Kwee Lan T.

As Interviewed by Ryan Y., March 11, 2018

Kwee Lan T: In Her Own Words

How did communists rule the citizens of China?

The communists back then is somewhat similar to the communists right now. Currently, modern day China more than any other country in the world, severely restricts its citizen’s freedom of speech and expression. It has also adapted the censorship policies to the internet and by many standards, it has managed to stay ahead of other countries in restricting free speech in the internet world.

If you were to visit China right now, you can see that a lot of the sites that we take for granted here in the United States is actually not accessible in China. You really cannot use Twitter there – so a lot of social media apps that bwe use here commonly are not being able to be used there. It of course presents a new challenge to the government but this is very much different from China in the past. China in the past -- when the communists came into power -- was a time of the peasants [being] fed better than the intellectuals. It was very similar in the fact of free speech was restricted – it’s just in a different format now. So if you were to compare, some things remain the same, sonme things are different from what it was then.

So what was China like under communist rule?

[Communist leader] Mao had instituted a reform in the late ‘50s known as the Great Leap Forward. This was an attempt to feed its people -- so China’s biggest challenge is really, at that point in time, is feeding its population. Imagine China with its 700-800 million people – if every single person decided they were going to eat one more egg a day, you’re gonna have to find 700 million eggs a day to feed them. This Great Leap Forward was a program to establish large agricultural areas of communes where you have a large number of people working the fields – and China had people. Each family had a share of profits, food, and a small plot of land that they worked on. Mao was idealistic to say the least. He had believed that this would allow the country to make lots of food and get rid of starvation, but what resulted in that was within a very short period of time, a famine set in. Entire villages died of starvation. It was probably the worst man-made famine in human history. An estimated 40 million people died of hunger between 1959 and 1961. This was not a good time to be in China.

But also during this period, Mao had a personality and a charisma that had reached a level of being a myth. He had his little red book, and Red Guards roamed the country to purge, you know, four things in China. And one was idea, one was culture, one was customs and habits. If you look at some the article you might read from folks during that time, people were getting libraries burned. They hid their family Bibles because that was against culture. Anything that was even seen as being Confucianistic in nature was not a good thing. Temples were blocked, religion was unpracticed, and even traditional operas that were very much appreciated during the Qing Dynasty were burned. Christianity, like, Buddhism was banned. People didn’t own pets, either, because that was seen as wasteful. In other words, being humiliated was the really the thing for China back then. But in 1976, Mao Zedong died 00 and that was when you saw change in China. His closest advisors were all tortured, imprisoned. Reform started to begin slowly in China -- some civil liberties were restored. People that had done a lot of torture during that time – the Red Guards -- were being persecuted. There was more economic activity, a little more freedom and economic activity.