The Wages of Communism -- The Chinese Catastrophe Under Mao

Apparently new Communist Party archives are becoming available to scholars in China, and the true story of the Great Leap Forward appears to be even worse than we imagined.

A catastrophe of gargantuan proportions ensued. Extrapolating from published population statistics, historians have speculated that tens of millions of people died of starvation. But the true dimensions of what happened are only now coming to light thanks to the meticulous reports the party itself compiled during the famine. My study, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe (2010), relies on hundreds of hitherto unseen party archives, including: secret reports from the Public Security Bureau; detailed minutes of top party meetings; unexpunged versions of leadership speeches; surveys of working conditions in the countryside; investigations into cases of mass murder; confessions of leaders responsible for the deaths of millions of people; inquiries compiled by special teams sent in to discover the extent of the catastrophe in the last stages of the Great Leap Forward; general reports on peasant resistance during the collectivisation campaign; secret police opinion surveys; letters of complaint written by ordinary people; and much more.

What comes out of this massive and detailed dossier is a tale of horror in which Mao emerges as one of the greatest mass murderers in history, responsible for the deaths of at least 45 million people between 1958 and 1962. It is not merely the extent of the catastrophe that dwarfs earlier estimates, but also the manner in which many people died: between two and three million victims were tortured to death or summarily killed, often for the slightest infraction. When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, local boss Xiong Dechang forced his father to bury him alive. The father died of grief a few days later. The case of Wang Ziyou was reported to the central leadership: one of his ears was chopped off, his legs were tied with iron wire, a ten kilogram stone was dropped on his back and then he was branded with a sizzling tool – punishment for digging up a potato.

There is more like this in the article.  When I read this, I can't help thinking about Hannah Arendt and her classic "Origins of Totalitarianism."  During the 60's and 70's, this fabulous work was targeted for marginalization by the academic Left because many in academia were admirers of Stalin and the Soviet Union and deeply resented the parallels Arendt raised between European fascism and Soviet communism.   Arendt's partial rehabilitation came after 1989, when Eastern European scholars and historians coming out from under communism looked around for a framework to describe their experiences under communism, and found Hannah Arendt to be most compelling.  This new wave of scholarship on communist China likely will vindicate Arendt as well.

American university campuses, in their current orgy of admiration for socialism, will have to work extra hard to whitewash this, but I am sure they are up to the task.

Update:  Venezuela goes full Great Leap Forward.



  1. Not Sure:

    I'm sure the problem in China wasn't communism- it was that the right people weren't in charge. Had they been, everything would have worked out just fine.

  2. John Moore:

    I see nothing in that article that I haven't know for at least a decade. The 45,000,000 figure is in, I think, The Black Book of Communism, which I highly recommend.

  3. JustMike:

    But he was a fashion trendsetter. I mean, just look at Hillary's wardrobe. Timeless.

  4. Craig:

    Yes, It's always the next time with the right leaders that Communism will finally work.

  5. Steve Skubinna:

    Further, while you and I have known of this for years, the people who really, really need to know this will put their hands over their ears and loudly sing so they will never know it.

    In the meanwhile, people are still making money selling Che shirts, which ought to tell you something about Communism.

  6. J_W_W:

    Well it's a sure thing that Bernie and Hillary aren't the people to get it right "this time".

  7. RevDrEBuzz:

    The current prog leadership loves this shit, even knowing the horrors. Because, they are insane.

  8. Not Sure:

    That, and they'll not be suffering the horrors, but inflicting them.

  9. jimb82:

    There was a Che poster in the Obama campaign's Houston office in 2008 until someone told them to take it down. Someone was waving a hammer-and-sickle flag in the Bernie protestor crowd at the DNC. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

  10. jimb82:

    Before the revolution fully takes root, I look forward to the War of the Fellow Travelers. When the Muslims try to implement sharia and the feminists and LGBTQ's try to resist, and the Politburo doesn't know what to do about it. Good times.

  11. TruthisaPeskyThing:

    Coyote, I wish you would get with the program. Power to the government is the future. And all the better if the government is opposed to traditional American values. There is no sin too great, no horror too repulsive, no corruption too excessive if power is given to the government that will oppose traditional American values.

  12. bob:

    Yeah. What was Pearl S Buck thinking? Anda all those American missionaries who reported on horrors and mass slaughter in China before Mao came along? And all those mass-murders by the anti-Communist Kuomingtang? And the Tai Ping mass slaughter, possibly the greatest in history, caused by a Chinese who read too many Evangelical pamphlets and thought he was Jesus? Get with the simple narrative, history!

