NPR’s Neal Conan said the deaths from the Cultural Revolution were between 20 to 40 million, which demonstrated his ignorance since that many deaths took place earlier during The Great Leap Forward (1958 – 1960).
The Great Leap Forward was supposed to be a 5-year plan, but it was called off after just three tragic years. The period between 1958 and 1960 is known in China as the “Three Bitter Years”.
The loss of life during The Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) was about 2 (or more) million and many were suicides due to the denunciations and persecutions and the fact that society had been turned upside down. The Cultural Revolution deeply damaged the country economically and socially. Sociologist Daniel Chirot claims that around 100 million people suffered and at least one million people, and perhaps as many as 20 million, died in the Cultural Revolution but there is no way to prove this claim.
The deaths from the Great Leap Forward were mostly from starvation due to a famine, which may have been caused by a combination of Mao’s failed agricultural and industrialization policies and poor weather leading to crop failures and a famine. Since no one knows the exact number of deaths due to these blunders/weather, some have said 10 million while others have claimed 60 million. Most experts agree that the number was about 20 or 30 million.
What one believes about the results of The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution has to do with prejudices, or personal political opinions. One thing most can agree on is that this period of China’s history was a failure and a tragedy.
During the interview, no one asked or mentioned how the Communist Party led by Deng Xiaoping after Mao’s death in 1976, repudiated the Maoist Revolutionary thought that was responsible for the tragedy, and then opened China to world trade, joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and launched the Chinese Capitalist Revolution leading to the economic miracle China has become today.
If you are interested in hearing the entire interview, visit Henry Kissinger appearing on NPR’s Talk of the Nation or read the transcript.
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