Mao's Great Famine

Mao's Great Famine

The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962

Book - 2010
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An unprecedented, groundbreaking history of China's Great Famine that recasts the era of Mao Zedong and the history of the People's Republic of China.

"Between 1958 and 1962, China descended into hell. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up to and overtake Britain in less than 15 years The experiment ended in the greatest catastrophe the country had ever known, destroying tens of millions of lives." So opens Frank Dik#65533;tter's riveting, magnificently detailed chronicle of an era in Chinese history much speculated about but never before fully documented because access to Communist Partyarchives has long been restricted to all but the most trusted historians. A new archive law has opened up thousands of central and provincial documents that "fundamentally change the way one can study the Maoist era." Dik#65533;tter makes clear, as nobody has before, that far from being the program that would lift the country among the world's superpowers and prove the power of Communism, as Mao imagined, the Great Leap Forward transformed the country in the other direction. It became the site not only of "one of the most deadly mass killings of human history,"--at least 45 million people were worked, starved, or beaten to death--but also of "the greatest demolition of real estate in human history," as up to one-third of all housing was turned into rubble). The experiment was a catastrophe for the natural world as well, as the land was savaged in the maniacal pursuit of steel and other industrial accomplishments. In a powerful meshing of exhaustive research in Chinese archives and narrativedrive, Dik#65533;tter for the first time links up what happened in the corridors of power-the vicious backstabbing and bullying tactics that took place among party leaders-with the everyday experiences of ordinary people, giving voice to the dead and disenfranchised. His magisterial account recasts the history of the People's Republic of China.

Publisher: New York : Walker & Co., 2010.
ISBN: 9780802777683
Characteristics: xxi, 420 p., [8] p. of plates :,ill. ;,25 cm.


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Aug 15, 2019

To add to the excellent reviews above, which more than adequately summarize the contents of “Mao’s Great Famine”, the following:

1) A case can be made that the Great Leap Forward was partially an outgrowth of China’s humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and an attempt to “regain face”, that is, elevate China to a place among the world’s industrial powers. Mao’s stated goal was to surpass the United Kingdom in industrial and agricultural output within 15 years, and to eventually surpass the Soviet Union as well. It was also an outgrowth of his megalomania and desire to be seen as on a par with his hero, Joseph Stalin, whose callous disregard for human life during the Harvest of Sorrow in the 1930’s, the forced collectivization of Ukraine, was matched and exceeded by Mao’s own. “A single death is a tragedy…a million is just a statistic” (Stalin). And this disregard for his fellow citizens was passed on to those below him in every province of the vast country.

2) The militaristic atmosphere in which the decrees of the GLF were implemented, and, indeed, the entire operating philosophy and spiritual environment of the Chinese Communist Party, created an atmosphere of fear, suspicion and paranoia which infected party functionaries at every level: “One is an anvil to one’s superiors, and a hammer to one’s inferiors.” And those who suffered were those at the bottom of the ladder: poor farmers in rural areas who were starved, beaten, impoverished, buried alive, hanged, burned, worked to death, and otherwise mistreated or done away with if they failed to meet the artificially inflated production quotas, along with forced collectivization, which party functionaries imposed in order to impress those above them. The natural environment suffered as well in an increasingly descending spiral of devastation from 1958-1962 as forests were cut down, soil stripped away, and farmland flooded as one misconceived idea (backyard furnaces, etc.) followed another. And when all was said and done there was little accountability; when everything was said to belong to “the state”, no one took responsibility and there was no motivation to change any of the ideas or projects that were supposed to turn China into a paradise, but instead made it a living hell. China was an agricultural country which did not have the infrastructure, the trained people, or the financial means to cope with so much drastic change so quickly. It was a recipe for absolute disaster which quickly became exactly that.

3) Those who dared speak out against Mao were later singled out for his revenge during the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966, which also convulsed the country and resulted in millions of deaths. Only after Mao’s death in 1976 did his successor Deng Xiaoping realize that Mao’s brand of communism simply did not work and begin to re-introduce a bit of capitalism and free enterprise into the economy (and to blame Mao’s wife and the other members of the “Gang of Four” for the lingering effects of the GLF and Cultural Revolution). This policy was continued and expanded by his successors and has helped to make China the powerhouse it is today. Communism simply does not work. Free enterprise and the profit motive do. China learned this lesson the hard way, and many of the scars still remain.

**** originally posted 7-16-2019 ****

Jun 10, 2018

Among the great catastrophes of the 20th century, Mao's Great Leap Forward initiative ranks as one with the highest actual body count. 45 million people died as a result of the edicts of Mao's centrally planned state and cult of personality. If you wish to read about the depths of human depravity and evil, then look no further. What you read here will tell you everything you want to know about just how dark is the soul of man.

Oct 26, 2014

Filled with facts and figures, Mao's Great Famine can be a tedious read at times. However, if you want to delve into the seemingly historically accurate details of the famine, this is a must read. The book was thoroughly researched, to a degree unmatched in other sources. Hence, I would recommend it to students of Chinese history, and to anyone else who thirsts for the truth about Mao and his regime.

debwalker Jan 04, 2011

Chosen as his book of the year by Theodore Dalrymple: "As subject matter for books, historical events that cause 45 million deaths tend to put others rather in the shade. Mao's Great Leap Forward was such an event. Dikotter weaves together the high politics and individual suffering of these terrible years. Mao emerges as every bit the equal of Lenin and Hitler in his indifference to the deaths of millions. A party that claims apostolic succession to Mao has much to fear from the study of history."

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