What Would Mao Do?

A kinder and gentler Chinese Communist Party.

In spite of all the violence we read about in the MSM, there are ample data which suggest that human society as a whole has become significantly less violent over the centuries.

Towards Data Science published "Has Global Violence Declined? A Look at the Data" which argues

The US and Europe from 1900-1960, even with two world wars, saw less than 1% of their population perish in armed conflicts. In 2007, just 0.04% of deaths in the world were from international violence. If this data is [sic] correct, the world in 2007 was at least an order of magnitude safer than most prehistoric societies.  [emphasis added]

...  As Pinker and others (notably Jared Diamond) have made clear, the "noble savage" idea is entirely false. People did not live peacefully with one another when they were organized in tribes and then become more violent as they were civilized, but the opposite: they were extremely violent in tribes and gradually became less so as larger civilizations were built and commerce started to connect the world (this highlights two of the drivers in the decline of global war - trade and powerful states - that we'll look at shortly). Even accounting for the atrocities wrought by nation-states in the 20th century, rates of violent death appear to be lower now than at any previous point.

The most vivid confirmation of this observation we can think of is the concentration camps where the Chinese have imprisoned millions of Muslim Uighur.  We've explained that the Chinese lock up adults for re-education and put their children in foster homes "to combat terrorism and religious extremism."  Their goal is to eliminate all the disorder and rebellion which the Muslim Uighur, like Muslims everywhere through all history, bring about because their barbaric religion demands it of them.

It's not as if the Chinese are alone in this problem, nor are they alone in attempting a vigorous solution.  The Russians estimate a range from 25,000 to 50,000 dead or missing as they suppressed Muslim rebellion in Chechnya.  After a spate of stabbings, London Mayor Sadiq Khan - himself a Muslim - announced a crackdown on people carrying knives, though that's been notoriously ineffective.

Many nations have experienced Muslim-led disorder, but the Chinese have mounted the most currently spectacular and vehement response - locking up as many as a million Uighur out of a population of roughly 10 million.  It remains to be seen whether this will actually work, but it's quite a new approach for the Chinese.

Well, What Did Mao Do?

In a historical sense, just imprisoning folks after a spate of murderous terrorist attacks is a striking departure from past Chinese practice.

The Emperor Shih Huang-ti, who unified China around 220 BC, built the Great Wall of China by connecting many short segments which had been built earlier.  Instead of killing his enemies outright, he exiled them to construction sites and worked them to death.  Nobody was surprised - that was the usual penalty for supporting the wrong side in a power struggle. His enemies got dead, and he got a Big Beautiful Wall at a cut-price rate.

More recently, about 10 years after the Communist government took power in 1949, economic mismanagement during the Great Leap Forward brought about a famine that is estimated to have killed 40 million people.  The Guardian described the official reaction:

"To distribute resources evenly will only ruin the Great Leap Forward," Mao warned colleagues a year later. "When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half the people die so that others can eat their fill."

The Great Leap Forward was an era of spectacular, and intentional, economic mismanagement as Chairman Mao tried to force economic growth.  The New York Times (for once) accurately described it as "Mao's Great Leap to Famine."  None of the government officials from Mao on down were bothered in the slightest by the death figures.

Based on historical precedent, we need not ask what would Mao do about Muslims - we know exactly what he'd do, because of what he did do to groups far more innocent and less prone to violence.  Killing 40 million non-rebellious ethnic Chinese through starvation didn't bother him in the least.

He'd have had no problem killing a mere 10 million troublesome Uighur in order to keep them from causing further trouble.  It's not as if China can't easily find 10 million other more compliant people to move into their territory and replace them.

As immeasurably vast as it sounds to us, 40 million deaths wasn't even a very large percentage of China's then-population of about 665 million - say, 6-7%.  It's minor in comparison to Pol Pot, whose killing of 2 million Cambodians amounted to roughly a quarter of his nation's population didn't bother him either.

China's population today is somewhere around 1.4 billion, so offing 10 million Uighurs would be a rounding error.  Yet rather than simply recycle them all and have done with it, the modern enlightened Chinese Communist Party mandarins are building concentration camps to house them at vast taxpayer expense, in a (probably futile) attempt to reeducate them out of their Islamic superstitions.

