Mao's Great Famine: The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62

Frank Dikötter


A hard book to read, detailing the effects of the Great Leap Forward on the people of China, especially in the countryside. The parallels with other Communist states are striking: the bureaucracy, the persistent raising of production targets, and the ubiquitous lying as to how those targets have been exceeded everywhere despite the obvious facts on the ground. But there are unique features too. Two stand out in particular. Firstly, the use of particular countries as targets to exceed in particular commodities (i.e., beat Britain in iron production) for no readily apparent reason. Secondly, the very fact that amid the desire to increase food production, and the famine that resulted as this campaign was mis-managed, several other campaigns were instituted such as backyard iron smelting and water conservation that all interfered so as to guarantee their mutual total failure. It's hard to place yourself into the mindset of any government being able to distance itself so completely from reality as to imagine this approach could work even in theory, and then to further be able to ignore the facts so comprehensively.

Dikötter's book on the takeover of power (The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957) forms a trilogy with this and his next work on the Cultural Revolution. When finished the three will be indispensable as a guide to this period.

Finished on Sun, 09 Feb 2014 04:38:14 -0800.   Rating 5/5.