Mao’s divided legacy

I know, we’ve talked this subject to death, and everyone knows where I stand: I see Mao as having being nothing but bad for China, notwithstanding the few golden years of the pre-GLF 1950s when it looked like he was going to be a true reformer. I respect the rights of Chinese people to view Mao however they choose, and I understand why many of them see him as a hero, even if I disagree.

The NYT takes a look today at this question and notes why Chinese citizens on the “right” see Mao as a Machiavellian killer while those on the “left” see him as a liberator and the man who brought stability to China. It’s good to see that these topics are at least debatable, and to see there are a lot of Chinese “netizens” who aren’t toeing the party line. And this story includes an interesting twist.

…45 years ago, on May 16, 1966, this same man began the Cultural Revolution, an orgy of political violence that killed perhaps two million Chinese.

Mao’s preeminence in China is linked to his role in founding the People’s Republic in 1949. Yet his controversial political legacy, of which the Cultural Revolution is just one example, is growing more, not less, disputed, with time.

At stake is nothing less than long-stalled political reform, say some Chinese analysts and retired Communist Party officials.

“An honest, earnest, serious assessment of Mao based on facts” is “necessary,” Yawei Liu, director of the Carter Center’s China Program in Atlanta, said in an e-mail.

Mao’s legacy overshadows China to this day, so “without such a thorough verdict, it would be hard for China to launch meaningful political reform,” Mr. Liu said.

In China, the debate over Mao’s legacy is growing increasingly heated, conducted via Web sites, articles and books.

Here’s the “news”part of the article. Is the CCP really considering writing Mao out of the government’s policies and documents?

A recent essay by the liberal economist Mao Yushi, “Returning Mao Zedong to his Original Person,” has highlighted the controversy.

Mr. Mao, who is no relation to Mao Zedong, accused the former leader of hypocrisy and unusual cruelty.

The Cultural Revolution was merely a ploy to destroy his many critics after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward famine, which killed around 30 million people, Mr. Mao wrote.

Evidence of cruelty is found, for example, in Mao’s indifference to the fate of friends he drove to suicide, wrote the economist, and that of President Liu Shaoqi, whom Mao first attacked, then pretended to save, only to have Mr. Liu expelled from the party on his 70th birthday, before dying, untended, in jail in 1969.

A document circulating online purporting to detail a proposal by top Communist Party officials to remove Mao Zedong Thought from party work, documents and policies, has also sharpened debate.

The supposed Politburo document, No. 179, dated Dec. 28, 2010, is said to have been proposed by Xi Jinping, the man expected to become China’s next president, and Wu Bangguo, the head of the National People’s Congress.

No one knows if it’s real or fake (I presume it’s fake), but it has ignited the issue again. And I see that as a good thing. I think the more people look hard at all that Mao actually did they’ll have no choice but to see he was far from 70 percent good. And I have no illusions; people won’t let go of their opinions easily, and Mao’s legacy is one of those burning issues that inspire extreme opinions (and a lot of irrationality). At least now more people will be discussing it.


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.