No Dissent

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Doubts about Mao's policies burst into the open in 1959 during Communist Party meetings in Lushan, a mountain resort in Jiangxi province. Minister of Defense Peng Dehuai and several supporters spoke up against the Chairman's twin follies: the people's communes and the Great Leap Forward. Mao didn't want to hear their warnings of looming famine. Peng and his allies soon lost their posts. Mao's paranoia began to increase, and the party veered leftward, continuing on a destructive course. The atmosphere at the start of the Lushan meetings was upbeat. Mao had even written a couple of poems dedicated to senior party leaders. When the Central Committee convened, I expected it would act to amend radical leftist policies. Instead, the opposite happened. A struggle within the party came into the open. Peng Dehuai dared to speak bluntly, and others criticized the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward and the creation of the people's communes. They were branded rightist opportunists. No one had the courage to defend them. Mao hoped our views would be identical to his, and he tried to win us over. The atmosphere was heavy. During the entire meeting, Mao took up most of the time talking, while only a few of us chipped in. The meetings had serious consequences. China's national economy suffered enormous losses, and millions upon millions starved to death in the countryside. The concept of class struggle became dominant among the top leaders, and China's cult of personality deepened. It all led, inevitably, to the onset seven years later of the Cultural Revolution, an entire decade of disaster for China. Li Rui, at the time vice minister of water and power resources and Mao's personal secretary, was relieved from his post after Lushan and sent to work in the countryside