Mao’s famine

I can’t add much more to this devastating article on the horrors of the Great Leap forward. I’ve never read anything about it that was quite this brutal, and suggest you read the whole thing.

For those who argue it was a natural famine the government couldn’t control, it will be particularly enlightening.

In the summer of 1962, for instance, the head of the Public Security Bureau in Sichuan sent a long handwritten list of casualties to the local boss, Li Jingquan, informing him that 10.6 million people had died in his province from 1958 to 1961. In many other cases, local party committees investigated the scale of death in the immediate aftermath of the famine, leaving detailed computations of the scale of the horror.

In all, the records I studied suggest that the Great Leap Forward was responsible for at least 45 million deaths.

Between 2 and 3 million of these victims were tortured to death or summarily executed, often for the slightest infraction. People accused of not working hard enough were hung and beaten; sometimes they were bound and thrown into ponds. Punishments for the least violations included mutilation and forcing people to eat excrement.

One report dated Nov. 30, 1960, and circulated to the top leadership — most likely including Mao — tells how a man named Wang Ziyou had one of his ears chopped off, his legs tied up with iron wire and a 10-kilo stone dropped on his back before he was branded with a sizzling tool. His crime: digging up a potato.

When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, the local boss, Xiong Dechang, forced his father to bury his son alive on the spot.

And it gets worse. Really. And please don’t say Mao didn’t know.

Mao was sent many reports about what was happening in the countryside, some of them scribbled in longhand. He knew about the horror, but pushed for even greater extractions of food.

At a secret meeting in Shanghai on March 25, 1959, he ordered the party to procure up to one-third of all the available grain — much more than ever before. The minutes of the meeting reveal a chairman insensitive to human loss: “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.”

I applaud China’s post-Mao leaders for ending most aspects of Maoism and seeing that starvation in China came to an end. Thank God Deng won the day. But isn’t it time to let the Chinese people know the truth? As the column says, the government has unclassified huge vaults of documents on the period and many Chinese scholars and researchers know the truth. But alas, their books and reports can only be published in Hong Kong.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 78 Comments

Between the topic and the source, that op-ed should be quite effective in getting FQ tongues a-wagging.

December 17, 2010 @ 4:39 am | Comment

“(5.4, 1949)” and the Concept of Mao Zedong Jump

The following is a graph of the Chinese population change from 0AD to 2000 AD.

http://www.jjwzw.cn/uploads/allimg/c100220/12B610362322P-1250a.jpg

The x axis is progression of time in years, the y axis is population in 100 million.

In this graph, you’ll see a point labeled (5.4, 1949). This means, Chinese population was 540 million in 1949. You’ll see that this point, (5.4, 1949), represents a big turning point. When the graph passes 1949, it went up very rapidly, almost shot up straight, all the way to (12.95, 2000), where the population was 1.29 billion in 2000. In economics, this phenomenon, a sudden jump in population, is termed “(5.4, 1949) Jump” or “Mao Zedong Jump”.

If I’m a microbiologist and is studying bacteria, and if I observe the bacterias for 2000 minutes and record my observations, then I’ll realize that at the 1949th minute, the amount of bacteria underwent a huge growth. Well, what conclusion would I draw from that? I’ll naturally think that at 1949th minute, the environment in which the bacterias lived underwent a huge improvement. You see, this is the difference between an engineering mindset and a humanities-major’s mindset, an engineering mindset is very cold, very lacking emotions, and has no humanities, and only cares about dry things like data and graphs, instead of beautiful novels and essays.

Now, if you have a magnifying glass and you magnify at the area 1 cm to the left of (5.4, 1949), you’ll see a very small vibration on the graph. That vibration is the so called “Greap Leap Forward”. They say that Mao Zedong killed 30 million people.

I was born in 1955, shortly after (5.4, 1949). I often thought, if there weren’t such a jump, would I have been born? Would those rightists who curse at Mao everyday been born? I’ve often pictured a scene like this: A shrieking rightist points at (5.4, 1949) and says, “Believe me, the command economy during that period could not produce anything! Everything it produced was useless and had zero value!”. Another rightist would point and yells, “That was the darkest period in Chinese history since Western Zhou.” Another rightist points and screams, “That period could be compared to the Fascist period, and was a big tragedy in human history”, etc etc etc. Suddenly, a crying person appears at (5.4, 1949) and cries, “Tragedy! Tragedy! So many people murdered!”

I’ll then move my eyes to the left of the Mao Zedong Jump on the graph, to that vast flat plain. I know that from a biological view, people from different nations have different reproductive powers, but it’s impossible that the reproductive power of Chinese underwent such a huge change in 1949, and Chinese people never had smart birth control methods before 1949.

Confucius once said “People who concentrate on the intellect will dominate others. People will concentrate on labor will be dominated.” But at (5.4, 1949), things suddenly changed, and it became “People who concentrated on labor dominated those who concentrated on the intellect.” At (5.4, 1949), things got reversed, the intellectuals were forced to take on shovels and work the fields, while the laborers took the seats of chairmen and prime ministers. That’s why so many intellectuals look at (5.4, 1949) and cry, “Oh I hate it! Oh tragedy! How dare you make us work in the fields!”

In the year 4000, when China’s population has been controlled either through war or through the continued one-child policy, (5.4, 1949) would’ve moved to the middle of the graph, and any viewer of the graph would be attracted by (5.4, 1949), Perhaps a historian or economist would point to that and ask, “Who did this?”. And someone would explain, “that is the Mao Zedong Jump”

And perhaps in the year 4000, in an economics class in the USA, the professor would say, “Ok students, today we learned about the law of supply and demand, tomorrow we will begin the chapter on ‘Mao Zedong Jump’, this is a very important chapter, please review the materials beforehand.”

Actually today, there are two camps of people with opinions on Mao Zedong. The first camp thinks he’s a very bad person. The second camp thinks he’s the savior of the Chinese people. Most of the first camp are made of humanity majors who can write very beautiful essays. My writing ability is much worse than them, so I rarely win arguments against them.

But I know how to draw graphs, and I know how to use graphs to make those humanity majors very very angry.

December 17, 2010 @ 9:45 am | Comment

I’d love to know what you’d think of the GLF if you’d had your ears cut off or had to bury your son alive. Or even if you just had to watch your family members die, one by one, of needless starvation.

The numbers come from Chinese archives, from Communist officials. They weren’t manufactured.

December 17, 2010 @ 10:38 am | Comment

Wow, Math actually wrote a semi-coherent comment. I am wondering about the population distribution of the people who died during the GLF, as in whether children were counted in the numbers of dead. This is because on my in-laws side of the family they had 9 kids in the countryside during this period, and 3 survived. Now, when I ask them if the kids starved they say no, it was just that they didn’t know how to take care of them. So I wonder if there wasn’t a perfect storm of poor population controls, poor education, and the famine that led to all of the deaths, or if only the adults are counted in those numbers and there are these untold deaths as well.

I think the famine is still the biggest event in the memories of people in the country, but they do not seem to blame the government for it as they do the CR, which wasn’t as devastating to the people in the country.

December 17, 2010 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

Confucius once said “People who concentrate on the intellect will dominate others. People will concentrate on labor will be dominated.” But at (5.4, 1949), things suddenly changed, and it became “People who concentrated on labor dominated those who concentrated on the intellect.” At (5.4, 1949), things got reversed, the intellectuals were forced to take on shovels and work the fields, while the laborers took the seats of chairmen and prime ministers. That’s why so many intellectuals look at (5.4, 1949) and cry, “Oh I hate it! Oh tragedy! How dare you make us work in the fields!”

Guess what? China under CCP is once again infatuated with Confucius as shown by the “Confucius peace award”! Hahaha. That’s the two-face side of CCP, enjoy Math!

