In our recent podcast episode Evil Men, we examined the two worst killers of the 20th century. Many listeners were surprised that Hitler was not included in the list. Instead, it was Mao and Stalin. When evil is measured simply by the total death count a single leader initiated or inspired, no one in the history of the world compares with Mao. Every decade historians uncover more evidence that causes these numbers to increase – not decrease. Mass killings under Mao were unlike anything seen in history.
It is worth noting that prior to Mao’s decades of murder and brutality as ruler over China, the Chinese people underwent violence and murder from other brutal powers in the 20th century as well.
During the Chinese war with imperial Japan, more than 10 million Chinese died. In addition to that, nearly 4 million Chinese were killed by Japan’s mass murders, including the infamous Rape of Nanking. And before Mao came to rule over China, a civil war between the nationalists and the communists resulted in nearly 5 million Chinese deaths.
Some critical historians argue that many of the deaths under Mao resulted indirectly from his policies such as the Great Leap Forward, and not through direct efforts by Mao to wipe out the Chinese people. That perspective overlooks the fact that Mao kept killing until his death in 1976. Nothing stopped him! After each round or policy of murder, Mao unleashed another.
When the communists took control of China, Mao famously stated, “The people of China have stood up.” The Chinese did not realize at the time that they stood up, only to be destroyed by the world’s most evil ruler to ever live.
|1949-50||Land Reform Campaign||1-4 million deaths||As the new leader of China, Mao wanted to destroy the power base of the landlords and elites. “People’s Tribunals” were established to target at least one landlord in every village.|
|1950||Suppress Counterrevolutionaries||2 million deaths||Mao targeted those loyal to the previous nationalists that the Communists fought to control China.|
|1950s||Anti-Christian||Specifics total not known. Estimated deaths range in the tens of thousands.||Mao believed Christians were a poison to China. He compared Christians in China to Nazis in Europe.|
|1953||Eliminate More Counterrevolutionaries||Estimates in the hundreds of thousands||Mao suspected 95% of the Chinese were good, therefore 5% were evil and targeted as counterrevolutionaries.|
|1958||Hundred Flowers Campaign||500,000 killed||Believing he was now secure as leader of China, Mao encouraged feedback from the people regarding ideas for better government of China. Mao was surprised by the size of the response and order the killing of all voices he felt threatened the communist revolution.|
|1958-62||Great Leap Forward||45 million killed||In an effort to industrialize China, Mao devastated the agricultural system and plunged the world’s largest nation into famine. Communist bureaucrats, fearful of Mao after the purges of the prior decade continued to tell Mao that China had food surpluses while millions starved to death.|
|1966-76||The Cultural Revolution||2 million killed, millions more imprisoned and tortured||After Chinese officials doubted the effectiveness of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Mao suspected anti-communist perspectives had infiltrated the communist party. Mao sought to establish a constant state of revolution in China and nearly destroyed the country. The Cultural Revolution only ended with the death of Mao himself.|