During this past May Day holiday, Lin Zhibo, Head of People’s Daily Gansu Branch, posted a few weibo posts on Sina and denied the Great Famine from 1959 to 1961 (a direct result of the Great Leap Forward). Though he apologized after receiving waves of criticism, he was unable to put off Chinese netizens’ anger. In addition to criticism of Lin Zhibo, a probably unexpected result of the incidence is that numerous weibo users started to share their family stories during the period, which has long been a taboo topic in China.
Lin Zhibo was born in 1963 and graduated from the Department of History at People’s University of China (aka, Remin University of China) in 1983. He used to do research on China’s wartime history at PLA Military Science Institute. Judging from his old weibo posts, he has been a firm supporter of Mao and the “Chongqing model” lead by Bo Xilai, China’s ousted Politburo member. And of course, he opposes Western ideologies. Ironically, netiznes have dug out that his wife drives a made-in-Germany Porshe Cayenne.
On April 29, he posted the above weibo:
“To bash Chairman Mao, some people even fabricated lies about the death of tens of millions of people during 1960 to 1962. To confirm the number, some visited those Henan villages which experiences the worst famine at the time. It turned out that the truth didn’t match their lies. Many villagers have heard of people starving to death but never personally saw one themselves, which is direct evidence that very few people died of starvation at the time.”
The post soon got shared thousands of times on Sina Weibo, and together with reposts came criticism. During the next few hours, Lin tried to defend his point of view by attacking netizens who left angry comments to his original post, “Nowadays in China, slaves of the West are everywhere. It’s not uncommon to see people who see the US as God.”
But probably out of pressure, on April 30, he posted an apology on Weibo:
“I haven’t done much research about the history of the Great Famine and didn’t know much of it. In the past few days, I received a lot of messages from netiznes describing their traumas at the time. I’m deeply shocked at what I’ve learned. My inappropriate words have triggered many people’s painful memories and hurt many people’s feelings. I feel very sorry and hereby apologize to everybody! Thanks netizens for pointing out my mistakes. I wish we can work together to prevent the tragedy from happening again.”
Did netizens accept his apology? Absolutely not. “As a stooge, no one cares whether you apologize or not. We people keep that piece of history very well in our hearts. For someone at your position, telling lies is as common as eating meals,” commented 文止戈. 牛秀元 even labeled Lin as “Pretend to be patriotic – that’s his job. A traitor at heart – that’s his life.” Many more netizens called for Lin’s resignation.
More interesting than the criticism are the waves of personal stories coming out (Luckily no one seemed to report censorship over stories of the Great Famine on Sine Weibo).
“To People’s Daily Gansu Branch Head Lin Zhibo, my hometown is a valliage in Anhui Province. I heard senior villagers talk about “the year of 1958” since I was little. I’m not sure how many have died of starvation from 1958 to 1961, but in my father’s family, the only ones survived were my father, his mom and dad and his youngest sister. All his brothers were dead. Whenever my father talks about it, he’d cry. I also feel his pain. Now Mr. Branch Head said something like this, I want to ask, ‘where is your heart?’” said 丁来峰.
Another one from Anhui Province, “To @林治波 (Lin Zhibo), My father came from Linshu County, Anhui Province. Due to his family’s extreme poverty, my father was given a chance to study at a college in Shanghai. To make it possible for my father to live, my grandparents had to eat tree barks and they both starved to death.”
“During the Great Famine, not many people directly died of starvation in my hometown. But a lot died from malnutrition. Many more households escaped at the risk of being shot. Most of these people lost trace since, among them were my grandma’s family,” 晓雨闻铃 shared.
“The Great Famine experienced by my family. My hometown is Jingyan at Leshan. One of my aunts married a Mr. Xiong from the same village. They had a total of 8 members in their family, the couple, one son, two grandparents, and three siblings. They all starved to death during the Great Famine. None survived! The tragedy happened right to our parents’ generation. How does @林治波 (Lin Zhibo) dare to deny it?” commented 再给你十年活.
“My father told me that 1958 was actually a once-in-a-life-time plentiful year. How big was the harvest? Ripe grains were left rotten in farmlands for months. The whole village smelled like rotten sweet potatoes. 1959 was OK, but people started to die of starvation from 1960. To those who hold similar views as @林治波 (Lin Zhibo), if you don’t believe there were deaths and insisted that it was all natural disaster, I can go back to my hometown in Tai’an City, Shandong Province with you and do interviews. All expenses on me.” 程韵秋声 said.
Such personal stories went on and on, at first, as evidence to show Lin that there were indeed deaths, later, as part of a shared memory that people find an urge to let out. As 木大叔-杨 commented, “Lin’s words have merits afterall. He sacrificed himself and put this topic under spotlight. History needs to be told.”