December 17, 2010 @ 12:34 pm | Comment

The numbers come from Chinese archives, from Communist officials. . They weren’t manufactured.

Yes, because communist officials would never manufacture numbers ;-)

Seriously though, math, you’re saying that it’s ok if X million people died during the GLF because in the period before and after, there were many more people born to make up the difference, so overall it was a net positive?

December 17, 2010 @ 1:50 pm | Comment

“Thank God Deng won the day.”

The author of the column, Frank Dikotter, has found that Deng, Zhou and others were as enthustiastic for the GLF as Mao himself, and indeed implemented many of its policies.

That is why while pretty much everyone knows of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s responsibility for it, the GLF famine is rarely mentioned in public discourse.

Many of today’s generation of leaders either suffered during the CR or had close relatives who suffered. However the CR as a human tragedy had nothing on the GLF.

“The numbers come from Chinese archives, from Communist officials. They weren’t manufactured.”

The numbers don’t come directly from the archives. Dikotter did his research with reference to the archives and made an estimate based on various assumptions supported by the archival material. However the true numbers will never be known, because the 1953 census was not all that reliable. The actual numbers could be a lot more, or could be a lot less. Part of the gap in population likely comes from lowered fertility during the period. What we do know however was something awful of epic magnitude did happen.

December 17, 2010 @ 4:01 pm | Comment

One of Math’s better comments. Nonetheless, several problems remain.

First, humans aren’t bacteria. So while observation of a petri dish would make one astounded simply by the increase in the number of bacteria at a certain time (say, the 1949th minute), when speaking of humans one also has to consider their quality of life. This is where your analogy falls down. Sure, there suddenly was a lot of Chinese people. But how good did each of them have it? Especially during the GLF years, I’d say not very.

Second, the population rise took on a fairly steep slope starting around 1600, and by the early 1900′s was already growing at a very fast rate. It does appear that the graph becomes even more steep around 1949, but the change vs the pre1949 trajectory is not very dramatic at all. Which means that, if you were to measure the “Mao effect” strictly in terms of population, it’s not all that big, and certainly not as big as you’ve depicted. And of course, this again ignores the fact that more people does not mean those people are living better.

In 2000 years, people will probably relate an improvement in the quality of life of Chinese people to a flattening trend in population starting around the 1990′s, and perhaps wonder why…until they dig through the history books and realize that China’s economic growth started not long before that point. They’ll then likely conclude that economic prosperity is not dependent upon the population, but moreso on a free-market economy like the one China adopted around that time. By then, Mao will be a footnote, except for being the cautionary tale of what not to do as a leader (ie steer clear of CR and GLF-type activities).

December 17, 2010 @ 6:17 pm | Comment

The shift from civil war (actually decades of war and turmoil) to peace after 1949 would explain a pick-up in birthrates.

December 17, 2010 @ 9:31 pm | Comment

Deng and Zhou did support the GLF, M. Clifton. But I still have to give Deng credit for ending the CR and ultimately reshaping the country.

hmmm: Yes, because communist officials would never manufacture numbers ;-)

They manufacture statistics when they need to look good. There’s no way they would have manufactured statistics that make them look awful, like the millions who were dying in their provinces of starvation. Of course, these aren’t like today’s economic statistics that are released publicly. These were for Party eyes only.

December 18, 2010 @ 12:24 am | Comment

@Richard

“I applaud China’s post-Mao leaders for ending most aspects of Maoism and seeing that starvation in China came to an end.”

Really? All you have to do these days is NOT kill a bunch of people and you get applauded? :)

I do understand you must be thinking that they took some kind of positive action, but… really… how difficult can it be to simply not take people’s food and not kill them?

Applauding those people is a bit like applauding Franco, Salazar or Ceausescu for not being Hitler.

December 18, 2010 @ 1:33 am | Comment

Deng stood up to the Gang of Four and ended one of the darkest chapters in modern Chinese history. In an incredibly short time under his watch China made economic strides that defy belief. So yes, thank God Deng won the day. Stopping killing people and ending the CR is a very big deal. I would say Deng, not Mao, really was 70 percent good and 30 percent bad. After nearly 30 years of badness Deng was a big improvement and I give him great credit, just as I give him great criticism for his handling of 1989.

December 18, 2010 @ 1:38 am | Comment

Oh, I agree with the “thank God Deng won the day” part. I just happen to admire, perhaps exclusively, people who are capable of public service (if not self-sacrifice) for the sake of others.

Deng strikes me as the sort of organized crime leader who understands that if he looks after his gang his own position will be strengthened as well. Capable, absolutely, definitely a positive influence in the history of China, but with shady morals. (Not that anyone decent would have had any chance to rule China.)

Deng did great things for China’s economy and the well-being of the world. Jimmy Carter, to pick an example, didn’t (putting it mildly!)

Mmm. I wonder why I’ve always respected Jimmy Carter so much more. Maybe those pesky Americans Math always complains about brainwashed me too :)

December 18, 2010 @ 1:55 am | Comment

DXP presided over the introduction of the one-child policy in the late 1970s. Imagine how many more fenqing would infest sites like this without that sagacious move! (This comment may be better suited for the Shaun Rein fisk thread….)

December 18, 2010 @ 2:43 am | Comment

“Second, the population rise took on a fairly steep slope starting around 1600, and by the early 1900’s was already growing at a very fast rate. It does appear that the graph becomes even more steep around 1949, but the change vs the pre1949 trajectory is not very dramatic at all.”

SK Cheung. Actually you are wrong here. There is indeed a dramatic change in 1949. The gradient of the graph between 1949 and 1980, is about 4.5 times that of the years between 1928 and 1949. That is the rate of population growth during the Mao years was 4.5 times higher than during the period immediately before his rule.

Some of this could of course be attributed to the absence of war. However there were undeniably significant improvements in public health during the first 30 years of the PRC, which have been acknowledged by most researchers in the area.

Interestingly, fertility as well as mortality fell (except for the GLF period when mortality shot up dramatically, and fertility fell even more than the general decline) during the Maoist period – logically this shifts even further emphasis onto public health improvements as the explanation for what Math terms the ‘Mao Zedong jump’.

Judith Banister (the doyen of Chinese demographic studies) has established a life expectancy of about 64 years in 1976, which of course is a near doubling of life expectancy in 1949.

Whether the improvements were due to Mao or not is another question. Frank Dikotter notes that Mao rarely had the sort of complete absolute control over the party that Stalin had in the Soviet Union.

December 18, 2010 @ 5:03 am | Comment

Slim (#14), I disagree with your tone. It would be better to say “If only Deng had instituted more reform and more opening than we wouldn’t have to deal with fenqing at all”.

December 18, 2010 @ 7:14 am | Comment

They manufacture statistics when they need to look good. There’s no way they would have manufactured statistics that make them look awful, like the millions who were dying in their provinces of starvation. Of course, these aren’t like today’s economic statistics that are released publicly. These were for Party eyes only.

While perhaps not manufacturing any stats, Deng’s leadership exaggerated the horrors of the CR, as they themselves were also victims of it. Doing so indeed makes the current leadership look good as it is a veiled way of contrasting the horrors of the CR with the peace and prosperity of today. Many, many, leftists in China today are highly critical of official CCP’s treatment of CR, some point their fingers directly as Deng for completely denying any positive aspects of CR. “Scar literature” is a term referring to gov’t endorsed literature in China in the 80′s that depicted personal and social suffering during the CR, and it is often the target of attack from hardliners and leftists inside China for its excessive focus on the “Scars” of CR.

December 18, 2010 @ 7:43 am | Comment

To M. Clifton:
perhaps we’re looking at the graphs differently.

