Forty years after his death in 1976, Mao Zedong, the embodiment of evil, is revered as the father of modern China. How is it possible that the greatest mass murderer of the Chinese themselves attained such a cachet? Do the Chinese suffer from an apparent mass delusion that Mao himself created the current vibrant capitalist economy when Mao in reality would have been virulently opposed to its current non-socialist modus operandi?
China is currently experiencing an unprecedented revival of the Maoist Personality Cult almost four decades after his death. Shrines and gargantuan monuments are being constructed in his honour. Devotees will spend their weekend travelling to these places of worship in the latest luxury vehicles to lay wreaths or to have their photographs taken with the latest high-tech equipment exemplifying modernity.
Forty years previously, Mao would have labelled these tourists right wing Capitalist Roaders. Alternatively the derogatory term Capitalist Running Dogs would have been appended to their behaviour. Their fate would have been to face a chanting crowd at which they would have been vilified and denounced as traitors of the revolution. As punishment they were separated from their children and “sent-down” to work on a farm as a manual labourer.
Are their memories so malleable or fickle that those very same victims of abuse and torture today openly revere Mao’s legacy?
In the case of the plebeians their selective memory can perhaps be forgiven on the basis that the atrocities of Mao Zedong and the CCP – the Chinese Communist Party – have been airbrushed out of history but what about the senior members of the CCP? Surely they and their offspring are privy to the grim reality of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
The case of Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor, is noteworthy. In spite of being a senior and revered member of the Central Committee of the CCP, during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong targeted Deng by branding him a Capitalist Roader. In one session, he was forced to kneel to the ground with his arm stretched out behind him and over his head. His family watched as the guards forced him to confess to capitalist ways of thinking.
His son, Deng Pufang was then imprisoned by the Red Guards. He was tortured and thrown out of the window of a three-story building at Beijing University in 1968. With a broken back, he was rushed to the hospital, but was denied admission. By the time he reached another clinic, he was paralyzed. He remains a paraplegic, using a wheelchair.
In any other society, Deng Xiaoping would have sought retribution against the perpetrators especially after his rehabilitation upon Mao’s death in 1976. On the contrary his son Deng Pufang equates the Cultural Revolution to a toughening of the national psyche and applauds its effect on China.
Even at the most elevated levels within Chinese Society, the deleterious effects of the two major murderous revolutions is cast aside as if they are in a state of national amnesia about Mao’s murderous past.
A quick review of the details of the Great Leap Forward is in order to reveal the insaneness of this policy. Upon defeating the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, the first major policy change was to confiscate all the land. In terms of their long-standing “Land to the Tiller” policy the land was then handed over to the peasants who had previously tilled the land. The land owners would suffer a more terminal fate: all 700,000 were murdered. It goes without saying that the peasants were not dissatisfied with this arrangement: they acquired the land and the state did the killing.
This Socialist paradise would not last long. Mao had other plans in mind. With 550 million people, Mao believed that China should be a world power on a par with the USA and Russia. Instead she was a backward state beholden to the super powers. Even the United Kingdom with only 50 million people was six times as wealthy. On a per capita basis that translated into the British people being 60 times as wealthy; such had been the deleterious effects of a century of civil war and turmoil.
Mao’s flash of inspiration was what he termed The Great Leap Forward. During phase one of this proposal, all the land which had been ceded to the peasants would be confiscated and divided into 26 000 communal farms on which the land was theoretically owned by the people of China.
The inevitable happened. Productivity plummeted. Why should the peasants work hard when their fellow peasants could perform the hard work for them? The dictum “to each according to his needs and from each according to his abilities” now applied. From surpluses during the years 1949 to 1958, output shrank. The grand scheme was to increase output by 10% per annum in order that the surplus grain produced might be exported to generate foreign currency.
In spite of contracting production, the Commune Manager who was a faithful deployed cadre of the CCP reflected the stipulated increase on his Production Statistics. To ingratiate themselves to the District Commissar, they would not state even state a 10% but rather a 15% increment. Unsurprisingly the CCP demanded the 15%. As output had only been 85% of the target in reality, the 15% equated in some instances to 30% of the normal yield.
In one of history’s great ironies, the very peasants who had fought so ardently for Communism were now being starved to death. Some intrepid cadres aware that the peasants themselves were dying due to the deceit of the bureaucrats had a cunning plan of their own: report this deception to the District Office.
