Frank DikÃ¶tter writes for the New York Times that China is quietly de-classifying tons of documents related to the “Great Leap Forward” that began in 1958. DikÃ¶tter has traveled all over China looking at these documents, mostly housed in local party headquarters, and has determined that Mao’s policies in the Great Leap Forward — not famine or natural disaster — were responsible for the deaths of 45 million people.
Further, it is apparent Mao knew full well that he was causing these deaths, and he shrugged it off.
Some of the details are horrific. People died of starvation when what little food people had was taken away by the government. Between 2 and 3 million were killed by torture or summary execution.
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 â€” most likely including Mao â€” 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.
I was too young to have been paying attention to international relations at the time, and I don’t remember how much news of the Great Leap leaked to the West. But people need to know this.
I hope that someone finds documents related to the invasion and subjugation of Tibet. The official Chinese history of the Peaceful Liberation is, shall we say, somewhat different from other accounts. Tibetans in exile claim up to a million and a half Tibetans were slaughtered and hundreds of monasteries destroyed. The Chinese version, which you can read at Wikipedia, is that the peaceful Chinese troops of liberation handed out cash and candy bars and quickly won the loyalty of the oppressed Tibetan people.
It may be that the truth is somewhere in between, but the Chinese version simply is not credible, especially in light of the truth about what happened in China. The violence in Lhasa that brought about the exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other high lamas occurred in March 1959, during the Great Leap Forward, when China officially had gone crazy.
One of the few high lamas to remain in Tibet after the uprising, the 10th Panchen Lama, spent years in prison and was subjected to torture. He eventually was released and considered “rehabilitated.” But in 1989 he returned to Tibet and delivered a speech mildly critical of Beijing, and died five days later of a “heart attack.” He was 51.
In 1995 a six-year-old boy was recognized by the Dalai Lama as the rebirth of the Panchen Lama. Within the week, this boy and his parents disappeared. They have not been seen since. Beijing chose another ethnic Tibetan boy who was the son of a high Communist Party official, named him the Panchen Lama, and had him enthroned. Today the faux Panchen Lama is a highly prized mouthpiece, appearing in public frequently to praise Chinese rule over Tibet.
I notice the Wikipedia web page on the Panchen Lama glosses over the fact that Beijing very probably executed the 10th and 11th Panchen Lamas. I run into way too many people who brush aside the brutality visited upon Tibetans, saying that Tibet is better off with China running things. But accounts of what happened in Tibet, and what is happening now, amount to “he said, she said.” Some corroboration would be nice.