Chinese History: Communist People's Republic -- Totalitarian Crimes

Figure 1.--Historians estimte that Mao was responsible for some 50-75 million Chinese deaths. The total substanially exceeds the death toll of the other two blood-stained totalirarian dictators (Hitler and Stalin). Even so, Mao contiunues ti be a figure accorded great respect in modrn China. The asessment of Chinese historians (cintrolled by the Givernment) is that Mao's accomplishments outweign his 'mistakes'. Here we see Tiananmen Square in 1985. The little boy is wearing a PLA uniform. The Pro-Democracy protests were just beginning. The Government used the PLA to supress the demostration killing thousands of students in 1989. Chairman Mao's portrait still has its place of honor. And his portait is still on Chinese currency.

The People's Republic like other Communist countries required massive application of force and control to direct and control society. Humans are naturally inquisative and creative , want to control their lives, express themselves., and to persue their own personal intrests. Because Communists believe that they have the definative vision of how human society should be shaped, they believe that a totalitarian state is necessary to contolled and limit these natural impulses. Chinese Communism was even more radical than Soviet Communism. Some have called Mao the 'last emperor'.. And Communist totalitarian ideology gave him a more powerful tool for control and ultimately killing than any previoys emperor possessed. Chairman Mao explained to his peopole that 'To read too many books is harmful.' So he provided them his slebder LittlecRed Book to save them the bother of reading all those pesky, thought provoking books in libraries. Mao was intent not only that everyone should think alike, but also dress alike. Fashion became an ananthema which during the Cultural Revolutuion could get you killed. The People's Republic was no different and inevitavly it led to terrible application of foirce in which millions of peoples have perished. This began with the birth of th PRC and the radical social reform which began with the killing of landlords and the prosperous peasantry. These were the kulaks which Stalin also targeted. The single most imporatnt of these crimes was Mao's Great Leap Forward. This resulted in the most deadly famine in human history. Estimats suggest that 25-50 million people perished. These and other such crimes against humanity make Mao the single most deadly dictator in human history. Despite this record, Mao is still an honored figure in the PRC. Mao was such an esential component of Chinese Communism and the creation of the PRC, that modern PRC leaders are not willing to condemn him and remove him from an honored place in Chinese society. Not all of Chinese Communist crimes are of Mao's doings, but most incluing the most deadly in loss of life do relate to Mao. Mao's last crime was the Cultural Revolution. While the body count of the Cultural Revolution was not as massive as the Great Leap Forward, the number of twisted and broken lives was monumental and China and its people lost an entire decade.

Early Actions

Mao was one of several early figures in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He was, however, determined to lead the movenent. Mao's determination and leadership skills propelled him into the CCP inner circle. He gined control of his own Party branch and developing a reputation as a fervent radical. He gained control of an armed force of some 1,500 peasants and set up a base at Longshi in southern China (1927). Here he began to demonstrate a penchant for violence and killing. He ovrsaw public executions and showed a particular appreciation for slow killing. Mao abandoned his second wife, Kai-hui, and their three sons, acquiring a third wife -- Gui-yuan. She was a beautiful 18-year-old, who thought Mao 'too old' and 'not worthy' of her. Mao moved his base (early 1929). Gui-yuan attempted to stay behind, but Mao decided to bring her along 'at any cost'. The next year he won appointmnent to head a new communist state in Jiangxi. His title 'Chairman Mao' ates from this time. It was coined by a crony to ingratiate himself. He immediately set out to eliminate anyone who did not support his leadership. He oversaw some 5,000 executions. [Chang and Halliday]

