It’s no secret that millions of rural people starved to death in China during the famine of 1959 – 1960, but it was a “great” tragedy caused by a complex series of circumstances and blunders—it was not a deliberate mass murder ordered by Mao or the CCP.
In addition, the actual number of deaths was significantly lower than what has been claimed in the West.
The CCP’s lofty goal was to prove to the world that the Party ruled China successfully by boosting crop yields and industrial output.
Another reason the CCP set such unrealistic goals for the five-year plan that contributed to the tragedy that was Great Leap Forward was because of Taiwan, which was recognized by the world as the official government of China and still held its seat in the United Nations.
It wouldn’t be until 1971 that the U.N. recognized the People’s Republic of China instead, and the United States wouldn’t switch diplomatic relations with China from Taipei to Beijing until 1979, finally recognizing the Communist Party as the legitimate ruler of China.
Recommended reading on this topic for those who seek the unblemished truth: From the Monthly Review, Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward? by Joseph Ball, and from Griffith University, Australia, Poverty, by David C. Schak, Associate Professor
In addition, more than one book has examined this topic from a scholarly perspective—instead of inflammatory unsubstantiated and inflated claims—but Mao’s Western critics have mostly ignored this work.
In China: Land of Famine (published in 1926 by the American Geographical Society) by Walter H. Mallory, casts doubt on the inflammatory claims, which have been popularized in the West about the post-1949 Mao era. Mallory offers another perspective for understanding what really might have happened during Mao’s Great Leap Forward.
Then from Stanford University Press, in the Economic Cold War by Shu Guang Zhang (August 2002), “the author argues that while the immediate effects (of the complete American embargo of China) may be meager or nil, the indirect and long-term effects may be considerable; in the case he reexamines, the disastrous Great Leap Forward and Anti-Rightist campaign (The Cultural Revolution) were in part prompted by the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.”
My wife then mentioned some memoirs published in Chinese and written by soldiers from Division A-341 of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that guarded Mao when he lived in the Forbidden City in Beijing.
These memoirs of a revealed that when Party members told Mao that rural Chinese in a few provinces were starving due to droughts and low crop yields, Mao didn’t believe what he was told.
To discover the truth, Mao sent people he trusted—troops from PLA Division A-341 who came from rural China—to their villages to investigate the claims of a famine.
When Mao’s trusted bodyguards returned from their home villages to Beijing in late 1960/early 1961 and reported the claims were true, Mao acted swiftly, cancelled the five year plan for the Great Leap Forward two years early and sent the peasants back to their villages from the collectives, and directed the Party to seek help from other countries to feed China’s starving people.
In fact, Roderick MacForquhar wrote in The Origins of the Cultural Revolution that in May 1961, China entered into long-term arrangements with Canada and Australia to insure grain supplies until production in China recovered in addition to imports of American grain laundered through France to avoid the complete American embargo.
Even Henry Kissinger, in his book, On China, wrote, “The Great Leap Forward’s production goals were exorbitant, and the prospect of dissent or failure so terrifying that local cadres took to falsifying their output figures and reporting inflated totals to Beijing.”
In conclusion, do you remember how many droughts and famines China has suffered from for more than 2,000 years? The answer is in Part 2 of this series: There were no fewer than 1,828 major famines in China or one nearly every year in one or more province. What I find really interesting is that the U.S. government and the traditional private sector U.S. media hasn’t reported this information, and the impressive fact that since 1961, there have been no famines in China for the first time in China’s history. In addition, in the last thirty years, China is responsible for 95% of all poverty reduction in the world.
Return to Part 5 or start with Part 1
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010” Awards
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival
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