Ex-NPC Chief Admits Maoism Killed Millions

Jasper Becker,
South China Morning Post,
May 1, 1998

For the first time a senior leader has admitted between 3 and 4 million people starved to death in Anhui province during the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s.

Anhui officials had previously only admitted 2 million deaths out of a population of 33 million, which they have blamed on natural disasters.

Even the 1989 statistical yearbook has been doctored to show deaths of just 2.37 million between 1958 and 1962.

But in an interview in the China Economic Times, Wan Li directly blamed Mao Zedong for creating the disaster. Mr. Wan is a former chairman of the National People’s Congress.

“Chairman Mao is our great leader and his historical achievements will never be forgotten but he committed three major mistakes,” Mr. Wan, 82, told two Central Committee research scholars.

“These mistakes – the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Three Red Banners and the Cultural Revolution – are serious ones with a long-term and grave impact which led to a disastrous outcome.

“You may still remember the three years of difficulty following the establishment of the People’s Communes when, all over, people suffered from oedema and even died of hunger. Surveys show the so-called abnormal death in Anhui province alone reached 3-4 million.”

This death toll is still half the 8 million which Chen Yizi, a Party official who defected to the United States in 1989, has claimed. Mr. Chen’s figure is based on research he made in Anhui when Mr. Wan was experimenting there in the late 1970s with the contract responsibility system, which allowed households to farm their own land.

The latest article is one of a series of exposes of “leftist” mistakes being published to celebrate 20 years of reform and prepare the way for more market measures. This week, leaders are agreeing on plans to privatise the state’s purchasing, storing and distribution of grain.

A former National People’s Congress chairman, Mr. Wan said China had been forced into rationing as a result of the movement to emulate the model People’s Commune of Dazhai, Shanxi province.

Going further than any previous leader in condemning Maoism, he said China rushed into collectivisation in the 1950s and the Party was too rigid.

Mr. Wan said peasants had been forced to join the People’s Commune.

He attacked Mao for forcing every peasant to copy Dazhai.