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In a small village in China’s Hunan province, a young boy roamed the streets and fields looking for something to eat. The village was in the midst of a famine, and there was very little food to be found. The famine caused residents to scavenge for anything they could find, and even then most people were still starving.
Eventually, the boy came across a few bushels of wheat, and, being overwhelmed with hunger, he decided to steal a handful of the grain for himself. However, the boy’s actions did not go unnoticed by the village boss. The man grabbed the poor boy and dragged him off to be punished.
In a shocking act of cruelty, the boss sentenced the boy to death by being buried alive. But, in a horrific twist, the boy’s punishment was not to be carried out by a government official, but rather, it was to be inflicted by his own father.
In response to threats to his remaining family members, the father had no choice but to do as he was told. As other villagers watched, the man carried out the sentence, trapping his still-living son underground and leaving him there to die.
The guilt proved to be too much for the father, and, unable to live with what he had done, he died of grief a few days later.
These scenes of horror played out all across China during the rule of Mao Zedong and his Communist Party. His socialist policies lead to famine, violence, public humiliations, and deaths by the millions.
Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 after a long and bloody civil war. His army forced the nationalists, led by Cheng-ki-Chek, to flee to the island of Taiwan. (The Government remains there to this day)
Mao and the Communist Party got to work collectivizing the economy. Private enterprises were forced to turn into state-owned or collective-owned enterprises. Farmers could only grow what the Party allowed, and individuals were deprived of their freedom to choose their own careers. Individual freedom was replaced with the mobilization of the collective. The workers were forced to sacrifice their self-interest for the good of the Party and the nation.
The Chinese Communists were originally close allies of the Communist Soviet Union, but Mao came to resent Joseph Stalin and his successor Nikita Kruschev.
Mao wanted to outperform the Soviet Socialist Economy with his brand of socialism. He wanted to speed up the transformation of the economy from collectivized socialism to full-on communism. He also wanted to outproduce the economies of the capitalist countries, most notably the United States and Great Britain. Mao had a plan for accomplishing his goal, and in 1958, he introduced it, calling it “The Great Leap Forward.” However, the results were not what he promised. His grand socialist plan led to the greatest man-made disaster in human history.
The Great Leap Forward
Mao’s plan called for the mass mobilization of Chinese workers to increase industrial and agricultural output in order to transform China into a communist nation.
One of the ways that he hoped to accomplish his dream was to encourage the development of people’s communes. Influenced by their experience in the civil war, the Chinese set up communes which consisted of workers being placed in regiments and battalions not for fighting an enemy, but rather for farming.
According to Mao, “The people’s commune was the golden bridge to communism, bringing free food to all…and in about ten years’ time commodities will be abundant, moral standards will be high.”
Within a year, the entire countryside would be collectivized into 26,000 communes. Private property was outlawed in many communes, and the few possessions that the people owned were to be turned over to the collective.
In the cities, the workers were organized in factories that were required to produce output that met quotas set by the Government. In order to fulfill the quotas, a massive amount of steel was required. The demand for steel was so high that people were required to operate “backyard furnaces” to make steel. The furnaces were only four meters high and required households to melt many of their household goods into steel. (Many homes were completely stripped of anything that contained metal)
Wages were essentially outlawed, and any wages that were distributed were allocated based on the accumulation of “work points” calculated by the commune bosses. Many never got paid at all, and those that did had the value of their income eaten away by high inflation.
As in other socialist countries, the lack of a profit motive led workers to underproduce. In order to increase output, many commune bosses used the threat of starvation as a deterrence. If people did not work, they did not eat.
The results of all the mass collectivization were horrific. Nothing was spared, not even the environment. Mao even launched a campaign to kill all sparrows in China, which caused an ecological imbalance and led to a plague of locusts and other insects.
Death On A Massive Scale
The ongoing famine, made worse by the sudden explosion in the insect population, led to countless deaths. Children were abandoned by their parents, left to starve when they weren’t able to provide for them. People were killed and eaten by those who were starving due to food shortages.
At the same time, millions were arrested, tortured, and killed for resisting the government.
Mao’s grand plan was a tragedy of epic proportions. In the end, the “Great Leap Forward” resulted in the death of at least 45 million people in just four years (1958-1962).
Mao Zedong is the biggest mass murderer in world history. In addition to the 45 million killed as a result of the “Great Leap Forward,” an additional 1.5- 8 million were killed in his “Cultural Revolution.”
The Chinese Cultural Revolution (1967-1976) was launched by Mao to purge his enemies from the Party and replace them with people loyal to him. Millions were terrorized in the name of his cult of personality.
Upon his death in 1976, the Chinese Government, led by Deng Xiaoping, instituted market reforms which sought to deemphasize the role of the collective, in exchange for more private investment and control.
The Chinese have sought to strike a balance between authoritarian rule and open markets. Today, China has reduced extreme poverty to less than one percent. They have the world’s second-largest economy and have a private sector that employs 80% of workers and produces 60% of economic output.
The Chinese learned from their own mistakes, and from those of the Soviet Union. The horrors of socialism have been replaced by the fruits of private industry.
However, political freedom remains elusive. Time will tell if more economic freedom can coexist with a politically repressive regime. But one thing is clear: Socialism was a failure in China.
Socialism in China produced the most carnage of any socialist nation that has ever existed. The results of the collectivized industry resulted in famine, death, terror, and extreme poverty on a scale never seen before. Unfortunately, this history is not fully understood in the West. Many people today, if asked, would identify Hitler or Stalin as the largest mass murderers in world history, but few realize that Mao and his Communist Party were responsible for more deaths than both of those dictators combined.
It’s this misunderstanding that this series is attempting to correct. Exposing the true horrors of socialism and ensuring that more people are aware of it is the only way to stop it from taking root in the United States.
Those who don’t learn their history are doomed to repeat it.
In the next part of this series, our attention turns back to the western hemisphere. Cuba, a nation located just 90 miles from the American mainland, played a significant role in American politics in the second half of the 20th Century, all as a result of the socialist regime of Fidel Castro.
Stay tuned to FreedomWire for the next installment in the series.
Mao’s Great Famine: the history of China’s most devastating catastrophe, 1958-1962
Copyright 2010, published by Walker Publishing Company, Inc., New York