Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Mao's great famine

A new book on the great Chinese famine of 1958-62 confirms the figure I use in A Disastrous History of the World – that chairman Mao was responsible for at least 50 million deaths. In Mao’s Great Famine, Prof Frank Dikotter concludes that the famine itself killed at least 45 million, and on top of that, of course, there was the Cultural Revolution, the reign of terror that established Communist rule in the first place etc.

Prof Dikotter battled tenaciously for access to Chinese archives, and exposes how the party ruthlessly used food as a weapon, punishing with starvation anyone who stood in its way. He says that the state terror was imposed so efficiently that no photographs are known to exist of the famine.

The disaster had its origins in two of Mao’s doctrines – the forced collectivisation of agriculture, even though this had been clearly shown to reduce food production, and the ‘Great Leap Forward’ – designed to catapult China into the big league of industrial nations.

It involved getting peasants to abandon the land to construct gerry-built dams (which often collapsed with catastrophic results) or make useless steel by melting down agricultural implements in backyard furnaces. While his people starved, Mao cut food imports and doubled exports – handing out free gain to North Korea, Vietnam and Albania. (See also my blogs of 6 Jan and 27 March 2009.)

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