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Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 [Hardcover]

Frank Dikotter
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Sep 2010
Between 1958 and 1962, China descended into hell. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up and overtake Britain in less than 15 years. The experiment ended in the greatest catastrophe the country had ever known, destroying tens of millions of lives. Access to Communist Party archives has long been denied to all but the most loyal historians, but now a new law has opened up thousands of central and provincial documents that fundamentally change the way one can study the Maoist era. Frank Dikotter's astonishing, riveting and magnificently detailed book chronicles an era in Chinese history much speculated about but never before fully documented. Dikotter shows that instead of lifting the country among the world's superpowers and proving the power of communism, as Mao imagined, in reality the Great Leap Forward was a giant - and disastrous - step in the opposite direction. He demonstrates, as nobody has before, that under this initiative the country became the site not only of one of the most deadly mass killings of human history (at least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death) but also the greatest demolition of real estate - and catastrophe for the natural environment - in human history, as up to a third of all housing was turned to rubble and the land savaged in the maniacal pursuit of steel and other industrial accomplishments. Piecing together both the vicious machinations in the corridors of power and the everyday experiences of ordinary people, Dikotter at last gives voice to the dead and disenfranchised. Exhaustively researched and brilliantly written, this magisterial, groundbreaking account definitively recasts the history of the People's Republic of China.

Frequently Bought Together

Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 + The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (Peoples Trilogy 2) + China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival
Price For All Three: £53.19

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (6 Sep 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747595089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747595083
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 253,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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`Frank Dikötter has written a masterly book that should be read not just by anybody interested in modern Chinese history but also by anybody concerned with the way in which a simple idea propagated by an autocratic national leader can lead a country to disaster, in this case to a degree that beggars the imagination ... The book is extremely clearly written, avoiding the melodrama that infused some other recent broadbrush accounts of Mao's sins ... Dikötter's superb book pulls another brick from the wall.' --Jonathan Fenby, Observer

`A work of brilliant scholarship finally reveals the full extent of the horrors visited on the Chinese people by Mao during the Great Leap Forward ... Meticulous ... It is hard to exaggerate the achievement of this book in proving that Mao caused the famine.' --Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times

'Gripping ... Dikotter's painstaking analysis of the archives shows Mao's regime resulted in the greatest "man-made famine" the world has ever seen.' --Daily and Sunday Express

`Brave and brilliant'
--Scotland on Sunday

Book Description

An unprecedented, groundbreaking history of China's Great Famine

Winner of the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize 2011 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential but harrowing read 5 Feb 2012
By Andy
Format:Kindle Edition
In terms of shock and impression that it leaves you, very few books compare. This has to be one of the books which has left me utterly shocked and has really opened my eyes to the brutality of Mao's regime. Being born in a former cummunist country that was also a staunch supporter of Mao (Albania), I thought that I'd be able to draw parallels of people's lives in both countries. How wrong I was. The book details page after page sheer human suffering all in the name of mad schemes created by the politburo and in many cases by Mao himself.

I want to say that I enjoyed this book, but in saying such a word would imply a sort of entertainment or satisfaction from the book. Enjoyment is the wrong word. I found this book to be profoundly humbling and being the sensitive type, most of the time, I found myself being absolutely repulsed by the idiocy and lunacy of the authorities and the great human loss that resulted. It takes a great writer for a book to have such an effect on the reader. And kudos to him! Dikotter is truly an amazing writer and his research into Mao's China is painstaking and second to none. He writes with a sense of compassion for the people caught in this tragedy but does not however mince his words.

I'd certainly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about China or who wants to be left humbled about how lucky they truly are!
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to be appalled on every page 18 Mar 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book contains a devastating shock on just about every page - I promise you that, for every page without a shock, there will be eleven pages with plenty of shocks to spare.

I have read extensively about the Holocaust, the terror-famine in Ukraine, Stalin's Gulag, North Korea. Those books make me weep, rightly so, but they, even collectively, describe a destruction of human life which just doesn't compare with what happened in China and Tibet from 1958 to 1962. I'm pretty sure that the author is being extremely conservative, when he gives an estimate of about 45 million deaths from the so-called "Great Leap Forward".