By comparison with Mao and Pol Pot, the current Chinese leaders are humanitarian wimps.

The Only Good Indian...

During the conquest of the American West by the white male patriarchy, the saying arose, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."  This was not said without cause.  Indians were fiercely tribal and happily tortured captives to death, whether they be whites or captives from other tribes.

It's quite true that Indians were treated shabbily by modern standards.  It's equally true that the Indians would have treated the whites just as harshly given the chance, as in fact they did whenever the opportunity arose.  Of course, many individual whites loved and cared for Indians like missionary David Brainerd; the Indian tribes also had equally saintly individuals such as Squanto.

There were even occasional peaceful governmental leaders on both sides, like Pennsylvania's founder William Penn and Chief Seattle, but they were as much a minority in American history as they've been everywhere else humanity has left its mark. Indeed, if there's one thing history teaches, it's that brutal, bloody war is what happens when you fail to prevent mobs of people of radically different cultural background from crossing the border into your ancestral hunting grounds.

Eventually, the remaining Indians were forced onto reservations where they were to be cared for by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency which rivals the Veteran's Administration in terms of repeatedly demonstrating gross incompetence, venality, and reckless disregard for human life.  Perhaps this was an improvement over the Indian Wars, though: the government was no longer setting out to kill them on purpose.  It merely killed them through incompetence and neglect instead.

As the decades passed, the BIA eventually decided to try merely to eliminate Indian customs and culture rather than eliminating the Indians themselves.  They did this by forcing Indian children into government-run boarding schools where they would be taught civilized ways, much as was also done with natives in Canada and Australia.

This custom went out of style over time, and the remaining children were returned to the reservations.  American Indians were granted citizenship in 1924, and with newfound rights of free choice, they slowly resumed their old ways.  In some places the remnants of the Original Inhabitants were given title to portions of their ancestral lands, and today their cultures are subsidized by taxpayers.  We've come full circle.

Indeed, as of 2020, 241 tribes have been given the right to open 501 casinos, which non-native citizens are prohibited from doing.  Other tribes name and sell untaxed cigarettes, a privilege which New York City mayors claim costs them tens of millions in tax revenue every year.  Government procurement regulations set aside lucrative contracts for businesses which are owned by native Americans, a practice which enriches a few figureheads along with non-native businessmen who use them as fronts.

You don't have to look far to find examples of Indians who have privileges that aren't available to the white people that, two centuries ago, would more likely have killed them on sight, and vice versa.

Tote That Barge, Lift That Bale

We see the same sort of creeping niceness regarding blacks.  Many of them were kidnapped from their homes by Muslim traders, sold to European shippers, imported from Africa to American in chains and worked to death.  If anything, their treatment was even more barbaric than what was done to the Indians, who mostly died in legitimate combat or of disease in a pre-germ-theory world.

Eventually, America's blacks were given freedom by the Civil War at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American deaths and countless devastation - it took the South a century to recover from all the damage.  Abraham Lincoln argued that the price was fair considering the wrongs done to the blacks, but nobody can claim that the cost wasn't vast or went unpaid.

Later on, at the urging of the Civil Rights activists, America's blacks gained voting rights.  Again, they should have had those much earlier, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's arguments that America owed those rights to his people did not fall on deaf ears.  The laws were changed, and over the following decades, so did society.

America's blacks, unlike the Indians, never got much traction with wholesale organized violence.  Nat Turner attempted to start a slave rebellion in the South; as with the Romans' Spartacus, this was brief, and put down with extreme viciousness.  Many blacks contributed their blood to freeing their brothers by fighting for the North.

During the civil rights era, the Black Panthers found Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s teachings of nonviolence to be unsatisfactory, and attempted to start a revolution.  While this did lead to violence and deaths, it never resulted in military operations or a serious threat of success, though the police did respond with what today would be considered extreme tactics.  Today, they're remembered, if that's the right word, as an imaginary cartoon character who actually shares nothing other than their name and color.

King's rightful declaration of equality was followed by affirmative action programs which give blacks preferential access to coveted places in colleges and in the executive ranks of businesses.  In recent times, there has even been talk of paying cash reparations to blacks who were never enslaved using tax money taken from people who never owned slaves.

