Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history, an expert who had unprecedented access to official Communist Party archives said yesterday.
Speaking at The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival, Frank Dikötter, a Hong Kong-based historian, said he found that during the time that Mao was enforcing the Great Leap Forward in 1958, in an effort to catch up with the economy of the Western world, he was responsible for overseeing “one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known”.
Mr Dikötter, who has been studying Chinese rural history from 1958 to 1962, when the nation was facing a famine, compared the systematic torture, brutality, starvation and killing of Chinese peasants to the Second World War in its magnitude. At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years; the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million.
Mr Dikötter is the only author to have delved into the Chinese archives since they were reopened four years ago. He argued that this devastating period of history – which has until now remained hidden – has international resonance. “It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century…. It was like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot’s genocide multiplied 20 times over,” he said.
Between 1958 and 1962, a war raged between the peasants and the state; it was a period when a third of all homes in China were destroyed to produce fertiliser and when the nation descended into famine and starvation, Mr Dikötter said.
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World Affairs Journal: Gordon G. Chang
“We may, therefore, soon witness in China revolution by spontaneous combustion. Despite his belief that revolutions must be minutely organized, Lenin’s own state was eventually brought down not by a network of plotters but by an impromptu crowd. What we witnessed in Moscow—the disintegration of a state in a matter of days—later replayed itself in Manila, Lima, Belgrade, Kiev, and Tbilisi. Chinese people today may not have revolutionary intentions, yet their acts of protest at this unsettling time have revolutionary implications nonetheless.”
SMH, BEIJING: China’s top expert on social unrest has warned that hardline security policies are taking the country to the brink of ”revolutionary turmoil”.
In contrast with the powerful, assertive and united China that is being projected to the outside world, Yu Jianrong said his prediction of looming internal disaster reflected on-the-ground surveys and also the views of Chinese government ministers.
Deepening social fractures were caused by the Communist Party’s obsession with preserving its monopoly on power through ”state violence” and ”ideology”, rather than justice, Professor Yu said.
Some lawyers, economists and religious and civil society leaders have expressed similar views but it is unusual for someone with Professor Yu’s official standing to make such direct and detailed criticisms of core Communist Party policies.
The latest edition of the newspaper Southern Weekend broke a two-decade taboo by publishing a photo of a youthful Mr Hu with his early mentor, former party chief Hu Yaobang, who was purged in 1987 for his liberal and reformist leanings. But Chinese internet search results for the names of both leaders were yesterday blocked for ”non-compliance with relevant laws”.
”Corrupt officials have such a high and urgent interest in controlling the media and especially the internet,” he said. ”The more they feel that their days are numbered due to the internet and free information, the more ferocious and corrupt they become, in a really vicious circle leading to final collapse.”