Cover image for Hungry ghosts : Mao's secret famine
Hungry ghosts : Mao's secret famine
Becker, Jasper.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : The Free Press, [1996]

Physical Description:
xiii, 352 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
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Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HC430.F3 B33 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Combining years of interviews, extensive research, and painstaking detective work, a journalist exposes the horrible result of Mao Zedong's attempted utopian engineering in China between 1958 and 1962, uncovering a bloody trail of terror, cannibalism, torture, and murder.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Many claim that death has resulted from every attempt to communize agriculture and perhaps on the largest scale during China's disastrous "Great Leap Forward." But no one knows how many starved to death there in the years 1958^-62--demographers place the lower limit at 30 million. The Communist government seemingly concealed the catastrophe from the outside world, abetted by the few Western visitors to the country (such as France's Mitterand), who declared there was no famine. Becker, a veteran East Asia correspondent for British publications, reconstructs the terrible event using interviews of survivors, whose ordeal he details in graphic chapters, describing hunger and cannibalism. According to Becker, unlike most famines in Chinese history, Mao's political famine beset the entire country, which induced opposition to the leader's fanaticism from more realistic leaders such as Liu Shao-ch'i and Teng Hsiao-p'ing, with whom Mao later settled scores in the Cultural Revolution. A subject still officially muted in China, the famine as Becker has investigated it becomes a less obscure chapter in the country's Communist history. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Becker, Beijing bureau chief for the South China Morning Post, lays bare the facts surrounding the worst famine of modern times. In 1958, Mao Zedong decreed the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to spur productivity whereby peasants would be herded into giant communes and crop yields, following the dictates of Soviet quack scientist Trofim Lysenko, would increase dramatically. Because his lackeys feared to tell Mao the truth, false reports of fantastic harvests encouraged the Great Helmsman to believe his policies were a success. Thus, relates Becker, when stories of mass starvation in the countryside started reaching Beijing, Mao discounted them and chastised peasants for hiding their produce. As starvation spread, Mao refused to authorize emergency food distribution from state granaries and ordered grain exports to China's allies to stay on schedule. The author estimates that some 30 million people starved to death because of the Great Leap. In this gripping, well-researched account, Becker notes that the two worst famines of the century, the Chinese and the one in the Ukraine of the early 1930s, were both man-made. This study is a testament to the folly of utopian engineering. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Becker, Beijing Bureau Chief for the South China Morning Post, sees the 1958-62 famine, even more than the Cultural Revolution that followed it, as China's greatest trauma of the century. Population statistics made public since 1979 reveal that at least 30 million people starved to death in the wake of Mao's Great Leap Forward. Although Becker concedes that the American press (especially Joseph Alsop) reported the famine with accuracy, he notes that other Western "foreign experts" who admired Mao, such as Edgar Snow, Rewi Alley, and Anna Louise Strong, remained silent or played down its severity. The tragedy could have been averted, Becker concludes, after the first year if Mao's senior advisers had dared to confront him. Unlike such academic works as Dali L. Yang's Calamity and Reform in China (Stanford Univ., 1996), this work presupposes little knowledge of communism and China; Becker's strength is his anecdotal, journalistic style. This is fascinating journalism, but the definitive study has yet to be written.‘Jack Shreve, Allegany Community Coll., Cumberland, Md. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.