The way I see it, the population went from about 60 million to 540 million between around 1600 to 1949. That’s a 900% jump in 350 years, for an annualized rate of about 2.6%. That doesn’t take into account the increasing rate of population growth between 1600 and 1949. It went from 470 to 540 million from 1928 to 1949, which is 5.5 % annually. It then went from 540 to 1030 million between 1949 and 1982, which is 5.8% annually. So yes, there was an increase during Mao, but to me, it’s not nearly as dramatic as what you and Math would suggest. Even without the calculations, and just eye-balling the graph, yes, it’s steep around the Mao years, but not that much steeper than what had preceded it. Which was part of my point earlier. The other part of my point earlier is that population growth alone does not account for the quality of life of said population. I think that’s where the Mao admirers really run into problems.

You also brought up a great point. The population growth pattern correlates to the Mao years. But that says nothing about causality. Were it not for Mao, without the famine, the GLF, and the CR, that population growth may have even been faster. Of course that’s pure conjecture.

December 18, 2010 @ 7:44 am | Comment

“It went from 470 to 540 million from 1928 to 1949, which is 5.5 % annually. It then went from 540 to 1030 million between 1949 and 1982, which is 5.8% annually.”

I’m not sure how you arrived at your figures, which to me are clearly wrong:

Assuming a constant rate of increase, the rate of increase, i, for the years from 1928 to 1949, is calculated as follows:

i = 100 * ((540/470)^(1/21)-1) = 0.66% annual growth rate.

Whereas for the years 1949 to 1982:

i = 100 * ((1030/540)^(1/33)-1) = 1.98 % annual growth rate.

So on an annualized basis, based on the figures provided by Math the yearly population growth rate was 1.98 / 0.66 = 3 x greater in the Mao era, than in the two decades directly preceding the Mao era.

Note that the above calculation takes into account the base population at the beginning of each period (which is the correct way to do things).

That of course is different from calculating just the rate of increase in population – which I assumed in post #15.

“The other part of my point earlier is that population growth alone does not account for the quality of life of said population”

Well I think that if life expectancy doubled, and mortality declined significantly, one could say that quality of life did get better. Remember we are comparing post-1949 China with pre-1949 China. Pre-1949 China was a land wracked by famines and wars with a life expectancy around 34. Not much quality of life there.

In fact the mortality rates for the GLF are not too much higher than the mortality rates for China before the revolution. And in fact it is only possible to arrive at very large numbers of deaths for the GLF if one acknowledges a steep decline in the mortality rate in the first years of the PRC leading up to the GLF.

However what can be said is that without the GLF and the Cultural Revolution, how much better things could have been, both during Mao’s time, and after. It should be noted that Mao would stuff things up, Liu and Deng, or later just Deng would be brought in to clean things up. Without the GLF, the record of the PRC would actually have been quite an exemplary one for a developing nation, in terms of objective human development criteria, and even with the GLF, the overall stats for the first 30 years are not too bad, when compared with the other two giant Asian countries -India, and Indonesia.

However allowing people to live longer just to have them around to carry out mass political rampages and be subject to a totalitarian system where all personal freedoms are curtailed does speak to what S. K. Cheung refers to as quality of life.

A battery chick may have a greater life expectancy than a chick born in the wild. But is its quality of life necessarily better?

December 18, 2010 @ 9:34 am | Comment

“Even without the calculations, and just eye-balling the graph, yes, it’s steep around the Mao years, but not that much steeper than what had preceded it.”

‘eye-balling’ is a very dangerous thing to do! Plug the numbers in and you will see the gradients are wildly different – by a factor of four.

Note also that your calculated 5.5% annual increase for the years 1928 to 1949 would have given a population of 1.45 billion by 1949:

470 * (1 + 0.055)^21 = 1446.7 million

Your calculated 5.8% annual increase for the Mao era would have given by 1982 a population size of almost 3.5 billion – which was clearly not the case:

540 * (1 + 0.058)^33 = 3471 million

If population growth rate had not changed from that of the 1928 to 1949 period ie 0.66%, then China’s population by 1982 would only have been 671 million compared to the actual of 1030 million:

540 * (1 + 0.0066)^33 = 671 million

Perhaps that would have been a good thing!

December 18, 2010 @ 10:07 am | Comment

In my humble opinion Alexander Fleming is more responsible for the dramatic increase in life expectancy than the Mao dude.

(Anybody who’s been to China knows those people eat antibiotics to this day as if it was bread. Hell, more than bread, in some parts of the country!)

This one factor must surely account for a great deal of the variation post 1950. And please, don’t even think about saying “oh, but surely it’s Mao’s great merit that the people were allowed access to antibiotics.” That’s the LEAST he could have done.

(By the way, it seems soon enough these miracle drugs will stop working:

http://bit.ly/dkjrzH )

December 18, 2010 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

Maybe an even greater problem, for the future of the country, due to Mao’s time mismanagement was the overpopulation rather than the hunger times during the GLF.

A population between 600 and 900 millions in China today would make the job of raising people out of poverty far easier, and put less pressure on natural resources.

And there is another problem looming in the future, in 30 to 40 year the population pyramid will invert itself dramatically. They should have relaxed the one child policy long time ago to allow a soft landing (population wise)

December 18, 2010 @ 8:01 pm | Comment

To John Chan above: I’ve spoken with many people who lived in China during the Cultural Revolution, and none of them ever said anything positive about it. A friend of mine even wrote a book of short stories about growing up then, and I’ll take her word over yours. It’s in keeping that you would find positive aspects to a time when China experienced brain death and countless people were killed needlessly. I guess you’d find nothing more titillating than a good struggle session.

December 19, 2010 @ 4:55 am | Comment

@M.Clifton – The same calculation give a population of about 800 million nowadays had the pre-1949 population growth been maintained, but Resident Poet is right, inoculation is far more likely to be the cause of the increased population growth than something special about Mao’s rule.

December 19, 2010 @ 7:45 am | Comment

To M. Clifton:
I think your formula is the equivalent of the “compound interest” calculation, which I had forgotten long ago. I just did the “simple interest” version. I agree the compound interest-style calculation is more appropriate. So it does seem that there was a substantial increase in the rate of population growth during Mao.

Based on what you wrote, it seems we both agree that “quantity” of life is not the same as “quality”. At best, “quantity” is but one component of what factors into an assessment of “quality”.

There’s also the issue, as others have raised, of whether Mao’s reign was causally related to the population growth or if it was merely a correlation. It’s also debatable whether said increase in population was a good or bad thing.

December 19, 2010 @ 2:30 pm | Comment

The reprecussions of the anti-sparrow campaign was also disastrous:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3371659.stm

December 19, 2010 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

“There’s also the issue, as others have raised, of whether Mao’s reign was causally related to the population growth or if it was merely a correlation.”

From what I have read, it does seems quite clear that the PRC did very well during the Mao years (the years of the GLF excepted of course) when it came to reducing mortality rates, increasing life expectancy, increasing literacy etc.

Judith Banister, perhaps the doyen of China population studies, and who was the first Western researcher to note the millions of GLF famine deaths, nevertheless states that the reasons for post 1949 dramatic mortality reductions include “near cessation of international invasion and civil war; the disarming of the general population; allocation of arable land to most peasants through land reform; government distribution of grain to areas with a shortage; vigorous strategies of epidemic control for the main infectious diseases; and the retraining of midwives in modern midwifery”.

Also “simple systems of cooperative health insurance that were inexpensive, together with minimally trained ‘barefoot doctors’ and a three-tier system of referral to health services were introduced in rural areas starting from the late 1960s”.
http://www.demog.berkeley.edu/~ebenstei/litreview/Banister_04.pdf

Apparently Mao does deserve some credit for the barefoot doctors scheme and also the type of gargantuan mass campaigns against infectious diseases that only a totalitarian regime could implement – such as the campaign against schistosomiasis.

