In 1978, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Deng Xiaoping urged the Chinese people to “seek truth from facts.” I’ve gladly decided to accept Deng’s invitation. Last month marked the 70th anniversary of Communist rule over China, and let’s be clear: it was not a time for celebration. Rather, this anniversary was an opportunity to reflect and assess the 70 years of Communist rule. Contrary to the pop, parades, propaganda and disinformation seen during the CCP’s Oct. 1 celebration, here are the facts about the history of the CCP’s 70 years in power.
On Oct. 1, 1949 Mao Zedong proclaimed the beginning of CCP rule from the walls of the Forbidden City, the former home of China’s emperors. Soon after he promptly installed himself in Zhongnanhai, a historically significant former resort of Chinese rulers. Beyond the walls, the masses struggled. But within, party leaders relaxed where the emperors once frolicked with their court.
Unfortunately, while the CCP retained a taste for luxury, it cared little for the lives of the Chinese themselves. Although as many as 15-20 million Chinese died in the wars that ravaged the country from 1927 to 1949, a year after seizing power, Mao threw Chinese soldiers into battle again, this time in Korea. At a time when American, British, Australian, and allied forces fought for the independence of South Korea, Mao secured the north for Kim Il-Sung. Over the ensuing decades, the CCP then stood side by side the Kim regime as it kidnapped foreigners, torpedoed, captured, and tortured American sailors, shelled its neighbors, starved its people, and developed a nuclear arsenal.
Korea, though, was just a prelude of the horrors to come. In 1958, Mao inaugurated the Great Leap Forward, collectivizing agriculture, incentivizing communes to exaggerate grain production, and initiating schemes that included melting farming implements to produce pig iron. Food production predictably cratered, but Mao ignored reports of starvation and turned on those who warned of the impending crisis. In the largest scale mass murder in human history, as many as 36-45 million Chinese starved to death between 1958-1962. That’s the equivalent of starving every New Yorker to death five times over—and being unsure of the final number because of the government’s unwillingness to tell the truth.
Five years later, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. Encouraging students to “bombard the headquarters,” Mao incited violence against teachers, the educated, party officials, and non-CCP institutions. The riots, demonstrations, executions, and purges that ensued resulted in the deaths of millions, the closure of all institutions of higher education, the obliteration of much Chinese culture, and the destruction of much of China’s cultural patrimony. Only Mao’s death in 1976 ended the chaos.
After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping and the CCP struck a new bargain with the Chinese people: prosperity for obedience. Under this opening, the party loosened its grip over China’s economy. The entrepreneurial energy of the Chinese people reasserted itself, and the country began its long climb back to the prosperity that it had enjoyed for millennia. The party was good on its word, on both counts. It provided increased prosperity, but it did not forget its demand for obedience.
On April 1989, CCP reformer Hu Yaobang, died. Students and workers gathered in Tiananmen Square to mourn him. Soon they began demanding greater freedom and political autonomy in peaceful protests. A million Chinese soon gathered in the Square, only to be met with the brutal force of Chinese tanks. On June 4, soldiers forcibly cleared the Square. There is no known death toll, but the upper end of estimates rise as high as 10,000.
Today, the regime has only tightened its control. The fruits of China’s new AI industry go to repressing the Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang through an Orwellian world of concentration camps that uses facial recognition technology, voice-pattern analyzers, random phone searches, torture, and even organ harvesting and forced sterilization. Meanwhile, the CCP assiduously crafts an alternate reality on its internet, jails dissidents, and monitors its citizens with through a “unified social credit code.” Abroad, the CCP bullies its neighbors, interferes in foreign democracies, indebts vulnerable nations, exports surveillance technologies to create a network of authoritarian states dependent upon its largesse, and uses market access to coerce businesses to echo the party line.
And what of its promise of equality? Since Mao established his government’s headquarters in China’s historical den of opulence, China’s wealth disparity has only grown. Today, income inequality in China is well above most democracies. To be sure, the CCP purports to have lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty. But that account claims for the party an accomplishment that rightly belongs to the Chinese people. The Chinese people lifted themselves from poverty when the CCP finally lifted its boot from their necks. One need only look at Taiwan, which is both democratic and richer than China, with a GDP per capita of more than three times Beijing’s, to see what Chinese people are capable of. Chinese accomplishments since the 1978 have come despite the headwinds of Communism, not because of it. Imagine what they could do in a free society.
So these are the facts. The free world would do well to keep them in mind as General Secretary Xi and his fellow communist party elites celebrate the PRC’s founding this month. Do as Deng said, and consult the facts. Just do not buy into the CCP’s false and misleading narrative.
Gallagher represents Wisconsin’s 8th District and is a member of the Armed Services Committee.