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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury US (Sept. 20 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802779239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802779236
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 3.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #120,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Richard J. Mcisaac on June 22 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
MAO'S GREAT FAMINE, Frank Dikotter, Walker & Co., 2010, pp. 420

Dikotter's book covers the 1958-62 period of Mao's absolute rule in China when he instigated the Great Leap Forward. Throughout this well-researched and documented book, the authors question every statistic by cadres of the day or later, by the Chinese government. Those incomprehensible figures were enormous before but what he uncovers are numbers far in excess of former estimates. For example, estimates ranging between 15-30 million dead of starvation are in reality closer to 52 million!

The author begins by introducing most of the key players and the economic situation in China before 1957. He then discusses China's attempt at modernization, the sluggish pace of development, explores relations with Moscow, Mao's quest for power and greatness, and any circumstance prior to the commencement of the famine. One of these projects was the water conservancy scheme where thousands of manual labourers were used, all without availability of machines. Some took note of the labour potency and extended its potential to other schemes, such as drastically increasing agricultural returns by using new untried methods. It is amazing how many cadres consistently jumped on Mao's bandwagon without any critiquing, any research or much thought. The author develops this phenomenon in regards to production of foods and later other materials. The Great Leap Forward has begun.

As millions start dying of starvation, forced labour, communal living, beatings and disease, Mao divest himself of any blame stating his ministers lied about production levels. This was true but the author aptly reveals his culpability as leader and the driving force behind the Great Leap Forward.
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Important work written with compassion and rigour. The famine triggered by the Great Leap Forward is one of the great genocides in world history. Valuable to have this clarity of analysis.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 75 reviews
80 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Important and Horrifying; 4.5 Stars Oct. 23 2010
By R. Albin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This important and very revealing book is a serious effort to enhance understanding of the horrendous famine resulting from the Great Leap Forward of the last 1950s and early 1960s. In reading this book, its important to understand DiKotter's method with its strengths and limitations. A complete and systematic narrative and analysis of the Great Leap Forward is not possible at this time. Much of the key documentation is hidden in closed archives in China and will probably remain inaccessible until the Communist Party loses its political monopoly. DiKotter pursued documents related to the Great Leap Forward in a number of less tightly guarded provinical archives. This effort produced a number of revealing documents generated by provincial party and government (often the same thing) officials, and copies of important documents from the central party-government apparatus. Supplemented by prior secondary sources and some other archival research, DiKotter was able to assemble a great deal of revealing information about the Great Leap Forward. Since DiKotter's approach is driven heavily by his archival research, this book often has an anecdotal quality, though DiKotter supplements his vignettes with some background narrative and analysis.

The cumulative effect of DiKotter's reliance on his primary sources is, however, a powerful and devastating exposure of the dimensions of this tragedy and the culpability of the Chinese Communist Party. DiKotter takes pains to rebut the common impression that the famine of the Great Leap Forward was the inadvertant consequence of a terribly mistaken policy exacerbated by bad weather. DiKotter shows very well that the famine and its accompanying events go well beyond simple criminal negligence. The Great Leap Forward was not just an ill-advised attempt at forced industrialization. DiKotter demonstrates a number of other important aspects including incredibly stupid and destructive efforts to completely re-engineer the hydrology of China and Chinese agriculture, to extend the power of the Party into all aspects of Chinese life, and to make China the leading nation of the Communist bloc. In common with other writers on this topic, DiKotter emphasizes Mao's crucial role in generating and sustaining the policies of the Great Leap Forward. DiKotter also makes clear that Mao would never have succeeded without the support of other important figures in the Party, and DiKotter shows well that Mao's messianism and incredibly callous attitude extended throughout the Party.

