Chapter 15: Peng Dismissed From Office

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 15
Peng Dismissed From Office

By April 1959, it had become apparent to Party officials that the Great Leap Forward was a clusterfuck of catastrophic proportions. Mumblings among Party officials led to Mao stepping down as State Chairman of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Liu Shaoqi

Mao’s hand-picked successor, First Vice-Chairman of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Liu Shaoqi, replaced him. Together, Liu and CPC General Secretary Deng Xiaoping were put in charge of fixing Mao’s mess. But they were mere puppets. Mao was still calling all the shots, from behind the scenes.

But there was one troublemaker who was not so easily manipulated. A year earlier, General Peng Dehuai, head of the National Defense Ministry, dared to speak out against Mao’s economic policies. In April 1958, during a tour of Guangzhou Province, he openly criticized Mao by saying, “The Chairman talks all the time about more, faster, better, and more economical results. That is annoying. What does he want with chanting these liturgies all the time?”

In the fall of 1958, Peng toured more of China and found mature crops going unharvested, due to farmers busying themselves with steel production using primitive backyard furnaces. He encountered serious food shortages, starving peasants, and angry elders. He became so concerned that he composed this poem:

Grain scattered on the ground,
Potato leaves withered,
Strong young people have left to make steel,
Only children and old women reap the crops,
How can they pass the coming year?
Allow me to raise my voice for the people!

The Communist Party held a conference in July 1959, called the Lushan Conference. Mao opened the conference by encouraging Party members to criticize and offer opinions on the government’s mistakes and shortcomings. Peng fell for it. He composed a letter to Mao that criticized the policies of the Great Leap Forward.

Most of the Party leadership agreed with Peng. But then Mao had the letter circulated among the attendees of the Lushan Conference, and then criticized the letter, and attacked Peng. Mao threatened that if the leadership sided with Peng, he would split the Party, retreat into the countryside, and lead a peasant rebellion against the government.

The leadership capitulated in the face of this threat, and turned against Peng. He was formally condemned, and forced to issue a self-criticism, where he admitted he had made “severe mistakes.” Later, he privately confessed to Premier Zhou Enlai, regarding his self-criticism, “For the first time in my life, I have spoken out against my very heart.”

A few months later, Mao replaced Peng as Defense Minister with one of his lackeys, Lin Biao, who would later rise to become the leader of China, during the Cultural Revolution.

But he didn’t stop there, with this general. In 1966 his wife, Jiang Qing, had Peng arrested by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. In fact, Peng was one of the first major public officials to be persecuted by Jiang Qing and her Cultural Revolution Group.

Peng had been a national hero. He had participated in the Long March. He had fought hard against Japanese occupation. He had defeated the Kuomintang (KMT) in northwest China during the civil war, against long odds. He had even saved Mao from being taken prisoner, when he defeated the KMT in the Battle of Shajiadian. He had directed China’s war effort during the Korean War. And now, this national hero who had given so much of himself for the Communist revolution, had become a prisoner.

Peng Dehuai in 1966, suffering public humiliation during a Struggle Session.

Peng was publicly humiliated during Struggle Sessions, falsely accused of many crimes against the people, and tortured. He died in prison in 1974, at age 76, from the effects of years of torture, and from an order by Mao to deny him medical treatment.

In 1959, shortly after the purge of Peng Dehuai, Wu Han, the Vice Mayor of Beijing, wrote a play entitled Hai Rui Dismissed from Office. Wu Han was not just Beijing’s Vice Mayor. He was also a historian, and this play was a historical account of a Ming Dynasty official who was purged and imprisoned by the emperor for having criticized him.

The play was a popular hit, and was even praised by Mao. But then critics began to interpret it as an allegory for Peng Dehuai’s dismissal from office by Mao. And in 1962, Peng Dehuai was stupid enough to write another letter to Mao, where he wrote, “I want to be a Hai Rui!”

This effrontery pissed the hell out of Mao. But it also gave him an inspiration.

Even though Liu Shaoqi had taken his job as State Chairman in 1959, Mao remained the de facto chair, and any decisions made by Liu had to be cleared by him. Liu was merely a puppet. But in 1961, Liu managed to maneuver Party leadership enough to strip Mao of these de facto powers. And with Mao pushed out of the way, Liu was now the undisputed head of China.

This didn’t set well with the megalomaniac Mao. He liked power, and wanted it back. It gave him a way to spread his pain to the masses, and he did not enjoy giving that up. Then he received the letter from Peng Dehuai, declaring that he wanted to be a Hai Rui. And from this letter, Mao devised a sinister, twisted, highly complex plot to oust Liu Shaoqi and retake control of China. This would culminate in the Cultural Revolution.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 16: Continuous Revolution.

Stolen Quote: Sex

Sex is hardly ever just about sex. ~ Shirley MacLaine

No, it’s also about power, contraception, dirty magazines, self-esteem, relationships, gadgets, kinky stuff, naughtiness, threesomes, orgies, fantasies, and, let’s see, what else? Oh yeah, procreation.

Chapter 14: The Great Leap Off a Cliff

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 14
The Great Leap Off A Cliff

Mao was a man with a plan, and with communism, plans tend to come in five-year increments. Why, I don’t know. Maybe because five is a nice, round number. But in 1953 Mao deployed his First Five-Year Plan. It was a Soviet-style plan, and it was a ripping success.

By 1958, the First Five-Year Plan had substantially boosted iron and steel production, coal mining, cement production, electricity generation, and machine building. Industrial production increased 19% annually, and the national income grew at a rate of 9% a year. Also, more than two-thirds of all businesses were now state-owned, with the remainder partially owned by the state.

However, agricultural output did not increase as much, and this was worrisome for some officials, who feared mass starvation. But Chairman Mao didn’t worry. He became consumed by the hubris of his success.

In 1958, Mao initiated the Second Five-Year Plan. He just knew that since his First Five-Year Plan had been so successful, his next plan would be phenomenal. He even gave it a phenomenal name: The Great Leap Forward.

But this time things turned out differently, and in a way that would profoundly affect China, and Chinese leadership, for decades to come. As it turned out, Mao’s Great Leap Forward was more like a great leap off a cliff.

Mao had grown skeptical of the Soviet Union, when he saw Nikita Khrushchev moderate the policies of Stalin, who had recently died. So he decided that, rather than model his Second Five-Year Plan after the Soviets, which he’d done with his First Five-Year-Plan, he’d come up with his own damned plan.

But his own damned plan became an epic disaster, and caused what was quite possibly the worst humanitarian crisis in human history.

The Great Leap Forward was aimed at increasing both agricultural and industrial production equally, and intended to put China on a road that would match the United Kingdom’s Gross National Product within 15 years. But in order to navigate China to this road, Mao had to set very ambitious goals for communes and factories.

But the Anti-Rightist Campaign had scared the shit out of a lot of people in charge of agricultural production. They feared the disfavor and wrath of the Communist Party. So rather than admit they couldn’t meet the goals, they fudged the numbers. They proclaimed surpluses, and took extra grain away from collectives in order to impress their superiors.

The government then sold that grain to foreign countries, to raise capital for more industrial development.

The extra grain taken from collectives took food from the mouths of peasant farmers. These were the very people working at the agricultural collectives. Starvation ensued, and over the next several years, up to 45 million rural Chinese died.

Most of them died from malnutrition, but not all. Others were worked to death while starving. And many died from beatings at the hands of their overseers, because they were too weak to work as fast as they were required to work in order to meet the unrealistic quotas.

In 1959, in a secret meeting in Shanghai where the food shortage was discussed, Mao is quoted as saying, “When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”

Food was often denied to those who had been labeled as “black elements” in previous campaigns, such as the anti-Rightist campaign. These were religious leaders, rich peasants, former landlords, and so forth. Such people tended to die in the greatest numbers.

The more peasants starved, the more they had to be beaten and tortured to force them to work. Punishments for failure to work hard enough were severe. Some were buried alive, some were bound and thrown into pools, some were stripped naked and forced to work outside in the middle of winter, some were doused with boiling water, and on and on. About half of those who were in charge of collectives regularly beat and caned their workers.

Aside from not working hard enough, other reasons peasants were beaten, or even killed, included: rebellion, reporting real harvest numbers, reporting inflated numbers, sounding alarm, refusing to hand over food, trying to flee a famine area, begging for food, stealing scraps of food, and angering officials.

The harsh treatment of peasants led some to resist. Armed rebellions occurred in at least eight provinces and regions of China. The rebels raided granaries, set buildings on fire, robbed trains, and committed acts of vandalism. However, these rebellions never posed a serious threat to the government, and never lasted much longer than a year.

One of Mao’s goals in the Great Leap Forward was to increase the production of high quality steel. Mao didn’t know shit about steel manufacturing, but he fancied himself an expert. In his self-assured “wisdom,” he encouraged rural and urban citizens to set up backyard furnaces, and to melt down scrap metal to produce steel.

Iron smelting at night, from so-called “backyard furnaces.”

Everyone was eager to get the good prices the government offered, so they began melting down anything made of iron. Pots, pans, farming equipment, and anything else made of iron was fair game. And wood was stripped from houses, to burn in the furnaces. Trees were denuded. Farmers stopped farming so that they could produce steel instead, and this exacerbated the famine.

But in the end, the best metal the backyard furnaces could produce was a low-grade pig iron of little economic value. Intellectuals could have warned Mao this would happen, but after the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the emperor with no clothes was dressed to the nines as far as they were concerned. Nobody dared correct and enlighten him.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 15: Peng Dismissed From Office.

Chapter 13: Killing Campaigns

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 13
Killing Campaigns

Propaganda poster from 1951, showing the arrest of a counterrevolutionary.

Next on the docket, after the landlords, were “counterrevolutionaries,” in the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries. These included former Kuomintang officials, businessmen, and many intellectuals.

Some really were counterrevolutionaries. They resisted the new regime by conducting sabotage operations, spying, and fomenting armed rebellion. During 1950, there were over 800 counterrevolutionary riots nationwide. Tens of thousands of Communists were murdered, and many more buildings were burned.

These counterrevolutionaries hoped to undermine the Communist government enough to spark a new civil war, or to encourage Chiang Kai-shek to return from Taiwan and continue the old civil war. So Mao wanted them rounded up and executed. And he established execution quotas for cities to meet, throughout China.

For example, in a telegram he sent to Party officials in Shanghai on January 21, 1951, he instructed: “In a big city like Shanghai, probably it will take one to two thousand executions this year to solve the problem.”

The next day he sent a telegram to Guangdong Province, with the instructions: “It is very good that you have already killed more than 3,700. Another three to four thousand should be killed . . . the target for this year’s executions may be eight or nine thousand.”

Some areas didn’t have enough counterrevolutionaries to meet Mao’s quota, so many people were arrested based on assumptions, and often the charges against them were vague and without evidence. It was common for people to be executed simply on the basis of having been accused. It was also common for local officials to settle old scores with their adversaries, just by accusing and then executing them.

The Chinese government estimates that 712,000 accused counterrevolutionaries were executed during this campaign, but scholars put that figure much higher, at somewhere in the millions.

Human life was an expendable commodity to Mao, and in China he had a lot of lives he could spend. In October 1950, he involved the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Korean War, where at least 180,000 Chinese troops would die. And when it seemed China might go to war against a nuclear USSR, he told Khrushchev that it wouldn’t matter if China lost 300 million people in a nuclear war, as the other half of the population would survive and emerge victorious.

Mao came up with another way to inspire terror and death, in 1951 and 1952, when he launched the Three-anti and Five-anti campaigns. The Three-anti campaign was waged against government bureaucrats, to weed out corruption, waste, and bureaucracy. The Five-anti campaign was waged against capitalists who owned businesses, to weed out bribery, theft, tax evasion, cheating, and spying.

They were very divisive campaigns. Workers were encouraged to denounce their employers, spouses turned against each other, and children informed on their parents. Most victims of the anti campaigns were humiliated and threatened, although some thousands were executed. But hundreds of thousands committed suicide, rather than endure the Struggle Sessions that would be inflicted upon them by accusers.