As The Pendulum Swings

The Indians fought white colonists on the field of battle with far more success than their level of technology would suggest.  Blacks, in contrast, rarely rose against their white oppressors in an organized way and never with much effect.  Today, both are viewed as deserving of special consideration for the wrongs done their ancestors.

Uighurs, like all other people of Asia, have oppressed and been oppressed throughout history as the opportunities presented themselves.  The Chinese, also like any other people group, would prefer to be the oppressor to being oppressed.  These days, though, it seems like they'd rather be neither.

The history of the West suggests that such a happy equilibrium is impossible - somebody is going to be on top and someone else on the bottom, it's just a question of who is where.  Will the Chinese learn from history, both theirs and ours, or repeat it?

The One Exception

It's obvious that many groups have been treated pretty badly in the past, but the violent past is getting further and further into the past with every passing year.  Wikipedia describes many wars between settlers and tribes of American Indians who had been unable to close their borders to invaders.

The earliest wars they list are, naturally enough, from the time of the earliest settlers in the New World.  The last major conflict was in 1898. Although they list a few conflicts between small groups of Indians and non-Indians in the early 1900s, the major conflicts were pretty much over by 1900.  The most recent event that could even be considered an Indian conflict was the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1971.  That ended with only one death and has been completely forgotten except by Google.

In contrast, the Europeans triggered two world wars in the first half of the 20th century which ended only with Americans dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. Even there, there haven't been major conflicts in Europe since the end of World War II.

The Chinese communist government slaughtered hundreds or perhaps thousands of students protesting for freedom at Tianamen Square in 1989, but the recent Hong Kong protests, which have gone on for longer and done far more damage, have resulted in a very few casualties.

Nat Turner's Virginia slave rebellion was suppressed in 1831.  Slavery persisted until the Civil War preserved the union at the cost of hundreds of thousands of casualties.  Blacks did not get full civil rights until a century or so later after much agitation, but overt organized racism against blacks has been pretty much eliminated in America - so much so that studies have shown that less than 1/3 of accusations of anti-black "hate crimes" are true.

It's clear that North America, Europe, and most of Asia are a lot less blood-drenched than in the past.  Most of the groups whose past violence is the stuff of legend are far more peaceful now... with one glaring exception: militant Islam.

Dr. Abdelrahman al-Rashid, managing director of al-Arabiya satellite TV, put it very plainly:

It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims.

The slaughters of the Indian wars, slave uprisings, and the Civil Ware are the stuff of history classes and dusty libraries and museums.  The murderous rampages of Islam are as fresh as the chryon on the bottom of your TV screen. We're written extensively about Islam's violent past, and Hillsdale College's Imprimis has published accounts of Islam's violent present with special emphasis on their thinking behind the first World Trade Center bombing.

We all know it to be true; it's just that most of us don't dare say it out loud for fear of what will happen to us.  Although our mainstream media would prefer to conceal the truth, their tendency to emphasize whatever violence occurs on the basis of their motto, "If it bleeds, it leads," makes that impossible.

Unlike our suicidally-woke elites, China's Communist leaders answer to nobody but themselves and have the freedom of action to do whatever they think will work.  And even so, they are less violent than their parents, to say nothing of ancestors further back into the era of Genghis Khan.  Overall, social groups other than Muslims are becoming more peaceful over time.

Will Muslims stop committing acts of terrorism?  Will they re-educate themselves?  Or, as Hillary put it in reference to Christians, will their longstanding beliefs have to be changed at gunpoint?  The Chinese are making great efforts to find out.  We are watching their efforts with keen interest.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

Agree with your basic premise identifying the decline in violence. In effect, we are living in a golden age of limited violent mass mortality.
I tend to disagree, however, with your essay's treatment of Muslim's as monolithic. The Uighurs, in particular, generally do not exhibit the jihadist fervor found in the middle east or northeast Africa. The concentration camps, re-education, and brutal cultural repression they are subject to is an over reaction for certain, but with modern surveillance tech it is far cleaner and less brutish than methods of yesteryear. My theory is the CCP are testing these technological tactics in preparation for putting down Hong Kong and eventually Taiwan and all their future vassal states along the "Belt and Road".

January 20, 2020 2:15 PM

The Chinese treatment of the Uighur people is Orwellian. We do not want this to happen to us. I say, stand against Muslims when they are the perpetrators of evil, sympathize with them when they are on the receiving end, as they sometimes are.

