China

Why the 70th Anniversary of the Establishment of the People's Republic of China Should be a Day of Mourning

The PRC committed the biggest mass murder in the history of the world, and numerous other atrocities and human rights violations, some of which go on at this very moment.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Today is the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China, which marks the occasion when the Communist Party seized power in the world's most populous nation. The regime established then remains in power today, and is holding a massive celebration. But today is more properly an occasion for mourning. It is an appropriate time to remember the horrific injustices of the government that committed the biggest mass murder in the history of the world, and numerous other injustices and atrocities.

Though it gets nowhere near the level of attention it deserves, Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward was in fact the biggest mass murder in all of human history. I discussed its enormous scale here:

Who was the biggest mass murderer in the history of the world? Most people probably assume that the answer is Adolf Hitler, architect of the Holocaust. Others might guess Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who may indeed have managed to kill even more innocent people than Hitler did, many of them as part of a terror famine that likely took more lives than the Holocaust. But both Hitler and Stalin were outdone by Mao Zedong. From 1958 to 1962, his Great Leap Forward policy led to the deaths of up to 45 million people – easily making it the biggest episode of mass murder ever recorded.

Historian Frank Dikötter, author of the important book Mao's Great Famine recently published an article in History Today, summarizing what happened:

"Mao thought that he could catapult his country past its competitors by herding villagers across the country into giant people's communes. In pursuit of a utopian paradise, everything was collectivised. People had their work, homes, land, belongings and livelihoods taken from them. In collective canteens, food, distributed by the spoonful according to merit, became a weapon used to force people to follow the party's every dictate. As incentives to work were removed, coercion and violence were used instead to compel famished farmers to perform labour on poorly planned irrigation projects while fields were neglected."

A catastrophe of gargantuan proportions ensued. Extrapolating from published population statistics, historians have speculated that tens of millions of people died of starvation…."

The basic facts of the Great Leap Forward have long been known to scholars. Dikötter's work is noteworthy for demonstrating that the number of victims may have been even greater than previously thought, and that the mass murder was more clearly intentional on Mao's part, and included large numbers of victims who were executed or tortured, as opposed to "merely" starved to death. Even the previously standard estimates of 30 million or more, would still make this the greatest mass murder in history.

 

What happened in the Great Leap Forward was similar to what occurred in the Soviet Union and other communist regimes when agriculture was collectivized. But the death toll in China was much higher than anywhere else.

While the Great Leap Forward was the biggest atrocity committed by the PRC, it was far from the only one. The Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 also took millions of lives. And there was no shortage of other instances of official repression and mass murder during the Mao era, ranging from the brutal conquest and occupation of Tibet (which persists to this day) to numerous purges.

After Mao died in 1976, the regime liberalized much of the economy and eased up on repression. The resulting economic growth was impressive and helped lift millions out of poverty. But it is important to recognize that most of this progress was the result of the government's ending some of its own previous oppressive policies. For example, much of the economic growth occurred because rural Chinese were freed from being forcibly confined to collective farms, and allowed to move (relatively) freely to other parts of the country, where there were better opportunities.

Post-1976 China is far less awful than it was under Mao's rule, and the regime no longer adheres to many of the tenets of communist ideology, which has largely been supplanted by nationalism. But severe oppression nonetheless persists. The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 is only the most famous example. The regime has also forcibly displaced tens of millions of people for various "development" projects, including over 1 million forced out of their homes just to build the facilities for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The cruel "one child" policy for a long time imposed  state control over one of the most intimate aspects of private family life.  in addition to its inherent injustice, the that policy have created serious social and economic problems that the regime will find it hard to overcome, including a serious gender imbalance in the population, and a rapidly aging work force.

And, of course, the government continues to be a one-party dictatorship, with severe limitations on freedom of expression. I got a first-hand view of some of this when I was a visiting professor at a Chinese university in 2014.

Sadly, under the rule of President Xi Jinping, the government has become much more repressive over the last few years. It has established massive detention camps in which hundreds of thousands of members of the Muslim Uighur minority have been confined for purposes of "reeducation." The regime's increasingly intolerant nationalism is bad news for other minorities, as well. Even the tiny community of Kaifeng Jews has been targeted for harassment and persecution.

There has also been a crackdown on real and imagined dissent even among Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group. The closure of the Unirule Institute—a  widely respected think tank critical of regime policy—is just one of many examples. I gave a talk at Unirule's offices in Beijing back in 2014—something that sadly would no longer be possible today. China is also trying to repress the liberal democratic protest movement in Hong Kong, in a dramatic confrontation that has captured the attention of the world.

The horrific history of the PRC is notable for exemplifying the evils of both of the ideologies that have caused enormous harm around the world over the last century: communism and nationalism. The regime's gradual transition from the former to the latter, while still being a brutal dictatorship, is a textbook example of how the two have many common flaws.

The unspeakable death toll created by the PRC doesn't necessarily prove it has been the very worst government in history. The numbers are so high in part because the Communist Party ruled over such a large population, and stayed in power for many years. If the likes of Stalin, Hitler, or Pol Pot had ruled over a comparably large population over a similar length of time, it is entirely possible they would have equaled or even surpassed Mao Zedong's dubious record. It is also possible to argue that genocide—mass murder inflicted based on race, religion, or ethnicity—is qualitatively worse than mass murder whose victims are chosen because they are "class enemies" or political dissidents, or just obstacles to the implementation of the regime's ideology. I don't buy this theory myself, but I can understand the sentiment behind it.