In fact, suicide was a strategy of Mao’s. Sometimes he instructed his security chief to avoid killing anyone, but rather to terrorize the accused to the point where they would take their own lives. This strategy worked well. In Shanghai at one point, so many people were jumping off of tall buildings that residents had to avoid walking near skyscrapers, as a safety precaution.

Mao was treacherous in his cruelty. He knew how to lay a beautiful carpet, then pull it out from beneath the feet of his prey. In 1956 he launched the Hundred Flowers Campaign, targeted at intellectuals. It was inspiring in theory, and sounded grand.

In this campaign, he encouraged citizens to speak their thoughts openly, and express their opinion of the Communist government. As he put it, “The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science.”

But in practice, Mao was trying to identify his critics. It was a treachery that hearkened back to the Futian Incident of 1931. This campaign began a pattern in China, where free thought would be promoted and then suppressed, periodically.

In July 1957, Mao ended the Hundred Flowers Campaign, and soon followed it with the Anti-Rightist Campaign. Having now identified his critics, he began to persecute them as Rightists and counterrevolutionaries.

At least 550,000 intellectuals were targeted. Some were merely criticized and beaten, in Struggle Sessions. Some lost their jobs. Some were sentenced to hard labor, and some were executed.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 14: The Great Leap Off a Cliff.

Chapter 12: First, the Landlords

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 12
First, the Landlords

Communism is established in countries as a dictatorship of the proletariat, when following pure Marxist doctrine. Dictatorships can only survive by suppressing their opposition. So there’s a measure of instability that comes with communism.

Mao Zedong was now the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But in order to maintain his leadership he would have to keep fighting for the “good cause.” And again, the end always justified the means, as far as this bloodthirsty tyrant was concerned.

The founding of the PRC in 1949 gave Mao the perfect excuse to unleash his cruelty upon the masses. He claimed he needed to secure the dictatorship of the proletariat.

At first he focused on landlords.

Even before the communists won, rich landlords found themselves under increasing threat, as evidenced by this photo of a farmer confronting a landowner in 1946.

Landlords had long been criticized and condemned by Chinese Communists as a major cause of poverty for peasants. So now that the PRC had been established, they were in some deep shit kind of trouble. Mao claimed that during the civil war, landowners had their chance to see the error of their ways, and that those who had not yet corrected their “excesses” would have to be dealt with.

But Mao felt reluctant to arrest landowners, and imprison or execute them at the hands of the state. He preferred landless peasants to do at least some of this dirty work. He wanted them to actively take part in the purging process, rather than be passive observers. He reasoned that in this way, ordinary folks would tie themselves to the revolution, wet their hands with blood, and thus become co-conspirators with him.

He made it clear to the people that landlords had no protection from the law, and that the state would not step in to interfere with any retribution anyone wanted to exact upon those who owned land. And that’s all the peasants needed to hear.

What followed was a bloodbath at the hands of mobs all over China. Landlords were hunted down, condemned by vigilantes, and executed in a variety of cruel ways. Some were buried alive, others were dismembered or strangled. The lucky ones were shot.

Struggle sessions became popular at this time. In these events, a landlord was put on display before a mob, while a speaker humiliated him or her by accusing the victim of many despicable crimes against the people, whether real or imagined. Then the victim would be thrown to the mob to be beaten, often to death.

Scholars estimate that up to five million people were executed by mobs in China, between 1949 and 1953. Millions more were sent to labor camps, where many perished. Mao’s pain was manifesting on a mass scale, and many millions were coming to understand him, under the cruelest circumstances possible.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 13: Killing Campaigns.

Chapter 11: Victory

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 11

Chiang Kai-shek may have been a cruel man, but he did have a sense of honor. So he kept to his word and united the Kuomintang (KMT) with the Communist Party of China (CPC), in a joint effort to oust their invaders. This was very popular with the Chinese people. They were incensed at the brutality of the Japanese, and were eager to join in the fight. As a result, Mao’s Red Army swelled from 50,000 to a massive 500,000.

