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Memories of the Great Famine precious to those who starved

HONG KONG (SE): The Great Leap Forward campaign, instigated by Mao Zedong, was aimed at launching China into a communist utopia, but ended in famine and the deaths of tens of millions of people, a disaster which Peter Ford, writing in the Christian Science Monitor on June 7, says Beijing is still reluctant to acknowledge.

Ford tells of Yang Jisheng, who did not see his father die. He was away at boarding school in April 1959 when his father, a peasant farmer, succumbed to starvation, one of the early victims of the three-year Great Famine.

But Yang has never forgotten how his neighbours resorted to eating grass, roots and bark before many of them, too, died. And for 20 years, since he retired from his job as a reporter for the state-run news agency Xinhua, he has dedicated himself to exploring the catastrophe that claimed his father’s life.

Yang’s meticulous research on the history of the event was published in Hong Kong three years ago under the title of Tombstone and an English translation of the book is due out in the United States of America in October.

However, Yang says that he thinks that it will be about 10 or even 20 years before he can publish it in China under the censors’ noses.

The Great Leap Forward forced farmers into communes, which reduced food production, and at the same time saw local officials over-report grain harvests, so that more food than the country could afford was channeled into cities.

The ruling Communist Party has acknowledged that something terrible happened in China between 1959 and 1961. The official History of the Party mentions that the population dropped by 10 million people in 1960.

Estimates of the death toll by independent Chinese and foreign scholars are at least three times that, but Yang says that differences regarding how many people died are not the reason for government reluctance in allowing open discussion of the famine.

Ford says that Yang’s book highlights the importance of memories. He notes that the famine hardly gets a mention in Chinese history books and that as soon as media focusses any attention on it, the authorities clamp down.

But he notes that people do not want to take their memories to the grave with them, as illustrated by independent film-maker, Wu Wenguang, who sent 17 students armed with video cameras into the hinterlands of China to record interviews with peasant farmers.

The students compiled 698 interviews with people who suffered during the 1966 to 1976 Cultural Revolution, most of whom have, by and large, remained voiceless up to this point.

“There are a massive number of common people who have been silent, without the opportunity to speak,” Ford quotes Yang as saying. “What we call history in China is only about people who have the right to speak.”

An elderly man in one interview tells his young interlocutor, “I have been waiting for you for a long time.”

Ford quotes Wu as saying that the truth of what happened is important, as although “we cannot change society, we can change ourselves. If we look at history like a mirror, we can understand the present and the future.”

The interviews make ridicule of an online comment from the editor of the Southern People’s Weekly claiming that the Great Famine never really happened, but lies were told to defame Mao.</bodytext></HeadChina><HeadChina>Communist Party hits for better morality<bodytext>BEIJING (AsiaNews) : While the Communist Party in China continues its moral education campaign through books and in-services, Hu Xingdou, a political commentator from the Beijing Institute of Technology, is skeptical over the outcome.

He warned that it will go nowhere without a real rule of law and true freedom for citizens to criticise the government.

The latest title available is A Study of the Moral Integrity of Public Officials in Ancient Contemporary China. It is slated to be used as study material for members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Volumes have been compiled over the last two years by the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, which has been ordered to prepare them by the disciplinary and propaganda arms of the Beijing Communist Party Committee.

Cited in the text are ancient and modern case studies, Confucian and Taoist philosophies and proverbs relating to corruption and virtue, the desire to serve the people, loyalty, pragmatism and self-discipline.

The choice of case studies is interesting, as it represents a step backwards from the Maoist revolution ideal, which marginalised the classics of Chinese thought.

The Beijing Daily broke the news saying, “Those who act according to conscience are good officials, while those who act against their conscience are bad officials. The researchers believe that the characteristics of a bad officer are excessive greed, brutal tyranny and the tendency to exploit ordinary people.”

Hu said that moral values serve only as guidelines. “To succeed in tackling corruption, Beijing must empower a real rule-of-law and allow the public the freedom to criticise the government.”

He reflected, “They used to extol Marxism, and that didn’t work, so they extolled Confucianism, but that didn’t work either... so whatever they’re saying now, it is useless.”

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