Mao Zedong was a Chinese revolutionary, political theorist, and communist leader who led the People’s Republic of China. Mao, while controversial, is still widely considered a savior of the nation. I did a semester abroad in China in 2001 after falling in love with its history, and was surprised in my conversations that many people thought Mao had done 70% – 80% good things. During his first five years from 1949 – 53 he is said to have systematically killed between 4 to 6 million people by sentencing them to die or by sending them to “reform through labor” camps. He organized mass repressions, established execution quotas, and defended his actions in these early years as necessary for securing power for “The People’s Republic of China”.
His social programs the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are two of the most ill-fated, poorly named, initiatives ever. The first was an effort to rapidly industrialize China. His focus was on making China a premier exporter of steel, and to this end he asked everybody to make it. The problem was it got many citizens to make smelting shops in their backyards. Not only was the steel of little value, but it was made from everything lying around the house including their own cooking supplies! Without the tools to make food, no money coming in from the steel, and no money to survive ~ a lot of people starved to death. The estimates on this program alone are 20 million deaths! Think about that number. Really think about it. Then ask yourself… why would you EVER let someone back into power after such an insanely bad decision.Well, they took the reigns away from him for a short time.
In the interim Mao started the socialist education movement. He aimed the concept at young ones who would eventually wrest the power away from the older guard. By 1964 this movement was renamed the “four cleanups movement” whose goal was cleansing politics, economics, ideas, and organization of “reactionaries”. This led to the formation of the “Red Guards” who were organized to punish intellectuals and take out Mao’s political adversaries. The Cultural Revolution was now underway, and its overriding mission was to abolish: Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. Something Mao fervently believed in was that destruction and chaos could bring re-birth. So he told his followers to destroy buildings, sacred objects, talk back to ones elders, punish them, turn them in, and kill those who did not agree. By 1968 things were starting to look pretty good for Mao all over again, and so he put into place the decade long “Down to the Countryside Movement” which forced young intellectuals to move out to the country to become farmers. Sadly, the people he pushed out there were the same Red Guards who had helped him get power. Estimates of the death toll are between 40,000 – 7 million depending on who you ask.
Finally, there is the 100 flowers movement which just needs an abbreviated mention here. Mao asked people to come forth and tell him how he should govern China. Intellectuals and liberals bit at the chance to tell him what they really thought, and were encouraged by the Communist party to do so. Then in a sudden change of heart, or an incredibly crafty mission to out his haters, the government persecuted 500,000 of them who were considered to be “dangerous thinkers”.
Mao is essentially like that girlfriend/boyfriend who keeps on taking a shit on you, but is so damn charming you hardly notice. His policies and political purges from 1949 to 1976 caused the deaths of 49 to 78 million people.
The moral of the story is ~
Let’s stop allowing evil political dictators to take office. And if we do have someone bad in office we can find better ways to get them out than murdering them, wars, and aggressive confrontations.