, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 113-115
Date: 15 Jan 2011

Frank Dikötter, Mao’s Great Famine

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This book stands out from other accounts of the famine inflicted on China from 1958-61 on account of its basis in recently opened archives and in the countless compelling details which are provided to clarify the interlocking themes of the text. The scope of the text is enormous but it returns repeatedly to the stories of individual villages and villagers, people whose letters of complaint are recorded in archives across China.

The communist leadership in China was impatient for social advance and sought to pioneer a new form of development: economic progress on the two simultaneous fronts of agricultural production and industrial output. The Soviet Union was set on overtaking the US in steel production and China’s leaders did not want to be left behind. Rather than wait for improved primary production to enable industrialisation at some point in the future, they wanted to introduce a new form of dual development. Under Mao’s leadership this had been tried in a preliminary way in the mi ...