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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mao and Books

In my last post I reviewed The Mao Case by Qiu Xiaolong. In the book Chief Inspector Chen Cao is given a sensitive political assignment. Did Mao give to former “dancing partner”, Shang, anything that might prove embarrassing if revealed in contemporary China? It is not far fetched that he might have given to her something he had written.

Everyone is aware of the Little Red Book of Mao’s quotations that was carried by millions of Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

I was less aware that he was a poet and loved books to the end of his life.

An example from a collection of Mao’s poems is Ode to the Plum Blossom:

            After wind and rain seeing off the spring,
            Flying snow comes as a harbinger of the spring.
            On the ice-covered cliff,
            The plum blossom still shines,
            Pretty, she does not claim the spring for herself,
            Content to be a herald of spring
            When hills are ablaze with wildflowers,
            In their midst she smiles.

I cannot think of a current political leader who could have written Ode to the Plum Blossom.

Trying to gain some insight into what Mao might have given to Shang, Chen gains access to Mao’s private quarters which had been closed to the public for several years.

Qiu Xiaolong describes Mao’s bedroom at the end of his life in Beijing:

What struck him as unusual in the room was the extraordinarily big bed. Larger that a king-size one, apparently custom-made, but apart from its size, it was simple and plain. About a quarter of the bed was practically covered with books. It appeared as if Mao had slept with books.

I found the photo of Mao's bedroom at the top of this post in a Chinese website. I do not know when it was taken but I find it incredibly evocative of Qiu Xiaolong’s description of the room.

While sleeping with books is far from an image surprising to avid readers and book bloggers it was not what I expected to hear of Mao.

What was he reading:

Chen reached out and picked one up, Zizhi Tongjian, sometimes called the “Mirror of History.” It was a history book written by Sima Guang, a renowned Confucian scholar in the Song dynasty, intended to mirror history in such a way that emperors could learn lessons by examining it. Mao was said to have read it seven or eight times. Most of the books on the bed turned out to be similar classics and histories.

There is nary a mention of any of the works of Karl Marx or later communist writers.

It was a solitary existence for Mao in those final years filled with books:

And Chen couldn’t help imagining Mao alone in the room, reading late into the night. According to the official publications, Madam Mao didn’t live with Mao. In his last ten years, Mao lived by himself – except for his personal secretaries, nurses and orderly …… At night, however, surrounded by the ancient books, paranoid of “capitalist roaders” who would try to usurp his power and “restore capitalism,” Mao suffered from insomnia, hardly able to move because of his failing health …

I am not sure what emotions I have in learning that Mao, who brought about the deaths of millions, especially through the Cultural Revolution, cared passionately about books and wrote poetry.


  1. Oh that was interesting Bill - it sounds so strange and unlikely, I agree with you.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. During the two hour drive home from Saskatoon this evening I was thinking about another area of Mao's life that was involved in the book that is far more predictable.

  2. Bill - I must say, that's a side of Mao that I wasn't aware of either. I'm glad Qiu writes about it though, as I think we are often quick to put people, especially famous/notorious people, into certain categories without having a full understanding of their lives. As you say, Mao brought about millions of deaths and was responsible for quashing who knows how many ideas that might have been phenomenal. To know this about him is cognitive dissonance...

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think we would like the famous to be more predictable than the average but Mao confirms the famed are as filled with contradictions as the rest of us.

  3. I wasn't aware of the extent of Mao's passion for books - and yes, it just goes to show people are more complex than we might expect. I suppose it's like Hitler's vegetarianism and love for his dogs, or Stalin's shy smile and fatherly moments.

    1. Marina: Thanks for the comment. Wait until my next post. It is about Mao and his dancing partners.