When Mao shipped food to Cuba while millions of Chinese starved

“The government forcibly took the grain away from its people and shipped it overseas. Chinese Communists often extolled their system as superior to democracy because of its efficiency. It is efficient, no doubt; but also most efficient in killing its own people.”

The legacy of communism is death.

Human rights activist Dimon Liu remembers the horrors of starvation as Mao shipped rice to Cuba. This is a must read.

By Dimon Liu via Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Cuba and China
Leaders of communist China and Cuba meet

I remember the year Cuba came into my consciousness. It was 1960, the height of famine during the years of Great Leap Forward. I was a child living in the southern city of Guangzhou in China. Meal time meant a little rice, and whatever we could scrape together. For nearly two years, we had no meat, fish or even cooking oil. We were starving. All of a sudden, there was cane sugar from Cuba, and we school kids had to learn Cuban songs.

We had been on rations even before the Great Leap Forward which began in 1958. Thirty jin (one jin is about 1.1 pound) of grains per month for an adult, and fifteen jin for a child above the age of seven. Two jin of meat and two ounces of cooking oil, also for a month. Except for my family. Having been categorized by the government as the enemies of the people, and tarred as the “black five sorts,” our grain rations were half of everyone else’s. My mother’s grain ration was 15 jin a month, but I got less than half – mine was 7 jin a month. During the times of shortages, even half a jin of ration coupon meant a great deal, but during the years of Great Leap Forward, the ration coupons were nearly useless.

The persistent gnawing of hunger felt like a sharp knife twisting and thrusting in my gut without respite, and on many a night I shed silent tears until I was finally able to fall asleep – a memory so painful and vivid that it still haunts me more than half a century later. During the day, small gangs of children roamed the streets looking for food. My pals and I, skinny 7-year olds, foraged as best we could to supplement our meager fares. We hunted frogs, birds, and water cockroaches. We climbed trees for mulberries and nuts, and scraped tree barks for our mothers to cook. I built traps to catch rats and sparrows – the beginning of my architectural career. In truth, everything was skinny, only the rats had any meat on them. People on our streets were dying of many infectious diseases, though no one dared to say anyone died of hunger.

On my eighth birthday, I got a hard-boiled egg all to myself. It was so rare and precious, I couldn’t bear to eat it. I put the egg in my pocket. I took it out, looked at it, and put it back into my pocket; and on and on as I wandered the streets; because staying home might mean my older brother could snatch the egg from me. Another small gang of children saw me with my egg, and ran towards me. I quickly stuffed the egg into my mouth, barely chewed it, and swallowed it, eggshells and all, even as I was being jumped on and pummeled.

Frank Dikotter, the historian at the University of Hong Kong who wrote “Mao’s Great Famine”, a book about this period, said in a social media post that “the first thing the regime did in September 1960 was to procure an extra 100,000 tons of grain and ship it to Cuba,” in order to help break the economic blockade imposed by Washington on the island. Dikotter added that “you can feed about 2000 people for a day with a ton of rice… Or over half a million people for a year.”

Properly fed people rarely existed in China at that time, unless you belonged in the very small and exclusive club of Chinese Communist elite. For a child like me who received coupons for under 8 pounds of rice a month, you could have fed more than 2 million of us for a year; or about half a million Chinese adults for a year on a standard ration of 30 jin, or 33 pounds of rice per month for the amount of grain sent to Cuba.

Cuba was not the only place that China exported food to during those harrowing years. Yang Jisheng, author of the searing book “Tombstone,” which documented meticulously the period of the Great Leap Forward, noted that China exported a total of 5 million tons of grains in 1959, to North Korea, Vietnam, East European countries, and especially to the former Soviet Union to help cover China’s debts when famine began; and a further 2.72 million tons in 1960, the height of starvation, along with a large quantity of cooking oil, eggs and other foodstuffs.

5 million tons of grains would have fed 25 millions adults for the year 1959, and 2.72 million tons would have fed 13.6 millions for the year 1960.

As of now, estimates of the dead during this time of famine range widely, from a low of 30 million acknowledged by the Chinese government, to a high of 80 million; and we won’t have a firm idea of what the figures really were until the Chinese Communists are gone from the scene, and all the archives can be opened.

The fact remains that millions of people would not have starved to death if there were some error-correcting mechanisms that existed in the Chinese Communist system, but there were none; and millions died needlessly, and in a most painful way; as the government forcibly took the grain away from its people and shipped it overseas. Chinese Communists often extolled their system as superior to democracy because of its efficiency. It is efficient, no doubt; but also most efficient in killing its own people.

I have often wondered if the Cuban people knew about the sufferings of the Chinese people at that time, and how many starved to provide them with food. I wondered if Fidel Castro knew, and if he did know, I wondered if he cared. We knew Mao didn’t care, or he wouldn’t have shipped rice to Cuba and other places when his own people were starving. As my mother used to say, only the leaders could afford to be so magnanimous about the sufferings of the people…

Ernesto “Che” Guevara meets Mao Zedong

Castro was never given to expressiveness for the help he received from China. Or perhaps Castro couldn’t express it since he relied on the Soviet Union to remain in power, and by 1958, the Sino-Soviet split was bitter, and out in the open. Or perhaps Castro shared the derogatory views of the Soviets towards the Chinese at the time. Diplomatic relations were established in 1960, but Castro didn’t visit China until 35 years later, in December of 1995, after the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991, and long after Mao – the man who starved his own people to help Cuba – had died in September of 1976.

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1 thought on “When Mao shipped food to Cuba while millions of Chinese starved”

  1. But Mao and his enforcers weren’t evil or anything. They were just, you know, misguided idealists. So, uh, mistakes were made. Just like in the USSR, North Korea, Cuba, etc. Sometimes bad (OK, really bad) things happen despite good intentions, but it’s always the (official) intentions that count, not the actual outcome (unless it can be packaged to look good). So the thing to do is let it go, get over it, turn the page and move forward. Yeah, that’s the ticket. That’s certainly what Cubans are supposed to do, according to all who know best, like the New York Times (but definitely not “those people”).

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