  13. Conqueror of All Foes Cheese:

    Evidently Maduro in Venezuela thinks that policy is still a good idea. Maybe he'll make it work.|

  14. J.J. Sefton:

    You will find the staunchest defenders of liberty are those immigrants who came here from Eastern Europe and totalitarian regimes like China and North Korea. I know quite a few and to a person, all are gobsmacked by what we are doing. They came here to escape hell, not to watch it catch up with them here. G-d help us.

  15. Gil G:

    The old false dichotomy of if you're not for economic and social Darwinism you got to be for ruthless, violent Communism.

  16. Tonestaple:

    And in keeping with the theme, I just read that Venezuela has declared itself to be a slave state:

  17. BanBait:

    It's almost like allowing yourself to be disarmed results in adverse consequences.

  18. John H. Shuba:

    Those millions of dead Chinese can't complain. Just like the millions killed by Stalin, they died to bring about a socialist utopia.

  19. Not Sure:

    Who said that?

  20. Gil G:

    The author.

  21. Rob Skye:

    That day when its realized that all their pandering isn't the shield they thought it would be.

  22. Johnathan Swift Jr.:

    I found this to be the case with many Eastern Europeans that I grew up around, Hungarians who fled after the failed revolution, Czechs, Poles and Russians who had fled the Nazis and Soviets, but not always the case with more recent immigrants from the Soviet Union and China.

    While they like living in the United States and value its freedoms and stability, their attitude is not like what yours or mine would be as many of them are apolitical. They learned that getting involved in politics could be dangerous, so they tend to keep their heads down and get to work, encouraging their offspring to do the same.

    Life in these nations, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China was so capricious that acts of terror came to be seen almost like acts of God, it could and did happen to anyone, so in a sense many of them are not bitter as they saw mass torment and suffering as part of life. In some of these lands there was an expectation of suffering even before the communists, rule was arbitrary and savage and seldom fairly and equally applied. A population of beaten dogs, cowering, waiting for the next beating, not waiting for a chance to revolt.

    I think it is notable that the only revolt in Communist China occurred after they had a degree of freedom, not before, but the evil regime shot them down and inprisoned them just the same.

  23. Johnathan Swift Jr.:

    Yes, there have been broad estimates, but of course apologists were always there to cast doubt on them. Documentation is always vital and especially stories that individualize the terror capricious totalitarian rule imposes on its victims. I would also like to see more detail on the Cultural Revolution.

  24. Dr. Tar:

    Nobody can Kill Communist like their fellow comrades.

  25. Not Sure:

    If you say so.

  26. John Moore:

    The Black Book is encyclopedic in its coverage, with lots of info. That they came up with this number 20 years ago shows that. It was written by a bunch of French historians. They thought that communist regimes needed to be documented for history, and had no idea the level of horror that they would find until they dug into it. Every communist regime on the planet engaged in mass murder. Every one.

  27. TruthisaPeskyThing:

    Genghis Khan was not known for his tenderness to his enemies; and yes, China and that part of the world has a very violent past. Kuomingtang was known more for its corruption than for its mass murders. The population of China did not fear the Kuomingtang army when it came to engage the Communists.
    Bob, you are right that few people are pure, but your perspective is all out of whack

  28. Rick554:


  29. Joe:

    Those millions of dead Chinese can't complain. Just like the millions killed by Stalin, they died to bring about a socialist utopia.
    same with those aborted fetuses

  30. Agammamon:

    Ah yes - the old 'everybody else was doing it' defense of mass murderers.

  31. John O.:

    I could have sworn North Korea announced the same plan last month. LOL

  32. Nehemiah:

    Mao wanna-be, Hillary. A fashion or political statement? You decide.

  33. ano333:

    Mao was a disaster, but it is tough to link his policies to those of today's socialists or communists in America.

  34. Jason Calley:

    Here is a simple link. Centralized power is deadly; coercive rule destroys life and liberty.

  35. Ann_In_Illinois:

    Speaking of Genghis Khan, he used to have the record for biggest mass murderer in the history of humanity, until Mao topped him by a substantial margin. A key difference is that Khan was killing mostly to expand and acquire new territory, while Mao did far more massive slaughter of his own, after having full control. Such is the grotesque inefficiency of communism.

  36. May Xu:

    All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    Lord Acton

  37. May Xu:

    Yes I was born in SFRY and my wife china.

  38. May Xu:

    Yes problem is in Us --people who send kids to public schools to be brainwashed.

  39. May Xu:

    like all revolutionaries you make more troubles than you solve problems