This article was co-written by José Niño and Reed Cooley of Young Americans for Liberty.
In almost any other context, “70 years of communism” would sound like a catastrophe.
During the week of October 1, 2019, however, headlines around the globe were awe-stricken at the pomp and ceremony of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
While the streets of Beijing rang with the sounds of overjoyed spectators and party-loyal military boots marching in lockstep, the disaffected, southerly territory of Hong Kong rattled with ire and indignation harbored towards the mainland sovereign state — and Mao Zedong’s odious legacy. No doubt, the grisly story of China’s capitulation to seven decades of communist rule has long been a source of discord between the two polities — as well as perhaps the world’s most blissfully neglected cautionary tale against the inevitable pitfalls of communism.
Mao’s fateful ascent to power began in the midst of chaos. It was the Chinese Civil War. After finally defeating the Kuomintang nationalist forces at the Siege of Changchun in January 1949, the groundwork was laid for the Communist Party of China’s complete takeover nine months later.
On October 1st, now known as “National Day” to the Chinese people, Mao declared, “…the majority of the people in the country have been liberated.”
Of course, a modest dose of historical literacy is all that’s needed to cure the mind of the infectious rhetoric of Marxism. Unfortunately for those who suffered at the hands of the party’s notorious “land reform” policies, however, the epidemic had taken root too deep.
Like gin and tonic, no self-respecting communist regime would be complete without state-sponsored land redistribution programs (and the endless abuses that accompany them).
And, to the shock and awe of no one, perched at the pinnacle of the new social hierarchy that soon followed was the chairman himself, lounging in the comfort of his opulent new palace, deep within the columnated streets of Beijing’s Imperial City, just a stone’s throw from the Forbidden City.
Meanwhile, “landlords” whose families had fostered the countryside for generations were being exterminated in numbers upon which historians have yet to reach a consensus. After two decades of civil war, the “fatherland” once again found itself under siege, this time by the very man who had once promised its liberation.
Mao’s classical land reforms resulted in anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of deaths across China; to call the survival of the People’s Republic anything other than a global catastrophe is to ignore the untold legions of corpses decaying beneath its very foundation.
As if millions of innocent people beaten, demoralized, expelled from their homes, and murdered was not enough to placate the chairman’s voracious appetite for misery, the following years saw the stratification of the once-proud Chinese nation into two distinct social classes: the government elite, and the victims.
Manic delusions of spontaneous economic revival are characteristic of central planners. To this end, the late 1950s and early 1960s endured Mao’s hapless attempts to accelerate the Chinese economy into a new era of industrialization, collectivization, and innovation — a transformation he speciously and bombastically christened the “Great Leap Forward.” With the help of the CPC, Mao’s cabinet launched an aggressive, far-flung propaganda campaign, hoping to inspire workers and abate swelling criticism of the Communist Party.
Instead, the nation plunged even deeper into the economic abyss. Peasants were snatched from their farms and forced into state labor, often building improperly engineered irrigation systems and expensive industrial complexes with little to no usefulness.
In April 1959, private farming was made illegal, ushering in the events of the Great Chinese Famine (1959-61). Cooking utensils were seized from people’s homes, crops such as opium were deemed “evil” and outlawed, cannibalism swept the countryside, and party officials made starving agricultural peasants work under draconian conditions and hours. In what history may consider the blink of an eye, a nation of self-sufficient farmers had become slaves to the whims of an evil tyrant and his throng of sycophantic party elites.
Yang Jisheng, a Chinese journalist who grew up and attended public school during the Great Leap Forward, spent years studying state-owned documents detailing the penurious existence of the Chinese working class. He estimates that approximately 36 million people died as a result of the Great Leap Forward and subsequent famine. Other scholars, meanwhile, place the death toll as high as 45 million, making the Great Leap Forward one of the most notable cases of democide in human history.
Fortunately, following Mao’s death in 1976, long-hidden plans to introduce more pragmatic and economically sound reforms began surfacing under the direction of Deng Xiaoping. Tax incentives, low tariffs, and special economic zones — a concept the Chinese had been wholly unacquainted with, but which Hongkongers had long embraced — became sanctums for investors and entrepreneurs all across China.
The years that followed saw millions of formerly displaced Chinese urbanites rise out of poverty (often for the first time in their lives) as the country established itself as a global manufacturing titan. All those products filling your Walmart shelves? Thank Deng’s market reforms of the 1970s and 1980s.
The People’s Republic of China still has a long road ahead in the journey toward economic and political freedom; its lackluster ranking at 100th place in the 2019 Heritage Index for Economic Freedom confirms this, as does its miserable “not free” rating from Freedom House for its repressive media, human rights violations, and censorship policies.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong has remained a beacon of freedom in the world, earning 1st place in the same 2019 index. However, high tensions still dominate Hong Kong-Beijing relations, while the “one country, two systems” policy hurdles toward expiration in 2047.
Without some sort of political paradigm shift between now and then, the people of Hong Kong are bound to lose every shred of their economic and political autonomy under the thumb of Beijing. Such a tragic loss of liberty for so many millions of people cannot be considered a cause for celebration.