A meeting between Mao Zedong (left) and Chiang Kai-shek (right), as collaborators against the Japanese.

During the fighting that ensued, Mao sat at his base and wrote books for his many troops. These books taught them guerrilla warfare tactics, introduced them to Marxist theory, and outlined a vision for a glorious Communist future in China. Mao never missed an opportunity to propagandize his “good cause.”

In August 1940, the United Front of the KMT and CPC slammed the Japanese, killing 20,000 enemy troops, disrupting rail lines, and retaking a coal mine. But after this encouraging joint success, the two sides began to clash. They skirmished against each other in one incident after another. Officially, they remained allies, but in reality they were competitors, jockeying for position, seeking the most advantageous situation for the inevitable resumption of civil war.

Soon after the Japanese surrender to Allied forces, an effort was made to reconcile the differences between Mao and Chiang. They talked and talked and yakked and yakked. And after 43 days of negotiations, they finally signed the Double Tenth Agreement on 10/10/45. In this agreement, the CPC acknowledged the KMT as the legitimate government, while the KMT in return recognized the CPC as a legitimate opposition party.

You’d think the two sides had finally figured out how to get along. But all the heartwarming Kumbaya and group hugs didn’t last long. The two sides soon began to clash in small military campaigns and shootouts that gradually intensified. Finally, in the summer of 1946, Chiang launched an all-out attack on the Communists, and the Chinese Civil War was back on.

The Red Army had been renamed the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. American diplomats who had been to China knew that the CPC was less corrupt, stronger, and more popular than the KMT. But their advice fell on deaf ears in Washington, and the U.S. government backed Chiang Kai-shek with military assistance in his fight against the Communists.

But Chiang was such an enigma, he found it hard to gain support within his own country. Nobody could figure out his political vision. By this time, everyone knew he was against communism. But he also seemed to be against capitalism. He would crush Communists with one hand, while attacking and confiscating the wealth of capitalists with the other. But he pushed for government control of industry, so perhaps it’s best to describe him as an odd form of Socialist.

His main support came from gangsters, who he used as muscle for extorting money from capitalists, in order to fund his military expeditions. For this reason, corruption ran rampant throughout the KMT, and he had weak popular support.

But Mao was different. His political vision was clear to everyone, because everyone knew he was a Communist through and through. And he and the PLA enjoyed wide popular support from the underclass, the downtrodden, the peasants of China. In their eyes, Mao was going to level the playing field, destroy the overclass, and equalize wealth among all classes. And they were all for it.

In August 1945, shortly before the Japanese surrender, the Soviet Army had invaded and occupied Manchuria. After the war ended, the Soviets delayed their departure until Mao’s PLA could sneak in after them and take over the territory. This enabled the PLA to confiscate a large supply of arms left behind by the Japanese.

This gave Mao a huge boon. And Mao meant business. He was damned determined to use those arms to kill lots of people while winning this civil war.

In fact, Mao is famously quoted as saying, “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” At least he said this honestly. For him, the end justified the means, and this quote was fair warning to anyone expecting anything other than ruthless violence.

In May 1948, Mao ordered the siege of the city of Changchun, in Manchuria. His forces encircled the city and prevented food from entering. Civilians began to starve, and desperately attempted to leave this besieged metropolis, but the PLA prevented their escape. Mao wanted them to stay in place so they would consume any remaining food that KMT forces would otherwise eat.

They did eat the food, rending their cupboards bare. But they still were not allowed to leave. And after five hungry months of siege, at least 160,000 civilians had starved to death.

A regiment of the KMT defected to the Communist side, and attacked another regiment of the KMT that had been receiving favorable treatment in the distribution of food. This resulted in the capitulation and surrender of KMT forces in Changchun. Thus, the end worked out well for the PLA, but the means were ghastly.

Soon after the fall of Changchun, the remaining Manchurian cities fell like dominoes to the PLA.

Mao and the PLA pushed on relentlessly, mercilessly laying siege to more cities throughout China. Finally, in December 1949, Chiang Kai-shek was forced to flee mainland China to Taiwan. The civil war was over. Mao and his “good cause” of communism had won.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 12: First, the Landlords.

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