26 October 2016
Many pro-Maoists are nostalgic about the 'good old days'  but the truth is most people lived in extreme poverty. Photo: Getty Images
Many pro-Maoists are nostalgic about the 'good old days' but the truth is most people lived in extreme poverty. Photo: Getty Images

How life under Mao Zedong became unbearable

There has been much talk about the supposed greatness of Mao Zedong in this 50th year since the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution.

Many pro-Maoists are nostalgic about the “good old days” when they say everybody was equal, happy and lived an affluent life.

Their portrayal of life under Mao couldn’t be further from the truth.

Life in China between the 1950s and 1970s when Mao was in power was miserable and was characterized by fear, hunger, extreme poverty and relentless political persecutions.

Marshal Peng Dehuai was stunned by the acute poverty in rural Panzhihua when he visited Sichuan province in 1965.

Many villagers were so poor they did not even have pants to wear.

Panzhihua was not an isolated case.

Across rural China, millions of impoverished peasants did not have basic clothing.

According to an 2013 article in Southern Weekend, when Premier Li Keqiang was enrolled in the University of Beijing in 1978, he had only two pairs of pants.

The appalling poverty in rural China had its roots in the totalitarian system and Mao’s one-party dictatorship.

Mao, who was disdainful of the common people, was obsessed with his unrealistic and delusional dream of a communist utopia.

He simply copied the entire Stalinist playbook and the Soviet planned economy and imposed them on the people.

Through his ultra-leftist measures such as the Great Leap Forward economic policies, people’s communes and industrialization program, Mao believed China could overtake the Soviet Union and the West in GDP.

But Mao’s extreme and reckless policies later turned out to be a national disaster of biblical proportions, leading to nationwide famine in rural areas, uncontrollable inflation and widespread shortages in cities.

Rather than steering China toward economic prosperity, Mao’s so-called Three Red Banners campaign destroyed the national economy and plunged the country into the Stone Age.

In order to compete with the Soviet Union for leadership in the third world, Mao generously provided economic aid to “socialist brother states” such as North Korea, Albania, Romania and Cambodia (Editor’s note: after the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, the country immediately became Beijing’s close ally).

That further exacerbated rampant shortages of food and basic goods in his own country.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 30

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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