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Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao's Great Famine Hardcover – 30 Oct 2012

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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: 16.2 x 4.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 245,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

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

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By George Rodger on 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S on 16 Aug. 2013
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Charlie-CJ HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 15 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Review of the book 'Tombstone' in hardback. Originally to be titled 'The road to paradise', the author Yang Jisheng eventually settled on naming this book `Tombstone', as that is 'A memory made concrete' and also because the book is to be a lasting memorial to his foster father who starved to death in 1959 when Yang was aged 19. Yang states that in order to understand how China descended into this catastrophic famine and mass starvation, it is necessary to understand the `Three Red Banners' of the Chinese Communist Party at that time - The General Line (the ideas), The Great Leap Forward (the actions resulting from these ideas), and the many Peoples Communes set up within Chinese society. Given the poverty and backwardness of China over Russia, and China's short time as a communist state, the Chinese communist leadership felt they had an even more pressing need for radical change, which they started in 1958. Those in charge of the economy and food production were often more practical than central government, but if they pursued sensible standard accepted practices they stood accused of `right deviational thinking'. In the great famine that followed the changes instigated by `The Great Leap Forward' up to 50 million people died between 1958 and 1963, and the Chinese populace generally felt only 3/10th was due to natural disaster and that 7/10th was due to mismanagement by those in charge.

The translators have considerably reduced the volume of text in Tombstone from two volumes of 1,200 pages to the 629 pages here. Yang's book starts off with an informative 'Chronology of the great famine' that covers the years from 1949 to 1976. I have to say the book is very informative and an incredible archive of facts and insights that add considerable weight to what is being said.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Lost John TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 Jan. 2013
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 By Tommy Dooley TOP 50 REVIEWER on 27 April 2013
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This is a remarkable book on a part of history that although being notorious is not known in any great detail Yang Jisheng was a functionary during what became known as Mao's `Great Leap Forward'. In 1959 he was told of the imminent death of his father, he rushed home and arrived only just in time to see his emaciated father die of starvation. This then is a sort of testament to the totally preventable deaths, not only of his father but of the estimated 36 million other souls who died either of starvation, beatings or victims of `struggle' or even `self criticism' as some of the euphemisms for ritual beatings were sometimes called.

This is a pains taking piece of work that tries to chronicle the whole unvarnished truth of the tragedy that lasted three torturous years from 1958 to 1961, but the legacy of collectivism that led to so many deaths would last for decades. We get the lead up to the famine, the imposed quotas from the Party centre that led to ever inflated output estimates. This meant that the amount of produce that the State demanded could never ever be produced and handed over as it simply did not exist. Anyone who tried to question things was labelled a counter revolutionary or worse and the consequences were always Draconian. The entire Party system seemed to sleep walk in a self imposed can't see won't see mode.

Jisheng chronicles all of the major and even minor incidents, citing source material and references where ever possible. It took him years to amass all of this information and he travelled extensively, carrying out interviews with survivors and digging up evidence. This is truly a monumental piece of historical literature.

The only criticism, if it be called that, is that this is quite hard going.
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