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Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine Hardcover – 24 Feb 1997

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 16 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (24 Feb. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068483457X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684834573
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,670,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
ON A TOMB in the capital of the Shang dynasty (c.1480-1050 BC), the first in Chinese history, is an inscription: 'Why are there disasters? Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Andy on 1 Jun. 2005
Format: Paperback
This book blows apart the myths of greatness that surround Mao Zedong, and exposes him as the devastatingly cruel and incompetant dictator that he was. "Hungry Ghosts" is an incredibly important work, and a must-read for anyone interested in twentieth-century China.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 July 1999
Format: Hardcover
I have taught finance at universities in both Hong Kong and the US, and I regularly recommend this book to my MBA and undergraduate students as a graphic illustration of the risks and weaknesses of a planned economy, particularly when combined with control of the media. Perhaps, as another reveiwer suggested, Becker puts too much emphasis on the responsibility of Mao and not enough on his many followers. But the fact remains that this massive famine could not have occurred in a market economy and would not occurred if so much power had not been concentrated in the hands of one person. Mao was brilliant when it came to maintaining political power but painfully inadequate in his understanding of science. In power politics, reality is whatever you can convince people to believe. Mao refused to accept the fact that science and economics do not ulitimately follow this same rule (or perhaps he didn't care). No matter how many people claim to believe in a bountiful harvest, they will still starve to death if they have nothing to eat. To further understand the Chinese Communist Party under Mao, I recommend the book written by Mao's personal physician. As for Becker's account of the worst famine in history (and the postscript to the later edition, pointing out that it's happening again today in North Korea), the book is informative and fascinating. It offers a lesson for those, particularly in Asia, that don't believe that economic decisions should be left to the market. A government directing industrial policy is unlikely to produce the extreme consequences seen here. Nevertheless, the dangers of lack of diversification due to one set of possibly misguided or simply mistaken leaders forcing everyone in the same direction are the same.Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 Mar. 1997
Format: Hardcover
Unlike any other famine, this one did not have a political objective - it was essentially unintentional, making it even more horrifying. It was of such proportion the country even suppressed the 1964 census data. Doctors were not permitted to claim starvation as a cause of death. Cannibalism was rampant. And the entire time, China continued to export grain. The state's granaries remained full.
The details elicit emotions like I have never experienced in reading the worst atrocities of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, probably because this had no goal - it just happened and kept happening to a worse and worse effect. It is all thoroughly and painstakingly documented, making it absolutely believable, and horrifyingly real, from the bizarre policies that led to it (melting all metal in backyard furnaces to create "steel") to the insane agricultural "solutions" (cutting three to six foot deep furrows so the wheat harvest would multiply) inspired by Mao, it is all there, in seeming science fiction of the worst kind. Truly a must read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 July 1998
Format: Paperback
Hungry Ghosts, as simply as can be put, makes one realize how much we take for granted. Although the book slumps into dullness here and there, overall it holds the reader's interest, and does a beautiful job of taking the reader into a starving Chinese village, and creating a famine-stricken world that scars the conscience and turns the pages. Though Becker's comment can seem invariably one-sided, it is still a remarkable expose' of the famine and its causes, both direct and indirect. If the reader is able to ignore Becker's bias and find the deeper (non-political) messages, then this book is certainly a valuable one.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 April 1997
Format: Hardcover
I found this book fascinating albeit dry and redundant at times. The information about cannibalism and its long history in this country is worthy of serious thought vis a vie Western values. The author's analysis of how the famine came to be, its roots in Russian agrarian "reform", the politically incredible way in which it was perpetrated and perpetuated, and the internal repercussions for this vast country, then and to the present, make this a must read for all who are interested in what makes China tick. (I would recommend skipping the chapters on how the famine affected various provinces...and read the bios at the back of the book first). It really makes one thankful for a country with free press and free speech.
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