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Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962

Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962

The book Tombstone, about the famine of 1958-1962 which occurred under the rule of Mao Zedong, has recently garnished considerable media attention. Here are some resources:

  • BBC Radio Four has selected Tombstone as Book of the Week, and you can listen to 15-minute audio excerpts from the book online beginning here.
  • The Wall Street Journal has written a review, A Most Secret Tragedy.
  • The Economist has written a review, Millenial Madness.

While the death through starvation of 36-45 million Chinese is indeed a terrible tragedy, it might make sense to ask “Why should someone living in 2012 care?”

There are several reasons:

  • The current rulers of China were children when this tragedy happened, and even though it was not widely discussed, it was part of their formative experience.
  • While the political and tragic economic policies under Mao are a thing of the past and belong to history, the party has adapted many of its policies to create a new reality.
  • While today’s China is vastly different and richer than the China of fifty years ago, it continues to be ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, the same party which presided over the famine. This party operates to serve the interests of its leaders first, its members second, and the Chinese people third.

China’s opening up was the result of the party’s desperation in 1979; it was basically bankrupt after Mao’s endless political movements. This is very different from the party’s current narrative, that it had worked hard to make China a wealthy and strong nation, and all of the Chinese people should be grateful for their wise policies. Basically the first 30 years of the People’s Republic, from 1949 to 1979, was about endless political movements and tragic economic policies.

With continuing heavy-handed policies and its incessant paranoia about social stability, especially in the run-up to the new Chinese leadership succession, the party reminds the Chinese people that although its political and economic policies have changed, at its core, it is the same party which presided over the famine and its coverup.

The author, Yang Jisheng, was a journalist for Xinhua New Agency (the party’s official news agency), which made it possible for him to gain access to secret party archives and records. While his book was banned, he continues to be a party member, and serves as an editor for a pro-reform party magazine based in Beijing Yanhuang Chunqiu.

You can order the book by clicking the image above. Delivery by Amazon.