Part VI of VI: The Chinese Great Leap Forward
Glenn Beck ends his series with an attack on the Chinese Revolution. He claims that the Chinese leader Mao Zedong was the greatest mass murderer of all time, even worse than Hitler. To back up this ridiculous comparison he uses a very questionable source that has been discredited even in the mainstream press: Jung Chang’s Mao: the Unknown Story, the infamous volume that claims Mao was responsible for 70 million [!] deaths in China. It is Beck’s sole source for the information he presents on famine in China. Before we discuss the Great Leap Forward, we will briefly analyze Chang’s book.
Mao: the Unknown Story
Chang’s book has been widely criticized for being propaganda and not historical fact. It has been documented many times, particularly in volumes such as The Battle for China’s Past that the book distorts history, uses misleading sources and in other places uses none, and overall merely attacks without understanding. Scholars who have widely criticized, reviewed and disputed the book’s claims include Professor Jonathan Spence of Yale, Professor Andrew Nathan of Columbia University, David S. G. Goodman (Professor of Contemporary China Studies at the University of Technology in Sydney), Professor Thomas Bernstein of Columbia University, Professor Gregor Benton of Cardiff, Steve Tsang of Oxford and Timothy Cheek of the University of British Columbia.
The book is nothing more than a shallow monster fairy tale. Mao: the Unknown Story has notably been rejected by several publishers around the world, even in Taiwan, for not being able to substantiate its attacks. The authors refuse to cite sources for their most outrageous claims and source unimportant ones instead. They blame literally every questionable decision by the CCP on Mao personally rather than using science to figure out the actual conditions.
An article in The Independent by Frank McLynn was published on June 5, 2005 reviewing the book, in which he says it is “neither serious history nor serious biography.” He goes on to say that in Chang and Halliday’s half-baked analysis, Mao Zedong “comes across as a posturing maniac, a crazed gangster, a hydrophobic, fundamentally stupid (though cunning), mouth-frothing sociopath. The authors cannot decide whether he was just incredibly lucky to have got so far or whether (in at least partial contradiction of their main thesis) he had a steel-trap political mind of Napoleonic caliber […] everything is one-dimensional.”
Jin Xiaoding has a detailed review of the book in which he asks 17 important challenges, none of which have been answered by the authors. The authors claimed that a battle at Luding Bridge never happened. After an investigation it was found that they lied. The authors claim the KMT let the CCP escape during the Long March, which isn’t true. There are thousands of inaccuracies in this book that we shall not get into here and that have been covered much better elsewhere.
Glenn Beck’s sole source on the Chinese Revolution may come from a Chinese woman, but it is nothing more than a hit piece targeted at China herself. Both Chang and Halliday have stated that they now support the Japanese militarist invasion of Manchuria and China as a legitimate response to “communism.” With sources such as this, it’s no wonder Beck learns so little about the history of China.
Fake Quotes & Emperor Logic
When the segment begins, Lee Edwards, the Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (unbiased, clearly), claims that Mao personally knew of starvation during the Great Leap Forward and did nothing. There is no source cited; he merely says it. Soon after, Chang herself makes the claim, “Mao just didn’t care. He said for all his projects to take off, half of China may well have to die.” The viewer is expected to believe this because it is being said out loud. In fact, the quotes from Mao have no source. What Beck and his cronies are using here is a sort of “Emperor Logic,” in which every single policy and happening in China during Mao’s reign was his fault alone and was a result of a conscious decision by Mao personally.
Anita Dunn’s Comment
Beck gleefully shows a clip of Anita Dunn, a former White House Communications Director, saying “Two of my favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa.” For some odd reason he uses this quote to draw a connection between liberals and communism. He says, “Dunn’s comments, once again, highlight the odd treatment that leftist totalitarianism receives by too many in our society. Communism is something looked at as something we can borrow from liberally even today. But the truth is it’s among history’s most proficient killers.” Anita Dunn’s brief comment is a particularly obvious example of distortion, as she did not praise Mao’s internal policies during her speech, just his “motivation” to win the civil war against the Kuomintang. Of course, Beck does not dare to let the full comment be shown.
Famine during the Great Leap Forward
Beck, Chang and Halliday pick the highest estimates for famine they can find. They claim that some 30 million people died, which would supposedly make Mao Zedong the greatest mass murderer in history. Let us examine these numbers.
The estimates that Chang and Halliday use are based on a very simple method: the authors take estimated birthrates from years before and subtract it from the actual population. There are many problems with this method, namely that it counts people who were not born yet as part of the body count, and that it assumes that every death in China during the entire period was a result of starving to death. As well, these figures make it sound as if the famine was entirely the result of state policy, rather than the serious natural disasters that occurred during that period.
In other words, they openly state that they have used ridiculous methods to estimate the dead and have overestimated as a matter of principle. They even fail to take into account the extremely poor and backward state of China and its history. Famines were extremely common in China and in fact happened among the peasant classes every decade before revolution. It is also worth noting that since the Great Leap Forward no more famine has struck China (outside of course, of the hunger and poverty caused by capitalism).
What Do These Numbers Show?
Noam Chomsky points out about this figure:
“[B]efore closing the book on the indictment we might want to turn to the other half of Sen’s India-China comparison, which somehow never seems to surface despite the emphasis Sen placed on it. He observes that India and China had ‘similarities that were quite striking’ when development planning began 50 years ago, including death rates. ‘But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India’ (in education and other social indicators as well). He estimates the excess of mortality in India over China to be close to 4 million a year: ‘India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame,’ 1958-1961 (Dreze and Sen).”
Beck is telling a half truth when he says the “Black Book” was published by Harvard University—the English translation was, but he seems to be concealing the fact that it was published in France. He may be hoping to impress his audience with the association with Harvard academics.
Famine during the Great Depression
Using the methodology of these scholars, capitalism would have an astronomical death toll. If we can blame Mao for the famine, we can also blame F.D.R. for the deaths during the Dust Bowl. In part IV of this series we have already covered the simply staggering amount of hunger under capitalism, and recently new research has been found suggesting that many people starved to death in the United States during the Great Depression, perhaps up to 7 million. There was also a 25% malnutrition rate in urban schools. For some reason, no one lays this figure on the feet of F.D.R., even though capitalism is surely more to blame for having poverty institutionalized than Mao Zedong was for China having severe droughts.
Nice try, Mr. Beck, but next time bring the facts. Thanks for playing.