According to historian Frank Dikotter, who examined hundreds of documents across China from 2005-2009.
Dikotter is author of Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, which I haven’t read yet. But some of the descriptions of the famine echo those that Robert Conquest relayed in The Harvest of Sorrow, his book on Stalin’s terror famine in the Ukraine.
Between 2 and 3 million of these victims were tortured to death or summarily executed, often for the slightest infraction. People accused of not working hard enough were hung and beaten; sometimes they were bound and thrown into ponds. Punishments for the least violations included mutilation and forcing people to eat excrement.
One report dated Nov. 30, 1960, and circulated to the top leadership — most likely including Mao — tells how a man named Wang Ziyou had one of his ears chopped off, his legs tied up with iron wire and a 10-kilo stone dropped on his back before he was branded with a sizzling tool. His crime: digging up a potato.
When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, the local boss, Xiong Dechang, forced his father to bury his son alive on the spot. The report of the investigative team sent by the provincial leadership in 1969 to interview survivors of the famine records that the man died of grief three weeks later.
Starvation was the punishment of first resort. As report after report shows, food was distributed by the spoonful according to merit and used to force people to obey the party. One inspector in Sichuan wrote that “commune members too sick to work are deprived of food. It hastens their death.”
As the catastrophe unfolded, people were forced to resort to previously unthinkable acts to survive. As the moral fabric of society unraveled, they abused one another, stole from one another and poisoned one another. Sometimes they resorted to cannibalism.
The overall 45 million figure Dikotter comes up with is slightly lower than the previous figures for the death toll by Mao’s communist government I’ve reported here:
- Rudy Rummel’s revised figure of 76,692,000
- The Black Book of Communism‘s estimate of 60 million.
- It’s toward the low end of the 30-80 million scale Jasper Becker estimates in Hungry Ghosts
My working assumption is that Dikotter’s research is solid, and that his estimate of 45 million is probably the floor for the number of people killed under Mao. A total twice that high is also possible.
Somehow, despite an ever-dwindling pool of apologists contending otherwise, communism has been more congenial to genocide as a instrument of policy than any other transnational ideology in the 20th century. The Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Mengistu’s Ethiopia; different countries, same results. Communism, everywhere and at all times, is a ticket to oppression and death.
(Hat tip: Instapundit, who has several other readers and bloggers chiming in on the issue.)