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Vital, but almost unreadable
on 12 December 2012
Yang Jisheng was a bright young communist functionary during Mao's Great Leap Forward, and he was shocked when he was told his father was dying of starvation. He rushed home, and barely had time to see his father before he died. Only later did he realise that his father was one of millions who were destroyed by the cult he was serving. This book is his penance. Yang wanted to chronicle what happened and set the record straight for every Chinese person who suffered from Mao's insane megalomania. Even now, this book is banned in China, although he was able to conduct his research without too much hindrance.
Alas, reading this is a real struggle (but not in the sense Mao used the word 'struggle'--which was to beat your class enemies senseless or even until they were dead). Although the horror soon palls, there wasn't a lot of variation between what happened in one province or another. The same pattern repeats itself over and over, and reading this becomes something of a penance for the reader. In other words, after the first chapter or two, you gain very few insights into the madness that gripped the world's most populous country, when parents were reduced to eating their children and even digging up corpses and cooking them.
Perhaps the only surprise for me was that Mao was actually pretty stupid, however cunning he may have been. His blueprint for communism made the Russian version look positively brilliant. But of his evil nature, there can be no doubt.
I hope someone is able to write a severely condensed version of this book that would serve to warn utopians everywhere what happens when you have a scheme to change the world. Our younger generation may learn a bit about Hitler and Stalin in school, but Mao surpassed them both for sheer irrational perversity.