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Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao's Great Famine [Hardcover]

Yang Jisheng , Stacy Mosher , Guo Jian
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
RRP: £30.00
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Book Description

30 Oct 2012

I call this book Tombstone. It is a tombstone for my foster father who died of hunger in 1959, for the 36 million Chinese who also died of hunger, for the system that caused their death, and perhaps for myself for writing this book.'

The most powerful and important Chinese work of recent years, Yang Jisheng's Tombstone is a passionate, moving and angry account of one of the 20th century's most nightmarish events: the killing of an estimated 36 million Chinese in 1958-1961 by starvation or physical abuse. More people died in Mao's Great Famine than in the entire First World War and yet their story remains substantially untold. Now, at last, they can be heard.

Based on survivors' testimonies, this book was greeted with huge acclaim when published in Hong Kong as an essential work of reckoning.

'The man who exposed Mao's secret famine' Financial Times

Frequently Bought Together

Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao's Great Famine + Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 (Peoples Trilogy 1)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (30 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184614518X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846145186
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 146,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A book of great importance (Jung Chang, author of 'Wild Swans')

The first proper history of China's great famine ... So thorough is his documentation that some are already calling Yang "China's Solzhenitsyn" (Anne Applebaum, author of 'Gulag: A History')

In 1989 hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Chinese died in the June Fourth massacre in Beijing, and within hours hundreds of millions of people around the world had seen images of it on their television screens. In the late 1950s, also in Communist China, roughly the inverse happened: thirty million or more died while the world, then and now, has hardly noticed. If the cause of the Great Famine had been a natural disaster, this double standard might be more understandable. But the causes, as Yang Jisheng shows in meticulous detail, were political. How can the world not look now? (Perry Link, University of California, Riverside)

Though a sense of deep anger imbues Yang Jisheng's book, it is all the more powerful for its restraint ... Tombstone meticulously demonstrates that the famine was not only vast, but manmade; and not only manmade but political, born of totalitarianism (Tania Branigan Guardian)

Tombstone is not just a history but a political sensation ... rich with details ... there is no doubting Yang Jisheng's immense political courage in compiling and writing it ... His book is not just a tombstone for his father and other famine victims, but for the reputation of the Communist party's leadership at a time when they should have acted (Rana Mitter Guardian)

About the Author

Yang Jisheng was born in 1940. He worked for many years at Xinhua News Agency, until his retirement in 2001. From the early 1990s onwards Yang interviewed survivors and collected records of the Great Famine (1959-61), eventually accumulating some 10 million words of testimony. This was published in Chinese originally in two volumes (the English-language edition is edited down) and has been widely acclaimed as the book that not only preserved many extraordinary and terrible stories but also broke a widespread official silence on the subject. Tombstone remains banned in China.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much Needed History 7 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There was one statement in this book that really captured everything - quite simply it is said that there are no famines in countries that have a free press. It's a shocking thought but it stands up and sent shivers through me as I read it. The implication is that our leaders will steal from us, torture us, starve us and kill us if they think they can do it out of the public eye. Which is exactly what this book is about - the Chinese famine of the late 1950s and early 1960s is arguably the greatest disaster ever visited by humans on each other with a death toll of 30 million. And yet in the West, Hitler and Stalin are more famous villains than Mao who has an arguable claim to be the most prolific mass murderer in our history. And this in the country that gave humanity so much.

It's a heartbreaking read, recited without passion, the ever (fully documented) increasing horror hits home powerfully. And the political leaders do not come out of it well. Perhaps unlike Stalin (and I know this is highly arguable) Mao's disasters were caused by stupidity and vanity where Stalin's were mainly driven by a desire for power at any price, with at least some (perverted) rationality. Mao lounged by the pool certain that he had done nothing wrong while his people died from his ill informed economic and agricultural programmes. He even found a way to blame his and his governments deeds and failures on imagined rightists, persecuting them thoroughly and adding to the pile of corpses.

Almost any book that draws attention to this terrible and important story would be worthwhile but this really does the events it describes full justice. If you care at all about the possibility of a better world you should read it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but hard going 16 Aug 2013
By S
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I didnt exactly get what i expected from this book. It's a very tough and deep read and focuses more on the historical and political overview rather than specific sections of the Chinese story.

