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ReallyMaokilled millions ofpeople during theGreat Leap Forward

by JosephBall


Over the past 25years, the reputation of Mao Zedong has been heavily weakened by becoming more severe estimates on the number of deaths that seems he is responsible. In his lifetime, Mao Zedong was a huge success for the way in which his socialist policies have made ​​improvements to the social security system of China’s population, greatly reducing poverty in China and acting to ensure free access to health care and education. Mao‘s theories have inspired fighting imperialism around the world. It is probably this factor that explains much of the hostility that the Right has for Mao. It’s a trend that seems to grow more acute with the apparent strength of Maoist movements in India and Nepal that has taken place in recent years, as well as the continuing influence of Maoist movements in other parts of the world.

Most of the attemptsto undermine the reputation of Mao revolve around the Great Leap Forward that began in 1958. This article is primarily concerned with this period. The farmers had already begun in the 50s to cultivate the land in a cooperative manner. During the Great Leap Forward large communes consisting of hundreds or tens of thousands of people. To improve agricultural productivity schemes were undertaken large-scale irrigation. Mao’s plan was to increase both agricultural and industrial production. It has been said that these policies led to a famine in the years 1959-61 (although some believe that the famine began in 1958). Much has been made assumptions about the causes that led to the famine. For example, the excessive grain procurement by the State or food wastage due to free distribution of it in communal kitchens. It is also said that the peasants neglected agriculture to work on the irrigation schemes or in the famous “Garden furnaces for steel” (small furnaces built in rural areas).

Mao admitted that in this period were encountered these problems. Despite this, he blamed the majority of these difficulties to bad weather and natural disasters. He also admitted that there were political mistakes, which he took responsibility for it.


Official Chinese sources, made public after the death of Mao, show that during the Great Leap Forward killed 16.5 million people. These figures were announced at an ideological campaign led by Deng Xiaoping against the legacy of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. However, it seems there is the possibility to independently authenticate these figures because of the mystery surrounding the way in which they were collected and preserved for twenty years before being presented to the public. American researchers have come to speak of an estimate of 30 million people, combining the test with Chinese own extrapolations from Chinese censuses of 1953 and 1964. Recently, in their book “Mao: the secret history” Jung Chang and Jon Halliday 70 million killed by Mao, including 38 million people during the Great Leap forward.


Regarding this subject, the Western writers have a point of view completely unbalanced in that period, mesmerized, as they are, are based on figures that indicate a high number of deaths and that come from dubious sources. They focus only on policy excesses and it is likely that their vision of the damage they cause is exaggerated. Is not fully understood how the policies of the Great Leap Forward actually benefited the Chinese people, once the initial disruption was aimed at the end.

Throughout the post – war period the U.S. state agencies have provided assistance to those with a negative attitude to Maoism (and of communism in general). For example, in the 60s, the veteran historian of Maoism Roderick MacFarquhar at “The China Quarterly”. This magazine published allegations never mentioned before, and not accompanied by evidence of the deaths massive famine. It later emerged that the journal received money from a ‘front organization of the CIA, as MacFarquhar recently admitted in a letter to “The London Review of Books.” (Roderick MacFarquhar said that at the time of the publication of “The China Quarterly” did not know that the money came from the CIA.)

Those who have provided qualitative evidence, such as information provided by eyewitness accounts cited by Jasper Becker in his famous account of the period “Hungry Ghosts,” have not provided enough evidence to authenticate these accounts. Important documentary evidence concerning the Great Leap Forward quoted by Chang and Halliday is presented in a clearly misleading.


The evidence provided by the regime of Deng Xiaoping on the fact that during the Great Leap Forward killed millions of people is not trusted. The evidence from peasants contradicts the assertion that the deaths occurred in this time period are mainly to blame Mao.


U.S. demographershave tried to use as evidence the rate of mortality and other demographic evidence from official Chinese sources to give credibility to the hypothesis that during the Great Leap Forward there was a “massive death toll” (ie, a hypothesis that “the most severe famine of all time” or “one of the most serious of all time” had occurred during the Great Leap Forward.) ​​However, inconsistencies in the evidence and doubts about the source of their evidence undermined this‘ hypothesis.


The truth most likely on the Great Leap Forward


The idea that “Mao had been guilty of genocide” has been used as a springboard to rubbish everything that the Chinese people achieved during the regime of Mao. However, even someone like the demographer Judith Banister, one of the prominent advocates of the “massive death toll” had to admit the successes of Mao during his rule. She writes how in 1973 – ’75, life expectancy in China was higher than that in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and many countries in Latin America. In 1981 she co-wrote an article in which the People’s Republic of China was praised for being able to greatly reduce the mortality rate, to have seen an increase in life expectancy of approximately 1.5 years from the beginning of the calendar communist government in 1949. Life expectancy increased from 35 in 1949 to 65 years in the ’70s, when he finished the rule of Mao.


Read many modern commentators on China of Mao, one might get the impression that the agricultural and industrial policies of Mao have led to an absolute economic disaster. Even more restrained commentators, such as the economist Peter Nolan argue that during the post-revolutionary period, living standards have not improved in China until the seizure of power by Deng Xiaoping. Of course, increases the standard of living is not the only reason for the increase in life expectancy. However, it is absurd to claim that life expectancy can be increased so much during the Mao era without being influenced in any way by the standard of living.