Civil War

Mao proved a master of public relatiins from an early point. Driven out of his base in central China by the Nationalists (1934), desperate flight was turned into a triumpgh-- the Long March. He departed with 80,000 men, women and children on a 9,650-kilometre trek to join forces with the Communist Red Army in the south. He left a trail of dead and crippled bodies along a frozen route. He lost all but 10,000 of his followes. He was carried on a litter, but told fawning journalists that he walked most of it 'like the rank and file'. [Chang and Halliday] He wanted to be seen like other Communist leaders as a man of the people. One Chinese blogger tells us that Chiang and the KMT was responsible for 10 million deaths annually. [Lyapunov] As far as we can tell, this is entirely without foundation. There is no evidence of killing on such a scale. Only with Mao's creation of the PRC do we see killing on this scale. We note that even durungb the white Terror that e are generally taliking about actions with deahs in the tens of thousands. This compares with Mao nd the Commuist crimes in the tens of millions.

Anti-Bolshevik League Incident (1930-31)

Mao carried out the The Anti-Bolshevik League Incident, a political purge in Communist Party bases in Jiangxi. He accused rivals of being agents of the Kuomintang intelligence network --the Anti-Bolshevik League. mao ordered the trial and execution of large numbers of Red Army officers and soldiers. Stalin only a few years later would do the same in the Soviet Union.

Long March (1934)

The Long March is probably the best known event of the Chinese Civil War. The Communists have nuil an elaborate mythology about the Long March. Mao proved a master of public relatiins from an early point. Driven out of his base in central China by the Nationalists (1934), desperate flight was turned into a triumpgh-- the Long March. He departed with 80,000 men, women and children on a 9,650-kilometre trek to join forces with the Communist Red Army in the south. He left a trail of dead and crippled bodies along a frozen route. He lost all but 10,000 of his followes. He was carried on a litter, but told fawning journalists that he walked most of it 'like the rank and file'. [Chang and Halliday] He wanted to be seen like other Communist leaders as a man of the people.

Anti-Trotskyist Campaign (1937)

Leon Trotsky founded the Red Army thay played the key role in the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War. He played a much more important role in Stalin. It was his preeminence that doomed him after Lenin's death. He could not be controlled by Stalin and Srlin wanted complere control. Trotsky managed to fleeRussia as Stalin was gaining control. He continued to be active in world Communist circles and his theoretical writungs attracted adherents. He did not, however, hve any sources of support. Stalin;s NKVD had a worldwide operation and both supported those who recignized Moscow's leadership and punished those who did not. Trotsky attracted considerable support within the Chinee Communist Party which had memy members who did not know the basics of Cimmunist ideology. The Trotskyites were the mainn-line Party's main earlybopposition. Trotsky's supporters were writers and intelectuals, people some independent means, but not the finances to finance movement. They seemed posed in 1930 to seizw control of the CCP, but lack of funds, Chou En-lai's maneuvering, and the attention of the KMT intelligence service. In effect the KMT rmoved some of Mao;s most formidable opponents. Students returning from Europe included some confirmed Trotskyites. And their struggles wiuthin the Party created a great deal of tension. Mao announced an Anti-Trotskyist Campaign after the Trotskyites had already been dfeated (1937). This occurred rather quitely in the most of the deadly Moscow Show Trials--part of Stalin's Great Terror. Many of Stalin' victims were charged with Trotskyite sympathes and accused of being German spies. Mao accused the Chinese Trotskyites of being Japanese spies. Of course in both the Soviet Union and Japan, you did not have tona Tritskite to be arrsted and tried. And as tensions with the Japanese were risung, it probably was conceived as a step which mightbattract some support from the Soviets. [Benton, pp. 14-15.]

