Chavez in Venezuela and some other Latin American leaders are looking at the Chinese economic and political model for development, they need to read Frank Dikotter book Mao’s Great Famine on events from 1958 to 1962. In the 1950s and 1960s the reporting on China was uninformative and few had an accurate picture of China. The China “experts” were often either CCP sympathetic or anti-regime. To understand China today you must understand the past, present, and future.
Frank Dikotter is a humanities professor at the University of Hong Kong. After reviewing official documents, he has come to the conclusion that from 1958 to 1962 at least 50 million Chinese died because of the Mao man-made “Great Famine.”
I was a US university student at the time. I remember another student being assigned a term research paper on “Fertilizer Plants in China.” At that time I thought such a study was the most inane research assignment I could ever imagine. I had absolutely no clue that the mass starvation was occurring in China. Years later I learned perhaps 10 million starved; later the number was 20 million; and now Dikotter’s research indicates 50 million. He notes there are others who estimate the number is closer to 60 million. At that time the Chinese population was 650 million. For an American it is impossible for us to comprehend starvation figures in the millions. Napoleon said “the death of an individual is a tragedy. The death of a thousand, one hundred thousand, or a million is a statistic” (which in French is a word which you hiss).
In the Soviet Union in the 1930s Stalin created mass starvation, executions, deportations, and arrests to collectivize Soviet agriculture. Mao’s 1958 to l962 agricultural mandates and quotas would have made Stalin proud.
What is telling is that the 1930s Soviet story is slowly being told now. Now the Mao Chinese Communist Party (CCP) 1958-1962 story is slowly being told.
Dikotter in detail describes how the Mao “Great Famine” was created by a clueless central CCP bureaucracy giving instructions to local CCP officials who in essence destroyed Chinese agriculture. It is a classic story of a Communist Utopian economic demand economy totally out of touch with the actual market reality. Dikotter is not the first to understand the scope of the “Great Famine,” but he clearly lets the reader understand how the “Great Famine” was created and who is responsible.
The real issue here is not the death of 50 million Chinese peasants. The issue is what has the CCP today learned from the “Great Famine”? Mao created his CCP on the backs of the peasants. Will the new CCP leadership under Xi Jinping understand the needs of the 800 million Chinese peasants? As a result of population controls, there are substantially more young men than young women in China. There is marked inflation in the cost of basics, such as food. There is a drop in exports to North America and Europe. Why is China substantially expanding its military budget and who is the enemy? Why is China diplomatically aggressively pressing claims in the South China Sea, India, and Myanmar? Will China revalue its currency, which is undervalued to encourage exports. With the massive trade imbalance with the US, is there a future trade war with proposed harsh US import tariffs? With the rapid economic expansion in reality is there a “financial bubble” in China which can burst in the short or medium term?
Is the CCP Achilles Heel the 800 million peasants? As the urban areas create wealth and economic activity, is the wealth being equally distributed to the rural areas? It is estimated that the Chinese cities will grow greatly with a mass migration from the rural areas to the urban areas at the expense of rural areas.
Will the future problems in China come from the peasants, which made Mao’s Revolution, and carried the burdens?
We must remember a Peasant Revolution can be a two- edged sword!!