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Mao : Even More Evidence of Horror

December 19, 2010

Evidence is coming in that Mao was even more bloodthirsty than Jung Chang disclosed in her 2005 biography Mao : the Unkown Story which put the number of his murders at 70 million. This rated him worse than Hitler and Stalin. But it now seems even this may have been an underestimation.

Frank Dikotter, an historian based in Hong Kong, has just produced Mao’s Great Famine. He spent 2005 to 2009 combing the records of provincial party authorities examining details of the Great Leap Forward, the forced collectivization that Mao forced on his people between 1958 and 1962. It produced what official figures identified as 20 to 30 million deaths. But after looking at documents from Guangdong to Gansu, Dikotter thinks this is a woeful underestimation. He found local party records in Sichuan confirming 10.6 million deaths in that province alone in these years. His painstaking scholarship supports a calculation that the deaths in this phase of Maoist terror were at least 45 million.

Between two and three million were tortured to death or summarily executed for infringing Maoist food confiscation policies. Writes Dikotter, when a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village his father was forced to bury him alive. Dikotter based this account on a 1969 official investigation that interviewed survivors. The villagers said that boy’s father had died of grief three weeks after.

The most common cause of death was simple withdrawal of food as Mao appropriated village produce for export abroad to raise cash to fund armaments. There is minuted evidence of Mao saying, “It is better to let half the population die so the other half can eat their fill.”

Dikotter may come to rank with Robert Conquest, who first detailed the scale of Stalin’s mass purges, as an historian speaking for victims of Marxism-Leninism – victims in danger of being forgotten in their unmarked mass graves. I can remember thinking as a university student , and in fact for some time after, that Mao’s rule appeared more benign than Stalin’s – a cheerful agrarianism that only harmed a few landowners and comprador capitalists. How wrong my generation was. How important is the historic research now setting the record straight, especially given – as Dikotter points out – there is not a memorial in all of China to the victims of Mao’s great famine.

3 Comments
  1. redravens permalink
    December 21, 2010 8:56 am

    Yep. Mao’s was worse in some ways because the vast majority was due to callousness rather than deliberate malignity… and he was an incompetent to boot.

  2. Ronin8317 permalink
    December 21, 2010 1:28 pm

    For those who can read Chinese, I would recommend the book ‘Tombstone’ by Yang Jisheng. It is without a doubt the best documentation of the events during the ‘Great Leap Forward’. Stalin planned the millions of death. Mao caused the millions of death via policy incompetence and a dysfunctional political system.

    At the time, Mao promoted the idea of ‘collective farming’ as a way to increase production. Provincial government officials tried to prove their “political correctness” by grossly exaggerating the agricultural output by adopting Mao’s idea. The reality paints a different picture. ‘Collective Farming’ was a total disaster, with production almost halved. The Central government used the inflated figures to collect food from the provinces, and the provincial government officials maintained the lie of a bumper harvest by confiscating all the food from the local population. Tens of millions starved to death as a result.

  3. Bob Carr permalink
    December 21, 2010 3:53 pm

    How can we see Tombstone translated ?

    Or maybe this new historian ( whose book I haven’t yet read ) draws on it.

    I think deliberate malignity emerges as a Mao characteristic in Jung Chang’s portrait.

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