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Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine (Holt Paperback) Paperback – April 15, 1998

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Product Details

  • Series: Holt Paperback
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805056688
  • ISBN-13: 978-2844050342
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #368,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This first authoritative expose of the 1958-1962 famine prompted by China's collectivization plan, "The Great Leap Forward," comes at a time when the cult of Mao is alive and well inside China, and while agents of Chinese influence are able to arrange audiences with a President. Via his painstaking research and reporting that included two treks through interior Chinese provinces, Becker tells how the famine occurred because ill-trained peasants were forced to undertake a gigantic and centralized industrial and agricultural expansion. The new factories, canals, and irrigation systems failed spectacularly, and in contrast to propaganda boasts of having economically outstripped the U.S., when in reality the populace was driven by starvation to cannibalism, slavery, and madness. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

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Customer Reviews

Becker makes some outlandish comments about Confucianism.
G. B. Talovich
The subject of the book is the great famine caused by Mao's misguided economic policies in China in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
H. Schneider
Every person should read it to better understand and bring to light shameful acts against humanity.
Illex Belle

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 100 people found the following review helpful By G. B. Talovich on November 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I immediately recognized the photo on the cover of Hungry Ghosts, a boy and two women (one carrying a baby) pulling a plow. When I first came to Taiwan, a few days after Lin Biao died and a few weeks before Nixon visited Mao, the government here frequently published this photo as evidence of how wrong things had gone in the PRC. Pooh, I thought, things can't possibly be as bad as they said. For proof I looked to the glowing reports published by the first American reporters to visit: one even brought along her father, who had been a missionary, and could speak some Chinese.
Years after Mao died, when the PRC started opening up, it became evident that the KMT had vastly understated its case, perhaps to avoid panic here. Hungry Ghosts documents a tragedy that the world hardly noted.

I would be the last to claim expertise on PRC government affairs, but one reason I believe Hungry Ghosts is credible is that detail after detail meshes with bits and pieces I had picked up over the years, unaware of the extent of the disaster.
Example: Becker mentions the dams peasants had to build. In the early 1980s, Mr Wei, from a family of tea farmers in Fujian, told me why his relatives starved:"We were told that tea is decadent and capitalistic. We were ordered to tear out all the tea trees and plant grain. Our family has farmed those hills for generation after generation. We know the soil, we know the climate, and we know that grain cannot grow there. We were ordered to build a dam. We didn't know how, so we asked the cadres. They said,'Ask an old farmer.' We had no choice, so a couple old farmers got together and planned a dam, even though they had never seen one, either. We toiled and toiled. Since we were producing no crops, we had little to eat. Finally, our dam was finished.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Mark K. Mcdonough VINE VOICE on April 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
I found this book well-written, well-organized, and moving. It's interesting to see how many Chinese readers consider it ethnocentric and anti-Chinese. I didn't take it that way at all -- Mao's sort of madness is all-too-universal in human history, and the story left me with a sense of great admiration for the Chinese people who somehow suffered through this period. Becker is also very careful to point out that the real roots of the disaster were not in China but in Mao's enthusiasm for actions of Stalin and the writings of Marx.
And if the portions on Mao sometimes read like a bio of Idi Amin, well, I'd consider that appropriate. He was a murderous, vainglorious sociopath. The fact that he was right about the terrible crimes of the Western powers against China neither changes nor justifies a thing.
Anyway, a very nicely written and fascinating account that left me wanting to learn more about both ancient and modern Chinese history.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Peter D. Tillman VINE VOICE on December 25, 2003
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.

review copyright 1999 by Peter D. Tillman
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 5, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I found this book fascinating albeit dry and redundant at times. The information about cannibalism and its long history in this country is worthy of serious thought vis a vie Western values. The author's analysis of how the famine came to be, its roots in Russian agrarian "reform", the politically incredible way in which it was perpetrated and perpetuated, and the internal repercussions for this vast country, then and to the present, make this a must read for all who are interested in what makes China tick. (I would recommend skipping the chapters on how the famine affected various provinces...and read the bios at the back of the book first). It really makes one thankful for a country with free press and free speech
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Arthur S. Ross on May 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
It has often been said that, to understand China, you must know of its past. Here is a compelling treatment of a chapter in China's history that is almost a black comedy. Mao's Great Leap Forward is predicated upon such preposterous silliness that we chuckle at its absurdities (eg, the crops will improve with "deep planting" at up to 12 feet; steel can be made by all in back yard smelters, etc...). Yet...the consequences are so awful, that any thought of smiles is quickly erased.
Historians differ, but here was want and famine on a scale unprecedented in the 20th century. Perhaps as many as 30,000,000 died. Another reviewer scoffs at this number and says that it was "only" 10,000,000. Whatever the number, this is still an unthinkable tragedy, and one that happened in our lifetime. Like the Taiping Revolution that claimed as many as 22,000,000 lives (read "God's Chinese Son"), it left an indelible, but largely unknown mark on China - one that shapes the country today as it emerges as the only "other" super power.
Well written and fascinating.
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