This is goddamn terrifying.The short narrative of the Great Leap Forward is that Mao enacted a series of policies from 1958 1962 which fostered crash industrial development on the Stalinist model This led to communal farms, sale of all agricultural products, importing heavy machinery, and increasingly farfetched schemes such as backyard furnaces to increase steel output, a pest hunting campaign which led millions of citizens chasing sparrows instead of planting crops, and the close planting of crops to increase production which as any farmer knows, leads to too many crops taking nutrients from the soil and a decrease in output All of these agricultural and industrial schemes contributed only to a part of the catastrophe With the lack of food, civil society began to break down Theft, violence, heavy handed repression by local party cadres, black markets, massed refugees to Hong Kong, cannibalism, prison camps, executions for stealing food, and so forth It is less a famine than a democide, a forced repression of the rural population at the expense of the cities, who lived on half rations and worked in filthy half built polluting factories, to fulfill some mad dream, supported by a propaganda apparatus which sold The Big Lie.Propaganda promised fairy tales Instead the Chinese people received nightmares.A disaster on this sheer scale is incomprehensible I should be feeling horror Instead it is incomprehension 18 million dead at the least, 70 million at the most Just numbers I can t imagine it How. One man s utopia is another man s dystopia Utopia is a dream we aspire an equilibrium that dignifies all human survival When faultless notions embrace immorality and audacious obstinacy emitted from one solitary individual, an illusionary veil is fashioned camouflaging tyranny, torment and nightmarish endurance On every occasion of my understanding Mao and his political explosion, I cannot help but to refer to my old frayed copy of Orwell s 1984 blaring the ubiquitous caption BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU The Great Leap Forward or China s Economical Sputnik , whatever you may designate, was Mao s calamitous infrastructure vehemently assembled on infinite human suffrage and radical collectivism Mao reminds you of an overtly pushy anxious kid who would do anything just to get a pat on his back The Great Famine paints a portrait of a murky hell endured by the Chinese for five uninterrupted years 1958 1962.The fact that one man can persuade a God like authority to govern the free will of individuals at the cost of their disintegrating corpses is enormously enraging Mao s obstinate pursuit to propel China into a superior industrial opulence uprooted the very essence of a country s survival A hallucination of profusion resulted not only in genocide but in cataclysmic damage to the agricultural, industrial and financial sectors of the country Afflicted with starvation, dreadful diseases, disintegrated abodes and besmirched regulations China became a mere crumb of existence laced with dreadfulness of boiling cadavers for fertilization purposes and impecunious villagers selling their offspring for a meager meal of steamed bunsMass killings are not usually associated with Mao and the Great Leap Forward and China continues to benefit from a favorable comparison with the devastation usually associated with Cambodia or the Soviet Russia Unofficial reports deduced a figure between 50 60 million deaths demarcating it to be communalist genocide Amid the aftermath of the famine still claiming lives Mao Zedong pronounced Cultural Revolution in 1966.Dikotter pens a transfixing and meticulous study of the demoralizing man made tragedy that questions the authority of a single man and his right to vision himself as the redeemer beneath a garb of narcissist fanaticism and sycophancy. This is one of those occasions when I almost wish the God i believed in was the vicious judgemental harsh one that some fundamentalists of all flavours seem to look to This was brilliantly written but a really difficult wading through the horror and disgusting callousness of the Chinese regime at the time of the Great Leap Forward As I type this I went and found my copy of Billy Bragg s album Workers playtime cos I wanted to check and yep lo and behold he has the image of happy communist chinese folk sitting around well nourished and smiling and one of the songs is Waiting for the great leap foward Billy hold your head in shame This appaling destruction of, at a conservative estimate, 45 milion people in four year from 1958 1962 came about as a direct result of Mao and his fellow leaders crass stupidity coupled with violence, hypocrisy and inability to ackowledge the wisdom of centuries As i read the account it made me and horrified as you see men and women totally unaware of their interconnection with nature, society or history grabbing hold