I think an assessment of Mao ought to be made on a scientific basis, beyond politics. Anti-Communists and rightwingers have an extremely poor record as far documenting this sort of thing, so I almost want to dismiss everything they say.
Probably the best sources would be leftwingers or even Communists who also happen to be some sort of China scholars. To the detriment of Mao, a number of Leftists, socialists and Communists who are also China scholars are starting to contribute some very negative things about Mao.
The good side is quite clear. Life expectancy doubled under Mao, from 35 to 70, from 1949 to 1976, in only 27 years. Supporters of fascism and Hitler are challenged to provide evidence that Hitler’s rule benefited anyone. Nazism was at core a death cult. Life expectancy collapsed in Germany under Hitler and in all of the regions that were occupied by Nazis. Nazism wasn’t about improving life for the common man at all; it was about war and endless war and endless extermination of the less fit.
Communism, with the exception of Pol Pot’s rule, where life expectancy collapsed in Cambodia and 1.7 million died, has been quite a bit different. Most Communist regimes have killed people, but at the same time seem to have saved many lives, often millions of lives. So it gets hard to tally things up.
I suppose pro-Communists would say that the many deaths were necessary in order to save so many lives. That’s an interesting argument and ought to be taken up. Was there a way to save so many lives without killing millions of people? I hope there would be, but I’m not sure.
Pre-China Mao was vastly deadlier than China under Mao. The life expectancy figures make this clear. Czarist Russia was 3 times deadlier than the USSR under Lenin and Stalin. This is where this “greatest killers of all time” crap runs into the mud. If the death rate was 3 times higher per year under the Czar than under Stalin, just how was Stalin the worst killer of all time?
Same with Mao. I don’t have good figures, but once again, it looks like Nationalist China in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s was 3 times deadlier per year, or maybe more, than Maoist China. If the death rate collapsed under Mao, how was he the worst killer ever? The truth is there are plenty of ways to kill a man. You can kill him with a bullet or by sending him to a camp, or you can kill him by disease and lack of food, the silent and uncounted method that the capitalists prefer.
Nevertheless, an accounting of deaths under Mao needs to be done. Just glancing at the data here, it’s already looking like Mao was way worse than Stalin. Way worse.
The initial consolidation of power in China was brutal. Whether the landlords were killed by the party or by the peasants is not that relevant. Mao said that 700,000 landlords were killed, and even he thought that was too many. China scholars think it is higher, from 1-4 million. I would dismiss the 4 million figure, but anywhere from 700,000-3 million is possible. Further research is needed here.
The Anti-Counterrevolutionary Drive of 1950 followed, an attempt to uncover supporters of the Nationalists and counterrevolutionaries. Tens of thousands were killed, or possibly up to a million, let’s call it 20,000-1 million. Further research is needed.
Anti-Christian Campaigns of the 1950’s. These were launched against mostly Christians, but also other religions. “Many thousands” are said to have died. Definitely some further work is necessary here.
Anti-Counterrevolutionary Campaign of 1953. Mao said, “9
The Great Leap Forward Famine happened between 1959-1961. Unlike the fake Holodomor of 1932-33, it’s looking more and more like most of the blame for this horrible catastrophe can be laid at the feet of Mao himself. The man was a fanatic. He was told that there was a famine, and in early 1959, he backtracked on some of his crazy ideas, while he blamed subordinates for the famine.
Then there was the Lushan Conference in May 1959. Mao accused Peng Dehuai, a critic of the Great Leap, of conspiring against him. Peng was purged, and the Great Leap went was ordered to go ahead full speed. If there had been no Lushan Conference, there would have been no famine. There followed two years of catastrophe, in which there was overprovisioning of grain from the peasants which was then stored in warehouses in cities, where it rotted or was exported for scarce foreign currency.
Much of the problem was that local officials were wildly exaggerating harvests, hence the overprovisioning at the state level. They thought that with bumper harvests, they could take grain from the countryside to the cities without problems. But there were no bumper harvests. Harvests had collapsed. Finally in 1961, the state figured out that it had screwed up royally and started mass importing grain. Caravans of grain trucks flowed to the countryside, and the famine was over. But many were too weak to even walk to the trucks to get the food.
