Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine
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In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Chinese people suffered what may have been the worst famine in history. Over thirty million perished in a grain shortage brought on not by flood, drought, or infestation, but by the insanely irresponsible dictates of Chairman Mao Ze-dong's "Great Leap Forward," an attempt at utopian engineering gone horribly wrong.
Journalist Jasper Becker conducted hundreds of interviews and spent years immersed in painstaking detective work to produce Hungry Ghosts, the first full account of this dark chapter in Chinese history. In this horrific story of state-sponsored terror, cannibalism, torture, and murder, China's communist leadership boasted of record harvests and actually increased grain exports, while refusing imports and international assistance. With China's reclamation of Hong Kong now a fait accompli, removing the historical blinders is more timely than ever. As reviewer Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times, "Mr. Becker's remarkable book...strikes a heavy blow against willed ignorance of what took place."
famine was hindered by battles between the two factions as each tried to oust the other’s followers from positions of power in the countryside. One interviewee recalled what it was like when he became part of a rural work team: When I was a student I was sent to this village in Zhouxian county, Hebei. It was 1964 and Mao was trying to prove to Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi that their methods were wrong, that the peasants were corrupt, although production was rising. So we had to go to production
Party officials were attacked and which brought anarchy to the streets of the cities. It is remarkable therefore that the event which dominated the lives of the vast majority of Chinese, the peasants, does not receive the same attention. This neglect often appears to be a matter of mere chance. Take, for example, the minor classic A Cadre School Life: Six Chapters by Yang Jiang, which appeared in the early 1980s. She and her husband, the prominent writer Qian Zhongshu, were sent from the Academy
most evident in North Vietnam and Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot was taken to Dazhai and when he won power he set out to imitate China’s perceived success. Determined to restore Khmer pride, he tried to outdo Mao in his zeal to establish collective agriculture. The entire population was sent to the countryside and forced to labour night and day on massive irrigation schemes which the Party promised would create huge wealth. The canals and dams were built without expertise or learning,
Mao as on Chinese culture, claiming that both subjects and ruler were powerless to break patterns of behaviour enforced over 5,000 years. China is the world’s oldest continuous civilization and the Chinese still use the same hieroglyphic characters as their distant ancestors and speak recognizably the same language. In the late 1950s, it was as if the slaves of the Pharaohs had somehow stumbled into the twentieth century. The peasants’ way of life, their huts and tools, were little different from
planting. Some peasants genuinely believed that close planting would work if it was done with great accuracy. They cut up endless copies of the People’s Daily and on the pages spread out over the fields they marked out exactly where individual seeds should be placed. Experience dictated a limit of 12 lbs of seed per mu (0.17 acres), but now they tried to plant 88-132 lbs per mu. In some places, layer upon layer of seeds were forcibly pressed into the ground. Naturally, the seeds suffocated each