by Caleb Talley
As promised, here is part two…
When the topic is Communism, the conversation is almost certain to turn to China. The People’s Republic of China has long been an example for supporters as to how successful a Marxist nation can be.
After all, China has built the second most robust economy in the world, behind only our own. And they did so, according to young communists, through the Marxist principles practiced by their beloved founder, Mao Zedong.
In large part, China is what it is today because of Mao. He led a revolution that took the country out of the imperial dark ages and into a brave new world of modern industry. Despite his controversies, admirers of Mao’s legacy will argue that he promoted the status of women, brought China free education and healthcare and increased the country’s population.
Each of those may be true, but it was not without great cost. While members of a growing Red Youth movement revere Mao as one of the world’s great leaders, the rest of the civilized world will remember him as the dictator that killed more of his own people than Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin combined.
And it all started with the same ideology that inspired Vladimir Lenin to lead the red revolution in Russia.
While Lenin was taking the reins of Russia in the early 1900s, a young Mao was being introduced to the ideology of Marx and Engel in China. He would play an instrumental role in establishing and promoting the Communist Party of China.
The party originally existed as a study group, but would eventually became a major force during decades of war with the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT), the Japanese and regional warlords that had prevented the formation of a strong, central government.
By World War II, popular support for the Communists had increased among peasants, miners and farmers. Mao did his best to take advantage of that support by indoctrinating the peasants and poor workers with Communist ideology. He taught the people how to read, created libraries and then filled them with books supporting his radical ideology.
In 1949, after two decades of civil war that killed millions of Chinese, including innocent civilians, Mao announced the formation of the People’s Republic of China. His first order of business was to build an indoor swimming pool. Mao’s physician would later write that the majority of business conducted by the Chinese dictator took place in his bed or by the pool.
With a strong central government finally in place and under his control, Mao organized mass meetings where peasants would gather and forcibly take land away from landowners, whether elite or middle class. Anyone who talked back was beaten to death. In order to suppress “counter-revolutionaries,” he ordered the public execution of businessmen, intellectuals and anyone else who was believed to have worked for the KMT or Western companies.
In those first years, millions were killed through either public execution or beatings. Mao even set execution totals, boasting that at least 700,000 land owners were executed from 1950 to 1952. Historians believe the number was actually anywhere from 2 to 5 million. Another 4 to 6 million were sent to labor camps, where most died. He encouraged the killings, and defended them as means of keeping power.
Mao initiated campaigns to turn his people against anyone believed to be a capitalist. While Sen. McCarthy was accusing Americans of being communist sympathizers in the U.S., the Chinese were accusing their neighbors, their spouses, their children of being capitalist sympathizers. Those suspected were shot or sent to prison without question.
These campaigns also led to a massive increase in suicides. Suicide by jumping from tall buildings became so common that pedestrians avoided walking near skyscrapers for fear of falling bodies.
In an effort to root out more opposition, Mao started a campaign that allowed the Chinese people to express different opinions of governing. Finally given the opportunity to express themselves freely, many intellectuals voiced their opposition to Communism and questioned Mao’s leadership. Mao then reversed the policy and began persecuting anyone alleged of speaking against him. Millions were killed as a result.
By the mid-1950s, Mao launched his first Five-Year Plan, aimed at ending Chinese dependence on agriculture to become a world power. It appeared to have worked, and Mao generated enough capital to reduce the county’s reliance on the Soviets.
In 1958, Mao launched the second Five-Year Plan, also known as the Great Leap Forward. The plan was intended to speed up the industrialization of the country. Farmers and peasants were forced into labor in the production of iron and steel. As a result, grain production fell dramatically and private food production was banned.
By 1959, millions of Chinese began to die of starvation. In three years, as many as 45 million were believed to have died as a direct result of famine and malnutrition. China’s total population loss during the period from 1959 to 1962 is estimated at 76 million. It became known as the Three Bitter Years.
Mao’s physician later wrote that the Chinese leader was initially concerned with the mass starvation of his people. But as time passed, he ignored the issue and was reluctant to question his own policies. Mao even went as far as to purge his government of anyone who questioned his plan, sending party members and even peasants into prison labor camps. An estimated 6 million people were killed in the purge.
To ensure that his leadership wouldn’t be threatened, Mao then embarked on the Cultural Revolution, which led to the destruction of much of China’s traditional cultural heritage and imprisoned a great number of Chinese citizens. Millions of lives were ruined, and millions died as a result of violent outbreaks.
Economic reform did not come to China until after Mao’s death in 1976. In the years that followed, economic reform led to the introduction of free market policies, an improved economy and hirer wages. According to historians, the Chinese economy began to improve once private farming was reintroduced, followed by private business ownership and regional competition.
The population grew under these reforms, as did the quality of life. The party began to move toward capitalist policies and remained communist in name only. Through the embrace of Adam Smith and free market ideology, China became the economic super power that we know it as today.
As I wrote last week, to embrace communism is to be ignorant of history. The emergence of China as a world power is just one of many examples that history has to offer.
In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more Cash & Candor here.