January 20, 2020 2:36 PM

I think the terrorism within Islam arises more from Arab culture than that of non-Arab Muslims. For many years Islam has been *almost* the same as Arab culture, but perhaps it is important to make a distinction.

January 20, 2020 3:29 PM

The vast majority of Muslims today are not speakers of Arabic. (The most populous Muslim nation in the world is in fact Indonesia!) Since a translation of the Qur’an is not not the true Qur’an, these people are all the more dependent on mullahs to interpret for them. And even popular native spoken Arabic has gone a long way to breaking up into local languages, just like Latin did.

January 20, 2020 5:25 PM

Surprised that the most aggressive Muslim terrorist organization ... Iran...hasn't been mentioned. This is an entire country dedicated to terrorism. Unlike the Arabs, they sell others ( Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians, etc) to die for the cause.... short cutting to the virgins, if you will. It wasn't Iranians who went down with the planes on 9/11, it was Arabs. Like old style commies, they are dedicated to exporting the revolution.... as long as someone else dies. And if you aren't buying what they are selling , you die. This goes for people in Iran as well as outside. That's probably why they got so worked up when the Terrorist CEO got wacked by Trump. That's not according to script.

January 20, 2020 5:55 PM

The4 Atlantic has an article by a young Muslim who asks, ‘What Happened to Us?’

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/01/muslim-world-saudi-iraq-iran-egypt-lebanon/605431/?utm_source=pocket-newtab

He argues that the current wave of Muslim-driven violence is an abberation which is driven by plain old power politics as exemplified in the viralry between Iran and Saudi Arabia for power in the region and over the world of Islam. If he's right, if Islam isn't as inherently violent as it's recently been, your overall thesis may not need to mark Islam as anexception. I hope so.

He mourns:

What happened to us? The question haunts us in the Arab and Muslim world. We repeat it like a mantra. You will hear it from Iran to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and in my own country, Lebanon. For us, the past is a different country, one not mired in the horrors of sectarian killings. It is a more vibrant place, without the crushing intolerance of religious zealots and seemingly endless, amorphous wars.

<snip>

The question may surprise those in the West who assume that the extremism and bloodletting of today have always been the norm.

Without an understanding of what was lost and how it happened—and, crucially, why the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran played such a crucial role in this unraveling—a better future will remain elusive, and the world’s understanding of the Middle East will remain incomplete.

There are many turning points in the region’s modern history that could explain how we ended up in these depths of despair—from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. None, on its own, paints a complete picture. Instead, I look to 1979, when three major events took place: the Iranian Revolution, which culminated in the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Tehran in February; the siege of the Holy Mosque in Mecca by Saudi zealots in November; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, the first battleground for jihad in modern times and an effort supported by the United States. These acts occurred almost independently of one another, but the combination of all three was toxic, and nothing was ever the same again. From this noxious brew was born the Saudi-Iran rivalry.

The two countries had been friendly rivals until then, twin pillars in the American efforts to counter communism in the region. Then came the Iranian revolution. The House of Saud first praised the new leadership’s Islamic credentials and the adoption of the Koran as Iran’s constitution. But Riyadh soon sobered to the new reality: Khomeini, who emerged from the chaos of the revolution as its ultimate leader, had once described the Saudi royals as “camel grazers” and “barbarians.” More importantly, though a Shia, he had grand designs for leadership of the Muslim world, which is mostly Sunni. This provoked deep insecurities within Saudi Arabia, where the king is also the custodian of Islam’s two holiest sites. The two-week-long siege against the Grand Mosque in Mecca had also deeply damaged the kingdom’s standing in the Muslim world: The House of Saud had failed in its role as custodian. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Riyadh grabbed the opportunity to restore its credentials by funding and supporting what was seen then as a righteous war against the communists, while simultaneously channeling the energy of young Saudi zealots outward to a foreign battlefield.

A destructive competition for leadership of the Muslim world soon began, in which Iran and Saudi Arabia wielded, exploited, and distorted religion in the pursuit of raw power. That is the constant from 1979 onward, the torrent that flattens everything in its path. Nothing has changed the Arab and Muslim world as deeply and fundamentally as the events of 1979.

January 28, 2020 1:15 PM
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