Epic. Is perhaps the only way to describe a biography written over the course of thirty years. Doctor
Li became Mao Tse Tung's personal doctor in 1954 and was with him to the very end, even performing the autopsy on the titan of Communism in 1976. A committed Marxist himself Li gradually turned away from state doctrine as he saw with his own eyes the corruption at the very top of post revolutionary society, and as such the author's story is a heartfelt one.
This growing dissatisfaction is one of the many themes that run throughout the book, the story of his intertwined lives as a struggling family man and as a doctor on 24 hour call to the master of the universe.
Li describes the self serving and devious nature of Mao's wife and the rest of the gang of four, interested only in advancing their own position in the party system; unveils
the closeted lives of the politburo who know nothing of, and care less about the egregious privations of the hinterland peasantry;
and even exposes Mao's own corruption as the Chairman indulges himself with dancing (previously deemed too bourgeois by the revolution,) the best food and above all women.
It ain't all doom and gloom though as Li, writing in a superbly lucid style, describes his tenuous friendships and emnities within the
inner circle, the sycophancy of Mao's immediate supervisors and his own unofficial role as english teacher to the Chairman. Also fascinatingly revealed is the unbeliveable level of reverence Mao was held in by his countrymen and women.
This could have disastrous effects when the Chairman's words were taken at face value (as with his pronunciation that he liked the idea of backyard steel furnaces..the result being that his countrymen worked so fervently on them that they forgot to
harvest their crops and a famine swept China) but also comic ones. In one such episode The Chairman is presented with
a number of watermelons by the Pakistani ambassador. He donates one to a village whose collective farm has performed well but instead of sharing it out
amongst themselves they put it on display, filling it with formaldahyde when it starts to putrify, so Midas-like was the touch of the Chairman.
This is a hugely entertaining work and Dr. Li writes in such an economical and captivating fashion that the mystique
of the Communist bureaucracy and the ever changing power structure within Zhongnanhai is rendered easily understandable.