Many of those who have studied the figures released by Deng Xiaoping after Mao’s death say that the grain production per capita has not increased at all during the period of Mao’s government. But how is it possible to reconcile these figures with the figures on life that the same authors? Moreover, these figures are contradicted by other figures. Guo Shutian, a former Director of Policy and Law of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture in the post – Mao, gives a very different view of the general agricultural situation in China before the “reforms” introduced by Deng. It is true that he writes that agricultural production decreased in five years between 1949 and 1978 due to “natural disasters and mistakes in the work.” However, claims that between 1949 and 1978, the yield per hectare of land sown with food crops increased by 145.9% and the total production of food rose 169.6%. In this period China’s population grew by 77.7%. According to these data, during the period in question, the per capita production of food grew from 204 kilograms to 328 kilograms



Evenaccording to figures released by the regime of Deng Xiaoping, between 1952 and 1976, industrial production increased by 11, 2% per year (10% per year during the alleged catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution). In 1952, industry accounted for 36% of the gross value of national output in China. Until 1975, industry accounted for 72% and agriculture 28%. It is quite clear that the supposed disastrous socialist economic policies of Mao have quickly built the rapid (but unequal and unbalanced) economic development of the era that followed him.

It was discussed whetherthe policies adopted during the Great Leap Forward actually done much to support the overall economic growth of China, after an initial period of disruption. At the end of the 50s it was clear that China was developing using its own resources and without having the large machinery and know-how imported from the Soviet Union..

At the endof the ’50s China and the Soviet Union were heading for a schism. In part this was the result of ideological fall-out that occurred following the death of Stalin. There are many differences between Stalin and Mao. Among other things, Mao believed that Stalin mistrusted the peasants and emphasized the development of heavy industry. However, Mao believed that Khrushchev was using his denunciation of Stalinism as a cover for the gradual abandonment of the ideology and practice of the socialist Soviet Union.

Althoughthe division was due to the tendency of Khrushchev to groped on its allies to impose their own way of doing things the Soviet Union. Khrushchev acted not in the spirit of socialist internationalism, but rather with the aim of treating economically less developed nations like U.S. client. For a country like China, which has fought so bitterly for freedom from foreign domination, a report of this kind could never be accepted. Mao could not have sold it to his people, even if he wanted to.

In1960 the conflict between the two nations reached a critical point. The Soviet Union provided great assistance to China‘s industrialization program. In 1960 all the technical advisers left the country taking away with him the blueprints of the various industrial plants they had plans to build.

ThatMao made ​​clear from the outset, That the policies of the Great Leap Forward were with regard to China Developing them to more independent economic policy. The Chinese alternative to reliance on the Soviet Union was a program for Developing agriculture to industrial development. By doing so, Mao wanted to use the resources in abundance That China could muster in terms of labor and popular enthusiasm. The use of These resources would make up for the lack of capital and advanced technology.

Although problems andreversals occurred during the Great Leap Forward, it is fair to say that this has had a very important role in agricultural development in progress. Once finished the period of crop failure, measures such as water conservation and irrigation him to give life to intense increases in agricultural production and also supported the rural areas to address the problem of drought. Were also developed for defense against floods. Terracing helped that gradually increase the amount of cultivated areas.

Thedevelopment was carried out under the slogan “walking on two legs.” This meant that the development of rural small and medium scale go hand in hand with the development of heavy industry. Just as had happened with the steel furnaces in rural areas were opened many other shops and factories. The idea was that rural industry would meet the needs of the local population. Rural workshops supported the efforts of municipalities to modernize the methods of agricultural work. Rural workshops were very effective in providing the common fertilizer, tools, other agricultural equipment and cement (needed for water conservation schemes).

In comparison to the rigid, centralized economic system prevailing in the Soviet Union, the Great Leap Forward was a supreme act of lateral thinking. Usually, for example, cement and fertilizer were produced in large factories in urban areas away from rural areas who needed it. In a poor country there would be the problem of getting the capital and machinery needed to produce industrial products such as these, using the most modern techniques. They would, therefore, necessary infrastructure linking the cities to countries to carry such products once made. This, in itself, would be very expensive. As a result of such problems, in many of the poorest countries in the development is very slow or not there at all.

Rural industry established during the Great Leap Forward used methods to labor-intensive rather than capital-intensive. Since they were serving local interests, the transport of goods is not dependent on the development of an expensive on the whole national territory of roads and railways.

In fact the supposedly wild, chaotic policies of the Great Leap Forward meshed quite well after the problems of the early years. The local production of cement him to undertake water conservation plans. Most widespread irrigation led to an increased use of fertilizer. In turn, this fertilizer was supplied by local factories. Greater agricultural productivity would free up more agricultural labor for the industrial manufacturing sector, facilitating the overall development of the country. This approach is often cited as an example of economic illiteracy (what about the division of labor and the gains from regional specialization, etc.). Nevertheless, as shown by the positive effects of Mao’s policies in terms of economic development and social prosperity, it was right for China.