But even if the PRC is "merely" one of a handful of contenders for the title of worst regime in human history, rather than the clear winner of that dubious title, its awful record is still worthy of mourning. And such remembrance should be combined with a determination to learn its lessons, and use them to prevent the repetition of similar horrors.

 

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  1. For decades, some of our highest ranking officials in the USA have been selling us out to China and the PRC.

    Many people have made a fortune at the long term expense of harming the US and enabling the rise of China and the behavior of the PRC.

    1. The problem with Prof. Somin’s generally correct anti-communist sentiments is the commenters.

      Paranoia off the break. Is this the old canard about the Clintons? Or is it some new partisan wankery?

      1. They were selling us out to China, or at least setting policy that our manufacturing base migrated there (and to Mexico) under the understanding that once China was a modern country with Big Macs and Gap Jeans, they would join the rest of the world and become (at least more) liberal democracy. This was a false assumption on their part. What ended up happening is that modernity has just given the age old Chinese authoritarians more avenues of control.

        1. Promoting a policy in good faith that didn’t completely pan out isn’t exactly selling out.

          1. Yes, it is selling out, when you are willing to trade your own country’s people economic well-being for another’s economic gains for a supposed end game of creating another liberal democracy that even at the time it wasn’t known if it would pan out.

            Libertarian types still insist that, “well, the working class can now get cheap stuff made in China from Walmart” with their new service sector jobs.

            What’s amusing about all this, is that it was the Left that was all against free trade in the 90s and the right wasn’t, but now the parties have flipped, at least while Trump is in charge. If Warren wants tariffs, expect another flip.

            1. You wrote: under the understanding that once China was a modern country with Big Macs and Gap Jeans, they would join the rest of the world and become (at least more) liberal democracy.

              If that’s selling out, what was Iraq? Afghanistan? Vietnam? What about our human rights efforts around the world?

              Investing in worldwide liberty is not selling America out, that’s crazy.
              So is arguing that anyone who likes free trade is selling America out.

              If you want to be taken seriously don’t call everyone who disagrees with your policies a sell-out; it’s childish.

              1. It’s selling out America, when you economically diminish the human flourishing of your own people because you think it will help human rights in another country based on an a series of chained assumptions without a strong track record of previous success. It was knowingly done, it wasn’t some accident of muddling along.

                Don’t bring in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam…those were wars, which brings in a separate set of rubrics than trade decisions.

                If YOU wanted to be taken more seriously on this blog, you yourself would stop taking what other people said and making it into the argument you’re most comfortable debating against and continually being hoisted by your own petard of assuming bad faith on the part of others.

                At most, I will concede that “selling out” is perhaps to harsh of language, thought it aptly describes a bad trade-off. Likewise, framing that trade-off as “investing in world wide liberty” is starry eyed silly.

                1. “It’s selling out America, when you economically diminish the human flourishing of your own people…”

                  Our own people are better off with free trade. That’s been demonstrated time and time again. Free trade has made your life, and the lives of Americans generally, better.

                  How can somebody think “Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump agree with my position” and not be skeptical about their own position?

            2. Yes, it is selling out, when you are willing to trade your own country’s people economic well-being for another’s economic gains for a supposed end game of creating another liberal democracy that even at the time it wasn’t known if it would pan out.

              Once again: trade is not zero-sum.

              1. Yes, trade is not zero-sum. Agreed. That’s not saying what you think it’s saying though.

                1. Really, it is.

          2. There is an element of good faith stupidity to this story.

            Apparently some of the useful intellectuals were deployed to argue that trade and wealth would cause China to liberalize, which as you say, didn’t pan out.

            But the overarching story is one of being SOLD OUT.

          3. Exactly. And if you as a senior government official promote that “good policy”, and the Chinese government later happens to drop a few gift baskets full of multi-carat blood diamonds off at your family’s door, well, there’s nothing wrong with that. Right?

            Sorry, I don’t know for sure they were conflict diamonds.

          4. Why are you engaging in this? He’s describing a lie. Whatever was done to “selling us out to China” I was alive when it happened. I don’t remember anyone making the laughable promise that China would be come a liberal democracy. Free trade is good for humankind. The goal of free trade with China has been to improve humankind. More Chinese people have been lifted out of abject poverty because of this policy, and Americans have been made better off for it, too. It panned out pretty much exactly like the promisors said it would.

            1. Free trade is good for humankind.

              And it’s good for the importer.

              Only an idiot like Trump thinks we are “losing” if we import more than export from some country.

              The arguments being made by m_k, ML, and AL are incoherent babble.

              1. This is why the people who think Trump changed the party are wrong.
                This kind of angry knee-jerk ignorance has been with the party for decades.

                I can’t quite figure out the sociology behind this, only that it is the goods and services version of the general hostility towards non-real Americans.

                1. The only knee-jerk ignorance here is yours Sarcastro. Only yours isn’t outwardly angry so much as smarmy and condescending, which is much worse.

                2. This is why the people who think Trump changed the party are wrong.
                  This kind of angry knee-jerk ignorance has been with the party for decades.

                  By randos, sure. But the party establishment has been pro-free trade for decades.

              2. bernard,

                It really depends on the particulars. Sustained trade deficits can be harmful to the domestic economy, to strategic and valuable industries, and to workers.

                It is important to think in terms of industries, technologies, labor force skills, and strategic and economic value — rather than the total trade deficit or surplus across all categories. Yes, President Trump likes to reference the total trade deficit, probably because that is the simplest and most dumbed down snapshot of trade relationships.

