Dragon in Ambush by Jeremy Ingalls is a critique and new translation of the first twenty poems of Mao Zedong’s published poetry. This seminal work stands out from previous translations of Mao’s poems in seeing them as an expression of his core political beliefs, rather than for their poetic effect. Instead, Dr. Ingalls shows in consummate detail that Mao was careful and deliberate in employing imagery in his poetry to lay out procedures for political supremacy in which the central drive was his will to psychological domination. That is, domination of the minds of others is the unifying theme of Mao’s verse-sequence.
The crux of Prof. Ingalls’ work lies in her focus on the symbolism in the poems. The poems are, in Mao’s use of them as a means of communication, meaningless on their surface. No image, however seemingly commonplace, is ever employed for merely lyrical or aesthetic description. Every image functions as a factor in an entirely political calculus. According to Dr. Ingalls, “When Mao mentions streams or mountains, suns or moons, clouds or winds or icicles, horses, elephants, snakes, tigers, leopards or bears, specifies kinds of trees or birds or fish, flies, brooms, mats or bridges, these and all his other images have, as their primary function, neither happenstance descriptions nor whimsical metaphor. They all have politically symbolic functions in Mao’s algebra of versified political discourse.”
Furthermore, in her analysis, Prof. Ingalls downplays the significance of Marxism-Leninism in the Thought of Mao Zedong. She shows that throughout his career, Mao regarded Marxism-Leninism as a political convenience, not as a doctrine permanently essential to his master-plan. Just as Mao used the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek and Stalin’s Soviet Union as means to further his own political ambitions, so did he manipulate Marxist-Leninist ideology to hoodwink and attract, at home and abroad, professional revolutionaries to help do his bidding. Mao’s aims express, in their worldviews, an entirely Chinese tradition. In his poems Mao’s dialectics, his materialism, and his authoritarianism all take their points of reference from within the Chinese cultural order. Dragon in Ambush is a thoroughly unique and revolutionary approach to understanding the Mind of Mao Zedong.
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Reiko Murata is shocked and dismayed when she receives a haiku poem from her late husband, an admiral in the Japanese Imperial Navy, suggesting she follow his example in committing seppuku, ritual suicide, an appeal she strongly resists.
It’s 1947, and Reiko lives a solitary and uneventful life. As she grieves his death, and struggles to deal with her loneliness, she feels torn between her desire for autonomy and the rigid customs that define Japanese society.
In her search, she encounters a younger man, Akira Kusano. They begin an affair, but she is wary of a deeper relationship, especially when she discovers he is connected to the yakuza. She’s drawn into the crime syndicate’s orbit when Akira introduces her to Kazuo Fujita, the yakuza godfather. Despite her misgivings and warnings from Akira, she begins working with Fujita, and finds herself at the center of a mystery involving secret maps to a hidden fortune called Golden Lily.
Drugs, gems, money, power, honor and lives are at stake in the contentious Kokang region of Southeast Asia.
Matt Erickson is living a reasonably successful life as a Hong Kong businessman in the early 1980s when he receives a telegram that upends his life: His brother Luke, a Marine, has gone missing in Burma, and a body that might be his has been found. Matt, also a Marine, resolves to find Luke. The challenges during his search include a dicey political situation with warring armed factions financed by drug and gem trades, as well as difficult-to-penetrate terrain. At the same time, Florence Chen—the woman Matt loves—is being tapped to serve as a clan chief for Kokang, the ethnic-Chinese area of Burma that jealously guards its global financial interests—including heroin. How will her clan responsibilities affect her relationship with Matt? And Ty Matson, leading the mission from which he’d ejected Luke for killing another member, is investigating a Burmese gem mine that might actually be extracting uranium. Though in different ways Matt, Ty, and Florence can be said to achieve their goals, it’s always at great personal cost. Wittenborn (Center for Asian & Pacific Studies/San Diego State University) clearly knows his subject, making the tangled political situation interesting and understandable. Every location comes alive, whether it’s crowded Hong Kong, depressing Mandalay, the steaming jungle or a backcountry trading post: “Ty smelled the fusty odor of burnt tobacco, mingled with the scent from a mélange of herbs and the sting of diesel fuel. Shouts of vendors hawking their Chinese wares—Zebra toothpaste, Seagull batteries, Tiger Head flashlights, Flying Horse blankets—were overheard above the roar of passing lorries….Lepers with no faces and emaciated drug addicts without legs scurried around on little wheeled stools, pulling at coat sleeves.” Nitty-gritty details, such as the portrayal of a gem auction—as much gambling as buying—also fascinate. Strong female characters add interest as well. Matt’s romantic difficulties are less compelling than the emphasis given them, but Wittenborn handles his complicated plot well.
Excitement, romance, local color, powerful women and authentic cultural details make this novel a well-balanced alternative to the typical techno-heavy thriller.