“Reading Hayek in Beijing” and the Most Deadly Atrocity of the Twentieth Century (Which is Really Saying Something)


The Great Helmsman, with Stalin, Lenin, Engels, and Marx in the background


Anybody out there who might be yearning for the blessings of central economic planning or socialism should probably read Yang Jisheng’s book, Tombstone, published late last year, about Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” of 1958-1962.  Failing that, he or she should definitely read this Wall Street Journal article by Bret Stephens, based on an interview with Mr. Yang.,


“To this day,” writes Stephens, “few people realize that Mao’s forced famine was the single greatest atrocity of the 20th century, exceeding by orders of magnitude the Rwandan genocide, the Cambodian Killing Fields and the Holocaust.”


Thirty-six million Chinese — that’s thirty-six million — died, starved to death, as a direct result of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, including Yang Jisheng’s own father.  And we’re not even talking about the tens of millions who apparently died in The Great Helmsman’s prisons and concentration camps.


“I will not cede more power to the state,” wrote William F. Buckley, decades ago, in Up from Liberalism.  “I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and liberals at bay. And the nation free.”


Posted from Park City, Utah



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  • Lucy Mcgee

    The famine in the Ukraine in the early 1930′s killed over 6 million in what was the “breadbasket” of Europe. If you normalized this terrible number of deaths by overall population, I believe this atrocity would also be one of the worst in the 20th century. Stalin lived far too long.

    I don’t quite understand how your last paragraph fits within your beginning narrative.

    • brotheroflogan

      To me it’s blindingly obvious.

    • DanielPeterson

      You correctly notice that it was an afterthought. But it has to do with refusing to grant power to the state. Mao had too much power.

      So did Stalin. I’m well aware of the Ukrainian Terror Famine — I’m a big fan of Robert Conquest, who chronicled it — and very nearly mentioned it in the blog entry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Raymond-Swenson/100000312491451 Raymond Swenson

    What is most confounding is how so many millions of people could go to their deaths without fighting back.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      People did fight back against insurmountable odds. The starving and destitute could offer little defense against a well fed military machine with central control.

      Even the peaceful and prosperous Mennonites living in the Ukraine were targeted because Stalin knew they would offer little resistance. Many were brutalized and killed, their land confiscated for the collective. Their pacifism could not protect them from the Bolshevik armies.

  • Gregory L Smith

    My great grandfather was a Ukranian Mennonite farmer (he was a schoolteacher, until the communists took over, at which point they didn’t want theists teaching the New Communist Youth of Tomorrow, so he became a farmer.)

    His friends and family all laughed at him in the 1920s when he talked about immigrating. They assured him things would get better.

    We tend to think he made a good call coming to Canada.

    • DanielPeterson

      Pretty unambiguously so!

  • Allen

    “Anybody out there who might be yearning for the blessings of central economic planning or socialism”

    My wife’s grandmother lived through the Holodomor as a child, and other members of the family perished horrendously as a result of that famine, and I served a mission in a part of Russia that suffered just as heavily (which is actually where Malcolm Muggeridge discovered the truth), and I utterly abbhor Mao, yet I do have some concenrs with your statement. It is not too dissimilar to new atheists arguing that, say, the Crusades, are why religion is evil and should be abandoned. What I am getting at is that there is a difference between central economic planning in general and central economic planning that is conducted so callously and so deliberately that people are left to die in swathes as a result. There is also a difference between socialism(s) and totalitarian regimes. After all, ctral economic planning is a feature of Zion. Planning is itself neither evil nor good, it is planning. The people who plan and implement specific policies, they are those who make the difference.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      I had read that Joseph Smith’s initial inclination was to manage a socialist society in Nauvoo. Inductees were required to give up land, money and property to the building of Zion.

      • DanielPeterson

        See above. And it definitely wasn’t socialist.

    • DanielPeterson

      I don’t necessarily agree that central economic planning is a feature of Zion. Freely chosen consecration and the granting of stewardships are features of Zion, but, thereafter, at least in some historical examples of it (say, in Brigham City, which was fairly successful, but not in Orderville, which wasn’t so successful) the stewards seem to function within a free market characterized by voluntary exchanges.

      • Allen

        I’m thinking of the Central United Order Board, which was to recieve and redistribute surplus gathered willingly from the various united orders.