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« Lin Xiling and the Necessity of Dissent | Main | Reply to my Diaspora Fenqing Nationalist Critics »

February 10, 2013


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The denialists should be tried for crime against humanity.

Denial of any historical event is self-inflicted stupidity, stupidity which is, in, of, and by itself is punishment enough. And yes, we all know you're talking about HH's ridiculous assertion that no-one died during the GLF.

I am aware of the blogs you referred on studying the population estimates before and after of the GLF and the resulting missing population as a result of mismanagement of the economy and agriculture by Mao and Chinese Communist Party. The postings were trying to correct the impressions of recent books on GLF and tried to put an range of missing population due to both starvation and fertility declines by statistical method and questioned the validity of the assumptions involved. As I posted on those blogs Mao and the Chinese Communist Party bear primary responsibility for the fiasco, and any attempt to mitigate responsibility by citing repayment of debt to Soviet Union or sanctions by West were beside the point and will fuel counterattacks by such as you here. The fact that China has turned away from those policies which caused such disasters is the essence of my argument that China is far from the China at GLF which critics like you continue to lump together as evidence of failure.

To critics like you will never be satisfied unless the Chinese Communist Party officially repudiate Mao and its past and embrace democracy as you define it. Chinese Communist Party has its ups and downs through the years. It was almost exterminated in the 1920s when the party followed the Moscow line and attempted urban insurrection. Mao and others saved it by launching the Long March and changed leadership. The anti-Japanese war in the 30s strengthened the party and resulting the founding of The People's Republic of China. Mao is a figure revered by peasants and reviled by exiles and West, his place in history will be for the future to judge. I think you will wait in vain for his repudiation.

Just to be clear: I have no expectation that the CCP is going to "repudiate Mao and its past and embrace democracy." My purpose here is to make sure that my students, and others who surf the internet, understand certain basic truths about the GLF, truths that the CCP works very hard to repress and that certain regime apologists obfuscate and deny. The most basic truth is that millions and millions of Chinese people died because the Party took their food away. It is as simple, and as terrible, as that. I also happen to respect the archival work that Yang Jisheng and Zhou Xun and other Chinese scholars have done. Both Yang and Zhou report that they lost family members in the famine. They are doing what I believe is a classically moral Confucian thing: they are honoring their families. And I believe that we should honor all of those people who were killed in that horrible time.

"To critics like you will never be satisfied unless the Chinese Communist Party officially repudiate Mao and its past and embrace democracy as you define it."

This would be a good start, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

The simple fact is that Mao's deluded policies designed to increase the production of food resulted in a shortage of food. This shortage was entirely predictable as exactly the same policy (collectivisation) had lead to exactly the same result in the Soviet Union, in fact the shortage was worse than that in the Soviet Union because the policies implemented were even more deluded.

To ensure that food continued to be available to the people in the cities it was requisitioned from the peasants at gun-point. This, again, is exactly what Lenin and Stalin did the USSR, and, again, it had exactly the same result - mass starvation in the countryside.

The reverence for Mao you describe is largely the result of 30-40 years of intervening hagiography and censorship of criticism. Mao was either aware what the result of his policies would be (and therefore directly culpable for the result) or unaware (in which case he must be considered extremely negligent).

It is, however, worth considering how exactly it is that Mao could have been unaware of the famines caused by collectivisation in the USSR. Perhaps instead he thought, as apologists for Stalin claimed, that they were merely a creation of western propagandists? In which case we have a clear example of how apologism can lead to the repetition of tragedies.

What is the truth? You seem to see truth as black and white and immutable. Mao maybe negligent and responsible for the deaths, but certainly not as you claimed to force starvation on people for what? Ideology? History and human nature are not cardboard figures as you described. Rashomon illustrated that there are many different view points and interpretations for any given fact. For those whose families suffered during GLF, no amount of sympathy or explanation is suffice, but then history move on. Looking at U.S. history, we may laud the founding fathers, yet the result of the founding of United States resulting suffering for millions of slaves and genocide of millions of Native Americans. Do we blame them? For the millions of Vietnamese death and Iraqian, do we blame the present generation of Americans or just Bush and Johnson, and leave us free of blames?

There is much careful scholarship on the Great Leap Famine. This article is behind a paywall on the internet, but perhaps the journal is available at a library:

Thomas P. Bernstein, "Mao Zedong and the Famine of 1959-1960: A Study in Willfulness," China Quarterly vol. 186 (June 2006), pp. 421-445.

Here is the last line of the abstract: "...he [Mao] wilfully ignored the lessons of the first radical phase for the sake of achieving extreme ideological and developmental goals." I think Yang Jisheng and Zhou Xun would agree. Mao knew what was happening and chose to ignore it. He crushed Peng Dehuai, who truthfully reported at the Lushan Plenum.

Yes, truth is complex. I tend not to think in terms of a singular, ultimate "Truth." But we can know more specific, concrete truths. And one of those truths is that millions and millions of Chinese people died during the Great Leap Famine because the Party apparatus, of which Mao was the leader, took their food away. And, yes, another knowable truth is that slavery in the United States was a horrible abomination that killed and maimed many, many, many people. As was the extermination of native Americans. And, yes, the "founding fathers" of the US are responsible for those things, and their historical legacies must always include those facts. Also, I do not blame the present generation of Chinese for the things Mao was responsible for. I blame Mao, because he was directly responsible.

