Policy wonk digest: Mao not the red sun in our hearts edition

Fiona’s has just finished a great biography of Mao. It’s a hefty tome. As Fiona read I would ask her “what’s Mao up to?” It was always something dastardly. Here are some highlights.

  • Mao was Maoist in the sense that he was all about Mao. But there’s scant evidence that he was ideological, and he probably wasn’t Maoist in the sense of the particular kind of socialism.
  • Mao’s defence Minister advocated adhering to traditional Chinese ethical codes including do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself. “My principle” Mao said in reply “is exactly the opposite. Do to others precisely what I don’t want done to myself.”
  • In 1957 Mao opened his regime up to criticism. Then he had a list of critics who he could purge in 1958.
  • Mao was an exceptional strategic thinker. For example he was all Frank Underwood about getting nuclear weapons. He threatened Taiwan to draw a response from the US, including a threat that they would use nukes. If they did, the Soviets would be obliged to come to China’s aid. The Soviet’s didn’t want that responsibility, so they helped China develop nuclear technology so it could defend itself.
  • Mao specified how much food the peasants could eat. To start with he calculated what would be required for a level of subsistence. But that didn’t leave enough for his ‘superpower programme’ for which he needed to trade food for weapons from the Soviets. So he changed the calculation. He established what he needed to buy the guns he wanted, and left the rest to the peasants. 38 million starved.
  • During the Great Leap Forward Mao said he wanted to double steel production in a year. Steel furnaces were fueled with grain. Millions starved.
  • Mao also instructed the peasants to contribute to the steel drive. They built backyard furnaces and melted down everything they could. Including the tools they used to harvest food. And the backyard steel was rubbish.
  • At one point China’s overseas development aid reached a whopping 6.3% of GNP (the highest, I suspect, ever recorded anywhere). China was dirt poor, but Mao was determined to be the leader of the socialist world so he gave to all regimes (expect Russia) and expected their loyalty in return. That trend continues today. China gives all sorts of aid, to try and increase its influence. Some of its peasants still starve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *