title:Pop Mao ver.1.0e
by Taro Kimura


A huge furnace was erected in the parking lot where the
chauffeurs used to wait. At night the sky was lit up, and
the noise of the crowds around the furnace could be heard
300 yards away in my room. My family's woks went into
this furnace, together with all our cast-iron cooking uten-
sils. We did not suffer from their loss, as we did not need
them anymore. No private cooking was allowed now, and
everybody had to eat in the canteen. The furnaces were
insatiable. Gone was my parents' bed, a soft, comfortable
one with iron springs. Gone also were the iron railings
from the city pavements, and anything else that was iron.
I hardly saw my parents for months. They often did not
come home at all, as they had to make sure the temperature
in their office furnaces never dropped.
It was at this time that Mao gave full vent to his half-
baked dream of turning China into a first-class modern
power. He called steel the 'Marshal' of industry, and
ordered steel output to be doubled in one year-from 5.35
million tons in 1957 to 10.7 million in 1958. But instead
of trying to expand the proper steel industry with skilled
workers, he decided to get the whole population to take
part. There was a steel quota for every unit, and for months
people stopped their normal work in order to meet it. The
country's economic development was reduced to the
simplistic question of how many tons of steel could be
produced, and the entire nation was thrown into this single
act. It was officially estimated that nearly 100 million peas-
ants were pulled out of agricultural work and into steel
production. They had been the labor force producing
much of the country's food. Mountains were stripped bare
of trees for fuel. But the output of this mass production
amounted only to what people called 'cattle droppings'
(niu-shi-ge-da), meaning useless turds.
This absurd situation reflected not only Mao's ignorance
of how an economy worked, but also an almost metaphys-
ical disregard for reality, which might have been interesting
in a poet, but in a political leader with absolute power was
quite another matter. One of its main components was a
deep-seated contempt for human life. Not long before this
he had told the Finnish ambassador, "Even if the United
States had more powerful atom bombs and used them on
China, blasted a hole in the earth, or blew it to pieces,
while this might be a matter of great significance to the
solar system, it would still be an insignificant matter as far
as the universe as a whole is concerned."

There were also fantastic economic goals. Mao claimed
that China's industrial output could overtake that of the
United States and Britain within fifteen years. For the
Chinese, these countries represented the capitalist world.
Overtaking them would be seen as a triumph over their
enemies. This appealed to people's pride, and boosted
their enthusiasm enormously. They had felt humiliated by
the refusal of the United States and most major Western
countries to grant diplomatic recognition, and were so keen
to show the world that they could make it on their own
that they wanted to believe in miracles. Mao provided the
inspiration. The energy of the population had been eager
to find an outlet. And here it was. The gung-ho spirit
overrode caution, as ignorance triumphed over reason.
In early 1958, shortly after returning from Moscow, Mao
visited Chengdu for about a month. He was fired up with
the idea that China could do anything, especially seize
the leadership of socialism from the Russians. It was in
Chengdu that he outlined his 'Great Leap Forward.' The
city organized a big parade for him, but the participants
had no idea that Mao was there. He lurked out of sight.
At this parade a slogan was put forward, 'Capable women
can make a meal without food,' a reversal of a pragmatic
ancient Chinese saying, 'No matter how capable, a woman
cannot make a meal without food.' Exaggerated rhetoric
had become concrete demands. Impossible fantasies were
supposed to become reality.

Another means of regimentation, setting up canteens in
the communes, was an obsession with Mao at the time. In
his airy way, he defined communism as 'public canteens
with free meals.' The fact that the canteens themselves did
not produce food did not concern him. In 1958 the regime
effectively banned eating at home. Every peasant had to
eat in the commune canteen. Kitchen utensils like woks-
and, in some places, money-were outlawed. Everybody
was going to be looked after by the commune and the state.
The peasants filed into the canteens every day after work
and ate to their hearts' content, which they had never been
able to do before, even in the best years and in the most
fertile areas. They consumed and wasted the entire food
reserve in the countryside. They filed into the fields, too.
But how much work was done did not matter, because the
produce now belonged to the state, and was completely
unrelated to the peasants' lives. Mao put forward the predic-
tion that China was reaching a society of communism, which
in Chinese means 'sharing material goods,' and the peasants
took this to mean that they would get a share anyway, regard-
less of how much work they did. With no incentive to work,
they just went to the fields and had a good snooze.

By the beginning of 1961, tens of millions of deaths had
finally forced Mao to give up his economic policies. Reluc-
tantly, he allowed the pragmatic President Liu and Deng
Xiaoping, general secretary of the Party, more control over
the country. Mao was forced to make self-criticisms, but
they were full of self-pity, and were always phrased in such
a way that it sounded as if he was carrying the cross for
incompetent officials all over China. He further magnani-
mously instructed the Party to 'draw lessons' from the
disastrous experience, but what the lessons were was not
left to the judgment of the lowly officials: Mao told them
they had become divorced from the people, and had made
decisions which did not reflect ordinary people's feelings
Starting from Mao, the endless self-criticisms masked the
real responsibility, which no one pursued.