Agriculture and rural small-scale industry were not the only sector to grow during China’s socialist. Even heavy industry increased rapidly during this period. Events such as the creation of the Daqing oil field during the Great Leap Forward provided a big boost to the development of heavy industry. In China, there developed a massive oil. This was after 1960 using indigenous techniques, rather than Soviet or western techniques. (Specifically, workers used pressure from low to help extract the oil. Did not rely on derricks, normally used in the oil fields).

The controversy on existing data relating to the production belies the fact that the Great Leap Forward was, at least on the verge of changing the way of thinking of the Chinese industrial production. The so-called “backyard steel furnaces”, with which the peasants tried to produce steel in small rural foundries, they earned a bad reputation because of the poor quality of the steel produced. But they were both on the verge of training the peasants in the field of industrial production is to produce steel for the Chinese industry. It is important to remember that “jumps” Mao used to speaking, they were not referring to the quantity of goods produced, but leaps in consciousness and knowledge of the population. Mistakes were made and many must have been disappointed when they realized that some of the results of Leap had been disappointing. The success of the Chinese economy in the following years has shown, however, that not all lessons were wasted.



The Great Leap Forward and Qualitative Evidence


To make the idea is obviously necessary to subvert the point of view of mainstream western according to which the Great Leap Forward was a disaster of world. But what is the basis for this view? Those who believe in the theory of “massive death toll” argue there are qualitative evidence such as witnesses or documentary evidence. Despite this, the existing qualitative evidence is not convincing.


The Chinese history scholar Carl Riskin believes that there has been a very serious famine but argues “In general, it seems that the symptoms of hunger and deprivation are different from the types of qualitative evidence of mass starvation that accompanied other famines of comparable (if not equal), including earlier famines in China. ” He argues that much of the evidence came from the right sources and were hardly convincing. Consider repressive policies by the Chinese government to prevent trapelassero information on the famine, but says “It ‘s no doubt that there is a sufficient explanation. There is something mysterious here. “

There are authors such as Roderick MacFarquhar, Jasper Becker and Jung Chang that will surely assert that the evidence they have seen proves the theory of the mass starvation. It is true that their main works on this problem cite sources for this evidence. Nevertheless, in these books do not explain clearly enough why they believe these sources are authentic.

It thus remains to understand why, in the West, the considerations presented by these authors should be indisputable. In his famous book on China, 1965, “A Curtain of Ignorance,” Felix Greene says that he traveled in 1960 in parts of China where food rationing was very hard, but he did not see mass starvation. He also cites other eyewitnesses who say the same things. It is likely, in fact, that some areas were hit by famine. However, Greene’s observations indicate that it was a national phenomenon of apocalyptic scale suggested by Jasper Becker and others. The mass starvation was not occurring in areas where he was, but it could have been occurring elsewhere. Because the reports of people like Becker were taken believed so readily, while not by credit of Felix Greene and others he cites? Surely the sympathy of Greene against the regime of Mao plays an important role in this and can give the impression that he distorted the truth for political reasons. But Becker, MacFarquhar and Jung Chang have the problem in their own perspectives. We seriously doubt that these authors are not staunch anti-communist?


Before addressing the problem of authentication of sources, it is necessary to clarify the context of the discussion of these issues. Communism is a movement that generates massive opposition. Western countries have waged an intensive propaganda war against communism. In power, the communist governments dispossessed many people of their capital and their lands. In much of Asia and Europe whole and business class of landowners was robbed of its social power and their status. Obviously this has generated a lot of resentment. Many well-educated people born in these countries had and continue to have reasons to discredit communism. It is not “paranoia” to ask that those who write about the communist era take pains to ensure that their sources are reporting facts and not providing testimony that has been distorted or slanted by anti-Communists.

In addition, the U.S. government was interested in doing negative propaganda against Communism and the Chinese in general. Too often this has been dismissed as “conspiracy theories” and are not discussed very widely on the evidence of what really happened.


Nevertheless, covert attempts by the U.S. to discredit communism is a documented fact. The U.S. intelligence agencies often sought a connection with those who published work on communist regimes. One should not think that the people with whom they sought this connection were simply hacks paid to produce a large quantity of cheap sensationalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, in the ’60s, “The China Quarterly” has published many articles which are still frequently cited as evidence of the conditions of life in China and the success or otherwise of government policies in that country. In 1962 it published an article by Joseph Alsop who alleged that Mao was trying to wipe out a third of its population through starvation to facilitate its economic plans! This article is cited in all seriousness, to provide contemporary evidence of the “massive death toll” in many later works on the subject (for example in the article “Famine in China” which will be discussed later) .


The publisher of “The China Quarterly” was Roderick MacFarquhar who went on to write many important works on the Chinese Communist government. MacFarquhar edited fourteenth volume of the Cambridge History of China which covered the period 1949-1965. He wrote “The Origins of the Cultural Revolution” that includes a book on the events that occurred in 1956 and 1957, and a volume on the Great Leap Forward, which suggested the thesis of “massive death toll”. She was also “Mao’s Secret Speeches.” Among the pages of “The Quarterly china” is a statement which was published by Information Bulletin Ltd on behalf of ‘Association for Cultural Freedom. On May 13, 1967 The CCF ‘Association organized a press conference in which he admitted that he had been funded by the CIA, after a service in the periodical “Ramparts”.