                But when you consider the importance of key industries and technologies for defense and economic growth, the massive benefit of reciprocal barrier-free trading relationships as opposed to one-sided, and the need to make sure the American people have jobs and opportunities which can lead to a dynamic and skilled labor force rather than the monstrous alternative of permanent welfare, idleness, and opioids . . . Well, it’s clear that we have room for improvement in our trade policy. Tariffs are a vital, necessary, and appropriate tool, at least for a few types of purposes as I’ve described above. Tariffs can also be a lot more sensible than other types of taxes such as the income tax that Democrats favor. When it comes to the particular aim of trying to win significant concessions in a trade agreement, that is difficult to do but possible.

                1. Sustained trade deficits can be harmful to the domestic economy, to strategic and valuable industries, and to workers.

                  No.

                  1. Sure they can. Or at least associated with, or indicative of such harm.

                2. “Sustained trade deficits can be harmful to the domestic economy, to strategic and valuable industries, and to workers.”

                  Overall, no they aren’t. If you won’t tell us which “strategic and valuable industries” you have in mind, how are we supposed to respond? (BTW if this is special pleading for domestic steel, please don’t bother.)

            2. “Free trade is good for humankind. The goal of free trade with China has been to improve humankind. More Chinese people have been lifted out of abject poverty because of this policy”

              Then stick to that argument. Rather than:

              “Americans have been made better off for it, too.”

              Better off compared to what? And what policy in particular are you referring to?

              1. “Americans have been made better off for it, too.”

                Better off compared to what? And what policy in particular are you referring to?

                Better off compared to not having free trade. The policy of not engaging in trade wars.

                1. Do you acknowledge that reciprocal free trade is better than one-sided “free” trade?

                  Do you acknowledge valid uses of tariffs and other measures, such as described by Adam Smith here? https://nationaleconomicseditorial.com/2018/07/28/interview-adam-smith-tariffs/

                  1. Reciprocal free trade is better than one-sided free trade (unilateral free trade), which is better than protectionism. That interview is a massive misstatement of Adam Smith’s position. The guy repeatedly misquotes Smith or loses out on utterly critical historical context. You should read Book IV, Chapter 2, and Book V, Chapter 2, Article 4 of Wealth of Nations, rather than that massacre of the original literature.

                    Setting aside the misquoting, his examples aren’t even very good. The Navigation Act did not promote British defense. It resulted in the American Revolution. They were repealed in 1849 because Britain had suffered under them long enough.

      2. Actually, the right-wing canard about the Clintons selling China policy happens to be… basically true.

        In 1992 Clinton promised to sanction China (as we should have) for Tiananmen Square. He then took a ton of campaign contributions, both from corporate interests who wanted to make money in China and from bundled contributions from Chinese-Americans with connections to the regime in Beijing. Clinton immediately flip-flopped and in fact eliminated basically all of our leverage over the Chinese regime, granting them Most Favored Nation trading status and shepherding their entry into the WTO.

        That all happened, and it happened in plain sight of everyone. Bill Clinton has repeatedly proven what kind of person he is whenever a boatload of money is nearby. He has many virtues, but this isn’t one of them.

        1. OK, I believe that. I vaguely recall something about that when I was a wee apolitical boy dreaming of physics. Maybe that was Al Gore instead…

          But while human rights are vital, they are not making a fortune at the long term expense of harming the US and enabling the rise of China and the behavior of the PRC.

          Posts like this, and the annual May-Day post, end up functioning more as lightning rods for dusty old anti-Democratic red-baiting wankery than anything else.

          1. ML did not mention “Democrats”. Nor did mad.

          2. Don’t worry Sarcastro, this isn’t limited to Democrats. Try reading up on Mitch McConnell and his father-in-law. He married into deep financial ties with the Chinese government.

            “they are not making a fortune”

            Wrong. Many people have made a fortune from this selling out of the US, mainly business people and of course China.

          3. Lol. Makes me laugh everytime you fondly remember being a failed physics major.

            1. Your fastening onto that to try and make me feel bad is pretty awful behavior.

        2. What were the sanctions, and what would they have accomplished?

          As much as the sanctions against Cuba?

          1. That was actually the key time in the US-China relationship- literally the only time after Nixon that we had leverage.

            China was trying to take advantage of the benefits of free trade, to improve the country’s prosperity and also to make its elites and Communist Party members a lot of money. They gambled- correctly- that the US ultimately would not obstruct their entry into MFN and the WTO over Tiananmen. And, of course, they funneled a lot of money into US politics to accomplish that. But if those channels had been closed up, it is possible that China would have had to agree to some real reforms.

            One of the reasons we have the situation we now have in Hong Kong is that China had to make a deal with the British creating “1 country 2 systems” for that handover to take place. They didn’t like that, but if it weren’t for the British insistence on that, a lot of protesters would be in prison or executed by now.

    2. The usual american arrogance that somehow no one can succeed without them being harmed. It is pure nonsense.

      While I support the values of individual liberty it is insane to assume that all societies are equal and if they do not resemble USA somehow it is a failure of that society.

      China is pretty ancient and throughout history the society has respected authority. May be the one party rule is better suited for them at least for now.

      Chinese have immensely benefited from the one party rule compared to my home country India which is still stuck in neither-Indian-nor-British styled weird namesake democracy.

      I would rather live in China than in Iraq or Libya where USA has imposed (or tried to) American values of democracy.

      What Americans should do is to worry less about how other societies are managing themselves. Let Saudi Arabia, China, India, Afganistan, Libya or Brazil manage their own affairs and if the individuals there want more liberty let that be their goal to achieve.

      Americans should instead put Murica first and mind their internal affairs.