“hundreds of thousands of peasants were set to work day and night, drying out swamps and building drainage ditches to get rid of the snail’s habitat”

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4990242

“It’s also debatable whether said increase in population was a good or bad thing.”

Obviously a bad thing. A population of 800 million today would obviously have tremendous advantages in many respects over today’s actual population of 1300 million. A population growth rate exactly the same as that in the two decades leading up to 1949 would have resulted in 800 million today (refer FOARP post #24). However this could have been achieved only by letting nature take its course in terms of infant mortality (with cumulative excess deaths over half a century dwarfing those of even the GLF, many times over), or implementing something like the one-child policy a lot earlier on.

December 19, 2010 @ 8:11 pm | Comment

some guy (16)

It would be better to say “If only Deng had instituted more reform and more opening than we wouldn’t have to deal with fenqing at all”.

I think you mean “far fewer”. There will almost always be ultra-nationalists in a country, especially one with a large population. However, if Deng had fostered and protected real freedom of speech and of the media, it would be easier to put forward views that shouted down nationalists with facts and logic, rather than the bland “don’t disrupt harmony” retort, which suggests someone’s views are correct but not the way they frame them.

Dikkoter’s figures are interesting as they are even greater than those put forward by Jung Chang and John Halliday in their biography of Mao. Maybe their estimate of 70 million unnecessary deaths overall isn’t so incredible after all.

The comment about accessing declassified archives is interesting. I remember that some of the criticism of Chang and Halliday’s books was that their claims to being able to access closed archives was improbable/unverifiable, so most of their more controversial statements should be discounted. It could be that those archives really do exist and Chang had some connections that allowed her special access.

I remember a few years ago some new school books were produced that, rather than big Mao up in the usual way, downplayed his role. Hopefully at some time we’ll see a revision of the “70% good, 30% bad” nonsense and he’ll be rightfully criticised as a brutal, power-hungry leader.

December 19, 2010 @ 8:57 pm | Comment

Anyone who truly wants to get the full, stomach-churning could do worse than get a copy of Jasper Becker’s “Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine” which comapres the GLF to what the Ukrainians endured during the Holomodor and adds a postcript on the famine in North Korea. The latter incidentally decided today, after threatening “brutal consequences beyond imagination” if those drills went forward after having killed civilians to make its point a few weeks back, have now done nothing whilst claiming that they were simply “not worth reacting” to. I guess attacking civilians is much easier when there’s no-one there to fight back, but once the big guns have been deployed chickening out is the better part of valour…

December 21, 2010 @ 4:31 am | Comment

Off topic. Keir interesting site. You’ve probably seen Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985). I couldn’t cope with a second viewing.

December 21, 2010 @ 5:44 am | Comment

I was always under the impression that Mao himself was pushing familiies to have more children during his time in power rewarding families who had large amounts of Children.

Does anyone have any input relating to this?

December 24, 2010 @ 1:02 pm | Comment

I was always under the impression that Mao himself was pushing familiies to have more children during his time in power rewarding families who had large amounts of Children

Mao at first disregarded the advice of academics who warned of the dangers of overpopulation (thinking a big population was an asset), but later on the PRC began to encourage some form of population control by persuasion, and encouraging late marriages, and by the time of Deng Xiaoping, it had became mandatory.

However fertility as did mortality generally declined during Mao’s time, and in fact at no stage in the history of the PRC was fertility any higher than what it was in 1950.

Here is an excellent animation showing the decline of fertility and increase in life expectancy of the US, China, and India.

http://www.china-profile.com/data/ani_WPP2008_TFR-L0_1.htm

It can be seen that decline in fertility was accompanied by a corresponding increase in life expectancy – far more so in China’s case than India’s.

As the article states:

“With some delay in the early 1950s, China was a leader in mortality decline (indicated by rapidly increasing life expectancy at birth) and later, in the decline of fertility. Few other countries had a more rapid decline in fertility since the mid-1970s than China. Considering the country’s huge population size, it can be argued, that China paved the way for the global demographic transition from high fertility and mortality to low fertility and high life expectancy”

December 25, 2010 @ 11:20 am | Comment

There is a correlation between the change in fertility rate and the change in life expectancy, so I agree those 2 things “accompany” one another. In this case, an inverse correlation. Whether they’re causally related is another matter. I imagine there would be a direct correlation between availability of medicines/vaccines/clean drinking water with life expectancy, for instance.

It does show that the one-child policy is correlated to the rapid decline in Chinese female fertility, although it’s interesting to note that it levels off above 1. There are known exceptions for minorities, and certain exceptions in rural communities where the first child is female, but I’m not sure if that would account for the entirety of the apparent discrepancy.

It seems that places with low life expectancy in the 1950s saw their life expectancy increase at the fastest rates, which also might correlate with the advent, improvement, and practice of public health policies.

I don’t know if China “paved the way”. China employed a unique policy which others have not replicated, yet other countries have similarly shown a decrease in fertility rate whilst life expectancy increased, albeit to differing degrees. However, given China’s relatively large population in relation to the global population, her demographic changes would certainly drive global trends on a statistical level.

December 26, 2010 @ 2:31 am | Comment

S K Cheung. I think you are right. I would guess causal relationship between decline in fertility and rise in life expectancy would be rather weak (apart from some effect from less competition for scarce resources perhaps).

However what is interesting is that while fertility declined during the first three decades of the PRC, the population doubled. The only thing that explains this must be a dramatic decline in mortality during this same period (except for of course the GLF).

December 26, 2010 @ 6:50 am | Comment

Appreciate the link to the New Yorker article Jason. Pankaj Mishra makes an interesting point here:

“And Dikötter’s comparison of the famine to the great evils of the Holocaust and the Gulag does not, finally, persuade. A great many premature deaths also occurred in newly independent nations not ruled by erratic tyrants. Amartya Sen has argued that “despite the gigantic size of excess mortality in the Chinese famine, the extra mortality in India from regular deprivation in normal times vastly overshadows the former.” Describing China’s early lead over India in health care, literacy, and life expectancy, Sen wrote that “India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame.”

The statistics probably support Mishra’s contention, however I would say that there is the question of whether the ends (improved stats) ever justify the means (totalitarian).

December 26, 2010 @ 7:03 am | Comment

..”however I would say that there is the question of whether the ends (improved stats) ever justify the means (totalitarian).”

Oh come on M Clifton – what on earth do you mean by ‘totalitarian’? Have you lived in China? I very much doubt it. Here’s something to think about:

“Between 1992 and 1994, the rise in the death rate in Russia was so dramatic that Western demographers did not believe the figures. The toll from murder, suicide, heart attacks and accidents gave Russia the death rate of a country at war; Western and Russian demographers now agree that between 1992 and 2000, the number of “surplus deaths” in Russia–deaths that cannot be explained on the basis of previous trends–was between five and six million persons.”
http://tinyurl.com/284g5os

This would equate to about 60 million deaths in a country of China’s population (over a decade of course – or 6 million excess deaths a year on average).

Does this make Yeltsin a mass murderer in the way Mao or Stalin are painted as?

Look forward to your thoughts.

December 27, 2010 @ 9:21 am | Comment

While the Raimondo link is a pretty accurate read, to characterise Yeltsin as a mass murderer on par with Mao and Stalin is a joke.

Yeltsin was variously a buffoon, serial drunk and a bit of an opportunist surrounded by corrupt cronies. However, he had the intelligence to dissolve the CP and the Soviet Empire, but went totally off the rails by importing Harvard PhDs to advise on privatisation, and that mistake is still playing out in Moscow’s court system today.