of a vision and riding roughshod over any opposition Agriculture collectivised to such an extent that farmers and their experience are disregarded and theory trumps any kind of knowledge Society and indeed any familial loyalty is collectivised and attempts to defend and protect the voiceless and vulnerable is punished and decried as rightist or counterrevolutionary.The truly astounding thing was how totally uncaring the leaders were and tragically this did not just mean the main leaders in power but those under them down in a foul cascade throughout every level The knock on effect of the need to save face at the highest point in government when confronted with leaders of other governments cascades down through the need to shine before superiors at the lower ambitious levels down to the lowest local brute who just enjoyed exercising power untrammeled by any form of human kindness.The Great Leap Forward destroyed the countryside and its very sensitively balanced situation in which poverty was never far away prior to Mao but his inability to trust the wisdom of farmers, the imposition of ridiculous theories of agriculture, his removal of so many of the land workers to build dams and irrigation systems which were unthought through, badly designed, incorrectly placed and never maintained made the failure of crops and the death of so many inevitable Added to that the desire, at all costs, to keep this failure secret meant China continued to export even when millions of its own people starved As I read I kept asking myself, how can such blind cruelty go ahead The over arching sadness is the realization that once we put ideologies before people, once I allow my dogma to deaden me to the effects it has this sort of monstrous catastrophe happens again and again Did Mao and his cronies genuinely believe that a few deaths were worth the sacrifice Cannon fodder as it were for this Great Leap Forward This is an extraordinariy harrowing book, all the so because it is to an extremely major extent wholly man made I am pleased i have read it but still regret that the God I believe in will be far merciful to Mao, Deng Xiaoping, Ke Qingshi then I would be to them or indeed they were to their own people It is hard to exaggerate the sheer chilling effect this book by Frank Dik tter can have It has made me realise that the statement by Gordon Kerr in his primer A Short History Of China that the death tolls in China throughout its documented 4000 years of history are often staggering, demonstrating not only a disdain for human life and with that also providing a vast and inexhaustible supply of manpower In the end this book brings the disdain and inexhaustible supply into focus.The book itself is in 6 parts with the first 2 parts The Pursuit of Utopia and Through the Valley of Death covering the history of The Great Leap Forward with the final 4 parts discussing the effects on all parts of Chinese life from the lowly peasant through to the political consequences There is An Essay on the Sources that is a vital explanation of the research used to produce this history.There have been and still are debates as to what Communism is I, in a way, hardly care because after reading this book to my mind the Chinese Communist Party during the Great Leap Forward was attempting a form of State Corporatism that has had nothing comparable historically except maybe Stalinist USSR I could no doubt real off the statistics on the death and destruction etc that Dik tter has researched but in the end I might bring to the attention of the reader strange little chapter called Nature in part 3 Destruction It seems to me that the Chinese have been fighting nature for many a long century from attempts to control the various floods and other natural events that blight all nations During The Great Leap Forward the fight against nature was at times, to use a word from Dik tter, bizarre Historically China had depleted it forest for various reasons such as need for firewood etc but The Great Leap Forward at the behest of Mao took it to a new level there is a new war we should open fire on nature he said and so they did Forests were decimated, mountains levelled as backyard furnaces flourished in some egotistical attempt to outstrip British steel production It reached a point that after the destruction of the forests that farmers took to felling their orchards to keep warm during the winters The consequences of that are obvious In the end drainage systems became blocked with mud and silt as the rains caused even issues to the many thousands of square kilometres of barren lands and with that the villages and towns that suffered flooding and starvation Hu Yoabang travelled heavily during 1961 and denied the effect of the rains as a cause of the devastation stating the rainfall was basically normal.Dik tter covers other areas such as the over use of pesticides, pollution, etc