Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 Paperback – Oct 11 2011
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“The most authoritative and comprehensive study of the biggest and most lethal famine in history. A must-read.” ―Jung Chang, author of Mao: The Unknown Story
“Mao's Great Famine is a gripping and masterful portrait of the brutal court of Mao, based on new research but also written with great narrative verve, that tells the gripping story of the manmade famine that killed 45 million people, from the dictator and his henchmen down to the villages of rural China.” ―Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar
“Despite Beijing's new openness over the past few decades, there are still whole parts of contemporary Chinese history that Party officials have managed to keep largely hidden from the scrutiny of the outside world. The 1959-60 Great Great Leap Forward, Mao's epic effort of revolutionary will power to force China's peasantry into socialism through the rapid communization of agriculture, is such a period. However, by managing to gain access to unplumbed regional Chinese archives and other new materials, Frank Dikotter has helped throw back the shroud on this period of monumental, man-made catastrophe. With both narrative vigor and scholarly rigor, Mao's Great Famine documents how Mao Zedong's impetuosity was not only the demise of many of his far more politically level-headed comrades-in-arms, but also of tens of millions of ordinary Chinese who perished unnecessarily in this spasm of revolutionary extremism.” ―Orville Schell, Author and Director of the Center on US-China relations at the Asia Society
“A direct, hard-hitting study of China's Great Leap Forward in light of newly opened archival material … A horrifically eye-opening work of a dark period of Chinese history that desperately cries out for further examination.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An intensively researched litany of suffering, packed with statistics, grim anecdotes, and self-serving explanations by leaders responsible for the devastation.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Dikotter has done a service to history and, when they are allowed to read it, to the Chinese themselves.” ―Bloomberg
“This is an important work illustrating the dangers of one individual holding power to force millions to fulfill his personal fantasies.” ―Booklist
“Uses newly opened archives and original interviews to detail the calamity in calm, if unavoidably grisly, detail.” ―NewYorker.com
“Aided by newly released historical documents detailing the savage infighting and backstabbing of those in power and the extent of the nationwide damage, Dikötter has produced one of the best single-volume resources on the topic.” ―Library Journal
“This emphasis on how party violence exacerbated the death toll sets Dikötter's book apart from other studies of the Great Leap Forward … Books like his may help force the atrocities, and the debate, back to the surface.” ―Newsweek
“Dikötter tells the story with vivid new details…His relentlessly clinical, morally intense account of filth, disease, and hunger is both fascinating and numbing.” ―Foreign Affairs
“In Mao's Great Famine, historian Frank Dikötter assembles a treasure chest of these historic facts, but more important, he strokes them together into a masterly and memorable story…ranks among the best documentation available on the Great Leap Forward.” ―Christian Science Monitor
“Haunting… Dikötter succeeds in his dark task of cataloguing the awesome scale of [Mao's] crime.” ―New Republic
“Groundbreaking… Dikötter found new evidence of the massive and spectacular violence.” ―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Frank Dikötter's thoroughly researched book will help ensure that the country's present-day insecurities do not allow this dark past to be forgotten entirely… His findings are astounding…"Mao's Great Famine" makes for very grim reading in parts. But the sheer volume of previously hidden facts allows a much clearer and more damning picture to emerge, making a critical contribution to Chinese history.” ―Wall Street Journal
“A riveting and heartbreaking and illuminating read by an expert in the field…Mao's madness comes through on every page. A MUST READ.” ―Travel Watch
“In terrifying detail, Dikotter elucidates the cult-like world of Maoism and the sycophancy of the Chairman’s inner circle…precise details of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution wouldn’t emerge until much later―and in the case of Dikotter’s book, which is the most detailed account published in English, a half century later…[a] masterpiece of historical investigation. ” ―Commentary
“[A] tour of the follies, inefficiencies, and deceptions of Mao's commandeered economy…[a] vivid catalogue of horrors…Focussing relentlessly on Mao's character and motivations, Dikötter confirms the man's reputation as sadistic, cowardly, callous, and vindictive….[a] bold portrait.” ―New Yorker
“[A] seminal and must-read book.” ―Sify.com
“For those Chinese students who want a reliable and readable account of what really happened, my standard advice has been to read Hungry Ghosts, by the British journalist Jasper Becker.4 But Becker's work has now been largely superseded by the pathbreaking Mao's Great Famine by the social historian Frank Dikötter… This is a first-class piece of research…. [Mao] will be remembered as the ruler who initiated and presided over the worst man-made human catastrophe ever. His place in Chinese history is assured. Dikötter's book will have done much to put him there.” ―New York Review of Books
About the Author
Frank Dikötter is Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Professor of the Modern History of China at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is a key proponent of studying the history of China in global perspective, and has published a series of innovative books, from his classic The Discourse of Race in Modern China (Univ. Stanford Press 1992) to the controversial Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China (Univ. Chicago Press 2004). He lives in Hong Kong.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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!
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..."
The author estimates Mao's experiment to have caused 45 million deaths. People who enamored of collectivist schemes should read this book carefully.
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.