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Mao's Great Famine

Frank Dikotter's Mao's Great Famine is a very informative and very disturbing book. It  is a chronicle of  Mao's Great Leap Forward, an economic plan that led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

The original motivation for the plan was a desire by Mao for China to move ahead of Britain in industrial production. It was not really motivated by competition with Britain...Mao launched it after Soviet premier Kruschev announced his plans to move ahead of America. The  resulting deaths could largely be attributed to Mao's ego and his rivalry with Kruschev.

He moved all of the peasants into collectives and demanded that certain grain quotas be turned over to the state. Those refusing to comply were severely punished. The punishments included being doused with urine and excrement, chopping off of ears and noses, being buried alive, and of course, being denied food.

Food became scare because Mao, instead of using the harvests to feed his people, used it  for foreign trade and grants to other nations. The result was a famine which killed between 30 and 45 million people. Dikotter had access to recently opened party archives which earlier historians did not have. While he warns that these new data sources do not provide a complete picture, he believes that the archives suggest that early estimates of the death count were too conservative.

Dikotter does an excellent job of laying the blame for the famine at the feet of Mao, and on collectivist economic policies. Hopefully this book will put an end to the foolish notion that Mao merely had the misfortune of bad weather, as many defenders of Maoism insist. Mao's Great Famine is full of valuable insights and is very much worth reading.