Tombstone meticulously demonstrates that the famine was not only vast, but manmade; and not only manmade but political, born of totalitarianism. Mao Zedong had vowed to build a communist paradise in China through sheer revolutionary zeal, collectivising farmland and creating massive communes at astonishing speed. In 1958 he sought to go further, launching the Great Leap Forward: a plan to modernise the entire Chinese economy so ambitious that it tipped over into insanity.
Many believe personal ambition played a crucial role. Not satisfied with being \”the most powerful emperor who had ever ruled China\”, Mao strove to snatch leadership of the international communist movement. If the Soviet Union believed it could catch up with the US in 15 years, he vowed, China could overtake Britain in production. His vicious attacks on other leaders who dared to voice concern cowed opposition. But, as Yang notes: \”It\’s a very complicated historical process, why China believed in Maoism and took this path. It wasn\’t one person\’s mistake but many people\’s. It was a process.\”
The plan proved a disaster from the first.