Second Question [Parfitt]: You (Lofthouse) mention Mao Zedong in your first question and reference his statement that women hold up half the sky. The Chinese Communist Party’s official line about Mao’s rule is that it was 70 percent good and 30 percent bad. What’s your assessment of Mao’s reign?
A Museum of Tragedy near China’s port city of Shantou offers evidence of why most Chinese decided Mao was 30%”bad”.
The “bad” refers to Mao’s Cultural Revolution [1966 – 1976] leading to the many suicides of those that could not cope, as Mao’s teenage Red Guard waged war on Confucianism and persecuted people accused of bourgeois tendencies.
In addition, there were millions of deaths by starvation mostly in 1960 caused by droughts and food shortages during Mao’s Great Leap Forward.
Opinions of how many died of starvation from 1959 into early 1961 vary dramatically, and it is a controversial hot-button issue. Claims range from 16.5 million to a high of 60 million.
For example, Henry Kissinger on page 184 of “On China” says, “From 1959 to 1962, China experienced one of the worst famines in human history, leading to the deaths of over twenty million people.”
Judith Banister’s work, China’s Changing Population [Stanford University Press – 1987], agrees with Kissinger’s quote.
In fact, Banister shows that the greatest loss of life took place in 1960 and returned closer to normal in 1961.
It didn’t help that the US had a complete embargo of China (1949 – 1963), which was designed to cause suffering among the people leading to an overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party and a return to power of Chiang Kai-shek.
If Australia, Canada and France had not shipped wheat to China in 1961, the loss of life would have been worse.
What Mao did to earn the 70% “good” rating is due to his early land-reform policies ending feudalism in rural China, in addition to improving health care, which led to dramatic improvements in life expectancy.
In 1949, the average life expectancy was 36 years. By 1970, during the Cultural Revolution, average life expectancy was almost 62 years — a 71% improvement.
Today, life expectancy is 74.68 years.
Facts show that more people benefited from Mao’s “good” policies than those that suffered from the “bad”. However, critics in the West prefer to focus on a glass almost empty instead of admitting the glass was more than half-full.
Chinese people believe the reign of the former Communist Party chairman was 70 percent good and 30 percent bad because that’s what the Communist Party tells them.
Historian Jonathan Spence tells a different story, one not muddled by contemporary life-expectancy statistics or charges against America. According to Spence, Mao’s land reform involved the brutal seizure and redistribution of property, with Mao admitting 700,000 “evil gentry” were justly killed.
The program didn’t put a dent in private ownership, but was a violent failure resulting in Party scorn.
Mao responded with his Hundred Flowers Movement and Anti-Rightist Campaign, part one in his trilogy of campaigns, which, along with the Korean War, may have caused 70 million deaths. Since Mao’s death, the Party has made significant strides in material development, the welfare state, national security, and prosperity, but locating a valid academic source concluding Mao’s reign was more beneficial than not is impossible.
Final Word [Lofthouse]:
Proving China prospered [on average] under Mao at the same time it suffered due to his Anti-Rightist Campaigns was easy.
Professor Stephen Thomas [University of Colorado at Denver] wrote for the World Bank’s Forum on Public Policy, “In 1949, the newly established People’s Republic of China designed and carried out economic development policies that led to an annual average economic growth rate of about 4 percent from 1953 to 1978, among the highest in the developing world…”
Then, Compton’s Living Encyclopedia says, “After the Communist revolution in 1949… Private ownership of land was abolished, but each peasant family was given a small plot to farm. Health care improved. The fluctuations in the food supply leveled off and life expectancy increased.”
I do not dispute landowners were tried, convicted and executed by the peasants they allegedly abused and exploited.
As for Mao’s policies killing 70 million—”MAY HAVE CAUSED” proves nothing.
Continued on November 30, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 4 or return to Part 2.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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