Mao Zedong Killed 45 Million People In Four Years, The Most In History

By | January 3, 2020

Inspired by Russia, Mao wanted to go to space

The morbidity of the question "Who is the worst mass murderer to ever live?" is hard to comprehend. How do you calculate the sheer numbers that some world leaders have racked up? Most casual history readers likely believe that the top spot belongs to Hitler or Stalin, but while their numbers reach into the millions, they don't hold a candle to the 45 million deaths that occurred under the regime of Mao Zedong.

While Mao is remembered as a prolific writer and master politician, only in last few years have his deadly decisions been openly discussed. From 1958 to 1962, the famine created by Mao's "Great Leap Foward" policy wiped out millions of farmers and peasants. Those who weren't killed by the famine were placed in labor camps, tortured to death, or beaten in the streets. His campaign was brutal and gruesome, and we're still dealing with the outcome today. 

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Source: BBC

It's not like Chairman Mao just decided to starve millions of Chinese people over coffee one morning. It was actually after a trip to Russia, where he learned that his communist counterparts were planning to launch a low-orbit satellite named Sputnik. Upon returning to Beijing, Mao decided to pass a series of cost-saving laws so China could afford its own satellite.

Mao nationalized property by creating mass communes, forcing people to eat in canteens and farmers to share their equipment. Local magistrates were forced to increase their crop yields, which led to farmers planting in closer proximity, all crops being sent in as tax without leaving anything for the villagers. This created bulging silos of grain while people died in the streets.

On top of the artificial grain shortage, farmers were asked to melt down their tools to bolster China's steel production. This created a country where farmers had no way to sow their grain and no grain to sow. No one could eat even the food that was available. Over the course of the next four years, millions of people starved to death.

Mao knew that his people were starving and did nothing

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Source: Getty Images

Mao's push to keep up with the western world, an act ironically known as the "Great Leap Forward," quickly plunged the country into chaos. Beginning in 1958, one-third of all the homes in China were destroyed to create fertilizer, pushing people out of their homes en masse. They ended up crowded into the homes of family members, or even worse, on the streets. Millions of people were starving, and Mao did nothing. After his death, the Chinese government attempted to retcon this time of Mao's life, but Hong Kongbased historian Frank Dikötter doesn't believe that Mao was guiltless in the famine. Quite the opposite: He believes that Mao knew exactly what he was doing and didn't care. He writes:

The idea that the state mistakenly took too much grain from the countryside because it assumed that the harvest was much larger than it was is largely a myth—at most partially true for the autumn of 1958 only. In most cases, the party knew very well that it was starving its own people to death. At a secret meeting in the Jinjiang Hotel in Shanghai dated March 25, 1959, Mao specifically ordered the party to procure up to one-third of all the grain, much more than had ever been the case. At the meeting, he announced that "To distribute resources evenly will only ruin the Great Leap Forward. 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."