This post is basically a followup on the post by Sam Crane. I will not add to the debate regarding how many people starved per se or even defend the other commentators on this issue but rather talk about how people in the west are treating like discourse, namely those that does not fall in line with the dominate narrative in the west, i.e., that Mao was a mass murderer that had killed more people than Hitler and Stalin. I will take as my main target a recent post on another blog because I think its contents and its comments are so exemplary of the type of ignorance, bigotry and bias facing anyone that dares to question the west’s perspective on anything. They are met with derision, marginalization, and every fallacy in the book instead of direct refutation and they are made by morally degenerate and intellectually dishonest individuals.
In a recent post (which was inspired by “noodling around the internet”) in which he casually dismisses views that critically examines the thesis that the GLF wasn’t as bad as commonly portrayed in the western media and that Mao wasn’t the same kind of monster as Hitler, Stalin or the Japanese imperialists. He makes a long-winded post without actually refuting any specific individual or position (I wonder which positions and individuals he is referring to?). In fact he explicitly says he doesn’t want to address them specifically and the reason he gives for this is that this will give those perspectives more attention than they deserve. That’s convenient. Sounds like a classic cop-out of an intellectual coward to me. It’s easy to dismiss phantoms but much harder to refute actual arguments.
The first comment in his post says that those who dare question the dominant view in the west should be “tried for crimes against humanity” showing once again, the tolerance for free expression and intellectual debate by proponents of western values.
Crane’s post is replete with strawpersons and equivocations (common theme for those familiar with his posts) that I will argue only a morally defective person can make.
He blanket terms all critical discourse on the west’s dominant narrative that 20-60 million people died in the GLF and that Mao was a mass murder as “denialist’s” propaganda and suggests their motives as questionable. I quote his post:
In noodling around the internet in search of the any new bits of information, I have found several examples of what I will call GLF denialism, arguments that attempt to deflect attention away from the horrible fact that millions and millions of people starved to death as a direct result of state policy. I will not link to these sites, because I do not want to advance their project; moreover, they are an insult to the countless victims of the CCP’s horrific assault on rural society. But I do want to engage with a point or two that the denialists raise. The basic denialist approach is to raise doubts about the estimated death toll of the Great Leap Famine, which ranges from about 16 – 45 million.
But GLF denialists are pursuing a political agenda: to protect Mao Zedong from bearing responsibility for the massive loss of Chinese lives. They are not simply engaged in an honest search for the truth. They are trying to obfuscate and divert. We cannot let them.
See anyone questioning the veracity of these figures must be a Mao apologist and upstanding people like Crane are simply engaged in honest intellectual debate,…only the fact that Crane doesn’t even attempt to refute any of their points address their reasons and evidence but merely launch into a tirade questioning their motives.
Points made by people like the noted demographer Wim F. Wertheim that almost all the commonly accepted figures are likely over counts because they are based on the 1953 “census” which almost certainly exaggerated the birth rate and under estimated the death rate and thus counted in the final death toll those who had never been born and those who had died under other circumstances are marginalized as part of this propaganda. Even though Wertheim is someone actually qualified to make these statements about the death toll while Crane is not makes no difference to Crane. It is all “denialist” propaganda to him if it goes against his worldview. Anyone relying on data such as Wertheim’s is guilty of “denialism” as well.
The actual death toll is a legitimate area of scholarly debate. It is debated by real scholars who are qualified to do so and intellectually honest, two qualities Crane and the rest of the confederacy of goons on his site which seek to marginalize any criticisms of dominant western narrative on the GLF clearly do not possess. Those who engage in these debates often have only motives aiming at the truth (again, clearly unlike “noodlers” like Crane whose seems aims seem wholly ideological).
It would be like if I simply labeled everyone that doubted the 1.5 million death toll of the Iraq war giving a smaller figure as Bush/Cheney apologists. Despite the fact that modern epidemiology is based on far better data, figures on the death toll in Iraq is still a matter of academic debate and though I believe that the 1.5 million figure is the best supported today, it would take an actual argument with evidence and reasons to refute those other figures (especially when they are supported with at least some evidence and not outrageously low), not dishonest and cowardly blanket generalizations with insinuations about the motives of those who give a figure not to one’s liking.
