(Via Glenn Reynolds.)
UPDATE: More, and I’ll give you an excerpt this time. How much of a lunatic was Mao? This much:
. . . Ordered to go forth and make steel, Chinese flung anything they could find—pots, pans, cutlery, doorknobs, floorboards, and even farming tools—into primitive furnaces. Meanwhile, fields were abandoned as farmers fed furnaces in giant coöperatives, worked in similarly wasteful irrigation schemes, or migrated to urban factories in their millions.
Having mobilized the masses, Mao continually searched for things for them to do. At one point, he declared war on four common pests: flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows. The Chinese were exhorted to bang drums, pots, pans, and gongs in order to keep sparrows flying until, exhausted, they fell to earth. Provincial recordkeepers chalked up impressive body counts: Shanghai alone accounted for 48,695.49 kilograms of flies, 930,486 rats, 1,213.05 kilograms of cockroaches, and 1,367,440 sparrows. Mao’s Marx-tinted Faustianism demonized nature as man’s adversary. But, Dikötter points out, “Mao lost his war against nature. The campaign backfired by breaking the delicate balance between humans and the environment.” Liberated from their usual nemeses, locusts and grasshoppers devoured millions of tons of food even as people starved to death.
While food shortages deepened, the Chinese regime continued to insist on huge grain procurements from the countryside. The aim was not only to maintain outstanding export commitments but also to protect China’s image in the world. According to Dikötter, Mao ordered the Party to procure more grain than ever before, declaring that “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.” In 1960, the worst year of the famine, which was exacerbated by drought as well as flash floods, grain was sent, often gratis, to Albania, Cuba, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Poland.
Not all Chinese died of starvation or of the diseases that accompany malnutrition. “Coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward,” Dikötter writes, estimating that at least two and a half million were worked, tortured, or beaten to death or simply executed by Party officials, and between one and three million people committed suicide. Some of those who survived did so by selling or abandoning their children or by digging up and devouring the dead.