Thursday, December 16, 2010

The worst catastrophe in China's history

As Glenn Reynolds says, American (and other) apologists for Mao were comparing him to the early Christians and assuring us all that his rule was benign, give or take a few deaths, and necessary in order to provide the Chinese with a decent basic living standard.

That would not apply to the millions murdered during the Great Leap Forward and the many more who have lived on near starvation level ever since because agriculture was destroyed and the peasantry terrorized.

Frank Dikötter, professor at the Universities of London and Hong Kong, and author of the seminal Mao's Great Famine, has an article in the New York Times, one of those newspapers that praised Mao's and, let us not forget, Stalin's collectivization. (Walter Duranty remains a Pulitzer Prize winner.)

The estimates of those who understood what had gone on but could not get any documents was that the death toll was between 25 and 30 million. Professor Dikötter has managed to travel round the country and see documents in local party archives thinks that the true figure is at least 45 million, of whom 2 or 3 million were tortured to death or summarily executed. Others simply starved to death or died of grief as the man who had been forced to bury his 12 year old son alive. The boy had stolen a handful of grain.

Even the few cases Dikötter cites in the article are harrowing. I cannot imagine how terrible the book must be. Both are very well worth reading, though.

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