From the Great Leap Forward to Wuhan Coronavirus : China’s unchecked accountability?

Popular Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu once said, “Strike where the enemy is not prepared, take him by surprise”. Two of China’s finest military strategists in the recent past, Col. Qiao Liang and Col. Wang Xiangsui, in their famous book ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ have alluded to warfare as having “no rules and nothing is forbidden”. World leaders are today taken by absolute surprise on the impact their respective countries and citizens have borne as a result of Wuhan Coronavirus.

China continues to aggressively control the narrative of first being affected by the Wuhan Coronavirus just a few months ago but now looking to support other countries, specifically European countries seeking help. It is important to recall and analyze that China has not learnt its lessons of cover up, damage and destruction that it inflicted on its own people during the Great Leap Forward. And possibly this could be a form of “unrestricted warfare” that the world must get used to and necessarily learn to combat in the days, months and years to come.

No, this blog is not intended to be racist or pinpoint blame on a specific country for the global pandemic that has arisen out of the Wuhan Coronavirus. But if historical case studies point to the country behaving in a way that it causes harm and annihilation of humanity at large, then it must be called out. The name Wuhan Coronavirus is not an invention of any Indian or American academic or analyst, but solely attributed to the China state owned media and commentators since the outbreak.

It is often said, if one wants to get a realistic picture of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution then one must read or watch perspectives from those affected, if possible, and if given access to. In today’s time and age, it does become difficult to get hold of such accounts but the book ‘Tombstone’ by noted Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng is an exhaustive account of the erroneous Great Leap Forward, also known as one of China’s disastrous famines, which took place between 1959 and 1961 under Mao Zedong. The reason the book is important is because the account is written by a mainland Chinese who was previously a member of the Communist Party of China as well as a journalist with the Xinhua News Agency. The book is of course banned in mainland China, as it gives a detailed insight into how the move by Mao took the lives of millions.

Yang himself lost members of his family to the famine that he estimates took the lives of nothing less than 36 million people in China. In addition, backed by in-depth research and analysis, he estimates that China’s population loss during the Great Famine during the period was 76 million. He says more people died in the Great Famine than in the First World War.

He minces no words in pinning the blame squarely on Mao and the entire Communist Party structure that caused devastation to Chinese families. Unequivocally, Yang also dismisses reports that the Great Famine in China was caused by the then Soviet Union. The most disturbing part of the book for me to read was how the famine forced people to turn to cannibalism in almost every province of China to meet their starvation.

Province by province, Yang gives out statistical evidence and research as to how many deaths were caused by the famine and how clueless the Communist Party leaders were, including Mao who did not fathom an iota of the damage caused. In the end, when Mao intended to course correct, the damage was already done. Yang details Peng Duhai and Liu Shaoqi as the only leaders in the Communist Party set up then who opposed Mao but needless to state were relegated and purged. In fact, Liu Shaoqi once said to Mao, “History will record the role you and I played in the starvation of so many, and the cannibalism will also be memorialized.”
Yang has titled his book ‘Tombstone’ because he wanted to erect a tombstone for his father who died of starvation in 1959. He also wanted to erect a tombstone for the thirty-six million Chinese who died of starvation. Thirdly, he wanted to erect a tombstone for the Chinese political system that brought about the Great Famine, and fourth, a tombstone for himself due to a temporary health scare, although his health concerns were subsequently put to rest.

During the Great Leap Forward, Chinese citizens everywhere were herded into giant collectives called peoples’ communes. This took the life of more than 30 million people of torture, exhaustion and fatigue. The Cultural Revolution followed the Great Leap Forward and that also took the lives of many millions in China; this too was under Mao Zedong.

Cut to today, the pertinent question is whether China has learnt any lesson at all from the two massacres that it unleashed on its own citizens in and through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The answer will be negative. Through the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus and the Wuhan Coronavirus, China is seeking to up its ante of unleashing what could be called in their own terms, “unrestricted warfare”. Several geo-political commentators have called out China’s authoritarian regime for inflicting the damage they caused on not just their own people but outside their borders this time as well. That the world has not learnt any lessons at all from the outbreak of SARS virus up to Wuhan Coronavirus is discernible in the response.

Democracy, China’s biggest threat, remains India’s biggest strength and soft power asset. This was discernible in the organic manner in which Indians responded to the voluntary Janata curfew leading upto the 21 day national lockdown. This is in stark contrast to authoritarian surveillance by Chinese authorities to curb the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus, or for that matter the handling of Dr. Li Wenliang, the first whistleblower, the detention of Xu Zhiyong and the disappearance of Ren Zhiqiang.

While science battles to come up with a prospective antidote to fight this deadly virus, and while leading powers in the Indian Ocean region, like India, will no doubt rise after this uncertain scenario, it is important to seek accountability vis-a-vis the ‘middle kingdom’ and the ‘core leader’ Xi Jinping, in their pursuit of taking the world by surprise.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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