Uncovering the horrors of China's 'Great Leap Forward'

The New York Times has a terrific article on the new information that researchers are uncovering about the horrors of Chinese communism under Mao. It should be required reading for anyone still offering up apologias for communism.

Until relatively recently, the communist party kept their records the Great Leap Forward under wraps — now researchers are finally getting access:

Historians have known for some time that the Great Leap Forward resulted in one of the world’s worst famines. Demographers have used official census figures to estimate that some 20 to 30 million people died.

But inside the archives is an abundance of evidence, from the minutes of emergency committees to secret police reports and public security investigations, that show these estimates to be woefully inadequate.

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.

But as Stalin famously said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” What's really terrifying about the article is the particular details and methods that were employed by Mao's regime:

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. The report of the investigative team sent by the provincial leadership in 1969 to interview survivors of the famine records that the man died of grief three weeks later.

Starvation was the punishment of first resort. As report after report shows, food was distributed by the spoonful according to merit and used to force people to obey the party. One inspector in Sichuan wrote that “commune members too sick to work are deprived of food. It hastens their death.”

Read the whole thing. It almost makes up for the New York Times recent puff piece on American communists.

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