April 24, 2006

BOOK: Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

As the planet starts its tug of war over peaking oil, its instructive to get a real world perspective of two nations who figure to be major players among nascent superpowers. Thomas Friedman gives a brief but illuminating picture of the impact of India on the process of globalization in his book The World is Flat.

But for a glimpse into the cultural evolution of Red China, no author is more qualified than expatriate Jung Change, Ph.D. Her first book "Wild Swans" introduces us to China through the eyes of her grandmother - a foot-bound, concubine at the turn of the century. It follows the rise of nationalist and then communist China through the eyes of her parents, early communist leaders who helped Mao wrest control of the mainland. We see Jung Change develop into a Red Guard at 14 and witness the brutality of the purges that the communists pursued in their relentless campaign to acquire superpower status. We suffer with Jung Chang and her parents as they face fear, deprivation and humiliation at the hands of a diabolical tyranny. Much to our great fortune, Jung Chang, a university student of English, was among the first Red Chinese to leave the mainland to study in England in 1978 - two years after Mao's death. Not much is revealed about Mao himself in "Wild Swans" (published in 1991).

In "Mao: The Unknown Story" we have a throughly detailed, incredibly well-researched biography of one of the most politically and morally corrupt tyrants to ever exist. Uncovering the lies and distortions of the legend of Mao from a culture shrouded in secrecy must have been a huge challenge for the authors. In spite of that, there are photographs, written interviews and corroborated accounts that managed to survive the 27 years of Mao's bloodthirsty reign. It is estimated that 70 million Chinese were starved or murdered during his megalomaniacal rule.

What does this have to do with biomass conversion? China is a great nation who is making up for lost generations and time. From the shambles of many decimated nations (Germany and Japan, for instance) hungry, motivated, powerful economies arise. It is my belief that, unless new decentralized means for the production of energy are developed quickly to slake their thirst for oil, developing superpowers will have to compete with developed high-consuming nations for longterm alliances that will secure their future. China's headlong rush for growth and security raises the spectre of diplomatic and military confrontation coupled with unchecked industrial pollution. In a country of quick, cheap manufacturing, waste-to-energy conversion holds great promise for helping China develop energy independence, or at least lessen fossil fuel dependence, while providing clean technology for reducing pollution.


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