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4 – Rule of the Perverse and Insane

In Module 3 we saw what China’s inexperienced but party faithful socialists did with their absolute power when attempting to impose their socialist dogma. In Module 4 Rule of the Perverse and Insane we will see the unimaginably harsh consequences of China’s first phase of its experimentation with absolute socialism: the culmination of the Hope and Change 1950s. You will learn about China’s perfect storm and descent into conditions so inconceivably chaotic and horrendously desperate that it can best be described as hell on earth for the Chinese people. And, we’ll see how this cataclysm nearly cost Chairman Mao his role as the great helmsman of the Chinese Communist Revolution. This was the era when American mothers told their children over the dinner table: “Finish what’s on your plate. There are people starving in China.” And they were.

Again, China had managed to build up a small surplus during the 13 years following World War II, but when the surplus quickly ran out the consequences came. And they came with a vengeance. Mismanagement and corruption by incompetent bureaucrats eroding workers’ confidence in the system. Individual productively plummeted. The fiddling with thousand-year-old agricultural practices turned counter productive, as large ill-conceived water projects worked to reduce the amount of arable land. And the anti-Sparrow Campaign unleashed man-caused insect plagues. As a result, China’s agricultural output collapsed. And a lot of what was produced rotted in trucks that lacked fuel to take it to market. Looting was rampant. In one case, a train in a remote area was robbed of its grain cargo by the hungry peasants who objected to the Communist Party taking their grain for “redistribution” elsewhere…and by the way, the train itself was stripped down to its wheels too. China’s economic engine seized to a halt, as the hungry began to hoard, hoping to survive by conserving what they had for the calamity to come. But there were simply too many hungry mouths to feed and cupboards and grain silos emptied. And death by mass starvation was knocking at their door. The Chinese Communist Party blamed climate change for the collapse in agricultural output. ”Three Years of Natural Disasters: a series of natural disasters compounded by some planning errors,” was the way the Party officially phrased it. It was not possible at the time to admit this catastrophic failure of the Communist Party and discredit the Socialist Ideals–redistributions, government owning or controlling the means of production, and so on–without jeopardizing the power and control of the Communist Party. The Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t begin admitting the cause and effect of the Great Leap Forward with the Great Chinese Famine for decades afterwards—well after market reforms took hold.

The Great Chinese Famine was the greatest famine in human history in terms of numbers of dead. For a time, it even out paced the birth rate and China’s overall population actually declined. Entire regions starved where they were. Official estimates once hovered around 15 million dead. Contemporary estimates are between 45 and 70 million having starved to death… approaching in 3 years the entire black death that ravaged Europe. My friend Li was just a young boy at the time, but remembers that when the grain was gone, having to eat the husks of the grain, which was quite painful in the digestive track. And, tree bark and the moss that grew on the north side of trees became frequent meals. But he was one of the luck ones: his family survived. In other parts of China, entire villages starved to death, with some reporting instances of cannibalism. It is important to note that during this time China exported rice to client states around the world–as a demonstration of Socialism’s success in the world’s most populous nation. But that was only one of the perverse and insane realities the Chinese people would have to face under this most egregious failure of Absolute Socialism.

There are 2 illustrations that demonstrate the extent of the deception and absolute perversion and insanity of the lengths China went to to make socialism a success. That they were absolutely all in on making socialism work: whether the Chinese people survived it or not. One tragic story was about a fisherman on the southern Chinese Island of Hainan. He had a family and made a living catching and selling fish. But once the Great Leap Forward took over, he was ordered to drop his nets, provide his metal implements for making steel backyard foundries and to report to a factory for work. The factory had people, materials, machinery and tools but was so badly mismanaged that it never successfully became operational. He was required to show up every day, all day, nonetheless. After a time, with no income…only work points, his family was going hungry. He asked to be let go so he could go fishing and feed his family. He was refused permission. So he went fishing anyway. And when he was caught? He was beaten and imprisoned for his crime against the will of the party: a counterrevolutionary. Without a provider, it is suspected that his children starved or restored to begging on the streets. The other story is best told through this video dialogue of a researcher of the Great Chinese Famine.

Even Mao, Communist China’s Great Helmsman, couldn’t escape accountability for such an epic disaster. A rival faction, with one of its leaders being Deng XiaoPing, challenged Mao. Whereas Mao cared only of the purity of his politics and economics “The East Is Red,” as he put it…. Deng presented a more pragmatic approach: “Black cat, white cat, if it catches mice it’s a good cat,” which he first promulgated in 1962 in response to the way forward out of the ravages of the Great Chinese Famine and Great Leap Forward. His approach promised common sense reforms that might include features such as a return to traditional farming, money and markets which were counter to Mao’s pure socialist party line. And so at the dawn of the 1960s it looked as though the Chinese people would finally have some relief from a dogmatic Madman and his pure socialist fantasies.


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