I may be wrong but almost everyone here thinks Mao is one of the worst people in modern Chinese history partly due to his actions (and lack of actions) during the GLF but that doesn’t mean we should accept whatever the west feeds us about Mao and the GLF. It is insincere and cowardly to suspect anyone that doubts as motivated by nefarious intent without any evidence, just because they hold an opinion you may not like.
The most despicable aspect of those who wish to bury any debate about Mao and the GLF is their insistent comparison of Mao with the likes of Stalin, Hitler and in Crane’s case, the imperial Japanese.
And denialists can also not stand the fact that the more we know of the GLF – the forced starvation, the beatings, the cannibalism – by way of Yang and Zhou and other archival researchers, the more evident it is that the Maoist system was responsible for many, many more deaths of Chinese people than was Japanese imperialism. That is is a horrible thing to contemplate, but it is likely true.
These ridiculous comparisons are the target of much of the criticisms. Numbers aside, ignorance leading to death is one thing, murder is another. Even children as young as 4 (with the exception psychopathic children and children with autism spectrum disorder) can make the distinction that an intentionally malicious action and an unintentional action with negative consequences are morally not equivalent. Genocidal murderous regimes cannot be morally equivalent to incompetent ones, even ones as fiercely incompetent as Mao’s.
Take a look at India. Many of India’s leaders know that their economic system is inferior to the Chinese and has been so for many decades and yet refuses any serious reform. This has led to untold suffering and premature deaths in India as the Nobel winning economist Amartya Sen has shown. Indian leaders are relatively incompetent due to their ignorance (much of it willful as in the case of Chinese leaders during the GLF) and that incompetence has led to the deaths of untold millions of children as the child mortality is much higher in India than in China and has been so for a very long time. The difference here is that in the case of India, the disastrous consequences has gone on to this day and the data supporting it is far more solid than those available during the 50s and 60s in China. India’s leaders are worthy of much moral opprobrium much as China’s incompetent and ignorant leaders for that economic disaster but only a morally defective individual would compare them to the murderous Hitler and Stalin regimes and to the imperial Japanese. Evoking Hitler, Stalin or the Imperial Japanese is just rhetoric to support one’s ideology.
Again, Sen is clearly qualified to make these statements but anyone who calls or insinuates him as a denialist because he supports aspects of Chinese policy (even pre reform policy, see here) is stupid and morally degenerate. I’m not saying that Crane calls Sen specifically a denialist but his blanket argument would cover those like Sen who defended the positive aspects of the Chinese economic system versus India’s.
Notice Crane chooses to make the comparison with the imperial Japanese. Why choose that example? Because of his ideology I suspect in that insinuating that the CCP is worse than the imperial Japanese and undermining much deserved sympathy and concern focusing on Japanese atrocities. He is suggesting that the Chinese ought to have as much or more anger and resentment towards their government as they do towards imperial Japan. His political motives thus must come into question but here, we actually have evidence from his own posts instead of cowardly addressing a bloodless stand-in phantom. Again, who would do such a thing but a seriously morally bankrupt individual?
One can make a rather strong argument that those who make that link devalue the 20 million Chinese murder victims of the imperialist Japanese and are really just denialists for the Japanese regime. To them by making that link they are essentially saying, the Japanese didn’t murder anyone, merely allowed people do starve and die due to their incompetence as opposed to the genocidal malice that was the actual cause.
Why are there so many people so quick to attack anyone with with an opinion contrary to the accepted dogma? People tend to be biased naturally but I suspect there is a deeper bias here at work. I suspect that many whites are deeply ashamed that western civilization has done so much harm in the world. Mao represents to them an object for psychological projection (a topic of which I will post on later). Mao is a boogeyman whose image is but a convenient screen to project all of their collective shame for the crimes of their ancestors and their own governments to this day on to someone else, even if the results are but an effigy devoid of all facts. Mao offers a great opportunity, an outlet to show the world and themselves that white men aren’t the only ones or the worst who commit the crimes of Hitler and Stalin.