Mao's Great Famine
An email from a Western correspondent living in China who was once himself a Maoist
Well I've been reading again -- this time going over old familiar territory using new, unbelievable sources: Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe as reported in national, provincial and city archives in China.
Can it be possible? - Author Frank Dikotter, China historian in HK, claims a new law allows such access and basically confirms the details of what we knew generally back in the 70's. Whereas we used transcripts of mainland radio broadcasts and reports of mainland newspapers and magazines, refugee accounts and documents smuggled out, he got access to official documents which, while they have shortcomings, add a degree of authenticity and first person, including the words of major players as reported in provincial reports of meetings in Beijing. No-one comes out well, even those who were persecuted for their honesty, as they were usually enthusiastic supporters before they saw for themselves the degree of horror in the countryside.
Their disillusionment was they thought officials at the lower levels, people were better than they! -- e.g unrealistic grain seizure quotas were increased at every level before they got to central level. They were often met by starving villagers to death -- i.e. The Chairman's delusional and venal behaviour was reflected at all levels of the party with any villager questioning the quotas being branded a bourgois conservative, anti-party element and often beaten to death.
I guess this marks the beginning of a whole new genre of revisionist scholarship bound to embarrass Professor Barme and the New Sinologists who appear to insist we should draw a line under 1978 and ignore anything before it!
As for me it only underscores the inadequacy of my mea culpa. And what of those who still cry Shihuizhuyi hao! (Socialism is great!)? Are present-day officials any better? Only a matter of degree perhaps.
One typical line from the good Chairman. "It is necessary for half of the people to die so the other half can eat their fill!" The legendary Zhou making endless calls to local cadres in 1959 demanding they fulfil their quotas despite knowledge of the famine.
The official policy of exporting grain to one and all, often free, to demonstrate the superiority of Chinese Communism. Liu Shaoqi giving the GLF his enthusiastic support. The enormous loss of state stored grain due to neglect, insects, rot, theft and corrpuption extending up to 80% in some places. Deng Xiaoping insisting quotas be collected ruthlessly "As in war". Its all very depressing reading.