Mao is blamed for an atmosphere of terror that led underlings to fake bumper crops where none had occurred. With no democracy in the party, no one wanted to contradict Mao. Mao himself had some utterly idiotic ideas, which he was allowed to implement due to lack of party democracy. After the Great Leap, the party realized it had screwed up bad. Even Mao knew that. The Cultural Revolution was in a lot of ways Mao’s attempt to regain face after getting egg on his face in the Great Leap.
As far as deaths during the Great Leap, this is still up in the air. Even Maoists admit that there were 15 million excess deaths in the period. Some of the higher figures use preposterous accounting techniques whereby people who had never even been born were counted as “deaths.” Tell me how that works. Nevertheless, the figure may be higher than 15 million. At any rate, it’s the worst famine in modern world history, and it’s a permanent blot on Mao’s record.
The Cultural Revolution was sheer insanity. Many received poor educations as schools were shut down. Many cultural relics and buildings were destroyed, and a good part of China’s cultural heritage was smashed up.
People were killed and hounded all over China for little or no reason. Red Guards rampaged all over China, torturing, humiliating, imprisoning and murdering all sorts of people, including local party officials, teachers and even university professors. When someone was hounded, the humiliation went on every day and there was no escape. No one would dare to come to your side, not even your spouse. Deng Xiaoping’s son was tossed out of a window and paralyzed from the waist down.
Red Guard factions battled each other in cities across China with weapons looted from local Army depots. Sometimes Army units joined in. Red Guards in one city would attack Red Guards in another city. Women and children were murdered and kids were even buried alive. Enemies were cannibalized in one area. Ridiculous, insane and anarchic, right? Sure.
In some parts of China, victims of the Red Guards are still angry. The Red Guards are still around, older now, but still living in the villages alongside their victims. Their former victims hate them. Lawsuits have been brought against former Red Guards, but the courts have thrown them out.
From a Communist POV, one of the most tragic things about all of these persecutions and killings, when one reads the details of the individual cases, is that many of the victims were not even counterrevolutionaries. Many were dedicated, hard-working Communists and revolutionaries, often devoted Maoists. Lord knows why they were purged and victimized.
The insanity and anarchy of the Cultural Revolution is one reason why the Party wants to keep a tight reign on power. China descends pretty quickly into wild and deadly anarchy.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Chinese Communist Party publications and the theses and dissertations by students at Chinese universities, which tend to toe the party line. As a rule, the Cultural Revolution is regarded as a big mistake by ultra-Left forces, and the Party definitely wants to avoid such messes in the future. I’ve even some some Party critiques of the Great Leap, though not much is said about that. It’s clear that the high ranks of the Party regard the Great Leap as a disaster.
There continue to be some very serious human rights abuses in China, as this 89 page report from Human Rights Watch reports. Even from the POV of a Communist, some of the abuses of these petitioners seem just flat out wrong. There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate Communist reason to be attacking a lot of these poor petitioners.
Surely in a Communist system, petitioners should have the right to protest uranium pollution of rivers, corrupt officials abusing their posts and stealing land, etc. In what way are these folks counterrevolutionaries?
But it’s not true that everyone who protests in China goes to jail. There are around 100 public protests every single day in China, often involving large groups. Only a few of them get arrested, harassed, beaten, tortured or jailed. But I guess you never know when your card will come up.
The fact that some of the harshest critiques of Mao’s crimes, excesses and stupidities are coming out of the Chinese Communist Party itself shows that slamming Mao can be done within a socialist, Leftist or Communist framework.
Can it be done in a Maoist framework? This I’m not so sure of. The Party will not come out and make public its findings on Mao as the USSR did with Stalin because the party continues to wave the banner of Mao and practically rules under his name and visage. It’s possible that slamming Mao would so delegitimize the party that it might be fatal for the CCP. It’s a tough call. For the anti-Semites, I have a homework assignment for you. Since Mao was a Communist and Communism is Jewish, obviously Mao was a Jew. Please uncover the secret Jewish connections of Mao and his closest supporters in the CCP.