Japanese Invasion

Japan invaded Manchuria (1931) and China proper (1937). This began the 8-year Second Sino-Japanese War in which the Japanese committed terrible atrociuties of breath taking proportions. The record of Japanese atrocities during World War II defy belief and are without precedent in modern history. Over half of the fatalities and some of the most barbaric attrocities were cimmitted in China. Japan did not take POWs, murdering Cinese soldiers who surrender. Theu also murdered civilians with abandon, in just about every imaginable way. No one know how many Chinese the Japanese killed. Most of the estimates we hace seen are in the 10-15 million victims range. What is notable about this figure is that even the higher range of the number of victims is only about a third of the lower range of Chinese killed by the Communists, mostly during Maoist era. One onserver takes issue with pointing this out, saying that is to early to assess Mao's policies. And that even mentioning it is white washing the Japanese. [Huang] Of course it never occurred this Communist acolyte that his refusal to discuss Communist crime was white washing Mao and his massive body count.. Mao and the Communists with the Japanese invasion (1937) with few exceptions wisely avoided major actions against the invaders. The Nationalists carried the burden of the War and Communist propaganda attacked them for battlfield defeats. The Communist forces sffered fewer defeats because tgey rarely ventuured out of their Yenan stronghold. Nationalists (KMT) units were attacked by both the Japanese and Communist guerillas. Japan steadily increased its control over agricultural land and transports routes into the Nationalist interior. This couple with refugees fleeing the Japanese created increasingly serious food shortages. [Collinghm] The KMT resorted to increasingly severe actions in the countryside to seize food and rqcruits from the peasantry. Mao was under less pressure and was norecrestrined in actions against the poeasabtty. This was the beginning of a major shift in support. Membership in the Communist Party grew Reports estimate that membership grew to 0,7 million (late-1941). Mao did not, however, want aarty that was open and and full of differing ideasm, he wanted unquestioning obdedience and a Party machine he fully cintrolled. He began to issue directives to cintrol all aspects of their lives. He banned irony and satire (1942). [Chang and Halliday] He invented a new offence of 'speaking weird words'. He also banned jokes and any scepticism about Party policy. Such comments could bring accusations of spying and summary execution. Mao finally achieved his goal, becoming the Supreme Leader of the CCP (1945)

Attacks on the Nationalists

Yan'an Rectification Movement (1941-45)

After the Long March, Mao and the surviving Communists esrablished a bses in Yenan / Yan'an. This proved relatively secure, in part because the Japanesedis show an interest in this rekatively poor privince and focused on the Natioinalists to the south. Mao began a 'rectification' to consolidate his leadership and establish his role as the movement's paramount leader. Communists at this time had varying ideas about ideology. Mao used the Rectification Movement to firmly esrablish Marxist–Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought as the Party'central guiding ideologies. The Campaign unifyed the Party. Discenters were purged, but for the main part the Party rank and file had not thought deeply about ideology except in the vaguest terms. This period was thus used to instruct his supporters in ideological issues. The impact was to strengthening the Party under Mao's leadership. [Lieberthal] Soviet-inspired thought reform was introduced. Other Party methods were standardized, including self-criticism and 'struggle'. Mao approved the elimination of supporters in Yenan. An estimated 10,000 are believed to have been killed during the Rectification Movement.

People's Republic: Maoist Era

The PRC Government does not deny that Mao committed abuses, but generally used the term mistakes rather than crimes. And they tend to provide lower numbers of fatalities for the various abuses. The largest numbers of fatalities occurred during the Great Leap Forward, but here the Communist view is that his actions were not crimes, but misguided policies. China's leadership has not come to terms with what Mao did to the country and the massive body count attributed to him. Innthe aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping oversaw an assessment (1981). The Communist Party admitted that Mao bore the chief responsibility for China's greatest modern catastrophe, the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), but concludd that his 'mistakes' were those of "a great revolutionary" whose contributions were far greater than his errors. Describing thedeaths of 45-75 million people as 'mistakes' is elegant testimony to the Communist mindset. Our view is that incopetence on his level is criminal and resulted from the totalitarian system that he established and the criminal supression of anyone who would challenge hus misguided policy. A Chinese blogger hs take this position and questions the numbers used by Western historians. He claims that modern work in China has thoroughly discreited Western historians and questions the professionalism if the authors we have consulted on this topic. [Lyapunov] As far as we can tell, his assessments are entirely without foundation.