Answering my questions MacFarquhar said:

When I was asked to become the founding director of the CQ (“The China Quarterly”), it was explained that the mission of the Association for Cultural Freedom was to encourage Western intellectuals to build a community that is committed to the free exchange of ideas. The aim was to make organizational counter to Soviet efforts to attract Western intellectuals in various front organizations … Everything that I said about funding was that the Association for Cultural Freedom was supported by a wide range of foundations, including notably the Ford Foundation, and was not disclosed the fact that of these the Farfield Foundation was a CIA front.

In the edition of January 26, 2006 of “The London Review of Books” Mac Farquhar writes of “the 1960 inaugural of” The China Quarterly, “of which I was then the editor.”

He also writes that “Part of the funds received from the CQ money came from the CIA’s secret (from the Farfield Foundation through the Association for Cultural Freedom, founder of CQ, Encounter and many other magazines). Everything I have heard only at the end of the ’60s, when revelations were made public. “

The problem goes beyond those, like Mac Farquhar, working for periodicals connected with cultural freedom. It is also said that other magazines have received funding from more generally by the CIA. For example, Victor Marchetti, a former staff officer in the Office of the Director of the CIA, wrote that the CIA set up the Asia Foundation and subsidized it with $ 8 million per year with the aim of supporting the work of “anti-academic Communists in many Asian countries, to disseminate throughout Asia a negative vision of mainland China, North Vietnam and North Korea. “

Of course, the issue has not been reduced to writing. For example Mac Farquhar also in his journal that he had given the opportunity to completely different political points of view to express themselves. He argued that Alsop’s article would be published in any other newspaper, although he had refused to publish replies and negative towards the thesis Alsop.

This is probably true. However, those like Mac Farquhar were writing the kind of thing that appealed to the CIA. (Otherwise, why would the CIA have for it?). The key point is that these people had a source of western state funding where others who had different points of view did not enjoy.

In recent years a new generation of writers has published evidence based on eyewitness testimony and documentary in support of the “massive death toll”. The problem with this evidence is the authentication of sources. These authors do not present sufficient evidence in the works cited in this article to demonstrate the veracity of such evidence.

In his book on the Great Leap Forward “Hungry Ghosts,” Jasper Becker cites a great deal of evidence to prove the existence of acts of cannibalism and mass starvation in China during the period of the Great Leap Forward. It is important to note that this test only emerged in the 90s. Surely the more lurid stories of cannibalism are not confirmed by any source that appeared in the period of the Great Leap Forward, or indeed, for many years to follow. Many of the accounts of mass starvation and cannibalism that Becker uses in his book, derived from a document of 600 pages “Thirty Years in the Countryside”. Becker argues that it would be a secret official document that was smuggled out of the country in 1989. Becker writes that his sources for “Hungry Ghosts” include documents smuggled out of China in 1989 by intellectuals in exile. The reader needs to be told how people who were apparently dissidents fleeing the country during a period of deep crisis, they were able to smuggle out official documents regarding events thirty years before.

Becker also should have explained more fully why he thought the “Thirty Years in the Countryside” and other documents were authentic. In 2001, Becker recensì the Tiananmen Papers in the London Review of Books. The Tiananmen Papers are internal documents of the Party who is said to have been brought out of the country by a dissident. They supposedly shed light on the thinking of the leadership of the Party at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre. In his Becker seriously discusses the possibility that these documents might be forgeries. In “Hungry Ghosts” Becker should have explained why it considered that the documents he cited in his book were true, while other documents smuggled were not.

Similarly, as evidence of a massive humanitarian disaster during the Great Leap Forward, Becker cites a purported diary of the Chinese army in 1961. In truth, the information gathered in this diary allude to a fairly significant disaster that is effecting the Chinese troops. Nevertheless, the diary is a genuine document? The diary was authorized by the U.S. State Department in 1963 and was published in a collection by the Hoover Institution entitled “The Politics of the Chinese Red Army” in 1966. According to the British newspaper “Daily Telegraph” “They (the diaries) have remained in American hands for a while ‘time, although nobody found out how they are achieved.” Becker and many other authors who have dealt with the Great Leap Forward that have cited these journals must explain why they regard them as authentic.

Becker’s book also uses statements made by eyewitnesses on the problem of hunger in the Great Leap Forward. During the mid-90s he interviewed people in mainland China as well as Hong Kong and Chinese immigrants in the West. In his book says that in China “was rarely if ever allowed to speak freely to the peasants.” Local officials instructed the farmers before the interview, sat with them and answered for them some of the questions. Given that there is a good chance that these officers were trying to present in a tendentious evidence in favor of Deng Xiaoping and his negative view of the Great Leap Forward is of the utmost importance that the reader knows which interviews presented in the book have been conducted in those conditions and which are not. In “Hungry Ghosts” Becker does not. In no part of his book shows the reader with enough detail that the information cited in the book are authentic.

