Mao Zedong (Tse-Tung) (1893-1976) was a Chinese Communist leader noted for his 1949 establishment of the People’s Republic of China. He led the PRC until his death. Chairman Mao “cast himself as a revolutionary leader but whose conduct and attitudes reminded one of China’s emperors.” Through disastrous economic policies and periodic purges of his political enemies, Mao was responsible for the unnecessary deaths of millions of Chinese citizens.
To shore up his power base of poor peasants, Mao targeted wealthy capitalists as enemies. In 1951, the Chinese government trained tens of thousands of workers to spy upon their fellow citizens. Workers informed on bosses, wives on husbands, and children on parents, mostly in an attempt to protect themselves from government reprisals. The media joined in on the attack, making accusations. Many people were arrested, a few killed, most fined, and some imprisoned. All were terrified and humiliated. There were at least 200 to 300,000 suicides. So many people jumped to their deaths from Shanghai skyscrapers that they got the nickname “parachutes.”
Then, in January 1958, Mao Zedong launched his economic growth plan, “The Great Leap Forward.” Farm workers were organized into people’s communes. All private food production was banned. Livestock and farm implements became property of the commune.
Mao then ordered the implementation of new agricultural techniques – untested and unscientific. The program was ill-managed and corrupt. Food production began to decline. Then, compounded by drought in some areas and floods in others, the production of wheat dropped dangerously low. The result: a food shortage so severe that millions of peasants starved to death. Mao acknowledged the deaths by occasionally abstaining from eating meat. (2)
(1) MacFarquhar, Roderick and Schoenhals, Michael. Mao’s Last Revolution. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2006.
(2) Li Zhi-Sui. The Private Life of Chairman Mao. New York: Random House, Inc., 1994.