Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Mao Zedong in his early years in power made his own experiments and coined his own slogans. While he reduced infectious diseases and illiteracy, his Great Leap Forward in economic policy was a leap backward. Agriculture slipped, and in the famine of 1959–1961 close to thirty million people are said to have died. Mao weakened the incentives of a people who traditionally had been noted for their economic energy and stamina.

To travel by train across China in summertime in the mid-1960s was to revisit scenes that belonged to the economic life of the Old Testament: the legs of thousands of men and women turning treadmills that raised irrigation water to a higher level; crowds of laborers standing in the barnyard with wooden flails, threshing the grain from the stalk; people sowing seed by hand; and old woman spending all day caring for a mere three geese; camels carrying their loads, their driver walking alongside. China admittedly operated locomotives, but they were black, puffing monsters of early design. The Soviet Union was dynamic compared to China.

As if to rejuvenate China, Mao set in motion in 1966 the turbulence of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Beginning with the mayor of Peking, a procession of Communist potentates was deposed. Tens of thousands of comrades and cadres farther down the line were singled out for denunciation. At public meetings those considered as traitors or ideological deviants, whether in economic theory or Western music, were hastily tried and despatched in humiliation to the countryside where they cleaned out the pigpens and drains, or were locked in prisons or shot. Hordes of young people called Red Guards arrived in the big cities, bringing juvenile enthusiasm to the art of persecution. For a time one of the most popular books in the world was “the little red book,” which outlined the thoughts of Mao Zedong.

— Geoffrey Blainey, A Short History of the 20th Century, Chicago, 2006, 295–296.



Post a Comment

<< Home