For some years, “Hungry Ghosts” was the text that most criticized Mao. Despite this, in 2005 was published “Mao: the Unknown Story” and was highly publicized in the West. His accusations are not supported by the evidence, if possible, even more extreme than Becker’s book. Of the 70 million deaths that the book attributed to Mao, 38 million of them seem to have occurred during the Great Leap Forward. The book relies heavily on an unofficial collection of Mao’s speeches and statements that were supposedly recorded by his followers and they reached the West in an unclear way. The authors often use the materials from this collection to try to prove the fanaticism and lack of interest of Mao for human life. They are a series of texts that went up again to be available in the ’80s thanks to the courtesy of the Center for Chinese Research Materials (CCRM) in the United States. Some of these texts have been translated into English and published in the ‘Mao’ Secret Speeches. “

In this text, Timothy Cheek wrote an essay assessing the authenticity of the texts. He wrote “The precise origin of these books, which have come down to us through various channels, can not be documented …”. Timothy Cheek argues that the texts should be authentic for two reasons. First of all, because some of the texts received from the CCRM were previously published in the Chinese mainland in other editions. Secondly, because the texts that appear in a volume received from the CCRM also appear in at least one other volume received from the CCRM. It is not clear why these two reasons given by the author can be considered a proof of the authenticity of the texts.

Maybe they are the most important passages from these texts that Chang and Halliday quote in a misleading way in their chapter on the Great Leap Forward. Chang argues that in 1958 Mao dropped with a thud on what he called “people roaming the countryside uncontrolled.” In the next sentence says “The traditional chance to escape famine food place where there was now blocked off.” But the part of the “secret” speech in which Mao would complain about people “roaming around uncontrolled” has nothing to do with preventing the displacement of the population in China. If you read the full step of which the authors have selected a quote, it is clear that the authors were misleading. What Mao was going to say is what follows.

(Someone) of a CPA (a Cooperative Agricultural Producers – Joseph Ball) in Handan (Hebei) drove a cart to the mill (mill) and do not leave until given a bit ‘of iron. Everywhere (there are) so many people roaming unchecked, this situation must be completely prohibited. (We) we need to develop a balance between the levels, where each level reporting to the next higher level – CPA to counties, counties to the prefectures, prefectures to the provinces – this is called socialist order.

What Mao is talking about here is the campaign to increase steel production, in part through the use of small-scale rural production. Someone without authority was demanding iron from Anshan to help their co-operative meet the share of steel production. Mao seems to say that this spontaneous approach is wrong. Seems to invoke a hierarchical system of socialist planning where most people have to apply to higher authorities to get the raw materials it needs to meet production targets. (It seems very strange that Mao thought so, but it’s true). Is certainly not claiming to prevent all Chinese people to travel within the country!

A ‘seriously misleading another quote is at the end of the chapter on the Great Leap Forward. Before Chang and Halliday write, “We can now say with certainty how many people Mao was ready to send away.” The paragraph then gives some examples of alleged quotations of Mao on how Chinese deaths would be acceptable to him in time of war. The next paragraph begins “Mao was not even thinking about a war situation.” At the end quote Mao would have said at the conference in Wuchang “If you work in this way, with all these projects, the best thing would be if he died half of China.” This quote appears in the title of the chapter Chang and Halliday on the Great Leap Forward. The authors cite this sentence as if to imply that Mao thought that it would be necessary for half of China’s population would die so that he could realize his plans to increase industrial production. It is, however, clear from the actual text that what Mao was trying to do was to warn of the dangers of over-enthusiasm and work during the Great Leap Forward, though expressing themselves in a way a bit ‘too much. Mao is clear that he does not want anyone to die under the impetus of industrialization. In this part of his speech, Mao talks about the idea of ​​developing all the main areas andagriculture in one fell swoop. The full text of the passage from which the authors selectively quote is as follows.


In this kind of situation I believe that if we do all things at the same time half of China’s population unquestionably will die, and if not a half, it will be a third or ten per cent, a death toll of 50 million people. When we were dead in Guangxi (in 1955 – Joseph Ball), did not resign Chen Manyuan? If with a death toll of 50 million you did not lose your job, I lost at least my, if I lose my, my mind would be open to questions. Anhui wants to do so many things, that’s great to do a lot, but it is crucial that you do not cause any deaths.


Then, in a few sentences later, Mao says, “30 million tons, do we really need? We are able to produce (so much)? How many people do we need to mobilize? It could lead to deaths? “

It is very important to do a thorough analysis of the sources used by Chang and Halliday for their book. It is an appeal that comes from others. The criticism of the book in The New York Times Nicholas D. Kristof has brought to light some interesting questions. Kristof talks about Mao’s English teacher, Zhang Hanzhi, (in his adult life Mao tried to learn English) that Chang and Halliday say they have interviewed for the preparation of their book. However, Zhang told Kristof (of which he is a friend) that though she met the two authors refused to be interviewed and did not give them any relevant information. Kristof calls for the authors to publish their sources on the web so that you can assess their honesty.


The campaign against Deng Mao’s Legacy


At the end of the 60s there were some supporters of the “sacrifice of mass.” Nevertheless, as Felix Greene pointed out in “A Curtain of Ignorance,” in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the anti – communist spoke almost every day of serious famines in China without having evidence of the veracity of their claims. Only in the 80s the story of the Great Leap Forward began to be taken really seriously, when the new Chinese leadership began to support the idea. It was this that really gave credibility to those in the West as Becker and Jung Chang.


