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Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine (Holt Paperback) Paperback – April 15, 1998
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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.Read more ›
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.
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
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A harrowing read and one that provides further evidence of the disastrous effects of mixing hubris, ignorance and the instruments of mass control. Read morePublished 1 month ago by STEPHEN P SMITH
Good book, if your looking for an understanding of the suffering Chinese people during the famine of 1959.Published 4 months ago by Pen Name
Most people are familiar with the cultural revolution and the resulting bloodbath, but might not be very familiar with the famines and mass starvation that Mao's regime caused. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Anon
Excellent book. Ideology over sanity. The peasants had to suffer because the ideologues couldn't face reality.Published 10 months ago by Joe Modica
A damning and enlightening book about Mao's horrific, disastrous "Great Leap Forward" in which thirty million died. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Matthew J. Brennan
A story that will hold your interest from page 1, so hard to believe this was a true event that took place without the world knowing what was going on. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Lorraine Grant
This is a very detailed book. The documentation both by interviews and government documents is voluminous. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Bruce Wiggins
I will say that this is not an easy book to read, it is fascinating but has a lot of very dry political rhetoric. Read morePublished on June 28, 2014 by Grandma Barbara