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Atheist Mao Zedong: greatest mass murder in history

Posted by Mats on 06/10/2010

Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history, an expert who had unprecedented access to official Communist Party archives said yesterday.

Speaking at The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival, Frank Dikötter, a Hong Kong-based historian, said he found that during the time that Mao was enforcing the Great Leap Forward in 1958, in an effort to catch up with the economy of the Western world, he was responsible for overseeing “one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known”.

Mr Dikötter, who has been studying Chinese rural history from 1958 to 1962, when the nation was facing a famine, compared the systematic torture, brutality, starvation and killing of Chinese peasants to the Second World War in its magnitude. At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years; the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million.

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Mr Dikötter is the only author to have delved into the Chinese archives since they were reopened four years ago. He argued that this devastating period of history – which has until now remained hidden – has international resonance. “It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century…. It was like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot’s genocide multiplied 20 times over,” he said.

Between 1958 and 1962, a war raged between the peasants and the state; it was a period when a third of all homes in China were destroyed to produce fertiliser and when the nation descended into famine and starvation, Mr Dikötter said.

His book, Mao’s Great Famine; The Story of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, reveals that while this is a part of history that has been “quite forgotten” in the official memory of the People’s Republic of China, there was a “staggering degree of violence” that was, remarkably, carefully catalogued in Public Security Bureau reports, which featured among the provincial archives he studied. In them, he found that the members of the rural farming communities were seen by the Party merely as “digits”, or a faceless workforce. For those who committed any acts of disobedience, however minor, the punishments were huge.

State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.

Mr Dikötter said that he was once again examining the Party’s archives for his next book, The Tragedy of Liberation, which will deal with the bloody advent of Communism in China from 1944 to 1957.

He said the archives were already illuminating the extent of the atrocities of the period; one piece of evidence revealed that 13,000 opponents of the new regime were killed in one region alone, in just three weeks. “We know the outline of what went on but I will be looking into precisely what happened in this period, how it happened, and the human experiences behind the history,” he said.

Mr Dikötter, who teaches at the University of Hong Kong, said while it was difficult for any historian in China to write books that are critical of Mao, he felt he could not collude with the “conspiracy of silence” in what the Chinese rural community had suffered in recent history.

5 Responses to “Atheist Mao Zedong: greatest mass murder in history”

  1. Brian Westley said

    So you’re saying all Chinese are mass murderers?

  2. Mats said


    So you’re saying all Chinese are mass murderers?

    No. I am saying that the greatest mass murder in the history of mankind was an atheist.

  3. Brian Westley said

    Yes, but he was also Chinese. So why not say the greatest mass murderer in the history of mankind was Chinese? Or Male? Or had male-pattern baldness?

  4. James said

    Mats stated, I am saying that the greatest mass murder in the history of mankind was an atheist.

    Is there a point to this comment? Are we to understand that mass murder is to be associated with atheism? Or any lack of moral standards is because someone is an atheist? Or perhaps being a deist would haave alleviated his homocidal tendensies?

    The comment is no more relevant to any point than stating that Mao was Chinese, or that he had a bad hair style, or that he was born on a Tuesday, a bit before tea time. Which, of course is the exact point Brian Westley made too.

    However, I am choosing to belief that the point was one of atheism vs deism and moral superiority of those who believe and the ethical backruptcy of those who don’t.

    Actually, the greatest mass murderer documented in human history is the Christian God. He directly killed, ordered and incited the deaths of just a shade under 2.5 million people, according to most versions of the Bible. This is not in dispute. It’s black and white in the good book. However, that didn’t include some of God’s most impressive slaughters. How many did God drown in the flood or burn to death in Sodom and Gomorrah? How many first-born Egyptians did he kill? The indirect deaths caused by these events are almost incalculable. The Bible doesn’t say of course, so there’s no way to know for sure. But it’s possible to provide intelligent estimates, base on the geo-economical, athropological and socialological understanding we have of the time, in order to arrive at an educated guess. 25-30 million directly in the incidents and perhaps the same number in the aftermath of this catalysmic events would satisfy most researchers. So 50 million at he bottom end and 60 million plus at the top end. Nobody in recorded history comes close.

    Again, if we were to estimate the total number of people killed by the believers of God and those who don’t, the figures are even more spectacular and it’s really quite simple to work out. Up until 2 centuries ago, almost all who had been taught about Christianity, Islam or born a Jew, believed. So all the killings and slaughters up till then should most reasonably attributed to deists, since atheists were so few in numbers that each and everyone would have had been gencidal maniacs to have enroached into the dominance of the believers. Not even like Microsoft and Apple, more like Microsoft and Digital Rearch. You have never heard of DR? That’s my point.

    Even the 200 years since the Enlightenment, beliefs in God is still dominant and atheism didn’t become so mainstream before the end of the last century. In 2008, Church surveys suggested that over 80% of Americans were Christians. Only about 10% were atheists. So if Mat’s assertions (my understanding) is true, then these atheists really have got their work cut out.

    If anyone is concerned about mass murder (not in favour that is), look no further than religions. “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities.” Voltaire

  5. Mats said


    Yes, but he was also Chinese. So why not say the greatest mass murderer in the history of mankind was Chinese? Or Male? Or had male-pattern baldness?

    Why should I say that? No one ever said that the world would be a better place if we were all chinese, or male or had male-pattern baldness. PLenty of atheists claim that being “religious” makes the world unsafe. The implication is that being WITHOUT religion makes the world safer.

    Thus, to them I ask: how is it that the 3/4 greatest mass murderes in recorded history were atheists?


    Is there a point to this comment?

    It is to counter the atheist claim that lack of religion makes the world safer. The millions who died under atheist regimes beg to differ.

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