The Chinese leadership began to attack the Great Leap Forward in 1979. Deng moved against supporters of Mao, pushing the official press to attack them. This attitude seemed to be an ideological campaign against the “ultra-left”. As Meissner says in his study of the Deng Xiaoping, “a multitude of scholars and theorists were forced to explain to the” petty bourgeoisie “social and political roots of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.”

The reason for this vilification of the Great Leap Forward had much to do with power struggles post – Mao and the struggle to roll back the socialist policies of 1949-76. After Mao’s death in 1976, took over Hua Guofeng who wanted to “support all the words and policies of Mao.” Deng Xiaoping had to find a political justification for his usurpation Hua in 1978 and his assumption of leadership. Deng argued that the position of Mao being “70% right and 30% wrong” was a way to distinguish its “pragmatic” approach to history and ideology than its predecessors. (The pro-market policies adopted by Deng suggest that he actually believed that Mao was 80% wrong).


The Chinese party did everything in his power to promote the theory that the Great Leap Forward was a disaster caused by the policies of the radical left. In a major speech in 1979, Marshal Ye Jian Ying spoke of the damage caused by the errors of the Left during the period of the Great Leap Forward. In 1981, the “Resolution on Party History” of the Chinese Communist Party spoke of “serious losses for our country and for our people between 1959 and 1961.” The attack also took part in academics. In 1981, Professor Liu Zeng, Director of the Institute of Population Research at the People’s University gave excellent figures on the rate of death between 1954 and 1978. These figures were presented during a public academic gathering that attracted much attention in the West. The figures he gave for the period 1958 – 1961 showed that at that time had died 16.5 million more people. At the same time Yefang Sun, a prominent Chinese economist publicly drew attention to these figures stating that “he was paid a high price in blood” because of the mistakes made during the Great Leap Forward.


As well as the internal party struggle, Deng wanted to undo all the positive measures of Mao introducing capitalism or “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” as he described it. The attack on the Great Leap Forward, helped provide the ideological justification for overthrowing the political “left” of Mao. In the early ’80s Deng broke up farming communities. In the years following the Great Leap Forward the joint began to provide social services such as free medical care and education. The dismantling of the common decreed the end. In an article on the Great Leap Forward, Han Dongping, Researcher at Warren Wilson College, described a “fun” news on the New York newspaper based in China, “The World Journal” which was about a farmer from Henan province who was not able to pay for medical expenses incurred in order to treat the inflammation that had struck him in the testicles. Exasperated by the pains he cut them off with a knife threatening to kill himself. This type of incident is the real legacy in the country’s “reforms” of Deng.

• It is often said that Deng’s agricultural reforms have led to an improvement of the welfare of the peasantry. It is true that the dismantling of the communes led to a 5-year period in which agricultural production increased. But this was followed by years of decline in food production. Despite this crash, Western commentators tend to describe the dismantling of the communes as an unqualified economic success.



In fact, the dismantling of peasant communes created hardship for the peasants. Pushing the Chinese ruling class to describe the Great Leap Forward as a disaster that killed millions of people, Deng was able to develop a policy that allowed his regressive policies legitimacy in the eyes of the inhabitants of the countryside.


Deng Xiaoping Mao scolds have led to the famine that caused the deaths


To assert its position, Deng needed to prove not only that the deaths happened between 1959 and 1961, but also that these were mainly the result of policy errors. After the Great Leap Forward, the official position of the Chinese government on the famine was that it was caused by 70% by natural disasters and 30% human error. This verdict was reversed by the government of Deng Xiaoping. In the ’80s it was argued that the famine was caused by 30% by natural disasters and 70% from ‘human error. Surely, though, if Mao’s actions had led to the deaths of millions of peasants, they would understand what was happening. Nevertheless, they do not blame Mao for most of the difficulties that occurred during the Great Leap Forward.

Long after the death of Mao, Professor Han Dongping traveled to Shandong and Henan, where famine crossed his worst time between 1959 and 1961.

Han Dongping found that the majority of farmers surveyed favored the first interpretation of events rather than the second: that Mao did not consider the more responsible for what they endured during the Great Leap Forward. This does not mean that they were tragic errors. Dongping wrote of the introduction of the common food in rural areas. To begin with, this was a very popular policy among the peasants. In fact, in 1958, many farmers said they had never eaten so well in their entire lives. The problem was that this new, the apparent abundance led to carelessness in the harvesting and consumption of food. It seemed that people had started to think that the Government could guarantee food supplies and that they were not responsible for food safety.


