“Struggle for a bigger bumper harvest; donate it to socialism.” Via: Foreign Policy.
The image on the right is a particularly chilling piece of propaganda from the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) which shows how the government attempting to paint Mao Zedong’s disastrous reforms as a roaring success, even as millions of Chinese starved to death in the countryside.
What is most appalling about the propaganda of the period (collected by Foreign Policy) is how little has changed in the Communist Party’s willingness to face up to the man-made famine it inflicted upon its subjects. Murong Xuecun (Hao Qun) highlights the following passage, written this year by the People’s Daily‘s Gansu provincial chief, Lin Zhibo:
“In their efforts to trash Chairman Mao, some people are spreading the slander that several tens of millions starved to death between 1960 and 1962. People have visited villages in the provinces of Henan and Anhui where the famine was severest. The true situation was nowhere near as serious as the slanderers claim. The villagers say they had heard about people starving to death but none had ever witnessed such a death. Direct evidence of starvation is extremely rare.”
This bald faced historical revision ignores the fact that even the Party, in an internal report never officially released to the public, admits that there were 17 million unnatural deaths during the Great Leap Forward. Historian Frank Dikötter, in his book Mao’s Great Famine, puts the number closer to 45 million, that the famine occurred is not in doubt.
Murong points out how Lin’s denialist viewpoint pervades all levels of society, fostered by Party propaganda and censorship of the true facts:
For the past six decades, the Chinese people have been living in an obscurantist system that is designed to make people stupid, foster mutual hatred, and degrade their ability to think critically and understand the world.
This ignorance is not the product of inferior intelligence — the system is itself an impediment to knowledge. This viciousness does not arise because the Chinese are inherently evil — the system encourages ruthlessness and vindictiveness. The so-called model soldier Lei Feng, supposed to be a paradigm of Communist virtue, articulated the party line in 1961: “We must be ruthless to our enemies, more heartless than the most severe winter.”
Most people in China suffer from an inability-to-accept-facts syndrome. They only believe what they want to believe and can’t see facts that are painful or contradict their own views. A school curriculum that ignores all policy failures since 1949 exacerbates this syndrome.
Also writing in Foreign Policy, Frank Dikötter asks: “Why does China still hide evidence of its own mass starvation under Mao?” Dikötter posits a disturbing reason for the lack of photographic evidence of the famine, which itself fuels the revisionists who attempt to deny that anyone starved to death at all:
The Red Guards, Mao’s armed revolutionaries during the Cultural Revolution, probably destroyed it. Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966, in part to eliminate senior officials who criticized his reckless economic experiments that had led to the famine. As Red Guards started seizing state institutions by force in 1967, government servants destroyed records and any visual material en masse — anything that could have discredited Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Individuals with photos of the brutal starvation acted with the same impulse. Rae Yang, the daughter of a family of diplomats who had served abroad, saw her parents burn all the letters they had kept, as well as some old photographs, flushing the ash down the toilet.
Page after page – even in the drastically edited English translation, there are 500 of them – his book, Tombstone, piles improbability upon terrible improbability. But Yang did not imagine these scenes. Perhaps no one could. Instead, he devoted 15 years to painstakingly documenting the catastrophe that claimed at least 36 million lives across the country, including that of his father.
He had little idea of what he would find when he started work: “I didn’t think it would be so serious and so brutal and so bloody. I didn’t know that there were thousands of cases of cannibalism. I didn’t know about farmers who were beaten to death.
“People died in the family and they didn’t bury the person because they could still collect their food rations; they kept the bodies in bed and covered them up and the corpses were eaten by mice. People ate corpses and fought for the bodies. In Gansu they killed outsiders; people told me strangers passed through and they killed and ate them. And they ate their own children. Terrible. Too terrible.”
Yang is convinced that Tombstone will be published on the mainland, maybe within the decade. He adds with a smile that there are probably 100,000 copies already in circulation, including pirated versions and those smuggled from Hong Kong: “There are a lot of things people overseas know first and Chinese people learn from overseas,” he points out.