but the war on nature well and truly reached the heights of bizarre in 1958 with Mao s call to eliminate rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows The war on sparrows reaches the point of being weirder than fantasy Sparrows were targeted because they ate grain, the fruits of the labour of the masses, and so began a mass mobilisation to conquer them For several days nests were attacked, sparrows shot out of the air with thousands of people banging drums etc forcing petrified sparrows to fall from the air from exhaustion Shanghai reported that it had eliminated 1,367,440 of this pesky bird Shanghai also eliminated 1,213,05 cockroaches for good measure By April 1960 the realisation was that sparrows ate insects but it was then too late as they were now almost extinct Insect infestation ruined crops and with that further famine Locusts had a great time as well.One of the consequences of The Great Leap Forward was the loss of reputation of Mao within the party But he fought back with the Cultural Revolution in 1966 Dik tter has had access to various archives hence this book and The Tragedy of Liberation A history of the Chinese Revolution 1945 1957 Hopefully he writes a book on The Cultural Revolution as this would be an excellent trilogy on the Mao years.I strongly recommend this book to anyone with interest in the astonishing and always fascinating history of the Middle Kingdom. A very informative, well researched book about the effects of the disastrous Great Leap Forward, a supposed revolution in industry and agriculture dreamt up by the fuckwit known as Mao Zedong.It s long and dense, but a valuable, compelling read The author focuses way on the politics and political hierarchy of the times, at the expense of personal stories from on the ground, in the trenches, but attempts to make up for that in the last part of the book.It s well written enough, but suffers due to occasionally awkward wording and usage issues For example, the author repeatedly uses decimate as a synonym for annihilate Decimate means to destroy every tenth part If I decimate a plate of ten cookies, I only ate one The author will spend an entire chapter talking about how many people died of the famine, and will end on a sentence about how the famine decimated rural towns, which causes the reader to think all of a sudden, Eh, no big deal, despite the fact that all evidence points to the fact that this was a very big deal Random word flubs like that would often take me out of the book, and I d have to force myself back in If this book can be distilled down to a few bullet points, the salient points the author keeps hitting again and again Mao thought he was some sort of demi god that knew everything about everything Mao was, in fact, a galloping, raging idiot of a nutsack Fuck Mao Zedong No, seriously, fuck Mao Zedong The big ideological problem was that he took the People s Army and made that a reality on every stage of society, every single rung of the ladder, so that farmers toiling in the fields were also soldiers, and that kind of useless rhetoric is quite socially, culturally, and politically damaging in both the long and short run Fuck Mao Zedong The environment was plundered to the point that it s a miracle that it recovered at all Fuck Mao Zedong The Great Famine wasn t just a famine it was a collapse of virtually every sector of the economy It wasn t that people ran out of food The food was often there But distribution failed Inflation ran rampant Corruption soared Beaurocracy placed a stranglehold on ordinary government mechanisms All resources, not just foodstuffs, became scarce or seriously defective Ancient cultural rites and religions, anything that held the society together and was traditionally used to keep destructive forces like violence at bay, were systematically wiped out All of this was ignored at the top, or explicitly encouraged at the top Mao had a hard on for making things rough for Russia because Stalin used to treat Mao like the little nutsack that he was No, seriously, fuck Mao Zedong, may he rot in hell forever, if you believe in hell The End.Also, read this book I highly recommend it You will come away knowing than you ever wanted to about this dark time in China s history, and how much Mao Zedong sucks. Been from China myself, this books is a masterpiece It told me stories that was never been told to me when I was a student in China back in the 80s and 90s All the characters described in the book such as Deng, Zhu, and Peng were described to us as heroes in Chinese schools I truly believed it when Frank Dikotter said that in recent interviews, people who survived the great famine still blamed the Soviet Union for the whole disaster, it was what had been told to me in Chinese school Even now, China places country s reputation and face above human life such as the train crash that happened recently