Mao's Death (1976)

The Gang of Four around Mao understood that the Chirman's health was failing and that Deng was their greatest threat. Mao was a heavy smoker and drinker which had affected his health and he was now into his 80s. He was also overweight and had developed multiple lung and heart problems, Some believe he had Parkinson's disease in addition to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). Mao's last public appearancews to meet wuth visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (May 27, 1976). Mao suffered two major heart attacks (March and July). A third incapicated him (September 5). He died 4 days later (September 9). This meant that the struggle for power was underway.

Campaign to Denounce the Gang of Four (1976)

The Gang of f Four (Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen) arond Mao failed to garner the support needed to seize power. Their power was based on Mao's emmense popularity. And with Mao gone their influence disappeared. The next nation-wide cmpaign was essentially an anti-Maoist campaign, but of course ithout criticizing Mao personally. The Gang of Four was arrested and denounced as, of course, counterrevolutionaries. Had they succeeded, they would have arrested and denounced Deng and his suporters as counterrevolutionries. Mao had appointed all four to important positions. They rather than Mao were accused as behind the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Little attentiin was given to the Great Leap Firward which had accounted for many more deaths than the Cultural Revolution. Th focus was on the Culturl Revolution because it was more recent and more importnt Paty mmbers had been targeted thn during the Great Leap, the brunt of which fell omn the peasantry. Procecution was delayed several years, but was finally conducted in ashow trial (1981).

Anti-Corruption, Anti-Economic Crimes (1982

Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign (1983-84)

Conservative factions of the CCP incluing many Maoist loylists, spearheaded by Deng Liqin, launched the the Anti-spiritual Pollution Campaign ( 清除精神污染 / 清除精神污染 ) (Fall 1983). Deng and others were disturbed by the growing and open discussion of humanism and civil rights as well as what the conservatives called 'bourgeois liberalism'. [Baum]

Party Rectification (1983-87)

Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization (1986-92)

Tiananmen Square (1989)

Tiananmen Square is a large public city square in the center of Beijing. The name comes from the Tiananmen gate located to its North, separating it from the Forbidden City. It is the fourth largest public city square in the world. For several weeks during Spring 1989 the world' attention was riveted on the square. Pro-democracy protesters composed of many students occupied the square and demanded change. The students were unarmed, but refused to move. They wanted democratic reforms, including freedom of speech and the press and other basic rights as enjoyed in rthe West, A copy of Americ's statue of liberty appear in the Square. They wanted government accountability. The Chinese government declared martial law and deployed 200,000 troops around the Square equipped with tanks and autimatic weapons. The troop forcefully remove th protesters (June 4, 1989). It was a bloody assault and about 500-2,500 protestor were killed. The world watched because foreign journalists were in Beijing, None of this appeared on Chinese television. The Chinese Government today coninues to block Google to make sure its people can not read or view images about the incident.

Anti-Corruption Drive (1989-2000)

Grasping the large, letting go of the small (1996)

Grasping the large, letting go of the small (抓大放小 / 抓大放小) was an economic campaign.

Three Stresses" party rectification (1998-2000)

Jiang Zemin launched the Three Stresses Campaign ( 三讲 ) (late-1998). It was an ideological rectification campaign aimed at Communist Party members. They were incouraged to stress study, politics, and righteousness (jiang xuexi, jiang zhengzhi, jiang zhengqi). It was part of an the virtually impossible effort to reconcile market reforms with socialist ideology. As a result of the campaign, high-ranking Communist Party officials were prosecuted for corruption. Fewsmith]

Campaign against Falun Gong (1999–Present)