The stats/morbidity rates mentioned above can be ascribed to massive and widespread booze consumption and poor nutrition particularly among males, and not to a cold bureacratic machinery of murder and enslavement as practised by Mao and Stalin. (cf Annie Applebaum’s history of the Gulag aka the “conveyor belt’.)

Yeltsin was fully aware of his failure to effect a transition to an equitable market economy and a fully democratic social architecture. Google his farewell speech delivered on the last day of 1999. It is one of the most moving and thoughtful addresses I have ever read.

Yeltsin made a genuine attempt to address Russia’s dystopian past among its citizens. A similar attempt in China would consign the CCP to the proverbial DBofH, or maybe not since wishfull thinking quite often leads to disappointment.

December 28, 2010 @ 6:51 am | Comment

So Mr King Tubby – Russians were not boozing before the collapse of communism?

Some perspective on the transition to ‘democracy’ in Easter Europe, where death rates in most countries are higher now than they were in 1989.
http://www.economist.com/node/12494500?story_id=12494500

Furthermore communism was such a horror that 57% of Russians want a return to Soviet Union.
http://mondediplo.com/2004/03/11russia

Stalin, if he really was so evil, why does heve significant approval in Russia today? Putin called recently to objectively weigh Stalins positives against his negatives. So obviously even Putin does not believe Stalin was the monster you, King Tubby, try to make him out to be:

“Polls show that 18 per cent of Russians believe he was their best leader since 1917, while almost 50 per cent view him in a positive or very positive light.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/1511458/Stalins-light-is-shining-bright-in-Mother-Russia.html

I suppose King Tubby, you would be in a better position to pass judgement on Stalin than Putin and the Russian people?

December 28, 2010 @ 8:14 am | Comment

“A similar attempt in China would consign the CCP to the proverbial DBofH”

Really? In 1949, China’s industrial base was smaller than that of tiny Belgium, a country with 1% China’s population. Look at where China is today. Probably the quickest turnaround in all of human history.

In 1949, China’s life expectancy was 33. In 1976, it was 66. Now it is 73.
This is the most dramatic rise in life expectancy in human history (at least during the first thirty years of the PRC).

In 1949, China’s literacy was less than 20%. It was about 70 to 80% in 1976. Now it is well over 90%.

These are not meagre achievments.

My view is the overall performance of the CCP, in spite of its many faults that you and I would agree upon, have done a splendid job in uniting an incredibly poor, wartorn, fractured, and invaded country, and turning it into today’s nascent superpower.

Based on the overall statistics over the past 60 years, I would argue that a case can be made that the CCP is the greatest humanitarian organisation to have ever existed in history.

King Tubby – I suggest you try to substantiate your points with a few facts – rather than simply trying to convert others by your rhetoric.

December 28, 2010 @ 8:29 am | Comment

Stalin, if he really was so evil, why does heve significant approval in Russia today?

People forget. Look at the popularity of Mao. Stalin really was evil. Polls are irrelevant; the tens of millions of dead say it all.

December 28, 2010 @ 8:47 am | Comment

I think people do forget. They then look upon certain bits and pieces of history with rose-coloured glasses, possibly because they want to see what they want to see. And to no one’s surprise, that’s what they see.

I wonder how many Russians who remember Stalin fondly actually lived through Stalin. Similarly, I wonder how many Chinese who remember Mao fondly actually lived through Mao. Of course, the ones who actually lived through Mao and remember him fondly today at least had the privilege of surviving his years. Others were obviously not quite as fortunate. And we’ll never know what they would’ve thought.

On some level, it can be argued that Russians are in a better position to judge Stalin than non-Russians. But on a deeper level, it would seem to me that Russians who never experienced Stalin are not inherently better-qualified than anyone else to judge Stalin after all.

Doesn’t surprise me at all that Putin admires Stalin on some level. After all, Putin employs a fairly “broad” definition of democracy as it is, and he probably appreciates some of the extra latitude that Stalin garnered for himself back in the day.

I think the CCP has done some good. To me, the question has never been whether the CCP has done some good. Rather, the question is whether the same good could’ve been done without some of the CCP’s other less desirable accoutrements. Better still, is whether Chinese people continue to require those accoutrements as they continue to move forward.

December 28, 2010 @ 10:00 am | Comment

“I wonder how many Russians who remember Stalin fondly actually lived through Stalin. Similarly, I wonder how many Chinese who remember Mao fondly actually lived through Mao. Of course, the ones who actually lived through Mao and remember him fondly today at least had the privilege of surviving his years. Others were obviously not quite as fortunate. And we’ll never know what they would’ve thought.”

What I find interesting is that everyone I’ve ever met who really admires Mao is over the age of 40. Younger Chinese don’t seem to see much of any reason to be nostalgic about a past that they don’t identify with- their country is stronger than ever today. It wouldn’t surprise me if the attitudes towards Stalin among the youth in eastern Europe and Russia are driven by national pride- their nation was mighty under the Man of Steel, whereas they’ve become declining also-rans in the 21st century.

Stripped of religion, people will invariably worship something else- usually wealth or power.

December 28, 2010 @ 10:34 am | Comment

“I think the CCP has done some good. To me, the question has never been whether the CCP has done some good. Rather, the question is whether the same good could’ve been done without some of the CCP’s other less desirable accoutrements. Better still, is whether Chinese people continue to require those accoutrements as they continue to move forward.”

The CCP could have done a lot more good if Mao had the good sense to drop dead of a heart attack in 1950 and leave sane, practical men like Zhou Enlai and Liu Shaoqi in charge. No good would have come from leaving the KMT to run the country’s affairs; even had they won the civil war, anti-communist purges that would have reached Cultural Revolution like proportions would have immediately followed, and the scars- and resultant suspicion of anything smacking of “leftism”- would have made democracy impossible for decades. Thus, land reforms would have been impossible, and more and more peasants would find themselves crowded into horrible slums around major cities; the state would be on a perpetual war-footing, with the Soviet Union breathing down their necks, and giving up any of the western territories would have been impossible- Tibet and Xinjiang would have merely become new territories for the USSR. The level of inequality, combined with a lack of any sense of popular representation or nation-building identity, would have made continued unrest likely. (The troll who visited here a few weeks ago was right about one thing- comparing the rule of Taiwan under the KMT with a hypothetical continuation of KMT rule on the mainland is specious at best. Taiwan was already industrially developed; had a much higher literacy rate; had a large amount of US support and American and Japanese trained technocrats and investment; was something of a “Galt’s Gulch” for the KMT elite, who had most of the technical knowhow in China at the time; not to mention barely 2% the population of the mainland.)

On the other hand, a period of Leninist Industrial development and nation building under Zhou Enlai, without Mao’s nutty agrarian socialist theories and giant autocratic ego getting in the way, probably would have done China a great deal of good, and left the country in a very different place. Zhou would probably be remembered as a Chinese cross between Nehru and Park Chung-hee, and widely respected internationally despite his (inevitable) flaws. (I find it interesting that both New China and New India were lead by a radical agrarian socialist- Mao and Gandhi- and a conservative industrial socialist- Nehru and Zhou. Despite Gandhi’s pacifism, I sometimes wonder if Gandhi’s death didn’t prevent a great deal of unnecessary suffering for India. If you’re still a member of the cult of Gandhi, look up V.S. Naipaul’s “The Gandhi We Never Knew”. The man was as crazy as Mao.)

But if only, if only. We can’t change the past. Mao was a cunt, and Zhou could do nothing but obey him in hopes that he could mitigate some of his excesses.

December 28, 2010 @ 10:51 am | Comment

“What I find interesting is that everyone I’ve ever met who really admires Mao is over the age of 40.”

