Mao’s Great Famine

61vz2qJti3L._SL1000_45,000,000 dead in four years.

That’s Frank Dikötter’s estimate of the devastation wrought by Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” beginning in 1958. The figures can be found in his recent book Mao’s Great Famine.

In addition to the death toll, Dikötter believes about one-third of all homes in China were destroyed during the period.

Dikötter has been researching reopened archives in China and has plenty of data to back up his conclusions, but he’s not the first historian or journalist to pull the lid off this episode in Communist China’s history. Way back in the late 1990s, Jasper Becker revealed much of the horrific story in Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine.

I read Hungry Ghosts in 1998 while I was living in Wuhan, China. The book was banned on the mainland, but I found a copy of it during a trip to Hong Kong and brought it back to Wuhan. The information it contained about the completely insane policies Mao instituted in the late 1950s was shocking, as was the steadfast refusal of Mao’s lackeys to let him in on the secret that the Great Leap Forward was actually destroying the country. Every place Mao visited became a Potemkin Village for the day, with “surplus” crops lining the roads and happy-looking people who had been brought in especially for the occasion to cheer the Great Leader.

I discreetly shared some of this information with a few select students at my university. It blew their minds; they had been taught from the cradle to revere Mao, and the government was just starting to let some negative information about him be aired publicly. When I further shared the memoir of a Chinese Canadian woman who had emigrated to China to take part in the Cultural Revolution and who was shocked by her experiences, my students’ world crumbled.

What prompted this post was the recent attention this article about Dikötter has been receiving on social media. The crimes of Mao, the greatest mass murderer in world history, need to become more widely known in the West.

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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One Response to Mao’s Great Famine

  1. Chris says:

    I have spent a quarter of my life in China, and I am still fascinated by its people and history. Most Chinese know that Mao caused problems in their history, but they also revere him for his long march, and dreams for a new China.

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