During Sunday night’s eleventh debate between Democrat primary candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders repeatedly defended China’s “progress on poverty.” He did not note the astronomical death toll that preceded its alleged success.
Sanders cornered himself into defending the Chinese Communist Party in a series of answers to questions about his repeated support for communist Cuba, which he claimed in the past deserved praise for increasing literacy rates in the region’s formerly wealthiest country at gunpoint. Univisión’s Ilia Calderón, one of the moderators for the debate also hosted by CNN, asked Sanders to answer how he could expect Cuban-Americans in Florida to vote for him after he repeatedly approved of the murderous Castro regime.
“I have opposed authoritarianism, whether it’s in Cuba, whether it’s in Saudi Arabia, whether it’s in China, or whether it is in Russia. That is my life record,” Sanders replied, a false claim he has made repeatedly when confronted with his near-routine support of violent communist tyrannies.
As Sanders did not address Calderón’s question regarding Florida voters in any way, she repeated it, more broadly asking if it would be wiser not to compliment dictatorships like Cuba’s. Sanders responded by turning the question into one about China.
“I think you could make the same point about China. China is undoubtedly an authoritarian society, ok? But would anybody deny — would any economist deny — that extreme poverty in China today is much less than what it was 40 or 50 years ago?” Sanders asked. “That’s a fact. So I think we condemn authoritarianism whether it’s in China, Russia, Cuba, anyplace else. But to simply say nothing ever done by any of those administrations had a positive impact on their people would, I think, be incorrect.”
Biden then stepped into the discussion, offering helplessly: “China is an authoritarian dictatorship; that’s what it is. We have to deal with them because they’re there.” To his credit, Biden noted that China is currently imprisoning, torturing, and enslaving at least one million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in concentration camps.
Sanders disputes that the brutal human rights situation in China negates its alleged “progress on poverty” and that it is “absurd” to deny the “positive” the Chinese Communist Party has contributed to its people.
Much of Sunday’s debate focused on America’s response to the global pandemic caused by the Wuhan coronavirus, an outbreak the Chinese Communist Party hid from the world for months, making it nearly impossible to stop on multiple continents.
The Chinese Communist Party, since founding the People’s Republic of China in the mid-20th century, has claimed to spearhead prodigious poverty alleviation programs. The original such program under dictator Mao Zedong was known as the Great Leap Forward, a plan to turn all of China from an agrarian society to an industrial one.
To turn China into an “industrial,” prosperous nation, Mao banned private farming and forced communities to all participate in farming, demanding impossibly agricultural yields that never occurred. Mao also forced communities to sacrifice any metal belongings, melting them to use in attempts at manufacturing. While Mao murdered many for opposing his authoritarianism or simply for suspecting their disagreement, the vast majority of the deaths under his poverty alleviation program were the result of famine.
Citing author Yang Jisheng, The Guardian‘s Tania Branigan described life during the Great Leap Forward:
A decade after the Communist party took power in 1949, promising to serve the people, the greatest manmade disaster in history stalks an already impoverished land. In an unremarkable city in central Henan province, more than a million people – one in eight – are wiped out by starvation and brutality over three short years. In one area, officials commandeer more grain than the farmers have actually grown. In barely nine months, more than 12,000 people – a third of the inhabitants – die in a single commune; a tenth of its households are wiped out. Thirteen children beg officials for food and are dragged deep into the mountains, where they die from exposure and starvation. A teenage orphan kills and eats her four-year-old brother. Forty-four of a village’s 45 inhabitants die; the last remaining resident, a woman in her 60s, goes insane. Others are tortured, beaten or buried alive for declaring realistic harvests, refusing to hand over what little food they have, stealing scraps or simply angering officials.
Sanders did not specify which of China’s many poverty alleviation programs he was praising, though he said he was comparing current poverty levels with those of 40 or 50 years ago, placing his point of comparison about a decade after the Great Leap Forward and in the Cultural Revolution, which historians estimate killed up to eight million people.
Modern China is also home to extreme cases of poverty, though the cannibalism documented during the Great Leap Forward appears to have receded. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping triggers regular protests from parents, barely paid factory workers, and even Maoists who consider his brand of communism impure. In rural areas, the Communist Party rations heat, leaving many literally frozen — as in the case of “Ice Boy,” an internet phenomenon in 2018 after photos surfaced of the minor with icicles on his eyes and hair.