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Created: 2000-03-05
Last Modified: 2000-03-05
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The Famine that Followed the Great Leap Forward

J. Bradford DeLong
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/
delong@econ.berkeley.edu

 


Context:

I prefer to think of the Summers types, the neoliberal globalists, as the
neo-Eichmanns. They are the technicians and ideological
theoreticians/apologists of death of innocents while keeping their hands "clean" from directly pulling the trigger. They have as much death on their hands as any Pol Pot ...


My Comment:

Good God! Take down your kill list for a day and look at the garbage that crawls out!

(B) I finally found this--I was looking for it maybe a month ago. It's selections from the "Introduction" to volume 3, _The Coming of the Cataclysm, 1961-66_ of Roderick MacFarquhar's _Origins of the Cultural Revolution_ (Oxford). I think it gives a good picture of what we know, what we guess, and how limited our information is (and will be) about the GLF famine, and a good picture of other issues as well...

Fengyang county's claim to fame is as the native place of the founder of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang. Situated in the northeast of the central China province of Anhui, the county's perennial poverty is underlined by an old saying that after Zhu's birth, nine years in every ten were hit by famine. But even by Fengyang's grim standards, the famine brought about by the Great Leap Forward (GLF, 1958-60) was disastrous. In 1959 and 1960, 60,245 people died, 17.7 percent of the county's population of 335,698. In the worst-hit communes, the percentages ranged as high as 26.9 percent, 26.6 percent, and 24.2 percent. In one of these communes' component brigades, the percentage was 39.7 percent; 1,627 people died out of a total population of 4,100.... [In the later 1960s] a teacher 'sent down' to learn from the poor peasants during the Cultural Revolution found herself in a village where half the population had died in 1960....

Fengyang's plight may have been exceptional, but the whole province suffered terribly. By the early 1960s, "it was an open secret that millions... mostly peasants, had died of starvation" in Anhui. Even in the provincial capital, Hefei, the grain ration had been cut to as little as 312 catties a year by the summer of 1959.... According to official statistics, the provincial output of grain declined precipitously in 1958 (13.9 percent) and 1959 (a further 20.7 percent) and continued to fall through 1961, causing the provincial population to drop from 34.2 million at the end of 1959 to 29.8 million at the end of 1961.... According to a former senior official, 8 million people died in the province as a result of the GLF.

The population data for Sichuan, where grain output fell from a 1958 peak of 22,455,000 tons to 13,395,000 tons in 1960, tell a similar story. China's most populous province reached a post-revolution peak of 70,810,000 inhabitans at the end of the 1st FYP in 1957. Four years later... the figure had dropped by over 6 million....

In Shandong... there were 650,000 extra deaths in the year following the relaunching of the GLF in September 1959.... With the average provincial per capita consumption of the staple food, grain, falling to 0.42 lb. a day, between a quarter and a third of the province's 54+ million people were reckoned to be going hungry....

Even in less-devastated provinces like Hebei, the sick, the elderly, andinfants died.... Brigades issued certificates permitting peasants to go begging.... In Beijing, presumably a privileged environment, per capita annual pork consumption dropped from 13.3 catties in 1958 to 5.3 catties in 1960. It would fall to 2.1 catties in 1961.... In Shanghai, retail sales of pork dropped from 65,800 tons in 1958 to 17,600 tons in 1960, and then again to a post-GLF low of 7,500 tons in 1961....

In the Chinese gulag, conditions were far worse. In one prison camp, working hours had to be reduced, and experiments were made with feeding the prisoneers paper pulp and marsh water plankton. The former produced dire constipation, while the latter killed off the weaker prisoners....

...[A]t the start of the 1960s China was in the grip of the worst man-made famine in history. With the GLF... CCP Chairman Mao Zedong had hoped with one supreme national effort to life his nation and people out of poverty. Instead he had brought about a human catastrophe. The most recent Western demographic analysis indicates that there were 30 million excess deaths between 1958 and 1961.

As the death toll mounted, China's leaders reportedly rationed themselves, although they still ate relatively well. Mao denied himself meat for seven months in 1960. Premier Zhou Enlai, who used to calculate the population's grain needs on his desk abacus, reportedly confined himself to about 15 lb. of grain a month, saving the remainder of his ration for when he had to entertain....

But at least the Chairman called off--forever, as it turned out--what some colleagues had rightly called 'reckless advance'.... [I]n 1956... after collectivization... Mao first entertained visions of leaping economic progress. Now, after five years of pressing, he reluctantly abandoned the delusion that China could become a superpower overnight.

The failure of the GLF changed the thinking of most CCP leaders about China's economic development--even those who, like head of state Liu Shaoqi, had enlisted enthusiastically.... Their agonizing reappraisals in the early 1960s made Mao inordinately suspicious of their private perceptions of him as a post-revolutionary leader. His paranoia blended with a genuine concern about China's political future in the context of both domestic demoralization and what he saw as the renunciation of Leninism in the Soviet Union.... The anti-Stalin 'secret speech' of CPSU 1st secretary Nikita Khrushchev had embarrassed Mao, who, like the late Soviet dictator, luxuriated in a hyperbolic 'cult of personality'.... During the early 1960s, as relations worsened, Mao pondered how to avert a similar betrayal of the revolution in China.

The collapse of his hopes for a collectivist utopia at home and a fraternity of communist nations abroad had a profound impact on the Chairman's thinking. This volume chronicles how Mao, having failed in the material transformation of China, came to focus all his energies upon the nation's spiritual metamorphosis. It seeks to explain why, in the course of that endeavour, the Chairman decided to tear down and rebuild a regime he had done so much to create...


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Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans Hall, #3880
University of California at Berkeley
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