Given the extreme poverty besetting the China in the late ’50s this was a mistake intended to cause serious problems and the Communist leadership would have to take faster steps to remedy it. Three years of terrible natural disasters did nothing but worsen the situation even more. In the most affected regions, the solidarity which exists between the members of the joint was less when people tried to seize crops before the harvest. This practice also worsened the situation. However, it is necessary to emphasize that farmers themselves did not tell Han Dongping that errors in the organization of communal eating were the main cause of the famine. Han Dongping, himself severely criticized Mao for the consequences of policies “hasty” during the Great Leap Forward. However he also writes “I interviewed a large number of workers and farmers in Shandong, Henan, and none of them ever told me that Mao was bad. I also talked to a scholar in Anhui (where it is assumed that the famine was more severe – Joseph Ball) who grew up in rural areas, was researching in Anhui and even he never met a farmer who said that Mao was bad, nor that Deng (Xiaoping) was good. “

It could be argued that sympathy, at least partially, that Han Dongping felt towards Mao may have affected the interpretation of the words of the peasants. However, we must also say that two of his grandparents died during the Great Leap Forward due to hunger-related diseases and Han Dongping often seems to be more critical of the policies of Mao at that time than they are farmers interviewed by him.

Numerous deaths? The demographic evidence

Its sympathy that farmers have towards Mao when they speak of the Great Leap Forward must take into account the demographic evidence indicating that at that time starved tens of millions of people. Western academics seem validity of this evidence. Even those who doubt, as Carl Riskin, always on the fact that all the “evidence” indicates that at that time there was a famine of massive proportions.

In fact, there are numerous sources that ensure that in this period there was a famine, but the central question is: was a famine that killed 30 million people? If so, then it would really be unprecedented. While we are accustomed to reading newspaper headlines such as “In Africa tens of millions of people suffering from hunger because of the famine,” unheard of tens of millions of people actually die in a famine. For example, the famine that struck Bangladesh between 1974 and 1975 ilo remembered as a deeply tragic event in the history of the nation. However, the death toll in Bangladesh was 30,000 deaths (out of a population of 76 million people), although unofficial sources speak of 100,000 dead. Compare this to a death toll of 30 million people a year population estimates to be about 660-670 million during the Great Leap Forward. Speaking in a proportionate manner, the sacrifice of lives during the Great Leap Forward was more or less 35 times higher than deaths estimated to have occurred during the Bangladesh famine!

It is rather misleading to say that all the “evidence” demonstrates the validity of the thesis of mass death. The truth is that all estimates of tens of millions of deaths during the Great Leap Forward, rely on figures for the mortality rate between the late ’50s and early ’60s. There are other statistics only time that does not totally agree with these figures.

The problem is that the figures in the mortality rate covering the period 1940 – 1982, as most of the demographic information in China, have been treated by the Chinese government as a state secret until the early 80s. As we can see, the uncertainty concerning the way in which these figures were gathered strongly affects the reliability of the test. The figures in the mortality rate for the years 50s and the 60s were made known only in 1982 (see Table 1).

Allegedly they show that the death rate rose from 10, 8 per thousand in 1957 to 25, 4 per thousand in 1960, dropping to 14 in 1961 and 2 per thousand to 10 per thousand in 1962. These figures seem to show 15 million deaths due to famine from 1958 to 1961.

Table 1. Official death rates in China 1955-1962

Anno Death rate (per thousand)
1955 12,3
1956 11,4
1957 10,8
1958 12,0
1959 14,6
1960 25,4
1961 14,2
1962 10,0
1963 10,0
1964 11,5
  (Fonte: Statistical Yearbook of China 1983)


Demographers Americans and Chinese statistics

Chinese data on deaths caused by the famine were used by a group of U.S. demographers in their own work on the subject. These were demographers Ansley Coale, John Aird and Judith Banister. We can say that they were the first who popularized the idea of ​​the “massive death toll” in the West. Ansley Coale was a very influential figure in the United States in the field of demography. He was hired by the Office of Population Research, founded by the Rockefeller Foundation in the ’80s, when he was publishing his book on China. John Aird was a researcher on China specialist at the Bureau of the Census. In 1990, he wrote a book published by the American Enterprise Institute, an organization that promotes neo-liberal policies. This book was titled “Slaughter of the Innocents” and it was a criticism of the policy of birth control in China. Judith Banister worked at the Bureau of the Census. He took time off from work to write a book that includes an analysis of deaths during the Great Leap Forward. John Aird read his book before it was published and gave her advice.

Judith Banister of digits that appear to show 30 million excess deaths during the Great Leap Forward. They are about twice the figure indicated by official Chinese statistics. He believed that official statistics under total mortality because at that time the Chinese population-reporting of deaths.

Banister calculates the total number of deaths that were not reported period by first calculating the total number of births between the two censuses of 1953 and 1964. It does this using data derived from the census and those arising from a retrospective fertility survey carried out in 1982. (To those who underwent the survey were asked to describe the number of children they had given birth between 1940 and 1981). Once you become aware of population data between 1953 and 1964 and the total number of births registered between these two vintages, you can calculate the number of deaths that would have occurred during this period. The Banister uses this to calculate a total number of deaths for the eleven years that is higher than shown by the official death rates.

To calculate how many of these deaths occurred during the Great Leap Forward, Banister refers to statistics on mortality rates Chinese officials. Assumes that these figures indicate the actual trend of deaths in China in this period, even though they appeared to be too low in absolute terms. The Banister assumes, for example, that the official rate of mortality of 25 per thousand in 1960 does indeed indicate that a huge increase in the death rate occurred in 1960. Despite this, she combines this with its estimates-reporting of deaths between 1953 and 1964 to reach the conclusion that in 1960 he recorded 45 deaths per thousand. Using this method, during the years when there is no evidence that there was famine, massive death toll is even increased. In 1957, for example, Banister helped to increase the death rate from the official figure of 10.8 per thousand to 18 per thousand. Banister, then, compare the mortality rates recorded in good years with those recorded during the years of alleged famine. At this point the researcher is able to estimate that during the Great Leap Forward, there were 30 million more deaths.


