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Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine [Paperback]

Jasper Becker
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From Library Journal

Becker, Beijing Bureau Chief for the South China Morning Post, sees the 1958-62 famine, even more than the Cultural Revolution that followed it, as China's greatest trauma of the century. Population statistics made public since 1979 reveal that at least 30 million people starved to death in the wake of Mao's Great Leap Forward. Although Becker concedes that the American press (especially Joseph Alsop) reported the famine with accuracy, he notes that other Western "foreign experts" who admired Mao, such as Edgar Snow, Rewi Alley, and Anna Louise Strong, remained silent or played down its severity. The tragedy could have been averted, Becker concludes, after the first year if Mao's senior advisers had dared to confront him. Unlike such academic works as Dali L. Yang's Calamity and Reform in China (Stanford Univ., 1996), this work presupposes little knowledge of communism and China; Becker's strength is his anecdotal, journalistic style. This is fascinating journalism, but the definitive study has yet to be written.?Jack Shreve, Allegany Community Coll., Cumberland, Md.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Many claim that death has resulted from every attempt to communize agriculture and perhaps on the largest scale during China's disastrous "Great Leap Forward." But no one knows how many starved to death there in the years 1958^-62--demographers place the lower limit at 30 million. The Communist government seemingly concealed the catastrophe from the outside world, abetted by the few Western visitors to the country (such as France's Mitterand), who declared there was no famine. Becker, a veteran East Asia correspondent for British publications, reconstructs the terrible event using interviews of survivors, whose ordeal he details in graphic chapters, describing hunger and cannibalism. According to Becker, unlike most famines in Chinese history, Mao's political famine beset the entire country, which induced opposition to the leader's fanaticism from more realistic leaders such as Liu Shao-ch'i and Teng Hsiao-p'ing, with whom Mao later settled scores in the Cultural Revolution. A subject still officially muted in China, the famine as Becker has investigated it becomes a less obscure chapter in the country's Communist history. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

The first serious attempt to unearth the truth of the massive human tragedy behind the ``Great Leap Forward'' in China between 1958 and 1961. Becker, Beijing bureau chief for the South China Morning Post, conducted hundreds of interviews in his effort to understand what happened. It is an extraordinary story, in which the errors that led Stalin to devastate agriculture in the Soviet Union, killing 11 million peasants, were duplicated in China by Mao, at the cost of another 30 million lives. Mao believed that wheat could be planted so close together that you could sit on it, furrows could be plowed 10 feet deep, and gigantic dams and canals built without expert advice. The plants died, the dams filled up with silt, and the canals were useless, but Mao was told that the national grain harvest had gone from 185 to 430 million tons. The officials now began to seize grain based on the inflated claims. When the minister of defense, Peng Dehuai, questioned the figures, he was put under house arrest and a campaign of terror instituted. The result, Becker notes, was bizarre because most of the party leadership knew the truth but couldn't acknowledge the widespread starvation until Mao did so. By the end of 1960 Mao's colleagues realized that the regime was in danger of collapse. Becker believes that the Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao in 1966, may well have been directed at undermining those who had striven to restore sanity. One of the most tragic aspects of this story is the role played by respected Western observers including Edgar Snow, Gunnar Myrdal, and Fran‡ois Mitterand. In ridiculing reports that China was suffering from famine, they may well have cost millions of lives. They also created a myth of what China had achieved, the consequences of which are still being felt in places like Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania a generation later. A remarkable book, the more devastating for its quietness and absence of rhetoric. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"An accessible, masterly account of the greatest peacetime disaster of this century."--The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Jasper Becker is currently Beijing bureau chief for the South China Morning Post. He has also written extensively on Chinese affairs for The Guardian, The Economist, and The Spectator. He lives in Beijing.
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