Nigel Probert states (Letters, August 19) that Delia Davin reviewing Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Books, August 12) comes across as "an apologist for Mao". She does not. She gave a scholarly, balanced assessment of Mao.
Probert cites the figure of 70 million deaths that the authors use to discredit Mao. But the mortality rate during this period is open to dispute. While 30 million is the figure often quoted for deaths during the Great Leap Forward, no one knows how many would have died under a different government from famine caused by poor harvests due to the disastrous weather conditions that coincided with the Great Leap. Before the Communists came to power, Chinese governments did not have policies to save the millions who died regularly from drought or floods.
Furthermore, Chang and Halliday, in referring to Mao's Report on the Hunan Peasant Movement (19), are so keen to stress what they regard as his love of violence that they fail to appreciate the report's significance: that Mao was responsible for emphasising that the Chinese revolution must be based on the peasants who were already revolting. This helped the Communists to win the Civil War, since they had the support of 80 per cent of the population.
When the Communists came to power in 1949, Mao's charismatic leadership held China together in a way that probably no other Communist leader could have achieved. This was no mean feat since China had, from 1916 until 1949, disintegrated into chaos.
Mao led the Chinese Communists to give the poor free medical care, education, employment, cheap housing and pensions. But, after a decade in power, Mao changed. Why this happened still needs to be investigated.
Royal Holloway, University of London