Sunday, September 26, 2010


From the September 17th Independent (U.K.):
Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China, qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history, an expert who had unprecedented access to official Communist Party archives said yesterday.

Speaking at The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival, Frank Dikötter, a Hong Kong-based historian, said he found that during the time that Mao was enforcing the Great Leap Forward in 1958, in an effort to catch up with the economy of the Western world, he was responsible for overseeing "one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known".

Mr Dikötter, who has been studying Chinese rural history from 1958 to 1962, when the nation was facing a famine, compared the systematic torture, brutality, starvation and killing of Chinese peasants to the Second World War in its magnitude. At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years; the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million. . .

Between 1958 and 1962, a war raged between the peasants and the state; it was a period when a third of all homes in China were destroyed to produce fertiliser and when the nation descended into famine and starvation, Mr Dikötter said.

His book, Mao's Great Famine; The Story of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, reveals that while this is a part of history that has been "quite forgotten" in the official memory of the People's Republic of China, there was a "staggering degree of violence" that was, remarkably, carefully catalogued in Public Security Bureau reports, which featured among the provincial archives he studied. In them, he found that the members of the rural farming communities were seen by the Party merely as "digits", or a faceless workforce. For those who committed any acts of disobedience, however minor, the punishments were huge.

State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.
Liberals love communism -- but only from afar, and without crediting the advances of the anglosphere.

(via Ann Althouse)


Warren said...

Given the chance, communist here in the United States would have acted similarly.


When Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn led the domestic terrorist group Weather Underground in 1969, a chance meeting led Army veteran Larry Grathwohl into joining the group. Grathwohl served as a courier, running messages between the group’s leadership (called the “Weather Bureau”) and individual cells that were to carry out attacks.

Grathwohl was also an informant for the FBI.

In an interview from the 1982 documentary No Place To Hide ... Grathwohl discussed what the Weathermen intended to do after overthrowing the U.S. government, including what they would do with those Americans who refused to embrace communism.

I asked, “Well what is going to happen to those people we can’t reeducate, that are diehard capitalists?” And the reply was that they’d have to be eliminated.

And when I pursued this further, they estimated they would have to eliminate 25 million people in these reeducation centers.

And when I say “eliminate,” I mean “kill.”

Twenty-five million people.

I want you to imagine sitting in a room with 25 people, most of which have graduate degrees, from Columbia and other well-known educational centers, and hear them figuring out the logistics for the elimination of 25 million people.

And they were dead serious.


There's a video of Larry Grathwohl here:

OBloodyHell said...

... and this guy is one of The Big 0's mentors and early supporters.

...So, what, do you think, did they find common ground on?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Forwarded to an alum in Shanghai who is behind the Great Wall. I'll bet word of this has gotten through, and you can't send links, but all of us might cut-and-paste and send to any friend we've got there.

Anonymous said...


'Mao’s Great Famine' is a sensational account of China during the Great Leap Forward. It argues the death toll in the Great Leap Forward was at least 45 million. It also claims that 2.5 million of these died due to violence. Most bizarrely, it makes the claim that 30-40% of all homes in China were demolished during the Great Leap Forward. This book depends largely on quotations from documents found in local Chinese Communist Party archives. Dikotter treats these documents as authentic and their content as correct, without a great deal of analysis of the question. I would ask readers of this book to heed a general warning about all evidence given by the Chinese Communist Party in the post-Mao era concerning the Great Leap Forward.

There was a sustained campaign by the Chinese government after Mao’s death to create a negative historical verdict about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Therefore statistics and documents, relating to these periods, compiled in the post-1976 era should not simply be taken at face value. They need to be authenticated and corroborated.

The first step would be to assess how well Dikotter has interpreted the archival sources he cites in his work. This is likely to be a problem. According to Dikotter, he had to sign a contract promising not to lend the documents he found to anyone else or let them be copied, as a condition of access to the archives. I have reproduced Dikotter’s email statement regarding this in an appendix to these comments. Only those judged by the authorities to be professional historians can get access to the archives. As there are only a limited number of professional historians in the world with an interest in the Great Leap Forward, it may be quite some time before we get a second opinion on these records. So, in the main, all we have for now is Dikotter’s interpretation of what he saw.

A positive feature of the book is the way Dikotter puts his own ideological cards on the table when he states in his preface that:

‘In a far more general way, as the modern world struggles to find a balance between freedom and regulation, the catastrophe unleashed at the time [of the Great Leap Forward] stands as a reminder of how profoundly misplaced is the idea of state planning as an antidote to chaos.’ (p.xii).

All historians can and should strive for objectivity. However, history can never be an exact science, so it is always very useful to know the political leanings of any historian when evaluating their work. Dikotter’s honesty about his right-wing ideological framework is genuinely refreshing.

Anonymous said...

The question we have to ask about the figure for home demolitions is, again, where is the witness evidence? Of course the media in China is fairly stringently censored. But especially in the last three decades millions of people have travelled into and out of China. If 40% of all homes had been demolished in the whole of China in the Great Leap Forward, would not this fact have come out before now?

Other somewhat strange claims in Dikotter’s book would also bear further analysis, no doubt. He writes of the Ming Tombs (Shisanling) Reservoir, that was built in 1958. Dikotter states (page 30) : ‘As the reservoir was built in the wrong location, it dried up and was abandoned after a few years.’

Anyone who was been there recently will testify that it is actually rather full of water. The fact is that Dikotter just assumes the whole project must have been a total failure because it was carried out during the Great Leap Forward. Such errors illustrate the need for rather more even-handed historians to go over the evidence that Dikotter has presented in more detail than I am able to do here.

Overall, Dikotter’s book is, on the face of it, unconvincing. His claims are just too exaggerated and his analysis of the veracity of his sources is just too underdeveloped. It is part of a trend towards ‘death toll inflation’ which sees the numbers of those allegedly killed by Mao increase year after year as ‘new historical evidence’ is published. Deng Xiaoping released figures that gave rise to the 16.5 million death toll. Judith Banister raised this to 30 million. Now, Dikotter has taken Banister’s 30 million and raised it to 45 million. But this of course is only ‘a minimum’, some historians put the figure at 50 to 60 million, Dikotter tells us (page 333). But as the death rate totals inflate, it will get harder and harder to fit in all these excess deaths between the figures provided by the two censuses of 1953 and 1964, unless the death toll in the non-Great Leap Forward years is pushed down to a ridiculous level. This will not bother Dikotter as he seems to be a sceptic about all the Chinese demographic data. This position is a perfectly acceptable one to take but where will it leave ‘Liu’s 1%’ baseline on which all Dikotter’s figures are based? You cannot state that a death rate figure is credible when you believe that all the available population figures are completely false. The death rate is a percentage of the population after all. Presumably at some point the death rate figures will have been thrown out too. When we get to 60 million, there will be no real reason left not to allow the death figure to rise ceaselessly up towards the 100 million mark and beyond.

@nooil4pacifists said...

I'm about to release a huge comment Blogger (properly) withheld as potential spam. But before doing so, the author is on a one man mission to rehabilitate Mao, and discredit the article's source.

But the source cited is not the sole researcher to conclude Mao killed 45 million outside of wars: see

What I can't understand is (whether it's 35 or 45 million dead) why our commenter is defending Mao.