I guess you would not really understand China unless you see it from a different perspective which is what Frank Dikotter offered me. Between And , China Descended Into Hell Mao Zedong Threw His Country Into A Frenzy With The Great Leap Forward, An Attempt To Catch Up And Overtake Britain In Less Than Years The Experiment Ended In The Greatest Catastrophe The Country Had Ever Known, Destroying Tens Of Millions Of Lives Access To Communist Party Archives Has Long Been Denied To All But The Most Loyal Historians, But Now A New Law Has Opened Up Thousands Of Central And Provincial Documents That Fundamentally Change The Way One Can Study The Maoist Era Frank Dikotter S Astonishing, Riveting And Magnificently Detailed Book Chronicles An Era In Chinese History Much Speculated About But Never Before Fully Documented Dikotter Shows That Instead Of Lifting The Country Among The World S Superpowers And Proving The Power Of Communism, As Mao Imagined, In Reality The Great Leap Forward Was A Giant And Disastrous Step In The Opposite Direction He Demonstrates, As Nobody Has Before, That Under This Initiative The Country Became The Site Not Only Of One Of The Most Deadly Mass Killings Of Human History At Least Million People Were Worked, Starved Or Beaten To Death But Also The Greatest Demolition Of Real Estate And Catastrophe For The Natural Environment In Human History, As Up To A Third Of All Housing Was Turned To Rubble And The Land Savaged In The Maniacal Pursuit Of Steel And Other Industrial Accomplishments Piecing Together Both The Vicious Machinations In The Corridors Of Power And The Everyday Experiences Of Ordinary People, Dikotter At Last Gives Voice To The Dead And Disenfranchised Exhaustively Researched And Brilliantly Written, This Magisterial, Groundbreaking Account Definitively Recasts The History Of The People S Republic Of China I ll keep this brief When cuddly old Uncle Wedgie Benn dies and the eulogies pour forth, remember him as an life long apologist for Mao, the biggest of the socialist mass murderers of the 20th century.Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot et al pale by comparison to Mao Read this book and try to comprehend what this moron did to 45 million of his own people.Given the grim subject matter it s a good read depressing but never grinding It s essential for anyone interested in the evils of the big state and collectivisation. Unfortunately, this is a totally confusing ramble about statistics The information would better be presented in tables and graphs rather than in prose The other part of the book is about quotes or not by far too many people Again, we get lost, especially those of us who only know a couple of the names in Chinese politics of the time I stopped reading it or less halfway through I m sure I caught most of the gist of the story, but spared myself endless tons of rice and other produce. This book makes a significant contribution to the knowledge of the common man, viz me Like Anne Applebaum s work on the Soviet Union, Mr Dik tter has undertaken revealing, comprehensive research on a subject little understood in the popular conscience and done so in an eminently readable form The na ve among us, I suppose, imagine the human condition to be rather tame after all, do we not live in a world of modernity, happiness and constant, unremitting forms of entertainment Mao s Great Famine is a reminder of just how much misery we can inflict on our neighbors and just how far our illusions have developed.I am reminded of Edward Gibbon, who wrote that history is, indeed, little than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind It seems we must be constantly reminded of the potential depth of those follies, lest we too soon revisit them This work also further supports David Benatar s thesis, which I currently embrace, regarding anti natalism I dare not dwell too long on that theme, lest I be labelled insane.Because of China s historical separation from Western consciousness and the apparent impenetrability of its language and current institutions, I believe the work of Mr Dik tter and his peers is extremely important for our continued enlightenment, which presents an ironic paradox, for that which is gained cannot be forgotten Perhaps I would be a better person ignorant of our crimes, follies and misfortunes Hope and optimism are, indeed, powerful tonics.
Frank Dik tter is the Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Professor of the Modern History of China on leave from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.Born in the Netherlands in 1961, he was educated in Switzerland and graduated from the University of Geneva with a Double Major in History and Russian After two years in the People s Republic
- 448 pages
- Mao's Great Famine: The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962
- Frank Dikötter
- 11 October 2019 Frank Dikötter