      1. The US enabled the rise of China to a large degree through foolish and short sighted trade policies and greed. This was a sellout and a betrayal of American industry and workers.

        But yes, America should put itself first and mind its business first. That’s exactly my point, as well. This means a change in China policy and a change in trade policy.

        1. When did this rise of China occur?; or, if it’s ongoing, when did it start?

          1. In the 90s I suppose but it seems like things really took off after they entered the WTO in 2001.

            https://mgmresearch.com/china-gdp-data-and-charts-1980-2020/

  2. Who would establish it, and who would mourn? And who, among those who ought to, would pay attention? Another “other people suck, let’s memorialize their sins” holiday proposal.

    1. We establish it. We mourn. Communism and it’s fellow-traveller, socialism, whether soviet or national, have killed hundreds of millions of humans since hatched in the fetid minds of Marx and Engels.

  3. Every anniversary of communist hegemony is a day of morning.

  4. By that logic, we should commemorate the founding of the the German Empire in 1870 (?), as a day of mourning, since that eventuated in Nazism.
    China was a mess (you really need to learn about Chinese history between 1900-1945), and the PRC was not in and of itself the worst possible outcome in 1949.

    1. It was January 1, 1871, actually. However, the cause-effect link between the establishment of the German Empire and the Holocaust is obviously far, far more tenuous than that between Mao taking power and the Great Leap Forward.

      1. Especially since Mao had the lesson of Fascism and ignored it.

    2. “PRC was not in and of itself the worst possible outcome in 1949”

      Let’s ask the US dead in Korea about that.

      It not only left Mao, a murderous tyrant who would make stalin seem moderate in charge, but left it in the Soviet orbit [until the break] to the world’s detriment.

      1. A more accurate statement would be that the Chinese revolution was inevitable, and conservative narratives about “who lost China” ignore that, whatever one says about Mao (and there is plenty to say), his revolution was popular.

        Indeed, this is something people should learn about Castro and some others as well. The skill-set for being a great revolutionary is very different from the skill-set for running a government. Some people- notably George Washington and Nelson Mandela- had both. But many more don’t.

        Mao was personally courageous and charismatic as a revolutionary. He and his forces overcame long odds to win. But that doesn’t mean he knew how to manage a nation-state with hundreds of millions of people, or that he would respect any democratic legitimacy in doing so, or that he would respect human rights.

        The US simply does not get to dictate what goes on in the rest of the world. Heck, we couldn’t even prevent a Communist takeover of Vietnam! There was no way we were going to stop Mao.

        1. A communist revolution is never inevitable. The problem with counter factuals, is that they are impossible to prove. And we most certainly could have prevented a commie takeover of Vietnam, had there been no anti-war movement at home or at the very least the Congress had continued to send aid to South Vietnam. We could have stopped Mao, in a whole host of way.

          1. Your history of Vietnam is complete BS. We threw everything we had at that country for decades and couldn’t defeat the Communists. Yet somehow some military aid in 1974 was going to prevent the fall of Saigon? That’s impossible.

            And Mao was much, much harder to stop than Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan were. It’s a larger country, we had less of a footprint there, and there was a much greater danger of direct confrontation with the Soviet Union.

            Finally, blaming the protesters for the loss of the Vietnam War is offensive. The reason there were protesters was because THE WAR WAS STUPID AND WE WEREN’T WINNING IT. Non-stupid wars that the Americans win don’t tend to draw a lot of protests. The only exception was the Civil War, and that was really a special case.

            Indeed, at first, the Vietnam War drew no protests. It was only once it was clear that it was going to go on for many years without an American victory that the protests started happening. You are blaming the people who got it right- the protesters- and absolving the people who got it wrong- the folks who thought the war was a good idea.

            1. Antiwar protestors were just a Communist Fifth Column. They started in 1964 also, not after the war seemed “lost”.

              Of course it seemed “lost” because the antiwar people wanted it to seem that way.

            2. Wrong, we threw some stuff at them without invading and occupying North Vietnam, or engaging in the same tactics that let the U.S. to victory in Japan and Europe a few decades earlier. Could we have? Sure, if there was the political will for it, but there wasn’t. But that it didn’t happen doesn’t mean that from Ike though Nixon, not to mention the French, that it couldn’t have. Insurrections fail all the time too.

              Look, I get it, you think history ended up a certain way because that’s how it’s supposed to end up, but your Whiggish view of history is, as you put it, BS.

              1. We didn’t invade North Vietnam because that would have drawn China and the USSR into a ground war. And risked a nuclear war.

                The problem is you don’t accept that other countries have power too.

                1. Again, your counter factuals are unable to be proved. China and the USSR may have joined in the ground war, or maybe not. Either way, we didn’t call their bluff. But I can also provide at least an example where in a similar situation, to show that you may be wrong; we had nukes where China DID get involved in the ground war in Korea and the Soviets in the air war, and nobody used them.

                  I accept all countries have power, some more, some less. That is a red herring.

                  1. This isn’t an unknowable counterfactual. US intelligence concluded that if we invade North Vietnam, it would draw the Soviets and the Chinese in. Presumably this is because that’s what they were saying in Moscow and Beijing.

                    That’s why we didn’t invade North Vietnam. It wasn’t because we were “fighting with one hand tied behind our back”. It’s because that was the red line for two powerful countries.

                    1. Again, it is an unknowable counterfactual, it’s just a reasoned point with some evidence that you may be correct, an intelligence estimate that it would draw the Soviets and Chinese into a land war. Of course, you know how those intelligence estimates are often wrong too, where the intel community of that era predicted the people would rise up during the Bay of Pigs invasion, never saw that the Soviet Union was a tottering mess about to collapse, or more recently that there was WMDs in Iraq.

