Out of Mao's Shadow

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am

Out of Mao's Shadow

by Philip Pan

Picador Asia, HK$187

Mao Zedong may have died three decades ago and China undergone a breathtaking makeover during that time but, Philip Pan writes, the Chinese have yet to escape the Great Helmsman's shadow. In The Struggle for the Soul of a New China (the subtitle) he shows a country pitted between an elite determined to preserve the authoritarian status quo and others champing for change. His portraits of those pushing for democracy, tolerance and truth make memorable reading. Among them is former Red Guard Zeng Zhong, who is documenting the deceased at a cemetery in Chongqing dedicated to people killed in the Cultural Revolution: he waits at the site for relatives or friends of the dead to show up then approaches them for information. Pan, a foreign correspondent for the Washington Post, also features a documentary filmmaker whose project was to learn about Lin Zhao, a poet executed in the 1960s for criticising the Communist Party. Many who knew her declined to participate: they thought it better not to bring up the past. What will come of the efforts of those trying not to forget is uncertain. As Pan writes, 'There is nothing automatic about political change.'