That is also what I have found. And rural people like my mother in law.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the attitudes towards Stalin among the youth in eastern Europe and Russia are driven by national pride- their nation was mighty under the Man of Steel”

There is some truth in what you say. In fact many on the nationalist right in Russia, essentially fascists, also admire Stalin – because he was a great nation builder. Also the today’s Communist party of the Russian Federation is not really ideologically Marxist Leninist. For example they have eschewed atheism – they are basically a populist party who have adopted Russian orthdoxy, nationalism, and admiration for Stalin – basically anything that is associated with a strong Russia. in fact Zyganov, the communist leader, as has Markashov (an outspoken anti-semite), another communist leader have been on generally good terms with the racist, anti-semitic far right. It seems that associating with Stalin is almost a tough macho thing.

But then that is entirely their right, regardless of the opinions of outside observers such as myself.

December 28, 2010 @ 11:24 am | Comment

anti-communist purges that would have reached Cultural Revolution like proportions

Quite likely. In South Korea the Synman Rhee’s Bodo Leagure massacres in the summer of 1950, claimed something in the order of 100 to 120 thousand victims – equivalent to about 4 million executions in a country the size of China at the time.

Chiang’s infamous 2/28 massacre alone claimed 30,000 victims, out of a population of only 6 million on Taiwan at the time – equivalent to about 3 million executions on the mainland. This is not to mention many other Chiang atrocities – carried out on the mainland.

It would not have been politically expedient for Chiang to carry out sorely needed land reform on the mainland – his political supporters came from the landlord and monied classes (in contrast to Taiwan, Chiang was not beholden to the landed gentry there). My guess is China would have developed, it at all, somewhere at the pace of India, perhaps a lost worse. India did not have land reform like China, but had democracy. China had socialism but no democracy. Under Chiang China would have had no democracy, no land reform.

The price for not having socialist land reform? Amartya Sen and Noam Chomsky convincingly argue for 100 million excess deaths for the India model of development over the Chinese model – even during the Maoist years.

Mao was a cunt

Actually I find Deng a far more ruthless figure than Mao (in spite of Deng’s many contributions). Mao was guilty of acts of gross incompetence and nuttiness, that lead to the GLF catastrophe. However I still think his heart was in the right place. And I think the personality cult was something that just got out of hand. Once it starts, it snowballs, and you can’t stop it without risking almost a total reversal of people’s attitudes.

And there is a difference from a personality cult for self aggrandizement, vs a personality cult as a way of getting people to implement your policies and ideology which you sincerely believe in. I believe Mao was more inclined towards the latter.

December 28, 2010 @ 11:53 am | Comment

@ By a single spark. Pls don’t be so literal.

The Soviet infrastructure was a sclerotic house of cards well before Yeltsins appearance. And it always was a booze soaked culture, well before Peter the Great developed an indigeneous champagne industry with the highest alcohol % anywhere in the world.

Anyway, I was really focussing on Yeltsin’s great achievement, which was to openly engage the Russian people in a discussion about historical memory and the whole Lenin/Stalinist project.

And to another commenter, Zhou was a grovelling serpentine toady wheeled out by Mao when foreign dignitaries arrived.

December 28, 2010 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

Mao spent his time in bed reading dynastic histories so as to better protect himself from contenders/usurpers within the party organisation, while Stalin in his latter years was certifiable by any stretch eg his remark that he no longer trusted anybody including himself.

Anyway, if we had access to Mao’s medical records, I’m sure his periods of major and minor blood-letting always coincided with his main medical conditions – constipation, STDs or dental problems.

December 28, 2010 @ 12:38 pm | Comment

@A single spark
Amartya Sen and Noam Chomsky convincingly argue for 100 million excess deaths for the India model of development over the Chinese model – even during the Maoist years.

Stop misrepresenting Sen and twisting his words just for the sake of a mere fifty cent reward. This is what Sen had said about the Maoist era and he compared it to India in a rather unflattering fashion.

Page 181, Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

The connection between political rights and economic needs can be illustrated in the specific context of famine prevention by considering the massive Chinese famines of 1958-1961. Even before the recent economic reforms, China had been much more successful than India in economic development in many significant aspects. For example, the average life expectancy went up in China

December 28, 2010 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

@King Tubby:

Zhou was that, but he was also much more than that. Even his least friendly biographers admit that much.

@spark:

I don’t care about Deng or Mao’s intentions, I care about their outcomes. I’ll take a venal cynic over a deranged idealist any day, provided the venal cynic knows how to get the job done. I’m a realist.

December 28, 2010 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

@A single spark
Amartya Sen and Noam Chomsky convincingly argue for 100 million excess deaths for the India model of development over the Chinese model – even during the Maoist years.

Stop misrepresenting Sen and twisting his words just for the sake of a mere fifty cent reward. This is what Sen had said about the Maoist era and he compared it to India in a rather unflattering fashion.

Page 181, Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

The connection between political rights and economic needs can be illustrated in the specific context of famine prevention by considering the massive Chinese famines of 1958-1961. Even before the recent economic reforms, China had been much more successful than India in economic development in many significant aspects. For example, the average life expectancy went up in China much more than in India, and well before the reforms of 1979 had already come close to the high figures that are quoted now (nearly seventy years at birth).Nevertheless, there was a major failure in China in its inability to prevent famines. The Chinese famines of 1958-1961 killed, it is now estimated, close to thirty million people– ten times more than even the gigantic 1943 famine in British India.

The so-called Great Leap Forward initiated in the late 1950s had been a massive failure, but the Chinese government refused to admit that and continued to dogmatically pursued much the same disastrous policies for three more years. It is hard to imagine that anything like this could have happened in a country that goes to the polls regularly and that has an independent press. During that terrible calamity the government faced no pressure from newspapers, which were controlled, and none from opposition parties, which were absent.

The lack of a free system of news distribution also misled the government itself, fed by its own propaganda and by rosy reports of local party officials competing for credit in Beijing. Indeed, there is evidence that just as the famine is moving to toward its peak, the Chinese authorities mistakenly believed that they had 100million more metric ton of grain than they actually did. ”

Put down Mao’s Little Red Book and borrow Amartya Sen’s “Development as Freedom” for the holidays from the library to catch up on some serious reading. Stop embarrassing yourself pls.

December 28, 2010 @ 12:56 pm | Comment

“The lack of a free system of news distribution also misled the government itself, fed by its own propaganda and by rosy reports of local party officials competing for credit in Beijing. Indeed, there is evidence that just as the famine is moving to toward its peak, the Chinese authorities mistakenly believed that they had 100million more metric ton of grain than they actually did”.

That says it all, albiet in an extremely lite, whitebread version. Face, praise and hyperbole mono-party culture which persists to this day.

December 28, 2010 @ 1:19 pm | Comment

“This is what Sen had said about the Maoist era and he compared it to India in a rather unflattering fashion.”

Again sp123, you are being disingenuous. You selectively quote Sen. I don’t have much problem with what Sen has said above. However we need to look at the other half of the equation.

Sen also says:

“But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India…India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame [GLF years],” (Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action, 1989)

As Chomsky says, this 4 million excess deaths per year in India means the following:

“We therefore conclude that in India the democratic capitalist “experiment” since 1947 has caused more deaths than in the entire history of the “colossal, wholly failed…experiment” of Communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, tens of millions more since, in India alone.”
http://www.spectrezine.org/global/chomsky.htm

December 28, 2010 @ 1:33 pm | Comment

In fact the GLF excess deaths are calculated relative to the low levels of mortality that the communists had achieved in the first decade of the PRC.

The actual mortality rates during the GLF were not much different from the mortality rates prevailing over the first half of the 20th Century. And not too much different from the mortality rates of India at the same time.