                      A counter example, then, is what is going on in Syria. Both America and Russia are involved in a bloody mess there on opposite side of things, but the insurgency failed because we didn’t do what was necessary to oust Assad and the Russians did what was necessary to win. The same could have happened in Vietnam.

                    2. Of course, you know how those intelligence estimates are often wrong too,

                      They could be wrong, but you have to have some sort of argument to support that in a particular case. You can’t just say, “Well, they could be wrong, so I’m sticking to my uninformed opinion,” and expect to be taken seriously.

                      And it’s easy to say we could have invaded, but there wasn’t the political will. The “political will” matters. Maybe it means the country thought, correctly, that it was a lousy idea.

              2. There is no evidence whatsoever that anything the US could have done would have stopped the consolidation of Vietnam (which, by International agreement was supposed to happen by 1957, by any event). And there was NEVER any local support for the various fools we backed in the south. Ho was going to win no matter what.
                Your argument to the contrary is hogwash.

                1. ***And there was NEVER any local support for the various fools we backed in the south. Ho was going to win no matter what.***

                  That must be why I (and others) were told when touring Vietnam not to wear those Ho t-shirts etc. in the South unless we liked our noodles flavoured with extra spittle (or worse).

            3. ***Yet somehow some military aid in 1974 was going to prevent the fall of Saigon? That’s impossible.***

              No, see the 1973 invasion that was thrown back with large North Vietnamese casualties. The problem in 1974/75 was that the US stopped supplying the South Vietnamese forces with ammunition.

              1975 was a last throw of the dice by the North Vietnamese – if they didn’t win with that attack then their chances of suceeding in future were very low. The South Vietnamese had almost finished their armed forces rebuild – many of their formations were by that stage regarded as being at a NATO standard of training and effectiveness.

              Thanks to the Green Revolution the rice crops of the south were vast – more than enough to feed the country unlike in earlier years.

              Another set of supporting air strikes (a low risk strategy) in 74/75 would almost certainly have been sufficient for South Vietnam to continue as a nation, akin to South Korea.

              1. “1975 was a last throw of the dice by the North Vietnamese – if they didn’t win with that attack then their chances of suceeding in future were very low.”

                Au contraire. The evidence is that the North Vietnamese were willing to fight for decades if necessary. And they did.

                The notion that we just had to push them this one last time is basically pretending that the entire 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, and early 1970’s didn’t exist. There was always “light at the end of the tunnel”. Only it turned out there wasn’t.

                1. 1973 begs to differ. It was a massive defeat for the North Vietnamese. All the US had supplied was ammunition and airstrikes – this was the first occasion in which laser guided munitions were used. Suddenly bridges that had withstood hundreds of previous sorties were destroyed by a couple of bombs.

                  The South Vietnamese weren’t beaten by “communist willpower”, they were beaten by running out of ammunition.

                  1. Just like the North Vietnamese lost the Tet Offensive. Just like when we mined the harbors. Just like when we killed a million Vietnamese. Just like when we drove them out of large swaths of territories in the South.

                    We had a series of tactical military victories in Vietnam. And yet we lost the war, because the North wouldn’t give up. All your ideas would have gotten us is another 10 or 20 years in Vietnam, until the American people pulled the plug on your strategy, and the North would still win.

                    1. Look man,

                      I saw First Blood and Rambo (AKA Second Blood), and in both movies it was made very clear by the troubled, but sincere protagonist that we lost the war in Vietnam because “they wouldn’t let us win.”

                      I haven’t seen Last Blood, or the one before it which I can only assume was called “Penultimate Blood,” but I’m gonna go ahead and assume John Rambo’s certainty on this particular topic remained unchanged by your communist surrender-monkey propaganda.

              2. History revised. The South Vietnamese were never prepared for the North Vietnamese invasion. Many of the reasons were because of the way the United States handled its interference. Harry G. Summers Jr. wrote the book on it in On Strategy.

        2. “There was no way we were going to stop Mao.”

          If we had defeated the USSR by using our nuclear monopoly in 1946 or therabouts, who knows.

          1. OK. So if we had completely violated the laws of war and done exactly what Hitler tried to do (world conquest), and committed what would have been perhaps the largest war crime in human history, sure, we could have stopped the Communists.

            Of course, then we would have BEEN the Communists. 🙂

            (Plus, I might add, the Soviets TESTED a nuclear weapon in 1949, but that doesn’t actually mean they couldn’t have had one earlier. They had tons of espionage within the Manhattan Project. I am sure they could have accelerated their production schedule and/or deployed in combat without a test had the US decided to go to war with them.)

            1. If we had a nuclear bomb to use on Berlin in 1938, killing Hitler and preventing WWII, that would have made us Nazis?

              Destroying the Soviet government would not have been “(world conquest)” either.

              Was defeating them by attrition in 1989 also “(world conquest)”?

              1. Heck, what about 1932?
                Utilitarianism is not a great moral metric.

                1. By 1938 it was moral to oppose Hitler no matter what “metric” one uses.

                  1. Not with war crimes.

                    Read your Kant.

                    Think about it – your Manichean philosophy also means we shoulda nuked the USSR…and China. And Cambodia.

                    Not too surprised your arguments sound like Thanos.

                    1. “we shoulda nuked the USSR”

                      Goodness yes. All the death and suffering of 50 years avoided by limited nuclear war.

                      “war crimes”

                      War is a crime when you lose.

