How many people died in the Great Famine in China?

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Great Famine in China. In 2011, the second volume of the History of the Chinese Communist Party, compiled by the Party History Research Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, stated that the total population of the country decreased by a net of 10 million in 1960 compared with the previous year; in December 2010, Sun Shangkong, a scholar at Peking University, estimated that the total number of unnatural deaths in the period 1961-1962 was about 44 million, based on the total population data of the National Population Yearbook. In 1996, Chen Yizi, a member of Zhao Ziyang’s staff and director of the China Institute for Economic System Reform, said that his institute’s secret report, based on internal Communist Party documents, put the number of unnatural deaths at 43 to 46 million; but one account claims that Yang Shangkun, a Communist Party patriarch, arrived at an even more alarming figure through Ministry of Public Security statistics 96 million people.

In 1964, when China conducted its second national census, Yang Shangkun, then head of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee, was very concerned about how many people had died of starvation; when Yang was in charge of the General Office, he was not Mao Zedong’s “chief administrator,” but was under the command of the Party, whose day-to-day work was presided over by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. He was under the command of the Party, and it was Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping who presided over the daily work of the Party. So when the Cultural Revolution began, Yang Shangkun was one of the first Communist Party leaders to be knocked down because Mao Zedong wanted to get rid of the problem at his elbow.

Back to the 1964 census. Yang Shangkun believed that all the figures reported from lower levels a few years earlier, i.e. those official figures signed by local secretaries, were false; so he set up a “census office” and made himself the director of this office; he also appointed a vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security as the deputy director of the “census office “The census was conducted directly by the public security system, through the provincial public security departments or the public security bureaus below, without going through localities at all. The specific work was conducted by Zhao Wenqi, deputy director of the Population Statistics Division of the Ministry of Public Security; finally they came up with a result that “a total of 96 million peasants died of starvation”.

This figure was allegedly so shocking that even the top management of the Ministry of Public Security at the time could not believe it and asked Zhao Wenqi twice if he could confirm the figure. Zhao Wenqi allegedly replied, “This figure has been checked repeatedly and is correct, and is already in the files of the Population Statistics Department of the Ministry of Public Security.”

It should be noted that it remains to be verified by historians whether Yang Shangkun’s investigation into the death toll of the Great Famine in China is true or not, but it is certain that the situation was so dire that, as Liu Shaoqi, who was the president of the country at the time, pointed out, the “three years of hardship” as the Chinese Communist Party officially called it, was probably “Three parts natural disaster, seven parts man-made disaster”, Mao Zedong, who pursued an ultra-leftist line, is definitely to blame!