'Xinyang was not the only place'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 August, 2010, 12:00am

The climate of terror and secrecy created during the Xinyang incident was so successful that it took the central government until the middle of 1960 to learn the full extent of the catastrophe. In February, Beijing sent two department chiefs from the Central Supervision Committee to Xinyang. Overcoming many obstacles, they concluded in May that the number of 'abnormal deaths' was 700,000. Later the party chief of Henan admitted to Beijing that the actual figure was over one million.

In September, the chief of one county in Xinyang was arrested and the chiefs of two others were criticised. Party chief of Xinyang Lu Xianwen was allowed to continue in his post. In September 1963, he was sentenced to three years for 'dereliction of duty' and dismissed from the Communist Party. In 1993, he said that the provincial government limited the punishments to protect itself.

Mao wrote: 'Bad people took power, grain output fell and food was insufficient. The democratic revolution is incomplete and the feudal forces are doing many things to destroy the socialist relations and productive forces.' He had no word of compassion for the dead and the loved ones they left behind.

In 1993, stricken with cancer, Lu dictated to his daughter an 18,000-character defence of his conduct. Twenty-three days after completing it, he died. 'I do not agree with the term 'Xinyang incident',' he said. 'In the spring of 1960, mass starvation occurred in many places. Xinyang was not the only place.'

Mao's former personal secretary Li Rui said philosophers past and present agreed that history was a mirror and a warning. 'We predict the future by reviewing the past. The lesson of this book is contained in the words of Friedrich Engels: a great nation is judged by how quickly it learns from its own mistakes.'

The most comprehensive account of the Great Famine in China is Tombstone, published in Hong Kong in 2008 by Yang Jisheng , a veteran Xinhua reporter. Like Qiao Peihua's book, it is banned in the mainland. An English translation is due to come out later this year.

Although they published so much 'forbidden' material, both Yang and Qiao have been able to continue their lives, a sign of progress. Jin Zhong , editor of Kaifeng magazine, which published the Xinyang book, said that, since it appeared, Qiao had kept a low profile. 'Things are different to the past. The book by Li Peng on June 4 has appeared - that was against the rules too.

'The vast majority of mainlanders have never heard of the Xinyang Incident. It has been erased from the history books. Some young people have not even heard of Zhao Ziyang. This is very sad,' he said.