In the years between 1958 and 1961, as a result of Mao's Great Leap policy, all of China suffered what's accepted as the greatest, most deadly famine in history. It is estimated that as a result, as many as 40 million died. (Such numbers equaled and even surpassed the entire population of many countries of that time.)
What was the cause of this disaster? As mentioned above, Mao's militants forced the peasants into collectivization and founded communes of between 100 and 300 families—which greatly reduced agricultural productivity. In some areas, Maoist administrations punished peasants with deliberate starvation.
A propaganda poster for the Great Leap depicts Mao as an agricultural genius in a rich field. However, Mao's reliance on and implementation of Lysenko's methods resulted in an agricultural disaster.
Another important reason for this calamity is that Mao tried to adapt to Chinese agriculture the "Lysenko model" applied in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 40s. When he forced these experiments on the peasants, the result was huge losses in agricultural production.
We examined Trofim Lysenko before. As a result of the nonsensical "proletarian science" of the Stalin era, Soviet biology was entrusted to Lysenko, an ardent evolutionist. Lysenko rejected the science of genetics adopting instead a theory by Lamarck, a leading Darwinist who believed in the "inheritance of acquired traits." When Lysenko's myth was applied to Soviet agriculture, the losses were immense.
But Mao did not learn from this disaster of the Stalinist period—on the contrary he and his supporters, educated from their youth on a strict Darwinism, continued to believe in "proletarian science" and to distort real science, according to the requisites of the theory of evolution. The Great Leap imitated Lysenko's model, and Chinese peasants were forced to perform agriculture according to principles of "evolutionist science."
Jasper Becker, Beijing bureau chief of South China Morning Post, in his book entitled Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine, relates in detail the Lysenkoist agricultural enterprise put into effect during the Great Leap. These attempts, each of which resulted in a separate disaster, were:
Close Planting: Lysonko, thinking that seeds evolve by adopting to their habitat, declared that planting seeds very close together would create "socialist solidarity" among them. The Maoists undertook to apply this myth. Until that time, in Southern China, about 1.5 million seeds were sown on any one acre of land. In 1958, the Communists ordered this amount to be increased to between 6 and 7 million seeds. In 1959, they again increased the amount, to between 12 and 15 million. As a result, a very large number of seeds went to waste, and agricultural production suffered a severe decline.Deep Plowing: One of Lysenko's assistants, Teventy Maltsev, claimed that deep plowing would allow plants to establish better root systems. Chinese Communists adopted and applied this Lamarckist claim. During the Great Leap, Chinese peasants were ordered to plow their fields to a depth of 1.5 meters. As a result, tens of millions of peasants were forced to spend months hoeing. Again, the outcome was great loss of production, resulting in famine.The Sparrow Hunt: Mao initiated a campaign to eliminate various species of animals that damaged agricultural production. Sparrows became the main target of this campaign. Special methods were employed to hunt and kill sparrows throughout the whole of China. But as a result, there was an explosion in the number of insects and other pests that the sparrows had been eating, and they damaged agricultural production much more than the sparrows ever had.Agriculture Without Fertilizer: Following Lysenko's recommendations, Chinese Communists stopped using chemical fertilizer. (It was imagined that when seeds were deprived of fertilizer, they would "evolve" by adapting to this new situation thus ensuring the same yield without the use of fertilizing additives.) This experiment caused yet another great loss in agricultural production.All these initiatives, relying as they did on Lysenko's myth of evolution, caused the greatest famine in history. But although millions were dying of starvation, no one dared criticize the regime or the calamity it caused. One individual, General Peng Dehuai, the defense minister, wrote Mao a letter in which he tried to describe this disastrous famine. Later he was accused of being a "rightist" and was eliminated. During the famine, official reports all falsified the situation by saying that brilliant results had been achieved in agricultural production. Moreover, in order to convince the world of this lie, China exported vast amounts of grain. While people were dying of starvation in some areas of the country, grain and rice were being kept in warehouses, later to be exported.76
Later, the same agricultural policy was put into effect in Communist Cambodia and North Korea, with the same results: a great lack of productivity, famine and mass death. Blindly and without awareness or intelligence, Communists applied Lysenko and Stalin's "Communist leap in agriculture," because the theory of evolution at the base of their materialist philosophy demanded it.