Remarkably, the focus of contention is not the cause of the famine, but whether it actually occurred. Many believe a small number of ill-intentioned conspirators fabricated the famine. Some see it as short-lived, restricted to a small area, and think that it was absolutely impossible for tens of millions to have starved to death. One netizen, who went by the name Fact Checker asked "If so many people starved to death, where are the mass graves?" Wu Danhong, an associate professor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing and a prominent leftist, wrote on Sina Weibo: "I have verified that between 1959 and 1961 in my profoundly impoverished hometown there were instances of people consuming tree bark and some were so hungry they contemplated suicide. But they endured and no one died of starvation. The entire village suffered from diseases of hunger but none died. Perhaps some political rightist whose circumstances were bad to begin with starved to death."
Morong Xuecun thinks this form of argumentation is a product of the Chinese system, in which case he’s in for a nasty shock if he ever leaves China.
I suppose the first point to make here is that this kind of discussion, at whatever level wouldn’t have been permitted to take place a decade ago. The reason why it is now might be something to do with professor Wu, cited above, and his trolling activities. I use trolling advisedly here since a lot of what he does appears partly intended to make himself the centre of attention.
I’m taking the word ‘leftist’ here to be a generalised term of abuse for government supporter’ rather than neo-Maoist. Wu was also the guy who got slapped around in that weird blogger punch up incident in Chaoyang park a few months ago. The reason for that is that Wu seems to be spearheading the post wumaodang attempt by Beijing to get a handle on public discussion. This takes a familiar form, namely ‘fact checking’ or ‘rumor busting’. The facts checked and rumours busted are always those which tend to discredit the government; Wu and his colleagues in this enterprise never seem to have sufficient zeal to tackle, say, Xinhua’s version of events.
You do have a sort of progression here: the wumaodang phenomenon always seemed to me more about squelching speech under a torrent of pro-government spam rather than a matter of putting the pro-government point of view. Here we have an ostensibly impartial attempt to examine the claims of government critics. A fundamentally bogus attempt, but one which, if done effectively, can gain a bit of traction.
But the wider significance of this is that it forms a kind of acknowledgment that the Sinosphere is contested ground, something that has to be actively won over rather than controlled at a distance with censorship tools. Maybe that’s also why government officials are flooding the zone; even as the VPNs which connect the Chinese internet with the outside world are being choked off.