China, in the fifties, was supposed to surpass Britain's industrial output. That meant abandoning silly old agriculture (why would the world's most populous country need copious amounts of food, after all?). It required the export of huge amounts of rice and maize, grains which were essential for the survival of Chinese farmers, to pay for dodgy industrial hardware from Russia, East Germany and even rather better functioning machinery from parts of the capitalist world, such as West Germany and the United States. China simply couldn't meet the payments. It carried on exporting agricultural produce, much of it completely inedible, by the time it reached its destination, while its own farmers starved to death, in numbers which the human brain (mine, anyway) is just not up to imagining.

This disaster (1958-1961) coincided with an implementation of collectivisation which was even more catastrophic than the the soviet version in the twenties and thirties, the Romanian edition in the late eighties, even worse than the Ethiopian disaster of the mid-eighties.

They tore down straw huts (people's actual houses), to make fertiliser.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncovering horror 4 Nov 2012
When one thinks about the disasters of the 20th century, we tend to focus on the conflagration of the Second World War - where the Nazis systematically murdered with surgical precision via a series of death camps, 6 million Jews. His erstwhile ally and then enemy, Stalin, who himself was no stranger to genocide, once remarked "one person's death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic" - a horrific quote, but when we are faced with such a barrage of numbers, it is perhaps inevitable that our ability to personalize or at least humanize such an thought is lost to the winds of time.

Frank Dikotter's book concentrates on "The Great Leap Forward" of 1958-62, Mao's relentless drive to haul China into the modern age with a series of command-economy style reforms to both the industrial and agrarian base. The result - an estimated 45 million deaths, mostly due to forced starvation, but also around 10-15% of that via beatings, torture and straight forward murder - and all with no tangible achievement, as, to be expected, the whole thing was an unmitigated disaster of unparalleled scale. Mao wanted to push China onto the global stage, setting unobtainable targets for his minions, who inevitably would resort to violence to try to ensure they were met.

The sheer baseness of what happens is almost unfathomable - you couldn't call it "medieval" because that would be a disservice to the achievements of that age. To think that this sort of thing went on whilst say, the Beatles were just about to hit the western world doesn't almost compute. A country with a rich civilized history reduced to a year zero, manichaen duality of those who could work and eat, and those who couldn't and therefore died.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars China's great leap into darkness 5 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is about the great leap "forward" and what it really meant to the Chinese. It is a superb book. Very definitely worth reading. I, personally, have no criticisms of this book. In fact, Frank Dikötter left me wanting to read more about China, and, in particular, the next great disaster, the Cultural Revolution.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A catalogue of horrors.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. A quick glance at the chapter titles will tell you what you are in for. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Mr Nobody
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for holiday reading
Interesting, upsetting in parts but not a easy book to read.
Published 11 days ago by Lancashire Lass
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I am a stratified customer
Published 16 days ago by Mr. J. A. Tantum
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very Interesting
Published 17 days ago by KTS
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping read
I'm no intellectual but still found this a gripping read. Mao managed to starve 50 million of his own people without thinking he was doing anything wrong. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Highlegs
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, well-researched book, covering a little-known but monumental...
Superb, well-researched book, covering a little-known but monumental man-made tragedy, which claimed the lives of 80 million people. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Guzzimeister
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by alan gembalczyk
5.0 out of 5 stars My husband loves it.
Bought for my husband after seeing all about china on the television. He loves the book and was very impressed.
Published 9 months ago by jvmerlin
5.0 out of 5 stars Unimagineably horrifying
Being close to a girl caught up in the cultural revolution I wanted to know about this too. How could a whole nation have been so mesmerised by its leader to go along with this?
Published 9 months ago by Eileen Eley
4.0 out of 5 stars Most informative book
For those of us who admire the growth of the Chinese economy and social change it is revealing to read how damaged the Chinese nation was during the time of Mao and the man made... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Dr Wesley E HArry
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