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Becoming Madam Mao

Cover of Becoming Madam Mao

Author: Anchee Min

Genre: Literary Fiction
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9780749004880
Rights: UK & Comm ex Canada
Pub. Date: 14th July 2000

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Price: £16.99

Format: Hardback

Synopsis of book»

This is the epic tale of one woman's life - of her journey from poverty to notoriety, from the slums to the Forbidden City. Hers is a story of defiance and determination, politics and passion - this is her quest to become a heroine.

Becoming Madame Mao is a powerful novel tracing the story of China's first lady from her youth as the unwanted daughter of a prostitute, her time as a struggling and later as a renown actress and ultimately her political downfall at the death of her husband. Evocative, poetic and mythic - Anchee Min's book is an attempt to reinstate the position of Madame Mao, a woman who has been virtually written out of the history books.

This is a fascinating insight into the intimacies and psychology of the woman responsible for the Cultural Revolution. Hers is a personal life filled with rejection and betrayal from both family and friends - insecurities and paranoia ultimately prove to be accurate as Madame Mao's world comes crashing down around her.

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'Yes, Jiang Chaing was evil at the prime of her career (Anchee Min should know this clearly as she was in a labor camp during the Mai regime and later was recruited by Jiang Chaing for her theatre) - but no one was born evil. This book is not a justification for Madame Mao, but a "histo-fiction" to try to gain some insight into what events and personality traits come together to form someone who can do such awful things.
The story is good, and takes you from feeling sorry for her as a little girl trying to escape her mother's fate, to cheering for her to get the acting parts and accomplish her dreams, to being disgusted by her describing how to torture cancer patients to get them to say something incriminating about her more moderate rivals.
The book irked me in one sense though. The writing style - switching between first person and third person every few paragraphs (without any pattern!) made it hard to read. Kinda like listening to a good CD that has a scratch. I almost gave up on it in the first few chapters, but in the end, I gritten my teeth and accepted the writing for the sake of the story.'Trish

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'I have just finished reading this riveting novel. It never ceases to amaze me how we human beings spend our whole life playing out the scenes of our childhood. The psychological insight that Anchee Min brings to the life of Madame Mao may help us have compassion for even the most horrid personality. Highly recommended for any woman determined to find her own voice!' Suza Francina --, author, activist, yoga teacher.Suza Francina

'The concubine does not even want a daughter, especially one who rejects tradition by refusing to bind her feet. So the teenage Yunhe eventually flees her oppressive family and what she believes is backwater customs to join an opera troupe. She quickly gained fame as a Shanghai actress named Lan Ping. Later she meets, falls in love with, and marries Mao Zedeng, who renames her Jiang Ching. Madame Mao supports her spouse during the revolutionary period when they spend time in hiding in the mountains until the Japanese lose. She accompanies him when the Communists take control of China. Madame Mao is part of the inner circle of advisers to her spouse, but constantly falls in and out of favor. When Mao dies in 1976, she makes a play to replace him only to lose.'Harriet Klausner

'This is an impressionist version of the life of the woman who became Jiang Qing, Madame Mao. The point of view shifts back and forth from within the mind of Jiang Qing, to the view of a bystander near to the action, to the view of a historian recounting from a distance in time as well as space. The effect is like a film which uses a hand-held camera with a zoom lens - you get a sense of perspective and detail at the same time. Not every writer could pull this off, but Anchee Min does it.
This is a small book, and it assumes that the reader is fairly familiar with the historical drama of Mao's China which Jiang Qing helped direct and choreograph. It is an intimate book, totally focussed on the central character, with the other elements of history and fate revolving around her.
Anchee Min succeeds in creating a character for Jiang Qing which accounts for much that seems inexplicable in her many-faceted career as she is in turn the unvalued daughter of an alcoholic peasant , a film starlet, a soldier, a wife and mother, a director of film and stage, and ultimately a dictator whose absolute power corrupted her absolutely. An easy, informative, and absorbing read.'Allyson Johnson

'The woman who became the wife of Chairman Mao was many people before she earned world-wide notoriety for her role in the tragedies of the Cultural Revolution. Her constant reinvention of herself (each time with a new name) adds up to fascinating reading. Author Anchee Min was herself one of the young women plucked from obscurity (a collective farm) by Madame Mao to play heroines in Chinese patriotic films (a story told in "Red Azalea") and she writes that she always found Madame Mao more sympathetic than she is usually represented. Ms. Min must be a very empathetic person, because the Mme Mao we see is scary as hell. After barely escaping having her feet bound, the young Mme. M. begins a life of struggling, scraping, and plotting. She is attracted to the Communist cause, which gives her ambitions a goal she finds compatible with her career as an actress. She forgets no slight, no lover who turned his back on her, no director who didn't cast her, and she gets back at them all once her star rises. She discovers that her own greatest talent lies in manoevering the labrynthine snares of Chinese politics, which puts her intelligence, cunning, and intuition to the test. Politics is her salvation and her downfall.
It is difficult to know what name to call her in this review - by the time she became Jiang Jing this brilliant chameleon had taken on so many different personas that perhaps even she was not sure who she was.
How can her story be told? Is anything for sure? What can be proved? Anchee Min weaves fact and fiction to create a complex portrait of one of the most intriguing people in recent history. Min learned English as an adult, with an adult's understanding of depth of meaning. Her writing is prickly and interesting, which adds richness to a story about which she has an insider's view.
Min's first book, "Red Azalea" was so remarkable that equalling it is a formidable task. "Becoming Madame Mao" is not as satisfying, but it is an excellent inside look at events which are still little understood in the West.'Candace

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