                      The Hague and Geneva Conventions are Victorian Era inspired nonsense, useful only in war between gentlemen. A quaint relic.

                    2. All the death and suffering of 50 years avoided by limited nuclear war.

                      That’s quite a counter-factual, Bob.

                      You want to kill how many people – Moscow had a population north of five million in 1950 – to accomplish what, exactly?

                      What makes you think that doing that would turn Russia into a capitalist democracy? Does the death and suffering of millions of Russians not come into your calculations at all? Does the reaction of the survivors not affect postwar events?

                      Your suggestion is one of the most brain-dead ideas around.

                    3. Congrats(?) to Bob for expressing the Nazi, Bolshevik, and Maoist perspectives on strategic solutions: mass extermination of people you consider a historical problem. My god but this blog attracts fucking psychopaths.

              2. Bob, I’ve seen a lot of “next Hitlers” in my lifetime. All I can say is, thank heavens we don’t have a nuclear monopoly and are deterred from dropping these things on “incipient Hitlers”.

          2. Unbelievable.
            Truman should have started WW3 with the few nukes we had left…
            And then what? After 15 million dead and 15 million dying of disease and starvation.
            No one has ever subjugated Russia from Kiev to Vladivostok. No possible way this works.
            You’re waaaaay out off the deep end, man.

            1. Smooth, I agree with that, and it applies to China and Korea too. The arguments in favor of nuking incipient communists were, of course, considered not only by the U.S., but also by the communists. It is known that Mao considered the possibility of a nuclear attack on China, and decided China would still win the resulting all-out land war. There just was not enough dependence among the Communist Chinese on anything a nuclear attack could take away. They were a peasant army.

              A similar consideration probably applies to Russia. The country is so big, and the winters so severe, that it is not at all clear that a 1940s-style nuclear attack could have set the stage for a successful military occupation by any forces available to undertake the task. Part of the trouble with these arguments in favor of nuking communists is that the people offering them are not well-informed about the extraordinary preponderance of non-nuclear force the Soviets enjoyed.

              At the end of WWII the Russians were poised for a continuation of the war, to take over Western Europe completely. Had it happened, the allied western forces available to stop that would have been swiftly overwhelmed. Perhaps nukes served a purpose to warn Stalin off. But what would have happened if the Soviets decided otherwise? Were we ready to nuke Paris to get the Soviets out of it?

            2. “No one has ever subjugated Russia from Kiev to Vladivostok. ”

              No need. Eliminate the Communist threat.

              The Russian people could govern themselves as they choose afterwards.

              1. The “Russian people”, which is a misnomer, but whatever, have NEVER been ruled other than autocratically.
                You have zero evidence that their culture and history would permit them to become Sweden or whatever model you use.

        3. Neither Mao nor Lenin were popular in any meaningful sense.
          They were resolute and better organized than their enemies.

          1. They were popular in one sense that was very meaningful- they had the threshold popularity necessary to lead a successful revolution.

            You don’t need to be very popular to stage a military coup. But you need quite a lot of popular support to lead a revolution from outside the government.

            1. Come again?
              I bet not 3% of Russians could have picked Lenin out of a police lineup in the autumn of 1917.

              1. “How many Russians supported the Revolution?” is the more relevant question.

                1. “How many Russians supported the Revolution?” is the more relevant question.

                  But that’s as much a function of the unpopularity of the existing government. The more unpopular the government in place, the lower your threshold.

    3. I don’t think the introduction of mechanized agriculture was so traumatic in Germany as it was in China or the Soviet Union or the USA. German farmers were never strong armed into accepting industrial equipment nor was it necessary for the Nazis to genocide out of existence recalcitrant aboriginal peoples who’d made their homes on desirable land for pasture and cultivation.

      1. nor was it necessary for the Nazis to genocide out of existence recalcitrant aboriginal peoples who’d made their homes on desirable land for pasture and cultivation

        You don’t know much about Nazis and Hitler and lebensraum, do you?

        1. “You don’t know much about Nazis and Hitler and lebensraum, do you?”

          I know a bit. The Nazis and Hitler reserved their deepest hatred to Jews and Bolsheviks, whom they saw an urban threat. The peasants of Nazi occupied territory in Ukraine welcomed the Nazis and were not subjected to similar treatment. Same with the agricultural population of France and other Nazi occupied territory. Same with the agricultural workers of Germany herself.

          1. The peasants of Nazi occupied territory in Ukraine welcomed the Nazis and were not subjected to similar treatment.

            Yep, you don’t know much.

            Same with the agricultural population of France and other Nazi occupied territory. Same with the agricultural workers of Germany herself.

            A whole lot you don’t know, if you think those are apt comparisons.

            1. I suppose I should clarify the minor part you got right. The Slavs did indeed welcome the Nazis as liberators from Communism — the Nazis didn’t care, persecuted and murdered millions anyway, and when the Communists came back, they were persecuted again and more murdered.

              1. “I suppose I should clarify the minor part you got right.”

                That is surprisingly fair-mined of you. May I complement you on your spelling?

                1. Judging from how much else you got right, my spelling must be as atrocious as the Communists’ and Nazis’ human rights.

            2. “Yep, you don’t know much.”

              I don’t think agricultural methods and policies significantly changed under the Nazi regime. Mechanization was largely a done deal by the time Nazis came to power, and had been accomplished without the murder and atrocities that characterized the process in China, USSR and USA.

              The Nazis pursued ‘blood and soil’ policies that were aimed at protecting the small farmer. Quite the opposite of the giganticism pursued elsewhere, and within a few years, productivity began to suffer. Still, Germany’s farmers never suffered under Nazi-ism as their counterparts did in the communist world.

