The Exile and the Ghost-Writer: East-West Biographical Politics and The Private Life of Chairman Mao

Jolly, Margaretta (2000) The Exile and the Ghost-Writer: East-West Biographical Politics and The Private Life of Chairman Mao. Biography, 23 (3). pp. 481-503. ISSN 01624962

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Despite the official condemnation of Li and his bestselling The Private Life of Chairman Life of Chairman Mao by the Chinese authorities, I argue in this paper that it is not unrepresentative of current trends in Chinese biography, which are increasingly debunking in aim, whether for critical or commercial reasons. However the degree to which this text does this, particularly in its revelations of Mao's sex life, and the latent liberal ideology behind it, reflects its construction in the United States, both in terms of general American biographical practices and the particular role of its ghost writer, Anne Thurston. The fictional techniques of docu-drama suggest not only the marketing policies of Random House but the general Western establishment of biography as a populist genre of history told through individuals lives, despite the scholarship that Thurston and her research team brought to it. This makes it ironic that Thurston herself has expressed deep reservations about the book within which she played such an integral, if mostly unrecognised part. Her disappointment at Li's failure to confess in addition to testifying, raises provocative questions about the general lack of critical Cultural Revolution autobiography in China. But it also suggests once again, a broader conflict of views on life writing West and East, in which the potential for social healing in the Western (Christian) tradition of confessional life writing is perhaps being over-idealised or at least over-applied in the Chinese context.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > Centre for Community Engagement
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research
Depositing User: Margaretta Jolly
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 19:56
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2018 15:56
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