Skip to comments.Livelihood Issues: Mao's Great Famine (Book Review: How Mao Killed 43 Million People in Four Years)
Posted on 09/06/2010 6:06:59 AM PDT by Mrs. Don-o
In 1936 Mao Tse-Tung, then a cave-dwelling revolutionary, told Edgar Snow his life story. Snow recorded Mao's self-serving autobiography in Red Star Over China, which for decades made the American's name as the leading reporter in China.
Back in China twenty-four years later, Snow was pestered by news agencies enquiring about mass starvation. The Snow of the 1930s had gone into the field to see for himself a prolonged drought in the north-west, where people were rumoured to be selling their children. But this time he relied on his access to top officials such as Premier Zhou Enlai, and foreigners who flacked for China such as the New Zealander Rewi Alley.
In the book he wrote about that trip, The Other Side of the River, Snow stated, 'I saw no starving people in China ... Considerable malnutrition undoubtedly existed. Mass starvation? No.' And most positively: 'Whatever he was eating, the average Chinese maintained himself in good health, as far as anyone could see.'
In brutal fact, between 1959 and 1962, at least forty-three million Chinese died during the famine Snow didn't bother to see. Most died of hunger, over two million were executed or were beaten or tortured to death, the birth rate halved in some places, parents sold their children, and people dug up the dead and ate them.
The cause of this disaster, the worst ever to befall China and one of the worst anywhere at any time, was Mao, who, cheered on by his sycophantic and frightened colleagues, decreed that before long China's economy must overtake that of the Soviet Union, Britain and even the US. Mao suggested that 'When there is not enough to eat people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill,' and declared that anyone who questioned his policies was a 'Rightist', a toxic term eventually applied to thirteen million Party members.
The outlines and many of the specifics of this catastrophe have been known in the West for decades. A few brave Chinese, too, have exposed what they discovered. Mao's doctor, Li Zhisui, wrote about it from his exile in the United States, and some revealing local studies by Americans have made clear what happened in certain villages.
Now Frank Dikötter, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and at Hong Kong University, has laid out the vast horror in detail, drawing on local and provincial archives that have only recently become available to approved foreign scholars. In terms of Mao's reputation this book leaves the Chairman for dead, as a monster in the same league as Hitler and Stalin - and that is without considering the years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when hundreds of thousands more Chinese died. One of Dikötter's observations is that Mao instigated the Cultural Revolution to wreak revenge on close colleagues who had dared to show him up.
It is a mark of the historical darkness that still envelops China that many Chinese blame the famine on the Soviet Union, which, they maintain, snatched food from the mouths of starving Chinese by insisting that Beijing export grain to repay Moscow's loans.
Until recently, Dikötter states, most accounts of the famine have been based on central government sources that are often incomplete or untrue. What he found during his years rummaging in archives throughout China was that such central documents were transmitted in fuller, less censored versions to the provinces and below.
In addition, the archives he saw contained letters of complaint or justification from local officials and even ordinary people, minutes from local and even central meetings, and statistics which were either falsified to hoodwink Mao or local superiors, or were subtle enough to reveal that awful things were happening. For example, in 1960 in the 'model province' of Henan, in Xinyang alone 'over a million people died ... Of these victims 67,000 were clubbed to death with sticks'.
When this came to Mao 'he blamed the trouble on class enemies'. On another occasion, when the Chairman learned that there had been terrible deaths in one town he had hitherto admired, 'Mao simply switched his allegiance to the next county down the road willing to outdo others in extravagant production claims.' Mao and his cronies insisted, as one of them put it as reports of deaths rolled in, that 'This is the price we have to pay; it's nothing to be afraid of. Who knows how many people have been sacrificed on the battlefields and in the prisons [for the revolutionary cause]? Now we have a few cases of illness and death; it's nothing!'
Every detail was locally recorded and explained - or obscured. Take this report from 25 February 1960 in Yaohejia village: 'Name of culprit: Yang Zhongsheng ... Name of victim: Yang Ecshun. Relationship with Culprit: Younger Brother ... Manner of Crime: Killed and Eaten. Reason: Livelihood Issues.'
Society completely unravelled. In the newly established communes, peasants following Mao's lunatic advice ploughed their paddies uselessly deep. They dismantled their houses to use as fertiliser, and melted down their tools to make the steel Mao had decreed was the mark of an advanced socialist country (after all wasn't Stalin 'the man of steel'?). Other peasants abandoned their fields and marched miles to work all night constructing mammoth water schemes that often came to nothing, while their families died without grain at home. The only reason millions more didn't starve, as Dikötter describes in detail, is because of their desperate ploys to steal food.
This is for now the best and last word on Mao's greatest horror. Frank Dikötter has put everyone in the field of Chinese studies in his debt, together with anyone else interested in the real China. Sooner or later the Chinese, too, will praise his name.
This is not news; the news is that, slowly, 50 years later, the truth is coming out.
That seems to be the rule of thumb. At least 50 years has to pass before you get solid documentation of what was really going on.
You realize Obama had Mao Tse Tung ornaments on the White House Christrmas tree, right?
There must be a God to give justice in the next life, because there's no justice in this one.
yup ...kill whitey
And they ignored or hid what Stalin did in the Ukraine famine. And they are still lying and covering up for the Commies. Starvation is a terrible weapon, look at what the House passed last year in HR2749. ( http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-2749 ) Vote in House at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2009-680
Read this bill carefully and it is clear that they intended to make it illegal for you to grow your own food, in the name of food safety. This is the ultimate Commie crowd control tool. If you look at what happened to it in the Senate markup you will realize how totally out of control Congress is. This bill gets NO coverage in the news.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,”
Van Jones is a FUTURE Pol Pot.
