When China Starved

Anne Applebaum – The Washington Post

Copyright The Washington Post
An excerpt. Worth reading in full.
When China Starved
Tuesday, August 12, 2008; Page A13
Cymbals clashed; a giant scroll unfurled. There were fireworks, kites, “ancient soldiers” marching in formation, modern dancers bending their bodies into impossible shapes, astronauts, puppets, children, multiple high-tech gizmos. The Olympic opening ceremonies showed you China as China wants you to see it.
But for a deeper understanding of how far China has come — and of how odd its transformation continues to be — switch off the Olympics. Instead, spend a few minutes contemplating the existence of a new book: the first proper history of China’s Great Famine, a catastrophe partly engineered by the Chinese Communist Party and its first leader, Mao Zedong.
“I call this book Tombstone,” the author, Yang Jisheng, writes in the opening paragraph. “It is a tombstone for my father who died of hunger in 1959, for the 36 million Chinese who also died of hunger, for the system that caused their death, and perhaps for myself for writing this book.”
“Tombstone” has not been translated. Nevertheless, rumors of its contents and short excerpts are already ricocheting around the world (I first learned of it recently in California, from an excited Australian historian). Based on a decade’s worth of interviews and unprecedented access to documents and statistics, “Tombstone” — in two volumes and 1,100 pages — establishes beyond any doubt that China’s misguided charge toward industrialization — Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” — was an utter disaster.
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