The CCP was officially athiest, but after the Cultural revolution there was a degree of relgious toleration, at least for apprivd and crefully controlled relgions that accepted the authority of the Party. Falun Gong was neither approved or under the Party's control. Officials saw Falun Gong as one of the secret sovities tht had played importabt roles in bringing don long-standing dynties. The Campaign against Falun Gong (取缔法轮功 / 取締法輪功) began (1999). This was to eradicate the Falun Gong, a qigong (Life Energy Cultivation) spiritual practice. At the time the Communist Prty moved against it, there may have been 70 million practitioners. The campaign attacking Falun Gong involved the use of propaganda, extrajudicial imprisonment, and coercive 'reeducation'. It was no mere program of moral suasion. Mote than 2,000 Falun Gong adherents were tortured to death. Hundreds of thousands were imprisoned. [Jacobs and Hepeng]

Campaign to Maintain the Advanced Nature of Communist Party Members (2005)

The next ntion-wide effort was the Campaign to Maintain the Advanced Nature of Communist Party Members (保持共产党员先进性教育 / 保持共產黨員先進性教育 ) launched (January 2005). This was an ideological rectification campaign designed to build the Party members' knowledge of Marxism, fight corruption, and guard against what were called the social contradictions that threaten the ruling status of the Communist Party. The pursue the Campign, millions of Party members were ordered to attend education and self-criticism sessions. [Fewsmith]

Eight Honors and Eight Shames (2006)

Hu Jintao instituted a new moral code -- Eight Honors and Eight Shames (八荣八耻 / 八榮八恥) (2006). The goal was to 'measure the work, conduct, and attitude' of Party members.

6521 Project (2009)

The 6521 Project was a nationwide operation launched by Xi Jinping and Zhou Yongkang. The goal was to ensure 'social stability' through the suppression potential dissidents The anniversaries of national significance serve as focal points. The name of the campaign refers to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan supression, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, and the 10th anniversary of the campaign against Falun Gong. [Wines]

Modern China

The post-Mao Chinese leadership has an abysmal human rights record. The Government totaly controls of all media. There are some 40,000 ‘internet security agents’ to monitor and track down internet users who criticuse the Government. They also actuvely block internet sites that deal with touchy subjecrs or too opemly duscuss issues. Search engines are modified to make sure that briwsers can not reach sites which criticize the Government and Communist Party. There are an estimated 0.2 million detainees undergoing ‘re-educative sentences’ in brutal forced labor camps. There are thousands of executions annually. This is a higher figure than the rest of the world combined. The police arrest dissidents like Hu Jia for advocating democratic reforms. China does not only hace aomestic foreign policy problem. 's foreign policy has protected some of the worlds most vicious dictatorial regimes: Burma, Sudan (carrying out the Darfur genocide), North Korea, and Zimbabwe


Baum, Richard. "The Road to Tiananmen," in The Politics of China: The Eras of Mao and Deng. (Cambridge University Press: 1997).

Benton, Gregor. "Editor's introduction," in Benton, Prophets Unarmed: Chinese Trotskyists in Revolution, Jail, and the Return from Limbo (Brill, 2014), 1288p.

Chang, Jung and Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story (Random House Australia).

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Books: New York, 1962), 634p.

Fewsmith, Joseph. “CCP Launches Campaign to Maintain the Advanced Nature of Party Members”, China Leadership Monitor No. 13.

Fisac, Taciana and Leila Fernández-Stembridge. China Today: Economic Reforms, Social Cohesion and Collective Identities (Routledge Publishing: 2003).

Hepeng, Jia. 'The Three Represents campaign: Reform the party of indoctrinate the capitalists?', Cato Journal, (Septtember 22, 2004).

Jacobs, Andrew. 'China Still Presses Crusade Against Falun Gong', New York Times (April 27, 2009).

Huang, Jon. Blog discussions (March 2015).

Lyapunov,Chen. Blog discussions (March 2015).

Lieberthal, Kenneth. Governing China: From Revolution to Reform (W.W. Norton & Co.; 2003).

Wines, Michael. "Anniversaries for Tibet and Tiananmen Square Have China on Edge," The New York Times (March 10, 2009).


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Created: 11:30 PM 4/3/2015
Last updated: 12:21 AM 4/8/2015