Want to bet Anita Dunn put that Mao ornament on the WHITE HOUSE CHRISTMAS TREE???
What a disgrace.
Very interesting review. Thanks for posting this.
And don’t forget that they turned off the water to the farmers in California.
Ok I’m slow....please explain.
I’d love to buy one of these to send to a favorite leftist I know...
I just started reading M. Stanton Evans book about Joe McCarthy called Blacklisted by History. I knew McCarthy was railroaded, but I had no idea just how much the Democrats had tried to cover up the communist infiltration of our government in the 1940s and 50s!
I urge everyone to read Evans’ book. It is well worth the time and the book is inexpensive too.
At one point (for some reason) I mentioned pumpkins, which I consider a very New England type of vegetable and I said that she may not have eaten one -- "Oh no!" she said, "In China we grew many pumpkins! My district in China was famous for pumpkins! My grandfather grew more pumpkins than anyone else in our village!"
Then she started giggling and added "That's why they killed him."
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, Just sayin
Just sayin' what? Do you not have the courage to stand behind what you say? Is "Just sayin'" intended as an out? Is it saying that someone may say that but not you?
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,
For whom? For the millions who were murdered before Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc., died or were overthrown? Where is their justice unless it is like Mrs. Don-o says, in the afterlife?
As it is now in North Korea.
You may not have caught the news. This is a quote which now appears on the rug in the Oval Office. The rug (commissioned by Obama) credits the quote to Martin Luther King, but this is an embarrassing error. The quote comes from a nineteenth century figure.
The rug now symbolizes Obama's incompetence, his inability to check details, his sense that 20th century civil rights leaders are the only American figures worth paying attention to, and his apparent sense that "justice" and "morality" belong to the Left exclusively.
Mao killed tens of millions? Well, he is yet another 20th century figure whom Obama likes. The quote on the rug needs to be interpreted in such a way that Mao would say it and have it work toward his murderous ends.
Ok I wanna call you a name but I won’t. in the context of the article and the response which shows obambo’s “Christmas” ornament my comment was to turn around his own “favorite” quote on his rug. Dude context is a good thing. They, the left leaning, use it against the right on a daily basis I used one of his favorite quote’s to illustrate that justice will come back to him. Damn did your kid piss in yer wheaties this morn?
Tell me if this sounds sinister to you all. My granddaughter just met a Chinese exchange student. Get this, her name is Nancy. The first thing I asked and obviously something my gd thought odd, is how does a Chinese girl get such an American name? According to her every Chinese student gets an American name when they start school and they are taught American English.
My first thought was that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, but following on that thought was that it would sure make it easier for Chinese people to take over the U.S., you know, I mean if....
So, no, I don't think they're into invading us yet. They're busy with Africa.
No, I did not. I saw the reports about the Oval Office redo and the slogans around the border of the seal but I must have switched channels before the point you make came up. Thanks for bringing me up to speed because this is the first I have seen of it.
I never watch Obama's speeches or press conferences because everything he says is a lie and no one challenges him. That is very irritating and I had rather avoid it. The same is true of interviews with his flaks. I just change channels during those times.
VaRepublican, as I said, I missed the news and in my old age I am getting impatient and grumpy. "Just sayin'" is a rather recent cliche which iritates me for the reasons I stated. Had I been more up to date I would have gotten your clever meaning. Sorry.
For the record: neither Stailn nor Hitler were in the same league as Mao when it came to mass deaths — certainly not Pol Pot. Khrushchev starved (in the Ukarine) to death more people than all of Hiter’s “fine work” accomplished...
Mao: The Unknown Story
by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday Illus., maps
another fine book on the black slime itself.
I figured I was being paranoid and my granddaughter really likes her. It sounds like she has had quite a privileged life although they are expected to work hard in school. She plays a 21 stringed instrument called the Guzheng and her mother always carries it for her because she doesn’t want her to hurt her hands and she is, of course, an only child. It will cost 1000 U.S. dollars to ship it from China but they are going to send it. They have 2 homes, one in the country and one in the city so she can attend school and come home every night instead of living at the school.
She plans to stay here for a year and then back to China for a year and then back to the U.S. to attend MIT.
She wants my gd to take her shopping and she wants to go to homecoming and the girls are trying to find her a date.
You can do it by turning off the water.
God bless your gd and God bless Nancy. I’d love to hear that Guzheng!
don’t know why but I knew I didn’t to respond by starting out by calling you some profane name.
want, meant to include want.
You were being compassionate to the old and senile. :-)
Most Chinese adopt American names to fit in. Ask her what her Chinese given name is. Probably sort of sounds like Nancy.
They usually pick names that sound similar to their Chinese name.
Good anecdote. Brings three (3) things to mind:
1. Pumpkins and squash are very commonly used in the Chinese, and Taiwanese, food chain. Both for humans and livestock - pigs, goats, cows, etc. I have some growing in my small garden as I type this. Used in soups, baked, fried.
2. The laughter you mentioned is a typical sign of "more to come" nervous response.
3. For your above quote - "Nothing personal...its only business" is just as applicable to some periods of Chinese history as it is to the 'Good Fellas' that we Westerners know.
By the way...a lot of Sinophiles (Chinese apologistas) like to go on about the rich 3,000 yr. old tapestry of Chinese Culture as some kind of evidence of its 'higher evolutionary' status. B.S....a very good argument can be made that its just the same year repeated 3,000 times.
“You can do it by turning off the water.”
or the grain a la Khrushchev...
Famine is hands-down the favorite tactic of megalomaniac dictators, even more than the noose, the knife, and the gun.
This is what my SO (who's Chinese) tells me is an apologetic laugh, as in, "I'm sorry to have to say this" or "I'm sorry to have to burden you with this knowledge".