I taught finance at a university in Hong Kong from 1992 to 1998. My last year in Hong Kong, we had a seminar by mainland Chinese economists trying to estimate the true death toll from the Great Leap forward. I was surprised that they freely admitted, without hesitation, that Mao must have known about the massive starvation at the time. Mainland academics are, very cautiously, starting to count up the costs of Mao's rule. Mao was brilliant at warfare, politics and maintaining power, partly because he was so good at motivation and perceptions. Unfortunately, he couldn't adjust to the hard reality of economics. No matter how convinced people are that there is too much food, they still starve when they don't eat.
If you're interested in the subject, I (again) strongly recommend "Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine" by Jasper Becker, about the Great Leap Forward (it's on Amazon.com for not very much). I trust the book partly because, at least as of a couple of years ago, Becker was still the Beijing correspondent for the South China Morning Post. The SCMP was the most-respected newspaper in Hong Kong, and of course it became noticeably friendlier towards Beijing beginning a couple of years before Hong Kong's Handover in 1997. For Becker to still be working for the SCMP, and still be allowed to live in China, a couple of years after the Handover and the publication of the book, demonstrates that the Chinese Communist Party didn't find anything drastically inaccurate about the book.
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