The best books about China from the Mao years through Tiananmen

Andrew G. Walder Author Of China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed
By Andrew G. Walder

The Books I Picked & Why

June Fourth

By Jeremy Brown

Book cover of June Fourth

Why this book?

This newly published book is the definitive account of the Tiananmen protest movement of 1989 and its suppression, which has turned out to be the pivotal political event in the post-Mao era. Weaving a range of personal stories and new documentation into a highly readable analysis, it lays bare its unpredictable course and tragic but avoidable outcome. There is nothing else in print that manages to describe the drama while providing a shrewd and cool-headed critical scrutiny of a range of competing scholarly interpretations and official misrepresentations.

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Mao's Last Revolution

By Michael Schoenhals, Roderick Macfarquhar

Book cover of Mao's Last Revolution

Why this book?

This instant classic was the first to draw deeply on a wide range of previously inaccessible sources about the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976. Highly readable and authoritative, it provides extensive insight into Mao’s actions and those of his subordinates and victims and documents the destructive impact of these conflicts all across China from the initial salvos at Peking University in May 1966 to the immediate aftermath of Mao’s death, which led to the arrest of Mao’s most ardent radical followers, the “Gang of Four”.

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Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

By Ezra F. Vogel

Book cover of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

Why this book?

Tracing the remarkable career of Deng Xiaoping, twice purged in disgrace by Mao, but who re-emerged as China’s leader only 3 years after Mao’s death, this book shows how Deng was able to take China in a startling new direction, building the foundation for the country’s remarkable economic rise. It traces Deng’s actions and character from his early days as a revolutionary and Mao loyalist, to his disgrace as the second-leading victim of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, to his brief return to leadership before a second purge shortly before Mao’s death, and the shrewd strategy that he used to place China on a radical new course. Vogel provides an authoritative and highly readable account of a pragmatic and tough-minded figure who is arguably China’s most consequential politician of the 20th century.

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Tibet in Agony: Lhasa 1959

By Jianglin Li, Susan Wilf

Book cover of Tibet in Agony: Lhasa 1959

Why this book?

For years, the Dalai Lama was courted by Beijing in efforts to incorporate Tibet into the new Chinese Communist State. Drawing on official Chinese documents and memoirs and interviews with Tibetan emigres, Li pulls together a dramatic account of the maneuverings, miscalculations, and events during a critical period that culminated in an uprising in Lhasa that was violently crushed by the People’ Liberation Army, leading to the dramatic flight of the Dalai Lama to India. The account provides fresh new light on a dramatic failure of Chinese policy whose consequences are felt to the present day.

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Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962

By Yang Jisheng, Stacy Mosher

Book cover of Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962

Why this book?

Yang, a recent graduate of an elite Chinese university, was a reporter for the official New China News Agency during the Great Leap Forward of 1958 to 1960, and he witnessed first-hand the tragic consequences of misconceived agricultural policies that generated a well-documented 30 million deaths due to starvation, the greatest famine in Chinese history, almost entirely man-made. Yang’s vivid and heart-wrenching first-hand account, well-grounded in long-classified official documents, lays bare the suffering created by a bureaucratic machine that accelerated out of control, forcing peasants to turn over grain to the state even as they starved.

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