When I started to research the years from when Mao Zedong took charge of China in 1949, I had no conception of the dreadful consequences of the various campaigns instigated by Mao, and forced on the Chinese people. Most of the events I describe in this novel actually happened, and I use my characters to live (and die) through the traumatic and dreadful years as China is effectively shut off from the rest of the world for twenty years.
In 1950 a new Land Reform law was introduced, basically ceasing ownership of land by landlords and passing it to the peasants as promised when he fought the civil war. As this initiative was rolled out 300 million peasants were allocated land, so land ownership which had existed for 2,000 years was virtually eliminated and landlords disappeared. The suppression of rightists was one of the many measures Mao took to try to rid himself of the supporters of his old foe, the Kuomintang regime, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, who he defeated in 1949. The Campaign to Suppress Counter-revolutionaries was a major campaign to root out anybody who threatened Mao’s rule. In 1956 he encouraged people to speak out if they had criticism of the Party, using the slogan “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend.” This was a fascinating period and it is one of the subjects which Jeff Hays has done much research on. See his web site on this period and the Hundred Flowers Campaign. One of the craziest of Mao’s campaigns was the elimination of the Four Pests which included killing sparrows, the effect of which later caused mayhem as these birds ate the insects which destroyed crops. Mao’s second Five Year Plan from 1958 to 1963 targeted industry and agriculture. It was given the title ‘The Great Leap Forward’. Jeff Hay’s research on The Great Leap Forward and The Great Famine provides a lot of detailed information. As part of this initiative ‘communes’ were created which controlled the lives of most Chinese. Within a year about 700 million people were living in these communes. Mao finally accepted he’d made a huge mistake, by which time millions of his people had needlessly perished. However Lloyd Lofthouse’s post suggests some of these claims were misleading or inaccurate and his research makes interesting reading. The other major campaign, termed the Cultural Revolution, began in 1966. During this period the ‘Red Guards’ were formed. Youngsters brought up during Mao’s control of the country, and armed with their copies of ‘The Little Red Book’, took their leader’s instructions to ‘Destroy the Old’ to their hearts. Instructed to rid the country of Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Customs and Old Habits. In a few short years they destroyed museums, temples, ancient books, pottery and paintings. Much of China’s heritage was lost forever. A lot has of course been written on this subject but again Jeff Hay’s research is worth reading if you are interested in the subject see – The Beginning, Films, Enemies and Horrors, Death Toll and Mass Killing and The End. Many of ‘Mao’s Quotes’, are recorded in the ‘Little Red Book‘, but perhaps the most infamous comment he made was, “Where there is not enough to eat people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”
I started to work in Hong Kong in 1973 and soon met some Chinese staff in my office who had fled Mao by becoming ‘Freedom Swimmers’ and swimming the infamous Mirs Bay, where innumerable perished from exhaustion or eaten by sharks.
The Star Ferry Riots in 1966 began the movement of discontent, but then the terrible riots in 1967 threatened the very existence of the colony. This American perspective is informative and interesting. I have included a number of actual events in my novel and if you are interested in learning more I have included some links of the murder of the broadcaster Lam Bun in 1967, and the death of Mao’s friend and lifetime colleague Lin Biao in a mysterious plane crash in 1971. Some of the famous places in Hong Kong which are included in the novel are Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Victoria Park, the Peak Tram, the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank, the Bank of China, Star Ferry, and the Green Trams and more information is provided by the links.