If you are after something to really push your knowledge and make you an expert on this history topic, then this is the book for you. If you are after an easier to read non-fiction book, this may not be the one for you.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, horrifying 19 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
You wonder why Chairman Mao has escaped the vilification accorded to other mass murdering dictators, and why you can buy t-shirts and kitsch items with his face on them...
An incredible 36-44 million Chinese died in just 4 years, and this superbly-researched book is a powerful testament to the evil of the Communist system, where this horrendous state-caused famine was ignored and covered-up.
It has reams of statistics - but necessary ones, as the story would otherwise be incredible - allied to the personal stories that also beggar belief, like the many cases of cannibalism.
You might also want to read Jung Chang's 'Mao - The Unknown Story', and Frank Dikotter's 'Mao's Great Famine'.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Between 1958 and 1962, an estimated 36 million Chinese died of starvation (some estimates are higher). Many of the deaths were concentrated in a six month period through the winter and into the late spring of 1960. Cities and towns were little affected; the famine and the death toll were almost exclusively a phenomenon of the countryside. Those who lived there ate everything available and turned to every possible food substitute; trees were stripped of their bark, and tree and other roots dug up. Still the people died, and the local and central authorities (always themselves well fed) for the most part continued to deny that there was a problem. Measures were implemented to ensure the starving remained in their villages and anyone who attempted to get word out on the scale of the problem was persecuted. Cannibalism, in some cases linked with murder of the not yet dead, was widespread. Whole families, even whole villages, were wiped-out, and an across-the-board mortality rate of 25 per cent was very common.

As with the Terror Famine in the Soviet Union almost 30 years earlier, the immediate reason for starvation in the countryside was excessive procurement of foodstuffs, especially grain, to feed the urban population as it rapidly expanded with industrialisation, also for export to earn foreign currency to finance industrialisation. In 1959 there was also a measure of drought, and throughout the period a number of ill-conceived and seriously damaging policies associated with The Great Leap Forward. These both cut crop production and made it very much more difficult for individual peasant families to feed themselves. Procurements were greater than they might have been in part because of ideologically driven exaggeration of reported crop yields.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that needed to be written 17 Oct 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Great Famine was the greatest loss of life in the shortest time in history. The fact that it was an almost purely man-made disaster is laid bare in this book. With information taken from the government archives the author systematically describes what happened, why it happened, and how the authorities reacted to it's terrible progression. This is a disturbing read; the accounts of murder and cannibalism on such a massive scale are not as shocking as the indifferent attitude of the communist leadership once the full horror became obvious. A lot of the book is about the history of the politics that led to the famine and why that system was incapable (or unwilling) to provide relief.

Hopefully this will be published in mainland China in the near future; if not, I'm sure thousands of copies have already made it in from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book of survival
A history lesson. Amazing stories of what people do to survive. This is a good read but it's obviously not a light read.
Published 1 month ago by RFT
5.0 out of 5 stars This is grim reading but a must
One of the more graphic accounts I have read. Very detailed and shows the real horrors of Mao's powers to try to prove his worth. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mrs. J. Bray
4.0 out of 5 stars Very detailed account .
Having read Wild Swans I wanted to find out more about Mao - this certainly gave me the information . Truly horrifying .
Published 7 months ago by Helen T
2.0 out of 5 stars Can't get on with the textbook
This book is basically a textbook which is full of numbers, figures, graphed, and with a few pages solely with tables.

Got no flow, not a page turner.... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Karen L.
4.0 out of 5 stars Shocking
You must prepare yourself before reading the book. Almost 40 million Chinese people died because of one man and his drive to reshape one of the oldest if not the oldest culture in... Read more
Published 10 months ago by B. Bello
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sobering, Personal Account of China's Darkest Hours
Having recently become interested in recent Chinese history following the order of two books detailing crucial chapters in the country's post-30s period (China's War with Japan,... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Thomas Elce
5.0 out of 5 stars Mao.
Having studied a small amount of the vast subject that is Mao's regime, I wanted to learn more. This book contains everything you could want to know, and more. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Flickering Ember
4.0 out of 5 stars A Daunting Read Well Worth It
"Tombstone", coming in at a very heavy 600+ pages, is an imposing read from the moment you see it. This impression is compounded by the first pages of the piece, consisting of maps... Read more
Published 11 months ago by B. D. Breen
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow
This is a real eye-opener. My husband goes to China on business quite a bit and I wanted to understand a bit of the background and culture. Read more
Published 12 months ago by zenadox
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating part of Chinese history.
In just a few months, millions of died of starvation in the Chinese countryside. It was't the first time it's happened and probably won't be the last. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Jim Francis
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