The book whose cover (title illustration) warns us off about the Yenan utopia was translated from the (obviously) censored diaries left by Peter Vladimirov (Пётр Парфёнович Владимиров); real name, Pyotr Parfenovich Vlasov, Russian: Пётр Парфёнович Власов; 1905 – 10 September 1953), whose same-day notes on things seen and heard more or less in real time it collects. (May 1942-Sept. 1945). It can be very boring to read: he was not a simple Tass correspondent but a Comintern operative charged with vetting Mao and his underlings as appropriate (or not) partners for/in Soviet maneuvering for post-War Asia. Charged as it were with filing daily (actually nightly) radio reports back to Moscow – reports that are not minutes of conversations but almost hearsay – he overreports, and repeats his cullings to the point of ennui for the reader. Most of what he has to say concerns his “spook’, Kang Sheng, who oversaw intelligence operations against the Party’s two principal enemies, the Japanese and the Kuomintang, as well as potential opponents of Mao within the Party. Since the period covered saw the gradual nudging out of former Internationalists (Wang Ming et al.), Vladimirov as a Comintern agent was naturally kept under the glass for signs of covert sympathy with Wang who was Mao’s great ideological animus. So reading his notes is rather similar to reading Arthur Koestler or Franz Kafka. One can almost feel him moving from paranoia to madness.
But not all of the suspiciousness of his narrative derives from his own anxieties: they derive equally from the oldstyle palace maneuverings of Mao and his (even then) devious wife, who would never gotten anywhere without her husband’s inability or disinterest in matters daily and follow-through.
As the famous photo of 1943 shows, Mao truly preferred playing Sage and Teacher to taking responsibility for hard decisions, and keeping track as he made (or didn’t make) them. So as the dreamy (self-centered) “Chairman” gazes off into the distance, his wife and factotum glares straight at the camera: an actress very much concerned with what her audience is thinking. And not embarrassed to show it. Even more reminiscent of the imperial court. Mao seems to prefer cloistered space, where he can overwhelm his visitor much as the hauteur of the court intimated foreign emissaries – hence so much time spent in the “Date Garden” villa, appropriated from a long forgotten local moneybags