Jaipur Diary – Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
The anti-Mao couple.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Mao was as big a draw as Orhan Pamuk in the Jaipur Literature Festival. The ‘Vodafone’ Front Lawn in Diggi Palace Hotel – the venue – was full as Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday – the authors of Mao: The Unknown Story – took their seats. Dressed in a light-brown Chinese-style gown, Ms Chang was cheered by a group of college girls from Delhi who were waving copies of her bestselling memoir, Wild Swans. Coming straight to the point, Ms Chang said – as casually as talking about the sunny weather – that the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong was bad. “That’s what I wrote in Wild Swans. In writing his biography, I approached Mao with an open mind and discovered why he did what he did and how he got the power to do these horrible things.”
Mr Halliday, Ms Jung’s husband, is a Russia-expert. It was his discovery of various files on China in the Russian archives that led to the foundation of their book. During the session, Mr Halliday rarely looked at the crowd. His head was down and he would look up only to add another detail to caricature of Mao.
Together the couple painted the portrait of a man who was responsible for the death of 70 million people — and was a “tremendous womaniser”. Ms Jung and Mr Halliday also pointed out how he never took a bath or brushed his teeth. “Mao was bad, not bad,” Ms Chang said. People listened in silence as Ms Chang recounted growing up during the Cultural Revolution: she withstood electric shocks fives times a month while being forced to work as an (untrained) electrician.
Perhaps because they were talking to lit lovers, the anti-Mao couple condescended to inform that Mao was a booklover. Like a good team, the wife and husband would ask each other’s permission before speaking. Explaining how they wrote the Mao book, Ms Chang said, “Since I’m a Chinese, I translated the Chinese sources. Unfortunately, Jon knows many languages so he got the rest of the world.” As the session ended, Ms Chang was surrounded by fans, while Mr Halliday walked alone.
Your Wild Swans was lovely
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