              1. You actually believe that mechanization the USA was accompanied by more murder than the USSR?

                Your ignorance must be willful.

                1. “You actually believe that mechanization the USA was accompanied by more murder than the USSR?”

                  The transformation of places like Kansas, Texas etc from what they were at the beginning of the 19th century to what they are today was achieved at the cost of tremendous blood shed. The concentration camps set up in the aftermath exist to this day. But you are correct that Americans can be proud that they never totted up the same death numbers their communist rivals were able to manage.

              2. ***The Nazis pursued ‘blood and soil’ policies that were aimed at protecting the small farmer. ***

                Nope one of the first things they did was tighten up on the inheritance rules for farms to try to embiggen them. No more splitting your land up among your children. Women were prohibited from inheriting land. The general push was for fewer, but larger farms. This was supposed to be combined with a mechanisation push, but tanks were a higher priority than tractors so that never happened.

                German farming was about the least productive in Western Europe. French and British farmers were more productive and more mechanised.

                You can add to that – German agriculture had far too many pigs in it which produced only food, and competed with humans for feed, and far too few sheep which produced the wool for all those fancy uniforms.

                c.f (for those that are interested The Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze).

                1. “Nope one of the first things they did was tighten up on the inheritance rules for farms to try to embiggen them.”

                  ‘Small’ is a relative term. The Nazis wanted family farms and weren’t interested in consolidating them into the vast operations characteristic of the other places.

                  1. Nope, what they wanted was food self sufficiency – the starvation caused by the British blockade of WW1 was a very strong and real motivation for them. They wanted bigger farms that would grow enough that this wouldn’t be a threat anymore.

                    The rules put in place were very specifically aimed at creating that – but because of money being spent on tanks and aircraft instead of more useful things, the program never got very far and Germany spent most of the war desperate for food, despite looting it from everywhere they occupied.

                    1. “Nope, what they wanted was food self sufficiency ”

                      And they chose to realize it by conquest rather than the pursuing the policies of the other nations, forced collectivization and mechanization. The Nazis continued to idealize the image of the independent farmer.

            3. At first they did. They had no idea of the atrocities that the Nazis had committed and the hope was that liberation from the Soviet Union just after Stalin starved 6 million Ukrainians. After WWII, the Soviet Union did a huge propaganda campaign on the “Great Patriotic War” so that Ukrainians would think that the USSR saved Ukraine from the Nazis. Monuments (which don’t fall under the laws requiring symbols of the Soviet Union to be removed) are all over the place and Victory Day still mainly celebrates it.

    4. and the PRC was not in and of itself the worst possible outcome in 1949

      A standard dictatorship would not have been as bad, and would probably have liberalized faster.

      I am not sure it wasn’t the worst of possible developments.

    5. Shouldn’t we be mourning July 4, 1776, since it eventually led to Trump?

  5. American fanatical mystics set afoot a Chinese Christian convert movement during the first Opium War. These converts immediately saw the initiation of force against the Empire as the tickee to Heaven, and before our War Between the States was over with, 20 million Chinese had been killed, a large fraction by decapitation, torture and war and the balance by disease and starvation. What they need is scoldings from Republican libertarian-impersonators to shame them into banning birth control. That’ll get them back into Methodism fer shoor.

    1. Americans were only following in the footsteps of British imperialists.

      The Chinese emperors had long been struggling with Hmong (or Miao) in the south west. It was British assistance in the 1850s that made possible the slaughter of some 4 million Hmong.

    2. Yes.
      I forgot the Taiping rebellion.
      You have to ask yourself how China had been governed (or left in anarchy) prior to 1949.

    3. The OP was written by a Jewish atheist libertarian.

      Why twist yourself into knots? Let’s agree that Christian imperialism was evil. It really was.

      Now can we agree that Mao’s policies were also evil?

      1. Sure, we can agree 100% on that, but that is not the purport of the OP.
        His argument is the equivalent of making Columbus Day a day of mourning (which the left has actually more or less done) because Tainos lacked the strong immune systems of urbanized Europeans.

  6. Despite the atrocities these entities called states have committed,
    Reason still supports the right of these entities to a coercive monopoly when it comes to the service of government.

  7. And yet you support unlimited immigration to the U.S. to recreate those conditions here.

    1. It;s called UNLIMITED BORDER CROSSINGS !

      The reason they did so should not be assumed – like immigration.
      By doing so you essentially lost the 1st any maybe the major argument.

      1. I didn’t assume the reasons. I’m assuming the results.

  8. Irene Walker: Charley, I’ve been doin’ three to four hits a year for the past couple of years, most at full pay.
    Charley Partanna: That many?
    Irene Walker: Well, it’s not many when you consider the size of the population.

    1. If he’s so fucking smart, how come he’s so fucking dead?

      I love that movie.

  9. Why the 70th Anniversary of the Establishment of the People’s Republic of China Should be a Day of Mourning

    Let’s celebrate it with opening our borders and unilaterally removing all tariffs and trade barriers with China! –Reason/Volokh

    1. Yes, the main cure for Chinese Communism being awful is for us to become more nationalistic and protectionist! That surely follows!!

      1. I don’t give a damn about curing Chinese communism; China has been a totalitarian shithole for thousands of years and it shows no signs of changing. It’s in their cultural and national DNA.

        What we can do, however, is to contain it and keep it from spreading across the world. That is the declared goal of the Chinese leadership and they may well pull it off.