Doubts about Chinese statistics


There are many figures that seem to support the thesis that there was a serious famine. There are also statistics that do show that Mao was responsible for this situation. Within these statistics there are also figures which appear to offer an analysis of the increase in provincial mortality rates during the Great Leap Forward, data showing a dramatic decrease in the production of wheat during the same period and data that should show that there were climatic conditions that caused the severe famine. These figures were all made ​​public in the early 80s, the time of the “reforms” of Deng.

“However, the main reason why there are so few data on the civilian population is censorship. No amount of money on the Chinese population may be disclosed if the first has not been approved by the State Council. Even the officers of the ‘USS (Statistical Office of the State) can not use the data until you have received authorization. “


It is particularlyinteresting to seehowthe figuresin the mortality ratehave arrivedby the Statistical Officeof the State.Thedatafor total deathsduring the GreatLeap Forwardfrom the United Statesand Chinese academicsdepends entirely on themost important statisticregardingthe mortality rateof those years.


Certainlyif we knewindetail howthe information was collectedduring theGreat Leap Forward,we could be moreconfident of theirreliability.The problem is thatthisinformation is not available.We have to justtakeat face value thedata publishedby the Chinese government.In addition, the statementsof AirdandBanisterindicates that they believethat the figuresrelatingto the mortality rateestimates andwerenot based on anactualcountof thereported deaths.Aird statesthat “You canmake an estimateof theofficial vitalrates(rates ofbirth and death)during the years ofcrisis(the GreatLeap Forward), butdo not know ifthey have afoundation.



The Banister writes that in 1954 China attempted to draw up a population register, but it was very incomplete. He writes, “If the system of registration of deaths was used as the basis for all the estimated mortality rates for the period 1955-1957, the rates concerned only those localities which were equipped with that system, which would have tended to be more advanced or more urbanized areas. “


The Banister suggests that the situation did not improve much during or after the Great Leap Forward. He writes:
In the late 60’s and for many years before, the system of permanent registration of the population had to be so incomplete and irregular that the national and provincial statistical staff had to estimate all or part of their total. In particular, in the 50s the system of permanent population registration was just then beginning to be used at the beginning and did not cover the entire population. All totals reported to the national population for the years’ 50, excluding the total census were probably based on local reports incomplete supplemented with estimates.

He also writes that “In all the years prior to the period 1973 – 1975 the data of the People’s Republic of China on summaries mortality rates, rates of infant mortality, life expectancy at birth and causes of death did not exist, were useless or, at best, underestimated the actual mortality. ”


The reader searches the work of Aird, Coale and Banister for some indication as to understand why they so confidently assert that the tens of millions of deaths during the Great Leap Forward are based on the official death rates. These authors do not know how these figures were gathered and especially in the case of Banister, seem to have little faith in them.


TheBanisterwrites thatin 1954Chinaattempted todraw up apopulation register,but it was veryincomplete.He writes, “Ifthe system of registrationof deathswas usedas the basis forall theestimatedmortality ratesforthe period1955-1957, the ratesconcerned onlythose localitieswhichwereequipped withthat system, which would havetended tobemoreadvanced or moreurbanizedareas. “

TheBanistersuggests that thesituation did not improvemuchduring orafter the GreatLeap Forward.He writes:
In the late60’s andfor many years before, the system ofpermanent registrationof the populationhad to beso incomplete andirregularthat thenational and provincialstatisticalstaffhad toestimateall or partof theirtotal. In particular,in the 50sthe system ofpermanent population registrationwasjust thenbeginning to beusedat the beginninganddid not coverthe entire population.All totalsreportedto the national populationfor the years‘ 50, excluding thetotal censuswere probablybased onlocal reportsincompletesupplemented with estimates.

He also writesthat “In all the yearsprior to the period1973 – 1975the dataof thePeople’s Republicof China onsummariesmortality rates, rates ofinfant mortality,life expectancyat birthand causes ofdeathdid not exist,wereuseless or,at best,underestimatedthe actualmortality. “

Thereader searchesthe work ofAird,CoaleandBanisterforsome indication asto understand whytheyso confidently assertthat the tensof millions ofdeathsduring the GreatLeap Forwardare based on theofficial death rates.These authorsdo not know howthese figuresweregathered and especiallyin the case ofBanister,seem to havelittle faith in them.

Alleged Deaths among young people during the Great Leap Forward

Some demographers have tried to calculate the rates of infant mortality to provide evidence in support of the thesis of the “massive death toll”. However, the evidence they come tends to confuse the situation rather than corroboration for the evidence of mortality rates.

A calculation of deaths made by this method appeared in the 1984 article “Famine in China.” This article examines the earlier work of Aird, Coale and Banister. Do you agree with the latter that many deaths had occurred, especially during the G