C.G.Jung / Ethics / History / Religion

Mao’s great faimine – Our blight is ideologies — Revolution is not a dinner party.


When I worked in Beijing during the late nineties I got invited by a local resident consultant (an expat) to a dinner party at a very chic ethnic event restaurant.  She was a little bit esoteric, but knew her city. There was good food and even a better spirit.  Expats and local people from all over China would  dance after work together, even onetime doing some kind of polonaise. The open spirit, however, became immediately sober when a Mao Zedong-double entered the stage. The faces of the Chinese colleagues, of all Chinese, froze and some timidly touched the fabric of the actors costume, 20 years after Mao Zedong’s death, as if to make sure that “he” will not come back.

Recently, more than ten years later,  I read the book of Frank Dikötter  Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe . The book was selected as one of the Books of the Year in 2010 by The Economist, The Independent, the Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard (selected twice), The Telegraph, the New Statesman and the BBC History Magazine, and won the 2011 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, Britain’s most prestigious book award for non-fiction.

Between the years 1959 and 1961, 30 to 45 million people were starved, killed or worked to death as a result of Mao Zedong’s failed attempt at industrialization in this period of the great leap.Frank Dikötter researched the catastrophe for years and documented his findings. It was h highly centralized mismanagement that can lead a country to disaster. All checks like tradition, family and religion were swept away leaving everybody, particularly the weak,  exposed without restraint to cruelty, pure arrogance, boundless ignorance and a merciless disregard of farmers, workers and even party members.

I just knew just the basics of the big leap and the subsequent famine that hit the People’s Republic around 1960.  But Dikötter’s painstaking research using newly opened local archives makes his estimate all too credible  that the death toll reached 45 million people. The book opened my eyes, as the man-made disaster was on the scale of the Nazis, Stalin and Pol Pot, but different in a way as the intend supposedly was good in a “we know better” attitude. When I read the book , I was reminded to the bureaucracy of the European Union. We don’t get killed and starved yet (although the latter does happen in Greece), but the propaganda and the arrogance of the EURO-phil bureaucracy are very much the same. It is no coincidence, that many of the former and current EU leaders, those who pushed Maastricht treaty or the never ending crises measures through against all good advice of experienced experts, were former admirer of Mao or even active Maoists. Their leadership performance during the EU crisis is of striking similarity, mismanagement  runs Europe against the wall and destroys all tangible and non tangible assets.

Dikötter provides a detailed list of the degree of suffering this “Great Statesman” unleashed and the inhumane manner in which his apparatus operated. Horrors pile up as he tells of the spread of collective farms and the vast projects that caused more harm than good and involved the press-ganging of millions of people into forced labour. As the pressure mounted to provide the all-powerful state with more and more output, the use of extreme violence became the norm, with starvation used as a weapon to punish those who could not keep up with the work routine demanded of them. The justice system was abolished. Brutal party cadres ran amok. “It is impossible not to beat people to death,” one county leader said.

The inefficiency, waste and destruction in China were of course even more  gigantic. The masses in whose name the Communist party claimed to rule were eminently disposable. The economic campaign used farmers and industrial workers as fodder expected to sacrifice themselves for the cause dictated from on high purposefully trying to get rid of the weak,the women, the children, the elderly. Cannibalism and people eating mud in search of sustenance, was the outcome of the famine caused by the Great Leaps failure and the diversion of labour from farming.  Initially launched to enable China to overtake Britain and Russia, Mao’s programme took a deadly turn, In order to maintaining food exports when the country was starving, the slogan was: “When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”

The book gives the details, but is extremely clearly written and presents the facts very structured: (1) The pursuit of Utopia;  (2) Through the Valley of death;  (3) Destruction;  (4) Survival; (5) The Vulnerable;  (6) Ways of Dying;  The book starts slow and becomes a page turner but can also be accessed afterwards via a good index.  It describes thourougly the Sino-Soviet split, and Mao’s tricks to blame the Russians ( and other factors) for his own doing,  after it was too late and the truth could not buried any more. As family bonds and every decency broke down, basically the whole country became one contraction camp. Methods were used in the cities, just like by the IG Farben in the second world war, working people to death in an unhealthy environment without pay and sometimes without food locked in the factory. Often there was not a direct intend to kill, but human were abundantly streaming to the factories. On the countryside  dissidents or underachievers, even people who digged one potato  became literally fertilizer. Kids were conveniently lost by mothers, women had to prostitute themselves or were routinely raped by local authorities routinely in some provinces .

The Cultural Revolution is widely remembered, the Great Leap much less so. When Maoists launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the  Red Guards had little new to learn, as Frank Dikötter states. Stability returned to China with the Maoists’ ouster in the late 1970s. Having gone through those two experiences, not to mention the mass purges that preceded them and the Beijing massacre of 4 June 1989, it is little wonder if the Chinese of today are set on a very different course that rejects ideology in the interests of material self-advancement but also religion is on the rise.

As soon as people get together in masses and submerge the individual, the shadow is mobilized, and, as history shows, may even be personified and incarnated. Carl Gustav Jung , The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious , Collected Works, 9/1, par.478

It is in this context it is  interesting to consider is Jung’s point of view toward religion in general, and his various attitudes with regards to fanatics and totalitarian ideologies and states: “Of course, it is not a spiritual religion in the sense in which we ordinarily use the term. But remember that in the early days of Christianity it was the church which made the claim to total power, both spiritual and temporal! Today the church no longer makes this claim, but the claim has been taken by the totalitarian states which demand not only temporal but spiritual power”.

If one looks to his quotes closely we find, that he just says there are similar concepts between totalitarian religions and totalitarian systems. Jung is speaking about the UDSSR  and Nazi Germany in a sense that was not only religious, but also political. He then compares in the context of political figures.  Jung speaks here about religion not only demanding spiritual obedience but temporal as well and the beliefs not only cover the spiritual aspects of the human condition but also the mundane as well.  In Jung’s book “Psychology and the East”( From Vols. 10, 11, 13, 18 Collected Works), Jung recounts his journey to India. One of the essays entitled “The Dreamlike world of India” show Jung expressing his utter positive attitude and amazement at the Indian subcontinent and their religious and ethnic culture. In a second essay entitled “What India can Teach Us” he concludes that the psychological and religious claimant is something that we in the West should take a page from.  There is respect for and admiration to all religions and their text. I sometimes wonder what he would say today. Called or uncalled, God is present. Religious experience plays an important role in Jungian psychology. Jung, a Christian maybe of more Gnostic virtue, believed that this experience is nothing but a product of the psyche, and consequently viewed other world religions as an expression of one psychic function that has its roots deep in the collective unconscious of mankind. If religion is absent, this is rarely  good thing, but if it rules the secular space its worse…

Our blight is ideologies — they are the long-expected Antichrist!  C. G. Jung The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation (1954)

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