Here is a link to the Bernstein piece, if you have access to a university library:

The fact that China has turned away from those policies which caused such disasters is the essence of my argument that China is far from the China at GLF which critics like you continue to lump together as evidence of failure.

Times have changed but the continuities remain. The regime that Mao founded is still the regime of today. The privileges that were accorded to the politically connected few (fresh organically grown food) have grown to become the massive disparity of opportunity and wealth of today; the truth-distorting ideological program of the regime lives on in the Internet censorship of today; the internal apparatus of repression has not been dismantled and is still there, ready to be used if necessary; the primacy of ideology over law is still in place as the party struggles to protect itself from outer scrutiny; the forced integration of border minority regions (which some have maintained were 'invaded' by the Chinese) is continuing at an accelerated pace. Ngok is 100% correct that the party's policies on economic development have changed, but that does mean that we are now dealing with a different regime. The regime and its basis of power remain the same, and that is precisely why it is unable to talk straight about the past. It is also why Sam is right to insist on speaking the truth rather than bending it this way and that and trying to explain it into nothingness.

As for the sins of colonialism, that is a whole nother story that is too big to be discussed in passing here. Blaming Mao and his regime naturally means similar treatment for the history of the West. I don't see how bringing it up will change how we look at the facts of Chinese history.

The title of this column is "The Great Leap Famine Denial", essentially Mr. Crane accuse of those who were trying to quantify the GLF deaths as deniers of history. I do not deny that they were trying to question the validity of the numbers of deaths as presented by West and those books Mr. Crane cited. As they used census and statistical methods to show that the total deaths claimed are suspect and exaggerated. I see there is no point in these debates as whether 16 million or 46 million died are beside the point. I accept Mr. Crane's charge that millions dies during GLF.
Yet I suspect Mr. Crane is the real denier by refuse to ask questions about what really happened then, and blame it all on Mao, as history is a closed book. Those vivid personal recollections cited aren't open to question, but the rational behind them are very much so.
I left Shanghai in May 1959 as a child, I still remember the various coupons for grain and cooking oil and waiting in line at 3 in the morning to buy meat even with the coupons. I knew the shortages in the rural areas were much worse and aware of the famines reported while I was in Hong Kong. yet I also studied Chinese history or maybe claimed by others brainwashed to not blame Mao per se. Mao was an idealist and nationalist much more than as a Marxist. He has a utopian view of human nature and think human perseverance can overcame material conditions. The Chinese Communist Party aware the forced commune experiment failed and the combining of Sino-Soviet break and weather caused harvest failures generated food shortages. They imported as much food as they can from Canada and Australia as they can afford and imposed strict egalitarian measures like requisitioning foods from surplus area to deficit ones and the cities. As some area the local leaders boosted the numbers to show they were performing well and resulting higher quotas to meet and resulting famines as reported. An emperor living in Forbidden Palace by no means knew everything before it became widespread. Mao of course was responsible for the fiasco but certainly was not as described by Mr. Crane as coldblooded calculation.

@Ngok MIng Cheung, Your last post was all we wanted: the simple truth.

Now if that would be published in a Chinese history textbook, clearer thinking from Chinese students would prevent such situations of power and corruption from realigning in the future government.

Great, another westerner who wants to hang a dunce cap of Shame on China about something happened more than 50 years ago. Such stupidity from you referring to people who don't agree with you as denialists like it never have happened. Everybody, including the denialists, is in agreement that people have died as a result of starvation, but the blame is the heart of disagreement. Seems that most of these western bloggers and Historians about China only cares about the dark past about China. You ever see Chinese bloggers and historians write stories about the atrocities of the US within the last 50 years? No.

Besides, people who run Chinese government are not the same people 50 years ago. So why these same western bloggers talk about the atrocities as if it has happened today?

Besides, people who run Japanese government are not the same people 70 years ago. So why these same Chinese bloggers talk about the atrocities as if it has happened today?

I see there is no point in these debates as whether 16 million or 46 million died are beside the point. I accept Mr. Crane's charge that millions dies during GLF.

This is the same fruitless debate that rages around the Rape of Nanking. Anyone who makes even a reasonable attempt to revise the Chinese government's official 300,000 death toll is shouted down as a revisionist or worse.

Why is Chinese history so hard to talk about in rational terms?

Sam, what were the actual death rates during the Great Leap Forward eh?

Come on. Let us seek truth from facts.

Provide us with the average death rates during the years of the Great Leap Forward, and you will see that they were no higher than that of a typical developing nation of the time, and in fact lower than some British African colonies.

There is absolutely no doubt that there were huge climatic problems in 1959/1960 -- I refer you to the more nuanced interpretation of Cormac O'Grada.

What demographers, even Western ones will acknowledge is this. That of all developing countries between 1950 and 1980, China had absolutely the best record in reducing mortality and increasing life expectancy, thereby saving tens of millions of lives, relative to the performance of other developing countries.

So Sam Crane.

Answer me this very simply logical question. A bit of homework for you.

China's population grew at a staggering rate under Mao, the fastest in all of its history. It almost doubled.

Yet birth rates, and fertility plunged during his time in power.

Google all the research out there, both Western and Chinese, and you cannot escape these two bare facts.

How wise guy. Tell me. How to explain?

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