assessments of historical figures.