diverting the river south into an older channel, he could effectively
cut off the rail route to Zhengzhou…..Previous military destruction of the levees had
helped armies in A.D. 1129 and 1642……the decision took a great civilian toll and had only
moderate military success….Official estimates….800,000 Chinese died…..
It is only in recent times (and even then only amongst a few Chinese and Western academics and opinion makers) that the complete monstrosity of Mao’s actions have been discussed and appreciated. We would speculate that a majority of the academic left world-wide would still back Mao, if a bit less enthusiastically than in the past. The logic is presumably that as a Great Nation builder he had to do what he had to do.
Arundhati Roy is quite the patron saint on the left (against evil american domination) and in the ummah (against evil Hindu domination) and can be used as a benchmark. She has published several articles deploring the fact that China has deviated from the true path as promised by the People’s Party and is now capitalist in all but name. But as far as the “excesses” or “mistakes” committed during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward is concerned, she is curiously (and unusually) silent.
To the best of our knowledge AR reserves none of the vitriol for Mao and his merry band of followers, that she habitually displays towards Gandhi and Gandhians. To take one memorable and recent example, AR wants all the institutions (and roads, ships, bridges,…) named after Gandhi to be erased (metaphorically) because Gandhi was casteist. We have never heard any appeal from her that Mao’s names also similarly be deleted from (Indian) history books. And given her deep admiration for Mao wannabe and genocide loving Charu Majumdar, we doubt any such appeal will be forthcoming.
Then there is the middle-class, right of center population in India (and we expect in other post-colonial nations). On many occasions, we have been taken aback by the full-on admiration of Mao and his methods.
India, in the opinion of such elites, would have already been a great country (like China) if we just had the fortitude to eliminate a few hundred millions of the (undeserving) poor. In contrast, Mao killed only 45 million. As they say of true believers, if you gave these people a free hand, they would out-Mao the Great Man himself.
Indeed, given the undiluted admiration that both the Indian Left and the Right feel for Mao (and their mutual disdain for Gandhi), we feel it would be appropriate to re-badge all the Gandhi-shrines as Mao-memorials. If nothing else this would privilege honesty over humbug (as AR would say).
The question that remains unresolved in our mind is this: was Mao really such an unique monster, or is the Han Chinese gene predisposed towards genocide (so to speak). Is it the case that they would willfully use genocide as part of state-craft (and war-craft)? If this is true, it would be very bad news for the Uighurs and the Tibetans today. They may as well go out and commit mass suicide tomorrow (the Chinese authorities would be glad to pay for all expenses).
To be sure, many generals would not think much about sacrificing a few thousand villages in order to get a decisive advantage in a war against a dreaded enemy. But, even while following a scorched-earth strategy we doubt that they would kill off all the villagers as well. And this is not just a one-off case. This strategy has been supposedly acted upon many times going back a thousand years. Perhaps the well informed military historians on this forum can point to other nations who have carried forward this glorious tradition of care-free elimination of millions of their own people.
The Huang He (Yellow River) has been called “China’s Sorrow.” The
name pays tribute to the millions killed by the river’s churning, muddy
waters in a long history of dramatic diversions and massive floods.
of the most notable recent events in the river’s troubled history
occurred in June 1938, when the Nationalist Chinese Army diverted the
river to block invading Japanese troops. In both number of deaths and
geographic scale, this event was the largest act of environmental
warfare in modern history.
The story of the diversion begins with the railroads, says Steven
Dutch, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. In July
1937, Japan moved troops into China and began seizing power in the
northern territories, beginning the Second Sino-Japanese War.
By June of
the next year, Japanese troops had moved inland from occupied Shanghai
to Nanjing, Xuzhou and Kaifeng. Though many maps of the invasion show
Japanese control was widespread across these regions, Dutch says that
Japanese effective control was mostly along the rail corridor. In other
areas, Japanese power was less homogenous, interrupted by large areas
controlled by Chinese troops, guerilla groups or bandits.
After Kaifeng, the next stop along the railroad was Zhengzhou, Dutch
says. This was the last major rail station before the Japanese could
move south and attack Wuhan — the most important city politically and
militarily in central China. Chinese General Chiang Kai-shek desperately
needed to end Japan’s deadly march inland. And so the Chinese military
turned to the deadliest force within reach — the Huang He.
The Huang He flows east out of the Chinese highlands across a plateau
of loess, or fine sediment, just northwest of Kaifeng. From this point,
the river meanders across a huge, flat alluvial fan. To the north and
south of the current channel stretch the long fingers of older abandoned
river channels, now empty or filled with smaller rivers.
The Huang He
has flowed in at least nine different channels in the last 2,000 years,
on both sides of the Shandong Peninsula. For scale, Dutch says, imagine
the Mississippi River shifting back and forth between western Texas and
the Florida panhandle.
The enormous annual sediment load of the Huang He (providing the
characteristic yellow color of the Yellow River) has complicated human
efforts to control the river’s course through levees. These structures
have been raised higher and higher to keep pace with the bottom of the
river as it rises from sediment fill.
As a result, by the summer of
1938, the river reach between Kaifeng and Zhengzhou flowed significantly
above the surrounding land. This, combined with its position at the top
of the alluvial fan, made the river here extremely favorable for
General Chiang Kai-shek knew that by breaking the levees and
diverting the river south into an older channel, he could effectively
cut off the Japanese rail route to Zhengzhou, Dutch says. This strategy
was not entirely new. Previous military destruction of the levees had
helped armies in the area in A.D. 1129 and 1642. The Chinese hoped that a
similar strategy would turn the military conflict in their favor and
protect the heartland of China from the Japanese.
Unfortunately, the decision took a great civilian toll and had only
moderate military success. Official Chinese estimates suggest that
nearly 800,000 Chinese civilians died. Even more were forced to flee
from their homes. Militarily, the Japanese suffered only minor losses of
troops and materials.
Although the Chinese did gain time to relocate
their wartime capital — which had been moved to Wuhan after the fall of
Nanjing earlier in the invasion — within three months, Wuhan fell under
Though little detailed information on the effects of the flooding is
available, similar events suggest the kind of destruction the people
living near the Huang He probably experienced in 1938, Dutch says. As
the enormous volume of the Huang He rushed down into one of the smaller,
quieter rivers occupying the old channel, the riverbanks could do
little to hold the waters from spilling out into the broad floodplain,
destroying crops and killing thousands in its path. Once the worst of
the flooding subsided, waterborne diseases likely added more fatalities.
Dutch suggests that one way to put the number of deaths in
perspective is population density. The fatalities were significant, but
this is understandable considering the huge number of people living in
areas impacted by the flood. Even though China had four times fewer
people in 1938 than live there today, the at-risk population was still
huge — nearly 15 million.
“Big floods are a fact of life in China,” Dutch notes, and
considering that there are now more people than ever in the region, it’s
easy to wonder whether a similar disaster awaits them today. But an
event such as the 1938 flood is less likely today, he says. Twenty-first
century geologists and disaster management officials in China have a
much better understanding of river dynamics and the impact of floods.
China also has a better infrastructure for issuing warnings, initiating
rescue operations and supporting relief efforts. Additionally, the
fatalities in 1938 were higher because the disaster occurred during war,
when the country’s infrastructure was already unstable.
One thing is certain: Human intervention cannot forever halt the
natural cycle of river change on the Huang He. Dutch says that although
the Chinese system of levees may work fine for the near future, “no
levee will hold the river in one place indefinitely.”