Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Dikotter is book two in The People’s Trilogy. This is the original topic that got me interested in researching more about this so called worst man-made catastrophe of all time and not just in China but throughout the entire world. Chronologically, The Tragedy of Liberation precludes The Great Famine and so having read that gave me a lot more insight leading up to the years of 1958.
The Great Famine lasted between 1958 and 1962. Frank does his usual job of giving us a brief overview of what led up to the events of Mao Zedong ordering a program of collectivisation in the country side. For those new to history like myself, the connection between Russia and China cannot be overlooked and warrants side research. Although the world sees China as a superpower today, many may not have realized how things were in the past prior to that. Through Mao’s initiatives, millions of lives were lost during this period because China had to “lift itself up from its bootstrap”. In order for it to do that, Mao utilized the largest resource no other country in the world could claim to be bigger: their population. This book will highlight how Mao and his party ruled during this period, sweeping away any signs of potential problems with a few poetic words and playing the “ignorance is bliss” card to deny any wrongdoing. In can be a very infuriating read at times as you’ll no doubt ask yourself how did almost 45+ million people perished before things started to change? How did an entire country the size of China manage to hide the mass starvation that were going on for so long so many years?
“When you are poor, you are inclined to be revolutionary.” – Tao Lujia
Similar to The Tragedy of Liberation, the author have no doubt spend countless hours digging through whatever archive has been made public to paint as accurate a picture as possible. We get to learn how the famine was actually just one of the many problems faced by the villagers and farmers in the countryside. It also highlights how residents in the cities were also affected by the mass exodus of farmers from the countryside. While millions of lives were affected, chapters towards the end details specifically how and who were more affected than others, such as the elderly and young one’s. The highlight of how collectivisation tore the farmers and families apart is just downright scary.
“The humble are the cleverest, the privileged are the dumbest.” – Mao Zedong
Just as with book one of the series, I had wished to dig more into the mind of the author on certain topics instead of just reading on what was found from his research. To be expected, many readers I’m sure will become numb from the numbers and stats of death the author provides for the many provinces and villages. It’s a sad truth. However, I can’t blame the author simply due to the sheer size of China and how certain regions were devastated a lot more than others.
“Even sh*t has to be collectivised!” – Li Jingquan (leader of Sichuan)
China’s liberation foretold of more scary things to come. Collectivisation proves how scary one man’s ambition can be when he will stop at nothing to get it accomplished, regardless of how many human lives are sacrificed. Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect in the third and final book, The Cultural Revolution. I know it can’t possibly be good but just who is left to fight for Mao? My only solace is that this nightmare has to end somehow. Just how many more lives needs to be sacrificed I will not even begin to guess at.