Instead of being feted as heroes for exposing the disaster unfolding on the farms, they were imprisoned as “alarmists, defeatists” and the most heinous charge of all, as “Capitalist Running Dogs.”
Bereft of options, the peasants had to starve. Needless to say, in year two, the Communal Farm had to reflect another 10% increase in production. This translated to 50% of the production.
To this iniquitous situation was now added the requirement that all the Communal Farms had to produce x tonnes of steel. Without knowledge of the process and inadequate tools, skills and raw materials, the peasants resorted to converting all the metal implements and equipment into ingots of useless metal. To power these home-made crucibles and forges, the countryside was denuded of trees
Finally in 1951 Mao was persuaded to curtail his social experiment. But the damage had been done. 35 million lives had been lost. Tens of thousands of tonnes of valuable steel and metal goods had been destroyed.
Instead of the Great Leap Forward, it could more accurately be classified as the Great Leap Backwards.
Who would take the blame for such a catastrophe?
Certainly not its progenitor, Mao.
It was all the Capitalist traitors parading as Communists within the CCP.
What was Mao’s solution? The Cultural Revolution.
In 1966, Mao unleashed the youth of China against these traitors and the “Four Olds.” Again amid great upheavals and dislocation, the nation staggered forward. Many of the Communist Party stalwarts who had participated in the Long March together with Mao Zedong were now persecuted. Foremost amongst those was Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s ultimate successor.
It was only Mao’s eventually death in 1976 which prevented another Maoist inspired revolution being visited upon the people of China.
By 1978 Deng Xiaoping had been rehabilitated and was now at the helm. A new chapter in the Chinese evolving chronicle was about to commence. Deng’s maxim was that he was not averse to a black cat or a white cat as long as it could catch mice. Loosely translated this implied that practical solutions but trump ideological solutions.
Fortuitously for a group of communal farmers in a small rural hamlet of Xiaogang, Deng Xiaoping had assumed the reins of power when they arrived at a treacherous conclusion: collectivisation did not work. What they proposed was to divide the farm up between the 18 of them so that each could farm for his own account. Under Mao such a pro-capitalist approach would have resulted in a long period of incarceration. Being aware of the consequences, these illiterate peasants agreed to keep their agreement secret. To make it binding, they each in turn cut their thumb and pressed the blood onto a sheet of paper. This would be their revolutionary covenant.
Ultimately this anti-socialist action was brought to the notice of Deng Xiaoping. Instead of torturing them and forcing them to confess that they have performed such an act by an Imperial Agent, they were feted as heroes. This was a delicate situation. The Communist Party’s conundrum was how to present this volte face not as a betrayal of Mao’s legacy but as a natural progression in the evolution of Socialist ideology.
Today one cannot find any mention of any of Mao’s murderous policies. Even at the main history museum in Beijing, no mention is made of these policies. In fact as the only picture relating to the Great Leap Forward is one depicting home-made kilns accompanied with a mildly critical comment that the policy had been unsuccessful. No mention is made of the fact that according to the Communist Party’s own internal document, at least 35 million lost their lives through starvation due to the misplaced policies of Mao. Instead the rest of the exhibit acclaims Mao as the father of modern China.
On Mao’s death, China had only 10 000 registered vehicles. The only means of transport was the iconic bicycle. Today China produces 10 million vehicles per annum. This can all be attributed to Deng Xiaoping’s policies of not re-inventing the wheel by creating companies with Chinese characteristics but rather slavishly replicating what the USA had done. Yet Deng does not receive the accolades but Mao does. If Mao Zedong was aware of the things being credited to him, he would surely turn in his grave. If he could, he would start another revolution.
Mao’s sordid hand in the CCP’s murderous policies is being airbrushed out – to use a photographic metaphor – from China’s past. Not until free speech and other civil liberties are granted to the Chinese citizens, will these atrocities come into the public domain.
When this does occur, the CCP will be crushed just like the Nationalist Party in the pre-democratic South Africa after the first free elections.
While the CCP still is of the belief that the revelation of Mao’s past will create an existential threat to its continued hegemony over China, Mao’s vile deeds will continue to be hidden from plain sight.
These issues still loom large today and will not be exorcised until the CCP is replaced with a political party espousing democratic ideals.
Or maybe lingering nostalgia for their non-existent past will still prevail.