The Chinese Revolution: An Enlightenment that Led to Mass-Starvation

The word “discernment” comes from the Greek, meaning, “to split apart.” Understanding the transition from Confucianism, one form of Atheism, to Mao’s Cultural Revolution, another form of Atheism, requires discernment. Today, there is a Confucian Renaissance brewing in the East that’s causing China to prosper. It’s the same philosophy that caused China to prosper centuries ago. However, between then and now, Confucianism had a hiatus. This hiatus arrived when Chairman Mao and his Red Army won the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

We’ve already studied how Confucianism is a form of Atheism insofar as it is a religion and a philosophy that is absent a deity. At the same time, we learned how these practical lessons of Confucianism were very similar to the practical lessons of the Protestant Ethic. However, Confucianism, and Taoism after that, failed to answer many of the most important questions, such as whether there is life after death, why practical wisdom should be regarded so highly, and how we can really know what we think we know. In all forms of Atheism, so-called virtues are rendered to be like a compass that points in a different direction with each new day. At the beginning of the 20th century, a new generation of young scholars calling themselves the literati began questioning the moral compass of China.

“And there I found myself the next day,” Lu Xun writes in his short story Nostalgia, “suffering another lecture on The Analects.”[i] The story was published in 1911, when Lu was about thirty years old, coinciding with the May Fourth Movement. This was an intellectual revolution challenging centuries of conformity and hierarchy, questioning an adherence to seniority, scoffing at his teacher, whom he “respectfully knew as Mr. Bald.”[ii] This was more than just a story. Therein, the eight-year-old boy and Mr. Bald exemplify the beginning of cultural changes. The boy is one of many soon to become a man with a cynical mind. Mr. Bald is just another wise old man who is soon to be cast aside as antiquated and boring.

A smiling image while his whole world starved. This is one of Chairman Mao's propaganda pieces. It's easy to see where Kim Jong-Il got some of his inspiration.

A smiling image while his whole world starved. This is one of Chairman Mao’s propaganda pieces. It’s easy to see where Kim Jong-Il got some of his inspiration.

China had long been preparing itself for a drastic change in identity, foregoing the stifling molds that had become associated with a string of harsh partial-reforms and crises such as the Taiping Rebellion and The Boxer Uprising, Imperial and Feudal foreign oppressors, and China’s Civil Service Examination System. The latter was a rigorous study concerning the Confucian doctrines, requiring many years of disciplinary determination, the privilege of wealth, and a large degree of chance. When quotas were eventually imposed on the number of degrees granted, many talented people had their hopes of obtaining office destroyed.[iii]

Lu Xun’s own father was among the many individuals who had been subjected to such frustration. In 1893, Lu Xun was disgraced when his grandfather was imprisoned for seven years on a suspended death sentence for trying to persuade a civil service examiner. Over the following three years, Lu Xun’s father was lost to opium and alcohol.[iv]

The literati, such as Lu Xun and the editors of New Youth, a renowned scholarly and revolutionary magazine based in Beijing University, spearheaded a long-desired cultural change. They embraced the slogan, “Chinese learning as the goal, Western learning as the means.”[v] This maxim was often called the “ti-yong” formula, being a shortening of the statement in the original language.

The goal was to remove the “hypocritical, conservative, passive, constrained, classicist, imitative, ugly, evil, belligerent, disorderly, lazy” traditional China with a dream of a “sincere, progressive, activist, free, egalitarian, creative, beautiful, good, peaceful, cooperative, industrious” new nation.[vi]

However, by rejecting the traditions of hierarchy, Lu Xun wandered into a direction that he would ultimately discover to be counterintuitive. After years of translating Soviet texts, Lu decided to commit himself to a political system that would ultimately encourage the suppression of art, film, literature, and the artist.[vii]

The Great Famine

China related to the narrative that the Soviet Union was marketing. Both countries were Atheist, underdeveloped, and exposed to immense suffering. But at least the Soviets had industrialized, and had managed to defeat the Nazis at the Battle of Stalingrad. Meanwhile, China was still recovering from the Incredible Famine, a disaster that claimed approximately thirteen million lives at the end of the 19th century. It had also survived a Civil War that lasted from 1945-49, which pitted the Communists against the American-backed Nationalists. There, the Communists won.

After rising to prominence during this War, Mao Zedong was just another zealous Communist who blamed the Incredible Famine on laissez-faire economics, who had grown prejudice of English and American ideals through the trials of battle and history. He admired the Soviet system that seemed at the time like it could possibly be a better idea than anyone had ever seen. He was determined to copy it, and force “Stalinization” on China.

Collectivization worked in China similarly to how it worked in the Soviet Union. The dictator micromanages almost everything. He tells his subjects how to live, when to work, what to study, and how many children a family is expected to have. Private property is then abolished, populations are segregated, and counterrevolutionaries are imprisoned and executed. And when the intellectuals speak against the sitting regime, more people are imprisoned and executed. This was all a part of Mao’s plan to make a “Great Leap Forward.”

Mao’s Great Famine of 1958-62 claimed as many as forty million lives.


But neither Mao nor anyone in his cabinet ever discussed a practical plan for achieving this dream. Rather, Mao just repeated the declaration “We can catch up with England in fifteen years,” and blared a song titled, “We Will Overtake England and Catch Up to America.”

After the country was corralled into collectives, the working class began starving to death. Agricultural productivity plummeted. Farmers who were charged with under-production were beaten, tortured, and treated as slaves. Because of fear of Party Officials, peasants felt compelled to report fake harvests. Although China was technically a net exporter of grain during this time, most of the rural Chinese were starving. China’s Incredible Famine of the late 19th century claimed as many as thirteen million people. But Mao’s Great Famine of 1958-62 would claim as many as forty million.[viii] Mao dreamt of creating a Chinese version of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, he surpassed his dream.

Would You Rather?

Today, it seems to me like more people fear nuclear warfare than Atheism. But I have more fear of Atheism. For example, the final death toll at Hiroshima was 135,000, and at Nagasaki, it was 50,000, including all long-term effects. Those bombs concluded World War II, and were the only two nuclear weapons ever used in war.[ix] That means that 92,500 people die from nuclear warfare, on average. In contrast, forty million people died during Mao’s Great Famine, a mere five-year span. That means that, when considering only those five years under Mao, Atheism killed over 432 times the amount of people than the average nuclear bomb. In other words, if we were to take a nuclear bomb that killed an average of 92,500 people and drop it 432 times over a five year span, we would still not have killed as many people as Chairman Mao did between 1958 and 1962. Once the rest of Mao’s, Lenin’s, Stalin’s, and Hitler’s[1] death tolls are tallied, it becomes impossible to even guess an accurate number of deaths. The common denominator in all of this is Atheism. From Nietzsche to Hitler, and from Marx to Stalin and Mao, death is the repercussion of Atheism.


[1] Not to mention Pol Pot, Che Guevara, Nicolae Ceausescu, etc. The list is far more extensive than just the culprits that I mention in this book.


[i] Lu Xun, The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun, 2 (Julia Lovell trans., Penguin Books) (2009).

[ii] Id. at 1.

[iii] Thomas Buoye, China: Adapting the Past Confronting the Future, 7 (The University of Michigan) (2002).

[iv] Julia Lovell, Introduction to The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun at xv.

[v] Vera Schwarcz, The Chinese Enlightenment from China: Adapting the Past Confronting the Future at 75.

[vi] Introduction to The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun at xix.

[vii] Id. at xxix.

[viii] Pankaj Mishra, The Hungry Years, The New Yorker (Dec. 10, 2012),

[ix] BBC,

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