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3 – Rule of The Ridiculous

In Module 2 we learned about how the Chinese Communist Party consolidated absolute power over the Chinese people. In Module 3, Rule of the Ridiculous, you will learn what they did with that power. You will receive an overview of China’s first phase of its experimentation with absolute socialism: The Hope and Change 1950s, where expectations were high. You will see how a nation with its educated and experienced class eliminated or suppressed mis-managed the country on a mass scale, as demonstrated by increasingly bizarre political and economic movements to include: the Hundred Flowers Movement, the Great Leap Forward and its catastrophic 4 Pests Campaign.

In 1956 the call went out: “Let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend.” The premise was that the compassionate and caring Chinese Communist Party wanted feedback from The People. To see how the Party was doing. A kind of “360 Review.” Even Chinese scholars and businesspeople from abroad were invited back to China to help with their ideas and suggestions to rebuild the country and make China a first-class nation on the world stage. Democracy walls were encouraged, China’s take on “Democratic Socialism,” where people could freely post their ideas on designated walls for all to see. Conceptually, they were somewhat akin to today’s American University “free-speech zones.” It was a time of idealism and optimism, and people trusted the Chinese Communist Party to do the right thing.

But in a case of be careful what you wish for, the Chinese Communist party was overwhelmed and shocked at the volume of negative responses they received. So serious was the situation that the Communist party felt threatened and reacted with a brutal nationwide crackdown. Dissenters were arrested. Some were held without trial. Some were sent to re-education camps. Some where used for show trials. And many just disappeared altogether. Though it is difficult to document, the death toll was certainly in the high hundreds of thousands, if not millions. They always are in China. Not to mention the psychological damage to individuals and the nation under harsh treatment and imprisonment. The result? Overnight China’s intellectual class was effectively wiped out or silenced. And the Chinese people’s trust turned into silent terror.

So what to do? Why double down on what you have been doing of course—and the bigger the promises and lies, the better! The Chinese Communist Party further tightened its grip on the country and even further extended is absolute control over the economy and people’s lives. The year following the Hundred Flower’s Movement, Mao ZeDong seized control over every aspect of the entire Chinese economy in a bid to fundamentally transform the country: from an agricultural based economy to an industrialized one in the space of a single 5-year Economic Central Plan. It was a kind of “New Industrial Deal” that Mao called China’s Great Leap Forward. This constituted the “Supply Side” of his vast economic plan. He collectivized agriculture–ending systems of farming that had evolved over thousands of years–perfectly balancing harvests with land regeneration and preservation practices. This involved forcing peasant farmer off their newly acquired redistributed land to live in Agricultural Communes. This required peasants to build collective housing (apartments), canteens for communal dining, day-care centers, and so on in centralized locations. And the only available materials were the houses that they’d abandoned, which they stripped to the ground for their bricks, windows, stoves: everything. But at the same time, incompetence and mismanagement resulted in few complete communes ever begin built. The result: a collapse in available housing across the country and rampant homelessness. It also forced them to use farming techniques directed by the inexperienced and incompetent Communist Party bureaucracy. Mao commanded that every village begin making steel in back yard foundries in a bid to make each village self-sufficient. Metal farm implements, and pots and pans, were melted down in backyard furnaces fired by wood and coal that couldn’t possibly produce quality steel, that turned out brittle, impure and unusable. And the industries that the steel was supposed to feed were now run by the peasant socialist party faithful, many illiterate, who ended up over producing shoddy goods irrespective of demand, or not producing anything at all.  They were much like the Social Justice Warriors and young democrat socialists of today’s America. As American Socialist Alexandria Orcazio-Cortez would say: it was more important to be “morally right” than to be “precise and factually accurate.” And it was these kinds of people who were attempting to run every aspect of the entire economy and the lives of over half a billion people during China’s Great Leap Forward.

Meanwhile, it was 13 years after the end of the war, and peace and stability had allowed a mild surplus to accumulate…but not much. Consequently the bizarre experimentation with the economy by unqualified partisans had a brief period with which to act without consequence. Friends I had met during my 20 years in China told me that at first things weren’t bad. Anything was better than war. On the ”Demand Side” of the equation money was eliminated as the Marxist axiom “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need” was put into effect. The chicken running around the compound was “The people’s,” and so hey, we are all the people right? So what’s for dinner? Chicken, of course. And…pork tomorrow and…I needed a new coat, so I went into the store and took one. And the good times rolled. But don’t worry: “The Party Will Provide.” At the same time people had to give according to their ability. One friend told me that he was determined to be just like Lei Feng! Give his all for the party and cause. He was one of 3 people instructed to harvest a tall field of grain. No one got paid, but rather earned “work points” that a party official would tally and at harvest time, then distribute the harvest proportionally. So he made a contest with the other 2 harvesters: they would each start at one end of the field, and the first one to reach the other side wins. The grain was tall and they couldn’t see each other as they hacked through the field, but my friend worked his tail off, cutting and stacking, cutting and stacking, and by the time he had reached the other end of the field he was exhausted but was sure he’d beaten the other two. But to his shock, they were reclining on a berm smoking cigarettes. And had a few cigarette butts at their feet. They didn’t even have a sweat going. Well, he found out later that they harvested 20 or so yards into the field, walked around the field and harvested 20 or so yards from the other direction and never harvested the middle. But they got the same work points as he did. And worse yet, when the harvest came, the party official keeping tally shortchanged him and he ended up having to bribe him to get enough for the winter. He was just one of tens of millions who were short-changed and cheated by rampant corruption and mismanagement. One thing’s for sure: he would never work that hard again.

And if that wasn’t enough to create a perfect storm for China, the experimentations by Mao and the Communist Party began to get stranger and stranger. One such experiment was the 4 Pests Campaign. Mao declared war on 4 pests: Mosquitos, Houseflies, Rodents and Sparrows. One friend told me that while he was in elementary school, every Friday afternoon the school would send the students out across the city to pull up the grass and burn it. Chairman Mao said it harbored mosquitos and he wanted everything “Clean.” Factories were closed for the same reason. Children were given one cent for every dead housefly they brought into their teachers. But nothing was more bizarre, or destructive, than the Anti-Sparrow campaign. People were mobilized to kill every sparrow they could find. Why? Well Chairman Mao said they are eating grain and seed that should be feeding The People. And the war on birds began, not just on Sparrows, but all birds. And birds, a natural defense against insects were killed in the millions. If you doubt that such as strange and bizarre thing could ever happen, we’ll end his module with a documentary film of them being killed by the truckload.


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