A gripping narrative of the Truman Administration's response to the fall of Nationalist China and the triumph of Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949—an extraordinary political revolution that continues to shape East Asian politics to this day. Read more...
- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Sept 2017
From the cover
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2017 Kevin Peraino
October 1, 1949, Beijing
Bodies jostled, elbow to elbow, angling all morning for a spot in the square. Soldiers clomped in the cold—tanned, singing as they marched, steel helmets and bayonets under the October sun. Tanks moved in columns two by two; then howitzers, teams of ponies, gunners shouldering mortars and bazookas. On the flagstones, in front of the imperial gate, men and women craned their necks toward a platform above a portrait of Mao Zedong, painted in hues of blue, hanging beside tubes of blue neon. Underneath, a sprinkling of yellow streamers rippled in the crowd. Nearly everything else in the frenzied square was red.
Shortly after three p.m., a tall figure in a dark woolen suit stepped up to a bank of microphones atop the gate. He lifted a sheet of folded paper, pursed his lips, and glanced down at a column of Chinese characters. A double chin rested against his collar; heavy jowls had long since submerged his cheekbones. Although Mao was still only in his mid-fifties, he was not in good health. He rarely went to bed before dawn. For years he had punished his body with a masochistic regimen of stewed pork, tobacco, and barbiturates. Occasionally, overcome by a spell of dizziness, he would suddenly stagger—one symptom of the circulatory condition that his doctors called angioneurosis. Still, he had retained into middle age what one acquaintance described as "a kind of solid elemental vitality"—a kinetic magnetism that photographs could never quite manage to convey.
On this day, Mao's speech, delivered in his piping Hunanese, was nothing particularly memorable: a few lines praising the heroes of the revolution and damning the British and American imperialists and their stooges. But the celebration that followed, marking the birth of the People's Republic of China, was a cathartic spectacle. Mao pressed a button, the signal to raise the flag—yellow stars against a field of crimson—and a band broke into "March of the Volunteers," the new national anthem, with its surging chorus of "Arise, arise, arise!" An artillery battery erupted in salute; a formation of fighter jets slashed across the sky.
The sun set, and the party went on: fireworks raced toward their peaks, rockets of white flame—then fell, smoldering but harmless, into crowds of giddy children. Red gossamer banners billowed in the evening breeze, undulating like enormous jellyfish; to one witness, the British poet William Empson, they possessed a kind of "weird intimate emotive effect." Lines of paraders hoisted torches topped with flaming rags; others carried lanterns crafted from red paper—some shaped like stars, some like cubes, lit from within by candles or bicycle lamps. Slowly, singing, the glowing procession bled out into the city.
Among the marchers was a boy of sixteen, Chen Yong. He held a small red flickering cube. He had been twelve years old when he joined Mao's army, though he had looked even younger—a year or two, at least. He had studied Morse code, one of the few jobs for a boy his age, then joined a unit that fought its way through Manchuria. As the long civil war was coming to a close, Chen's father had thrown his boy back in school. But on this night no one was studying. The war was over; Mao had won. Chen carried his lantern into the dark.
Nearly seven decades after this celebratory light show, I visited Chen Yong at his home in Beijing, an unfussy apartment block in one of the city's western neighborhoods. Chen was now in his early eighties; his hair had gone white, and a...