        We should trade freely with Western, free, and democratic societies under reciprocal terms. You have to be a total idiot to confuse that sensible and simple reciprocal and open policy with “nationalism and protectionism”.

    2. Tariffs are taxes on Americans.

      1. Taxes on Americans that are better than income taxes.

        Taxes on Americans where the incidence of the tax burden doesn’t fall solely on Americans but hammers Chinese exporters as well.

        Taxes on Americans that merely encourage purchases from different sources and supply chains that benefit the country.

        1. “Taxes on Americans that merely encourage purchases from different sources and supply chains that benefit the country.”

          If “different sources and supply chains” were cheaper than Chinese supply chains, American companies would already be using them. If the tariff (as intended) forces disruption of supply chains, the excess cost is borne by Americans.

  10. I wonder how the U.S. stands on the atrocity scale. Some claim there were around 70 million native Americans here. A farcicle number but it is something the left have been trying to say for some time now. I think that makes the U.S. the best at genocide. go USA we are no 1.

    Oh wait thats both continents and it wasn’t even the U.S yet dam.

    1. Well, way to take down that bastidge Some.

    2. Nobody claims that there were 70 million native Americans in the U.S. You’re off by at least a factor of 10. You seem to be taking one of the larger estimates of the population of the entire Americas and assigning it just to the United States.

  11. Nearly half a century after Mao, China is still a moral atrocity. Pro-democracy demonstrators being shot. Millions of Uighers in re-education camps. The establishment of a governing system that does that, not to mention of course the tens of millions of murders Ilya mentioned, is nothing to celebrate. At least that’s finally something Ilya Somin and Donald Trump can agree on.

    Oh wait….

    Donald J. Trump
    @realDonaldTrump

    Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China!

    1. Trump has been tougher on China than many of his predecessors.

      1. Style note: When directly quoting Trump or anyone else, use quotation marks (“ “) at the beginning and the end of the quote.

  12. Please let’s not forget the darling of the Never Trump right, Mike the Midget, who says that Xi Jinping isn’t a dictator and has constituents to answer to.

    1. I don’t think there are many if any members of the Never Trump right who like Mike Bloomberg.

  13. However much the world’s political right wingers mourn the Chinese revolution, and for whatever reasons, you probably won’t find much mourning in China. If you could give today’s citizen of China a magical button he could push to undo all the effects of the revolution, and return China to its pre-revolutionary condition, how many takers do you think you would find?

    That isn’t meant as a moral argument in favor of communist practices and atrocities, which remain abhorrent. It is meant as a counter to any utilitarian argument against the revolution. That utilitarian arguments can lead to abhorrent consequences is well known. Whether that danger ought to rule out every utilitarian impetus for politics is less clear.

    1. However much the world’s political right wingers mourn the Chinese revolution, and for whatever reasons, you probably won’t find much mourning in China. If you could give today’s citizen of China a magical button he could push to undo all the effects of the revolution, and return China to its pre-revolutionary condition, how many takers do you think you would find?

      Do the 50 million people killed, and their descendants, get to vote?

      1. David, that is a good point against a utilitarian analysis. But given a utilitarian analysis, the 50 million-plus-descendants could all vote, and they would still lose big. By the way, is voting even a thing in China?

  14. Even in an article about China, you can’t help but take a swing at Trump by misattributing authoritarian policies to nationalism. Fortunately you missed; authoritarianism and nationalism have as much to do with one another as capitalism and imperialism. Just because nations did both at the same time and one of those things produced negative consequences doesn’t mean the ideologies are intrinsically linked, nor does it mean that one or both are necessarily evil.

    Nationalism is really a meaningless word. It is the very function of nations to have and promote an identity. That’s why we have legal protections like 1A and 2A that 99% of the world doesn’t have and most likely never will. It would be suicidal to promote a national identity that doesn’t embrace these values and there is nothing wrong with self-determinism in order to protect those values. If other people don’t or won’t appreciate them, it is not our duty to educate the world, nor is it to weaken ourselves out of some collective guilt. That’s what MAGA and America First is all about.

    1. I think you’re off base in arguing that capitalism does not (or did not) necessarily presuppose imperialism.
      Capitalism assumes that people, if left to their own devices will favor acquisition of both raw materials and new markets. In the world of 1700, that means “imperialism”, at least in the sense that that term is usually used.

      1. Smooth, perhaps it would be helpful to take the process a step or two farther. There are a lot of, “ism,” words: nationalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, anarchism, constitutionalism, industrialism, rationalism, colonialism, leftism, fascism, statism, federalism, monarchism, feudalism, mercantilism, pastoralism, militarism, etc. It’s a considerable list, with all the words on it denoting some notion of distinctive social organization, but nevertheless leaving each term a bit vague.

        In history, it is commonplace to find instances where systems those terms denote have been used together, or mixed and matched among national examples, or changed over time in particular places. One notable source of errors in ideological thought about politics is to attribute to one of those categories all the effects observable at a particular time and place, when combinations of such ideologies were in fact working together.

        Or, yet more confusing, to look at an example of one such ideology, and attribute to it effects which were in fact more attributable to another ideology being practiced alongside it. To scratch the surface with a “for instance,” industrialism has been used in combination with multiple more-political ideologies, and in case after case, we find political ideologies praised for improvements which were likely owed to initiation of industrialism more than to anything overtly political. Add industrialism to capitalism, and material circumstances improve. Add industrialism to communism, and material circumstances improve likewise.

        1. My favorite -ism is leftism, or literally “the belief in left”.

  15. While I totally agree with the headline of this article, I have my doubts Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government would have been a much better outcome for China. In other words, China was always screwed after WW2,

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