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Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine Paperback – Apr 15 1998

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 15 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780805056686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805056686
  • ASIN: 0805056688
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 721 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #487,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Great Leap Forward is the great tragedy of the PRC era. A book that summarized all previous scholarly work on the famine into one volume, plus added additional research would have been very useful. This book does a good bit of this, but is written in a polemical style, presenting a grossly one-sided picture of this event. Evidence that doesn't fit, especially regarding the Mao = Stalin-like monster thesis, is discarded.
Becker's comparison between the GLF and Stalin's famine is rejected by 95% of scholars. However misguided, Mao pursued the GLF to make the peasants lives better. The GLF combined late 19th century Confucian philosopher Kang Youwei's utopian program, with Mao's restless impatience (i.e. prematurely moving lots of labor out of agriculture into industry, a major factor in the catastrophe that Becker doesn't discuss). In most places (except Sichuan tragically), the GLF was abandoned around 1.5 years after it started. Stalin's case is in another moral galaxy. He deliberately inflicted mass suffering on the Russian peasants, never changed course, and not only had no regrets, but was proud at having taught the peasants "a lesson".
Becker correctly identifies fanatic provincial leaders in Sichuan, Anhui, and Henan, and their irrational and brutal policies as key causes of famine (3 of the hardest hit provinces), and there are important new revelations he has unearthed. He implies Mao supported their actions, yet Dali Yang reported, in his excellent book on the famine "Calamity and Reform", that the Sichuan leader "blocked the relay of Mao's April 29 letter" (ordering a cessation of many GLF policies) and ignored other central demands (p48).
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Format: Paperback
A horrifying and well-researched history of how Mao's "Great
Leap Forward" became the worst famine in history, killing
perhaps 30 million Chinese (1958 - 1960) -- it appears
unlikely an exact fatality figure will ever be known. Which
adds to the horror, I think, that millions of people, with hopes
and dreams like our own, could vanish without leaving
a trace, even a number, in the world outside their homes.
Not to mention uncounted millions of children whose lives
were blighted by brain-damage from malnutrition....
FWIW, Jasper concludes that Mao's Great Famine was more
omission than commission (in contrast to Stalin's): Mao's
absurd ideas of backyard industrialization, plus turning
loose the Red Guards chaos, ruined the harvests. Then
Communist Party officials simply denied the problem, and
concocted elaborate coverups -- even painting the tree
trunks to hide that the bark had been eaten by starving
people -- when Mao or senior officials were to visit famine
areas. And a smiling-peasants "Big Lie" for foreigners,
which worked for years.
It's a remarkable, and depressing, account. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
This book tells the fascinating and horrifying story of a Chinese famine caused by the communists. Basically, the communists had "experts" (really party hacks) who thought they knew everything about agricultural such as burying seeds several feet into the ground to produce good growth and planting crops close to each other so they could help each other grow. These techniques failed miserably but no one would admit the failures in the communist chain of command. Glowing reports of record crops were passed along to the point that Mao was wondering what to do with the surplus. Before it was over, millions had died and countless others were reduced to cannibalism.
If anyone ever thought that George Orwell didn't know about Communists and that way of thinking, he/she should read this book. Everything about it rings like an unpublished Orwell novel, but it was all too true for the millions who died. This work should definately be required reading for high school students.
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Format: Paperback
Books like this are important since they set the standards for others to follow. No one - to my knowledge - has seriously tried to quantify the extent of the suffering brought on by the famine that began in the late 1950s. In Hungry Ghosts, author Japser Becker might not get his numbers absolutely right, but this is a highly engaging look at the downside of thuggish megalomania. I don't think I've ever read anything so morbid, yet so utterly fascinating.
The basic thrust is that China's communists repeated the mindless agricultural policies designed by their Soviet counterparts in the 1920s. Russia's communists destroyed learning, promoted ignorance and brought famine to the Ukraine. China, following in their footsteps, made exactly the same mistakes. Strangely enough, the result was exactly the same. Famine and over 30 million deaths.
What follows is the story of a country in the grip of mass delusion as moronic agricultural policies caused a collapse in crop production and an authoritarian government demanded ever higher taxes in the form of grain. Of course, communities attempted to please Mao by lying about the true level of grain production. Since they exaggerated, their grain tax quota was higher. When they couldn't pay their taxes, their food stocks were confiscated. Villagers then died, en masse. Anyone found with food was assumed to be counter-revolutionary and was either starved to death or executed in gruesome circumstances. The madness only ended when Mao's own family intervened. But only after tens of millions had perished.
Some reviewers - expecially those who grew up in a stable and judicial country like Hong Kong - seem to think that the murderous circus just north of the Shenzhen river is something to be applauded and anyone who thinks differently is out to get at China. How sad can you get? Four Stars.
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