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I recently finished reading Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe by Frank Dikötter, which outlines the full scope of horror that was the Great Leap Forward which in four years claimed 45 million lives. However, that number fails to capture the suffering and individual abuse that was pervasive throughout the country.  While it is by far the most complete account of that period, it makes for rather dark summer reading. I felt a need to push myself through the unpleasant details as a kind of penance for my years of absolving Mao of any wrong doing. In the past I would have argued that Mao had been fed inaccurate information and was clueless about the actual situation, it was a terribly naive position, […]


China’s rise has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but has life really improved as much as that claim implies? As a recent study shows, life satisfaction in China has not increased over the past 20 years, which seems to suggest that increasing wealth has not brought about a correlating increase in happiness. Today we’ll be exploring why this might be the case in the countryside. A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit several remote villages in central China. As the van bumped along rocky roads that wound over steep mountains for nearly 10 hours I started wondering how much life had really changed in many of these places over the past 60 years and whether or not these survivors would say […]


By Yaxue Cao Mystery abounds. Suspense builds. Millions in China, as someone on Twitter puts it, have been immersed lately in writing “movie scripts” of court intrigues in Zhongnanhai (中南海, gov’t headquarters in Beijing). Under normal circumstances, they can’t even get within 30 feet of its shining red gate guarded by soldiers with truncheons but, all of a sudden, it seems that scores, if not armies, of people live right under the beds of China’s supreme leaders, and are eavesdropping on all of their nightly whispers! CCTV can’t be any happier. Its 7pm newscast sees a wobbling hike in viewership because its script, for once, becomes the most sought-after. Appearances are analyzed and then overanalyzed. Words are turned, over and over again, for hidden clues. […]


Recently I had the chance to discuss the fascinating article, “The Sick Man of Asia” with the doctors at my hospital. The author, Huang Yanzhong, argues that despite China’s seemingly impressive gains in health over the past 60 years, they are lagging behind its economic growth. Furthermore, the author seems to argue that the average Chinese person (as far as health is concerned) saw greater benefits from Mao’s time in power than during Deng, Jiang, and Hu. The author argues that Mao’s regime was able to make large gains because they focused on bringing medicine to rural populations. Huang also shows that the chaos of the Cultural Revolution caused the bureaucratic powers of the Ministry of Health to retreat, while millions of doctors were sent […]


Yesterday’s review of “Reconsidering the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries,” is important reading not only to better understand the terror and hysteria of the Mao years, but to understand the way in which the past effects the psyche of Chinese people today. Three bits from the article have been cycling through my mind since yesterday: that in some areas nearly 80% of the people accused were later exonerated, 30% of those whose death sentences were not absolutely necessary were executed anyway, and that even in my former home of Longzhou, which is tiny by Chinese standards, at least 40  people were executed. These three pieces show that the campaign was largely used as a source of revenge against otherwise innocent people, and that this campaign reached […]


The China Quarterly recently released it’s top ten most downloaded articles for free. Over the next few weeks I’ll summarize and comment on a few of these great articles (and save you 20+ pages of reading). Reconsidering the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries By: Yang Kuisong (link to full text) Tom’s Summary: Yang begins his article with the assertion that, “Power seized by violence must be maintained by violence.” The first example of this violence came just one year later with the start of the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries. The program was aimed at consolidating the Party’s power over the country that was continuing to struggle with actual counterrevolutionaries (these were actual KMT agents acting to disrupt Party control). There were wide spread reports of arson and […]


Yesterday we looked at the traditional idea of family in China through most of its history. Today we look at the changes that have taken place in the last six decades as China has gone through the Cultural Revolution and opened itself to the world. Maoist China to Modern day Mao saw the clan and the family as institutions that kept the peasants oppressed so he issued several policies to break down the family structure. Families were made to eat in cafeterias; which meant no home needed a kitchen, children were raised in daycare centers instead of being looked after by relatives, parents were cremated instead of buried, and the ancestor tablets (family records) and ancestral halls were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s attempts […]


Last week I posted a short piece by my friend who hadn’t joined the Party. Today brings us a post from his best friend who did join the Party. Again I have left it unedited, so I hope it is still understandable. His article was a bit longer, so I will be posting more of it over the next few days. Why I Joined the Communist Party I find that joining the party for me is quite a natural way during my personal development. Because when little, every kid was encouraged to join the Young Pioneer, and then when we reach our teens, it means that we are doing very well in every field if you could join the Communist Youth League earlier which is […]


Now I know this is more of an edgy topic, but it’s one of the issues which generates the most anger and confusion amongst Americans when they think of China. First a little history: China has always had a large, mostly rural, population. As it is everywhere, farmers in China also tended to have large families to help with the work. Up to the 1950’s it was common practice for families to have 6-10 children, many of whom would die before their fifth birthday. On top of the high infant mortality rate there was the Japanese invasion, and then a civil war that kept China’s population from growing despite the birth rate. Needless to say, when the communists finally won control of the mainland, life […]


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