In fact anti-communists unwittingly give huge credit to the communists for reducing mortality up to the GLF, in order to max out the excess deaths calculations. So they use this to label Mao a mass murderer. It’s ridiculous.

Look at the mortality rate trend here:
http://www.bikealpine.com/glf.htm

The maximum death rate is abotu 25/1000 in 1960. This compares to 21/1000 in 1949, not that much of a difference.

But here is the kicker. Look at the death rates in India over the same time (1951 to 1960). They averaged at 22.8/1000 over the entire decade.

So India was more or less at GLF conditions for the entire 1950s. Whereas China for one year only had death rates slightly exceeding the Indian average for the decade.

It can be said that the century leading up to 1949, the Chinese people suffered more or less GLF conditions continually. I repeat the GLF tragic as it was, was more or less the norm for China before the revolution. And the Indians underwent continual GLF conditions over the entire 1950s.

Look at these horrific pictures of a typical Chinese scenes in Nationalist China 1946 (and this period was never even described as a famine period).
http://tinyurl.com/2cyrr4o

Note the children dying of hunger in the streets while people walk around them, the dying child in front of a fat well fed smiling rice merchant. This was the norm in pre-revolutionary China!

(by the way you will also note there is a picture of a starving boy with a begging bowl at the same link. Dated 1946. Yet Dikotter incredibly dishonestly misrepresents this image as from ‘Mao’s’ Great famine on his book cover).

The huge tragedy of the GLF is it bucked the trend in post 1949 China, and the millions of ‘excess’ deaths arise from calculating against the low mortality that the communists had achieved in the decade leading up to the GLF, and brought New China back, for a while, to pre-revolutionary conditions.

December 28, 2010 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

Again sp123, you are being disingenuous. You selectively quote Sen. I don’t have much problem with what Sen has said above. However we need to look at the other half of the equation.

Sen also says:

“But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India…India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame [GLF years],” (Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action, 1989)

As Chomsky says, this 4 million excess deaths per year in India means the following:

“We therefore conclude that in India the democratic capitalist “experiment” since 1947 has caused more deaths than in the entire history of the “colossal, wholly failed…experiment” of Communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, tens of millions more since, in India alone.”

That’s where you and perhaps Chomsky slipped up. Any educated person would not have called the economic system India had from 1947-1991 close to anything “capitalist”. The socialist planning economy of India was so famous (or infamous) that it was called a “License Raj”.

Speaking of being disingenuous, your link is dated 1989 but Amartya Sen’s “Development as Freedom” is published in 1999 and he got his Nobel Economics prize in 1998. Talk about being updated. hahaha. Some is still in his own era and Maoist nostalgia.

December 28, 2010 @ 2:00 pm | Comment

It can be said that the century leading up to 1949, the Chinese people suffered more or less GLF conditions continually.

It can also be said that thousands of years leading up to the Holocaust, the Jewish people everywhere especially suffered more or less Holocaust conditions continually given the regular persecution throughout numerous Crusades and violent pogroms and forced Ghettoization.

Plain absurdity just cracks people up.

December 28, 2010 @ 2:13 pm | Comment

The death “rate” during the GLF may not have been much different than the death “rate” in the years preceding it. Just imagine how much better the death “rate” would have been during the GLF years had there not been a GLF. And while a population-based “rate” may not look much different, given the size of China’s population even at that time, we’re still talking a good sized numerator. That numerator counts on Mao’s ledger no matter how you cut it.

December 28, 2010 @ 4:09 pm | Comment

@sp123:

I shouldn’t do Richard’s work for him, but please, back off. Spark hasn’t attacked you. Quit making personal attacks on him. You’re the one acting like a FQ.

December 28, 2010 @ 4:14 pm | Comment

@Nicholas M
I shouldn’t do Richard’s work for him, but please, back off. Spark hasn’t attacked you. Quit making personal attacks on him. You’re the one acting like a FQ.

Nicholas, let me be very blatant about this. It is none of your business to speak on behalf of the owner of this space and you should be very clear about that. Personal attacks? If you can’t stand a tinge of sarcasm, then get out of the kitchen. It is hard not to be sarcastic when people tried to misrepresent and make a fool of others.

FQ? It refers to people who are irrationally caught up with nationalistic fervor. If you follow my comments all these years, you will find that i spared no nation/national leaders from criticism (from the US, Taiwan, Japan, CCP, Bush, Palin, Blair, Saddam, Mao, Chiang, Thatcher all of them had been my targets before). Don’t throw terms around without knowing what they mean just because they seem fashionable to use, Nick.

December 28, 2010 @ 4:37 pm | Comment

@Nicholas M
Zhou could do nothing but obey him in hopes that he could mitigate some of his excesses.

This mythical image of Zhou being the “moderator” of Mao’s excesses is stretched too far. I am sure the “do nothing” on the part of Zhou includes signing the arrest warrants of his own brother and and goddaughter. It will be good for you if you can pick up Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary by Gao Wenqian. Hahahaha. Don’t be shock that the Zhou whom you described as “could do nothing but obey him in hopes that he could mitigate some of his excesses” to be actually a backroom schemer and a puppet of Mao.

December 28, 2010 @ 5:02 pm | Comment

sp123:
I have read the book in question and was referring to it before. Don’t make assumptions. There’s no doubt he was a backroom schemer- but to what end? And how would he have acted had Mao NOT been in the picture? That’s the what-if that intrigues me. Likewise, never assume that critics are more accurate just because they are critics. I try to take a middle path on all things.

Please, SP, you’re not helping yourself here. My position is this: the China blogosphere is an angry place because no one posts on record. Those of us who post here under what I assume to be our actual identities- me, Richard, and S.K. Cheung, for instance, tend to reel in the invective. Please, if you want me to take you seriously, come out into the light where I can see you. This goes for everyone. When I say you’re acting like a fenqing, it’s not the nationalism- it’s that you’re making angry personal attacks on people under a false identity. I’m asking everyone to please cut it out. I wish China blogs in general were better moderated, like the more civil forums I read elsewhere- which, in general, maintain their civility by insisting that people put some skin in the game.

December 28, 2010 @ 5:32 pm | Comment

Those of us who post here under what I assume to be our actual identities- me, Richard, and S.K. Cheung, for instance, tend to reel in the invective. Please, if you want me to take you seriously, come out into the light where I can see you. This goes for everyone. When I say you’re acting like a fenqing, it’s not the nationalism- it’s that you’re making angry personal attacks on people under a false identity.

False identity? Now try telling us i can find out your true full name, which country you stay. Your URL isn’t even a personal blog. I can also link myself to BBC or the economist to be more “real”. Hahaha. Stop being a self-righteous Net nanny pls; it is just downright pretentious.

December 28, 2010 @ 5:42 pm | Comment

I live in Shanghai, I’m on the editorial board of the publication I linked to. Any more questions?

December 28, 2010 @ 5:54 pm | Comment

When I say you’re acting like a fenqing, it’s not the nationalism- it’s that you’re making angry personal attacks on people under a false identity. I’m asking everyone to please cut it out. I wish China blogs in general were better moderated, like the more civil forums I read elsewhere- which, in general, maintain their civility by insisting that people put some skin in the game.

Hoho. I do agree. But think about Nicholas, if you have loved ones murdered under a dictator and you have people like spark dancing and clapping around that very same dictator claiming that he has “heart in the right place”, i am sure you will still whisper niceties into their ears.

I am still waiting for what you mean by personal attacks on my part.

December 28, 2010 @ 5:55 pm | Comment

I have read the book in question and was referring to it before. Don’t make assumptions. There’s no doubt he was a backroom schemer- but to what end? And how would he have acted had Mao NOT been in the picture? That’s the what-if that intrigues me.

