Until 1949, Mao had conducted a long guerilla war, organizing a campaign in the countryside and in the mountains against the central administration, which controlled the large cities. In order to do this, he established good relations with the villagers, promising them land and freedom and assuring them that once Communism was established in China, they would enjoy great prosperity and happiness. The peasants believed him and supported him and his guerillas.
But after Mao came to power, everything changed. In the first years after the revolution, he wanted to take over the whole of China and set up Communist authorities in every area. In the meantime, thousands were arrested as "class enemies" and hanged in public. In the mid-fifties, Mao designed a system similar to Stalin's collectivization and put it into effect in 1958. This was called the "Great Leap Forward," but all it succeeded in doing was to bring torture and a great famine upon the Chinese people.
The Great Leap began with slogans about doubling all of China's agricultural and industrial production. Working hours were increased, and machines worked endlessly. Workers weren't permitted to inspect or repair the machines, and within a short time they began to break down.
Agriculture suffered disaster from lack of intelligent planning. With the idea that the "abolition of private property would increase production," all peasants were forced to surrender their land to cooperatives. The confiscations of Stalin's Russia were repeated. Moreover, Mao punished peasants in some parts of China for not accepting collectivization voluntarily. Their punishment was being starved to death.
Mao's "Great Leap Forward" was a senseless,cruel project that paralyzed the county's agriculture and economy. Over 30 million died of starvation. In Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine, Jasper Becker—who was the Beijing bureau chief of the South China Morning Post—gave a detailed account of the famine.
Within a short time, the Great Leap disintegrated into a great famine. Like the famine that Stalin fabricated in the Ukraine, this famine was also man-made. The Black Book of Communism comments on China in the period of the Great Leap:
The fact that the famine was primarily a political phenomenon is demonstrated by the high death rates in provinces where the leaders were Maoist radicals, provinces that in previous years had actually been net exporters of grain… Like Mao himself, Party activists in Henan were convinced that all the difficulties arose from the peasants' concealment of private stocks of grain. According to the secretary of the Xinyang district (10 million inhabitants), where the first people's commune in the country had been established, "The problem is not that food is lacking. There are sufficient quantities of grain, but 90 percent of the inhabitants are suffering from ideological difficulties." In the autumn of 1959 the class war was momentarily forgotten, and a military-style offensive was launched against the peasants, using methods very similar to those used by anti-Japanese guerrilla groups. At least 10,000 peasants were imprisoned, and many died of hunger behind bars. The order was given to smash all privately owned cutlery that had not yet been turned to steel to prevent people from being able to feed themselves by pilfering the food supply of the commune. Even fires ware banned, despite the approach of winter. The excesses of repression were terrifying. Thousands of detainees were systematically tortured, and children were killed and even boiled and used as fertilizer—at the very moment when a nationwide campaign was telling people to "learn the Henan way." In Anhui, where the stated intention was to keep the red flag flying even if 99 percent of the population died, cadres returned to the traditional practices of live burials and torture with red-hot irons.72
Mao began with the slogan of "peasant socialism." Before coming to power, he'd promised Chinese peasants land, food, and protection. But his power subjected them to levels of pain and torture never to be seen in modern history:
A Communist Party militant delivering Communist propaganda in the years of the Great Leap.
This campaign took on the proportions of a veritable war against the peasantry… Deaths from hunger reached over 50 percent in certain villages, and in some cases the only survivors ware cadres who abused their position. In Henan and elsewhere there were many cases of cannibalism (63 were recorded officially): children were sometimes eaten in accordance with a communal decision.73
The death rates accross the country reached to incredible levels:
For the entire country, the death rate rose from 11 percent in 1957 to 15 percent in 1959 and 1961, peaking at 29 percent in 1960. Birth rates fell from 33 percent in 1957 to 18 percent in 1961. Excluding the deficit in births, which was perhaps as many as 33 million (although some births were merely delayed), loss of life linked to famine in the years 1959-1961 was somewhere between 20 million and 43 million people…This was quite possibly the worst famine not just in the history of China but in the history of the world.74
In the years of the Great Leap, many Chinese who resisted Mao's savagery were brutally executed. Many were killed by a bullet to the back of the head.
In the course of the Great Leap, an eighteen-year-old Red Guard, who was pursued by the authorities and took refuge with his family in a village in Anhui, described Maoism's cruel face:
We walked along beside the village. The rays of the sun shone on the jade-green weeds that had sprung up between the earth walls, accentuating the contrast with the rice fields all around, and adding to the desolation of the landscape. Before my eyes, among the weeds, rose up one of the scenes I had been told about, one of the banquets at which the families had swapped children in order to eat them. I could see the worried faces of the families as they chewed the flesh of other people's children. The children who were chasing butterflies in a nearby field seemed to be the reincarnation of the children devoured by their parents. I felt sorry for the children, but not as sorry as I felt for their parents. What had made them swallow that human flesh, amidst the tears and grief of other parents—flesh that they would never have imagined tasting, even in their worst nightmares? In that moment I understood what a butcher he had been, the man "whose like humanity has not seen in several centuries, and China not in several thousand years": Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong and his henchmen, with their criminal political system, had driven parents mad with hunger and led them to hand their own children over to others, and to receive the flesh of others to appease their own hunger. Mao Zedong, to wash away the crime that he had committed in assassinating democracy, had launched the Great Leap Forward, and obliged thousands and thousands of peasants dazed by hunger to kill one another with hoes, and to save their own lives thanks to the flesh and blood of their childhood companions. They were not the real killers; the real killers were Mao Zedong and his companions.75