Reevaluating China’s Democide to 73,000,000

(First published October 10, 2005. Broken links will be recovered as previously published blogs are republished here)

Two books have had a big impact on my evaluation of Mao’s rise to absolute power and his rule over China. One is Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, and the other is Mao: the Unknown Story that she wrote with her husband, Jon Halliday. I’m now convinced that that Stalin exceeded Hitler in monstrous evil, and Mao beat out Stalin.

I will extract what is most surprising about both books in two parts. In this one, I want to wholly focus on the democide under Mao, and in the next blog, I’ll abstract the most important and surprising things I learned about him.

From the time I wrote my book on China’s Bloody Century (1991–here), I have held to these democide totals for Mao:

Civil War-Sino-Japanese War 1923-1949 = 3,466,000 murdered
Rule over China (PRC) 1949-1987 = 35,236,000 murdered

However, some other scholars and researchers had put the PRC total in from 60,000,000 to a high 70,000,000. When I’ve been asked why my total is so low by comparison, I’ve responded that I did not include the China’s Great Famine 1958-1961. From my study of what was written on this in English, I believed that:

(1) the famine was due to the Great Leap Forward when Mao tried to catch up with the West in producing iron and steel;
(2) the factorization of agriculture, forcing virtually all peasants to give up their land, livestock, tools, and homes to live in regimented communes;
(3) the exuberant over reporting of agricultural production by commune and district managers for fear of the consequences of not meeting their quotas;
(4) the consequent belief of high communist officials that excess food was being produced and could be exported without starving the peasants;
(5) but, reports from traveling high officials indicated that peasants might be starving in certain localities;
(6) an investigative team was sent out from Beijing, and reported back that there was mass starvation;
(7) and then the CCP stopped exporting food and began to imports what was needed to stop the famine. 

Thus, although Mao’s policies were responsible for the famine, he was mislead about it, and finally when he found out, he stopped it and changed his policies. Therefore, I argued, this was not a democide. Others, however, have so counted it, but I thought this was a sloppy application of the concepts of mass murder, genocide, or politicide (virtually no one used the concept of democide). They were right and I was wrong.

From the biography of Mao, which I trust (for those who might question it, look at the hundreds of interviews Chang and Halliday conducted with communist cadre and former high officials, and the extensive bibliography) I can now say that yes, Mao’s policies caused the famine. He knew about it from the beginning. He didn’t care! Literally.

Indeed, wanted to take even more food from the mouths of his starving people in order to increase his export of food. It was all he had to export and he was after power. He was dead set on becoming the head of the international communist movement, and in making China a superpower. He thought he could rule the world. In order to do so, he exported vast quantities of food to the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Third World countries that he was trying to control. Ironically, some communist rulers knew about his famine and thus declined his food, since hey had more to feed their people than he did. With the Soviet Union, he was using food as a quid pro quo for weapons and weapon factories.

Those in the top circle of the CCP tried to alleviate the famine. They were arrested, some tortured, some executed or allowed to die horribly. Even in 1961, he wanted to INCREASE the amount of food taken from the people. But, at great risk to himself, Liu Shao-ch’i (President of the PRC and second in power) ambushed Mao at a CCP conference of 7,000, which agreed with Liu to alleviate the famine. Mao could not forgive Liu and the others, and because he believed he was thus losing control of the CCP, he launched a purge in 1965 called the Cultural Revolution to overthrow the CCP and replace it with the military. About 100,000,000 people were persecuted, and around 3,000,000 were murdered.

So, the famine was intentional. What was its human cost? I had estimated that 27,000,000 Chinese starved to death or died from associated diseases. Others estimated the toll to be as high as 40,000,000. Chang and Halliday put it at 38,000,000, and given their sources, I will accept that.

Now, I have to change all the world democide totals that populate my websites, blogs, and publications. The total for the communist democide before and after Mao took over the mainland is thus 3,446,000 + 35,226,000 + 38,000,000 = 76,692,000, or to round off, 77,000,000 murdered.

This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945.

For perspective on Mao’s most bloody rule, all wars 1900-1987 cost in combat dead 34,021,000 — including WWI and II, Vietnam, Korea, and the Mexican and Russian Revolutions. Mao alone murdered over twice as many as were killed in combat in all these wars.

Think about that. One man. Only one man did that much killing. If anything should cause us to avoid anyone having such power at any cost, here it is. A war to prevent anyone from getting such power would save tens of millions of more lives than it would cost.

Now, my overall totals for world democide 1900-1999 must also be changed. I have estimated it to be 174,000,000 murdered, a figure familiar to you if you are a regular visitor to this blog or my website. With my reevaluation of Mao’s democide, I now put the total at 212,000,000, of which communist regimes murdered about 148,000,000. Also, compare this to combat dead. Communists overall have murdered four times those killed in combat, while globally the democide toll was over six times that number.

Yet, there are tons of books that treat war generally, but only three books that try to deal with mass murder, or democide generally and comprehensively. One is Elliot’s Twentieth Century Book of the Dead . It was published in 1972, however, and Elliot found that the toll for “atrocities” and war to be 110,000,000 for less than 3/4s of the century. It is here. My Statistics of Democide here, and Death By Government here are the only other books.

The democide that has murdered 212,000,000 people has almost been totally ignored in comparison to war that cost 34,000,000. Maybe this is why so many consider war the worst of all evils. And why there is so little interest in understanding that freedom would save tens of millions of lives and end democide forever.

Let freedom ring.

6 Responses to Reevaluating China’s Democide to 73,000,000

  1. Peter Liu says:

    I hope you can attribute some of the deaths
    to power struggle and revolution .
    the democratie Kuomintang and the breakup of China resulting in the many warlords that enslaves the people of china.
    the sino japanese war.
    allies bombing of japanese targets in china and the collateral deaths.
    the american backed kuomintang wholesale slaughter of taiwanese.
    It ip true power corrupts. So called democracy can be powerful too . So you think americans hands are cleani think again.

  2. […] light of more recent scholarship, Rummel has adjusted his estimate of Mao’s victims upwards from 38,702,000 to 76,702,000. (Note: I do not own Rummel’s Statistics of Democide, which goes into considerable […]

  3. Zhang says:

    Peter Liu,

    Taiwan was a ruthless dictatorship and the Kuomintang was headed by warlords. When faced with the choice of supporting two despots, American sided with the one they believed to be the lesser of two evils.

    Everyone in China (except for you), including the CCP, knows exactly what Rummel is talking about.

  4. […] the exam­ple of a leader who’s poli­cies failed so spec­tac­u­larly in China and led to the largest num­ber of mass polit­i­cal killings of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, far sur­pass­ing the not incon­se­quen­tial efforts of Stalin and Hitler […]

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    […]Reevaluating China’s Democide to 73,000,000 « DemocraticPeace Blog[…]…

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