There is no “what ifs” in history.There is only “what happened” in history. Judging by how Zhou let people died in his place on Kashmir Princess, it wouldn’t be too much to think of Zhou as a true blue schemer in his own right.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir_Princess#Zhou_Enlai

December 28, 2010 @ 6:00 pm | Comment

Nicholas M:

Why should people post under their actual identities. I see no reason for such an imperative. If an assumed or real identity keeps up with obnoxious line of posts and they get negative fan mail, Richard or whoever owns the site has every right to cut them out of the conversation on a temporary or permanent basis. (I rather care for my net privacy as I’m sure others do.)

Sure, China blogs are angry sites and that what makes them so much fun.

They are not serious academic seminars: “With all due respect, I think you are talking hogswash here, good sir” sort of thing.

If you really want to upgrade the quality of discussion, you should be insisting on traditional book (not net) references, whenever a poster makes a substantive claim.

However, thats a bit of a big ask as not everybody has their reference library within reach.

Finally, posting is a haphazard business, and implicit points are often missed by other readers.

December 28, 2010 @ 6:05 pm | Comment

@sp

When did I say he wasn’t a schemer? On the contrary, he was an amazing schemer. But Mao was better. And he knew it.

December 28, 2010 @ 6:06 pm | Comment

@Nicholas M – There have also been cases of unprincipled individuals using threats (Chris Devonshire-Ellis being a prime example) to silence legitimate criticism on the Sino-Blogs, I will therefore continue to post anonymously.

December 28, 2010 @ 10:11 pm | Comment

Nicholas, please chill. Lots of people here post under a moniker, as they do in most comment threads on the Internet. What difference does it make, as long as they use the same moniker and don’t sockpuppet (and that’s something I do check for)? For years I kept my last name to myself, which is my right.

I actually monitor the comments pretty tightly – there’s a lot of shit no one ever sees, some of it pretty shocking. But I can’t catch every over-zealous or rude comment, especially when I’m away on vacation, like this week.

December 29, 2010 @ 1:05 am | Comment

“People forget. Look at the popularity of Mao.”

As Nicholas said, most of the people you come across who like Mao are older than 40. Many of them clearly remember the CR and the GLF. However they do not blame Mao.

In the same way that people who suffered in pre-revolutionary China do not blame Chiang.

My father and his siblings were born in th 1930s and 40s in a village near Dongguan, China. This was a relatively prosperous place. My grandfather was a landlord and apparently was the one of the few literate people in his village. My father’s family could even afford to have family photos taken. Yet despite my granddads relative prosperity, of the eight children my grandmother gave birth to, three died in early childhood. Three out of eight. That is horrendous by any modern standard.

So one can only imagine the actual mortality rates throughout the first half of the 20th Century in pre-revoultionary China. They would not have been better, and at times even worse than the maximum mortality rates of the GLF.

Yet in spite of what most modern people, Westerners or Chinese, would consider to be a great tragedy, my grandparents just got on with life – death of children was part of the rhythm of life to them. And my grandfather was always a great supporter of Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, and bitter anti-communist, and after leaving China he subscribed to, and was an avid reader of ‘Free China Review, and ‘Sinorama’ to the day he died 30 years later in exile.

In a similar way to many Chinese who suffered terribly in the GLF under Mao, it would have been business as usual, with a return to pre-revolutionary conditions. They would have thought no more of blaming Mao for their tragedies than Chinese born before 1949 blame Chiang for their the terrible things that happened under him.

The indisputable fact is though, that after 1949, the conditions of pre-revolutionary China came back to haunt New China only once, for two or three years. Other than those years there was by any measure dramatic progress in reducing mortality and raising life expectancy, and increasing literacy.

You can slag off Mao all you want for all his various misdeeds. But you have to deal with the facts. The numbers. And if you look only at the numbers, and compare them with the record of other developing nations of the time, Mao is arguably one of the greatest humanitarians in human history.

December 29, 2010 @ 10:15 am | Comment

Perhaps we can put up for consideration Mao as a humanitarian in the eyes of those who survived the killings that he explicitly and/or implicitly condoned. That would address the shortcomings of dealing with just part of the facts, or just part of the numbers. I guess it also boils down to one’s criteria for “humanitarian”.

December 29, 2010 @ 10:40 am | Comment

Sparky: Mao is arguably one of the greatest humanitarians in human history.

I’m thinking Sparky might be Mongol Warrior, who kept posting from different IP addresses. Mao has nearly as much blood on his hands as the very worst tyrants of history like Chiang Kai Shek and Stalin and, yes, Hitler. He may be a second-tier mass murderer, but he’s right up there.

I understand, Chinese people shake things off and get on with life, and they don’t hold Mao accountable for a lot of the harm he caused. Their willingness to let it go, however, hardly makes him one of the greatest humanitarians of all time. To put Mao in the same category as Jesus or Martin Luther King or Gandhi or Nelson Mandela – well, it boggles the mind, and is exactly what I would expect from Mongol Warrior.

December 29, 2010 @ 10:59 am | Comment

Mongol Warrior????? Friend of yours Richard? He certainly ain’t me.

I’m still waiting for someone to challenge my facts.

December 29, 2010 @ 11:01 pm | Comment

Big difference between Hitler and Mao.

I hardly think Mao launched the GLF with the intention that it would fail. The GLF was a personal setback for Mao. Its outcome is hardly something he would have wanted.

Whereas Hitler wrote of his hatred of the Jews in Mein Kampf, even talking of holding them under poison gas, and shipped them to specific locations for slaughter, men, women, and children, just for being Jews.

The moral difference is this. The GLF was considered a massive cock up by Mao and the CCP. Whereas if all of Europe’s Jews had ended up exterminated, it would have been ‘mission accomplished’ for Hitler, and he would have considered this a great success.

I wonder about the moral perspective of people who cannot see the difference between the above two examples.

December 29, 2010 @ 11:12 pm | Comment

Just asking.

I won’t draw an exact equivalent between Mao and Hitler. Hitler was worse. But that doesn’t say very much. To say Mao is “one of the greatest humanitarians” who ever lived is so bizarre I won’t even argue it. He may not have as much blood on his hands or as many ruined lives as the worst of the worst. But Mao’s devastation of China is a matter of historical fact. There is no great humanitarian act with which to credit him, no achievement that led to a better world and greater human happiness. If you want to say he did some good things, like give women their rights, we might find some agreement. But one of the greatest humanitarians in history? That is fenqing rhetoric on steroids.

December 30, 2010 @ 1:41 am | Comment

To 73:
I think the problem with your “facts”, as I intimated in #71, is that they are as selective as those about which you accuse the Mao critics. To say that Mao was a humanitarian excepting his GLF and CR years doesn’t make him much of a humanitarian in my book. As I always say, to each his own.

Besides, the mortality and life expectancy numbers, as I said earlier, only show correlation and not causality. In fact, the “good” you might attribute to Mao are at best correlations, while the “bad” stuff like the GLF and CR have a much better causal link to the big daddy. But if you want to call him a “humanitarian” on the basis of stuff you “associate” with him while ignoring the bad stuff he caused, well, that’s your gig.

I certainly don’t equate Mao to Hitler. The intent may have been different. But you know what they say about the road to hell. Just as it is illogical to ignore the means and focus only on the ends, so too to focus only on the means and ignore the ends. However, it does amuse me greatly when a CCP apologist speaks of morals.

December 30, 2010 @ 5:14 am | Comment

The purpose of the Great Leap Forward was to maximize grain exports so that China could raise money to buy nuclear weapons technology from Russia. I suspect a lot Chinese would think it was all worth it.

January 15, 2011 @ 4:43 pm | Comment

Yes Peter, most Chinese believe the GLF was well worth it. They’d do it again in a heartbeat.

January 16, 2011 @ 2:15 am | Comment

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