DiKotter favors a high estimate of the death toll associated with the Great Leap Forward, some 45 million people. If correct, this would be the greatest human caused slaughter in history, and it occurred in a span of about 4 years. The magnitude of the death toll, even at the smaller estimates of about 30 million, is unimaginable. DiKotter provides many examples of the ways in which the Chinese people died and these clearly written sections make for excruciating reading.
77 of 91 people found the following review helpful
A shocking tale of the Chinese draconian hell Sept. 28 2010
By Paul Gelman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Frank Dikotter has written a masterpiece about history's greatest monster amd mass murderer ever to have lived. To be precise,he describes the massed and forcible collectivization of the Chinese peasants who paid a horrible price in the process: over 45 million of them died in addition to the many more tens of millions who perished as well because of one man's mad scheme to bring change to his country,no matter what the price ought to be. This was the so-called Great Leap Forward and it happened during 4 years,between 1958-1962. To quote Dikotter: "China descended into hell. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy...(which was)an attempt to catch up with and overtake Britain in less than fifteen years. In pursuit of a utopian paradise,everything was collectivized and people in the countryside were robbed of their work,their homes,their land,their belongings and their livelihood."(See Introduction)
To write this book,thousands of new documents hitherto classified were used. These came from many sources,mainly from the Office of Foreign Affairs and other provincial archives. These brutal acts caused the greatest demolition of real estate in history and one third of all housing was turned into rubble. "Homes were pulled down to make fertilizers,to build canteens,to relocate villagers,to straighten roads,to make place for a better future beckoning ahead or simply to punish thier owners".
But not all the people died of hunger. Many would suffer from common illnesses such as diarrhoea,dysentery and typhus. "Suicide reached epidemic proportions and in Puning,Guangdong,suicides were described as 'ceaseless' ;some people ended their lives out of shame for having stolen from fellow villagers."(p.304) What's more,"human flesh was traded on the black market. "A farmer who bartered a pair of shoes for a kilo of meat at the Zhangye railway station found that the package contained a human nose and several ears."(p.321) "One elderly man quietly sobbed when he recounted how,as a young boy,he and the other villagers had been forced to beat a grandmother,tied up in the local temple for having taken wood from the forest. Others were intimidated by mock trials and mock burials. People were given yin and yang hair cuts,as one half of the head was shaved off,the other not"(p.296)
Mao,albeit strong words of criticism,did not care at all about how history would judge him. To exemplify,one of his strongest critics,Liu Shaoqi,who had been totally shocked by what he had seen in his village,tried to stop the sheer madness of the Chairman. Mao had,at this point, decided to launch a reconstruction campaign also known as the Cultural Revolution,but he made sure to hound his opponent by using the Red Guards until Liu died in 1969,deprived of his medicines.
This is a tale of madness,of horror and shows to what extent dictators can use their untrammelled power in order to wreak havoc not only on others but also on their own people without even flinching. It shows how some of the leaders have lost their reason completely and have used their super-megalomanic aspirations without thinking about the price that others would pay. The names of Stalin,Ceausescu,Hitler,Pol Pot,Idi Amin and the worst monster of them, Mao, will always reside in history's hall of infamy.
This book is a stunning achievement and extremely important. It reads like a thriller and the narrative will keep you breathless! Hats off,Mr.Dikotter!
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
The horror called "The Great Leap Forward" Nov. 23 2010
By Tektrader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book carefully documents what may have been the greatest mass killing of the 20th century. The author uses primary sources to piece together the story of the events in China from 1958 to 1962. The forced collectivization of rural China destroyed the productive capacity of Chinese farmers. Mao Zedong and his henchmen (Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping) put in place a plan to accelerate the industrialization of China by extracting the "rural surplus" food production. Increasingly unrealistic goals were set for agricultural production. When the results predictably did not measure up to these outlandish goals, the people who paid the price were the farmers who had to yield up increasing amounts of "surplus" food grains. Leaving them with nothing to eat. The horrors inflicted by the Communist party gangsters are gruesome. But each Chapter in the book documents a new atrocity that tops the previous one.

The author estimates Mao's experiment to have caused 45 million deaths. People who enamored of collectivist schemes should read this book carefully.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Great Book Everyone Needs to Read If You Want to Know History of China under Mao April 14 2011
By N. Hua - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I am from China. There are plenty of sources nowdays that prove some 20-50 million people died in starvation during this famine, even the latest history book published from government agency confessed this fact even though they agreed to a smaller number (about 20 million).

I know many of the facts this book presents from history books published in Chinese. This is the first English book I read about this topic written by a foreigner. I must say this author did plenty of research, not only from Chinese sources, but from sources of other countries. So I did learned something which I did not know before. One example, the book told us Mao pressured to export more meat and other goods, but "When the pressure to deliver increased", the quality goes down. "The Soviet Union lodged repeated complaints of the quality of meat, which was often contaminated by bacteria, 1/3 of pork tins were rusty, ... paper exported to HongKong was unusable, ... West Germany discovered salmonella in 500 tonnes of eggs, Swiss found a fifth of shipped coal consisted of stones..."
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Great Leap, yes. Forward?? hardly Dec 14 2010
By Igal Fligman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an avid reader of Chinese history, I already knew quite a bit (relatively speaking) about the Great Leap Forward even before picking up this book. Yet, I found myself mesmerized by Professor Dikotter's book, unable to put it down. To be sure, this book is incredibly disturbing but I feel it is vitally important that more people around the world read it. The author chose to face the reader with the harsh facts in an undiluted and uncompromising manner. Indeed, to my taste, there was no other (or better) way to deliver the harsh reality that was life in China in 1958-1962. Lest we face evil, we are at risk of repeating it.
The book is brilliantly written. It is organized logically and systematically in such a way so as to both chronicle the events and to thoroughly demonstrate the devastating impact of this ill-conceived grand scheme on China, on Chinese citizens (with special attention to various segments of society), and nature/ecology. The writing style of Professor Dikotter manages to be both elegant, eloquent, and yet very fluent and readable. Indeed, I am sure to eagerly look forward to other books this author will be publishing next in regards to China. I once heard a lecturer speaking of the vast difference between government statement of policy and the execution of the declared policy. Governments must figure out the best and sanest path to implementation of their own policy. Ideology alone is hardly sufficient. No history lesson exemplifies this notion better than the Great Leap Forward. In the zeal to surpass Great Britain and in the fanatic competitiveness against the Soviet Union, Mao was willing to sacrifice his own people in droves. You owe it to yourself to get and read this dramatic document. You will not enjoy it in the same way you did "The DaVinci Code" to name but one book, but I assure you that you will not remain indifferent to what you read even if at times your brain would refuse to accept that such atrocities actually occurred.

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