Mao Zedong is the greatest mass murderer in history, having coordinated the death of 45 million Chinese peasants from 1958 to 1962, the Independent reports. Historian Frank Dikötter is the first to examine a block of Communist Party archives made available four year ago, and found—despite official whitewashing—that the acts of violence of the Communist authorities during the Great Leap Forward were carefully recorded. "It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century," he says.
The Great Leap was a push to catch up to the economies of the West, but streamlining China's agriculture also involved liquidating a large portion of the rural peasantry, Dikötter found. Archives show a brutal working environment in which all but the strong were banned from the state canteen, effectively starving them out. Minor crimes, even committed by children, could be punishable by death, possibly by being tied up and thrown into a pond.