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on 1 April 2017
Good read
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VINE VOICEon 16 April 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This large volume is somewhat off-putting at first glance, but a reward is there for the brave person who turns the pages and reads it.

I was born in 1959, and that year a great famine hit China, one which was caused by the ruling communist party and was reinforced by the fear of them and their cruel tactics.
As I was an infant during this 4 year famine, and very vulnerable, it somehow brought home to me that "there but for the grace of God go I". This was of course not very well known in the west at the time, because of the repressive nature of the Chinese regime and their control on the movement of information.

The author goes into great detail (some of which has been edited out in the English translation)into the evidence for famine in each area of China. However laborious they may look, these sections are vital to the understanding of the situation that a generation of Chinese found themselves in.

The book is a testament to the loss of millions of Chinese lives due to politics; hence the title of the book - 'Tombstone'.

You cannot help but admire the tireless research and the creative talent of this writer who has broken through the barriers that surrounded him to tell this story to the world. This is a story of catastrophe that all should read and hear off.

The reality is that the size of this work will put many off, but this is a time at the centre of modern history, when a great world power was in the melting pot. Hopefully one day this matter will be something we teach children at school, but until then the book is on the shelf!

The appendices/endnotes are complete and rigorous.

This is bound to be considered a great work of historical writing in the years that come. I cannot do anything other than recommend it without reservation.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 April 2013
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Mao Zedong/Tse-tung known as Chairman Mao is a divisive character even now, nearly 40 years after his death (9 September 1976). Some people love him and some people loath him - even now I can meet people who believe he was the saviour of the world - the son of a farmer who emerged to become leader of the Communist Party of China.

At the beginning of 1958 Mao began the plan for the "Great Leap Forward". This involved the Government swallowing up the small farms and businesses and making them into one of many "people's communes". It was believed that the state control of business and agriculture would only benefit the country and would produce greater yield ... except it didn't. In fact the yield fell due to year on year natural disasters causing a famine. Yet many of the city dwelling Chinese knew nothing of the deaths by starvation and overwork of the rural population.

Yang Jisheng was one of these people who knew little about the problem until he was called back to his family home because his father was dying. He made his return only a short time before his father's death and that was when he discovered that the "illness" his father was suffering from was starvation.

It is estimated (depending on the source you use) that 30 million people "died" during this period of time in China - it would, to the outsider, appear to be a type of genocide against the poor, working classes of the country.

The book is the result of Yang Jisheng's research into what happened to the people under Mao's reign at that time.

Due to the nature of the book it is a little dry and can be heavy going at times due to all the statistics included. The block text makes it daunting to read and a few images would have helped to break up the text.

I can't say that it is enthralling but it is certainly interesting and Yang Jisheng has gone someway to making sure that this dreadful period in Chinese history will never be forgotten.
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on 17 October 2013
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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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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book details the horrific period covering the 1959-61 famine in China. The regime at that time tried to prevent the knowledge of the famine spreading to the outside world and was partially successful. Certainly the scale of the famine and devastation of huge areas was virtually unknown at the time, even in China. Rather like the estimates of plague victims in the 14th century it is difficult to even estimate the true cost in lives lost to starvation except that it ran into the tens of millions, some estimates run as high as 50 million and then some, others at a 'conservative' 25 million, one source euphemistically states that at least another 40 million `failed to be born' raising the figure even higher.

This is a harrowing book detailing through eye-witness accounts the horrific day to day events of that time. The official name for this period was `Three years of natural disasters' suggesting that the state had little control over what happened not that it was mismanagement by the department responsible for agriculture. Policy changes at national level, over planting of crops that competed with each other and drought all had a hand in lowering yields. Add into this mix grain targets for feeding the expanding urban and industrial centres and exporting grain for foreign currency and you have a recipe for disaster.

For me the biggest question in this book is not that these things happened, but that they continued for three years with no lessons learned and as a result people suffering and dying needlessly whilst officials and politicians looked on.

Dedicated to his father, this book captures the human cost of the disaster in not only a very personal way but it also captures the ambivalence and indifference of China's supreme leaders.
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on 16 August 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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VINE VOICEon 14 June 2013
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I won't go into a huge amount of detail about what the book is about because that has been done by other reviewers. What I will say is that there are some books you read for enjoyment and there are others you read because they are important; I found the book very dry in terms of style, but the subject matter was so shocking and so important that I kept going. It's hard to believe that this happened, and not so very long ago.

There are passages that are very distressing, I found the cannibalism particularly difficult to read about, but I would recommend this nevertheless.
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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 locally 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. However it's been translated in a slightly clipped style and the chapters jump around with a lot of Party rhetoric, unfamiliar places/names, poetic Chinese phrases, and disrupted time-lines. This makes it all a bit difficult to get the entire picture in your mind, although it is always easy to understand exactly what is going on at any point in the book (i.e. A is doing this to B). I found if I jumped around in the book, concentrating on chapters that discussed The Party's major conferences and thinking at the time, I could understand more how these events came to pass, and then the lists of the Cadres actions and administrative failures within the different states of China made more sense - some areas of China fared much better than others, so the failings were as much on a local level (thus Mao and the central government can't be held entirely responsible).

Overall a very authoritative tome, and worth owning as it's such fascinating book, although it can be quite expensive. It's not a harrowing read, as the events are reported in a very neutral matter-of-fact way, with no coloured judgements (it doesn't need them, the facts speak for themselves). I was in Primary School in British Hong Kong during the 1960s when Mao's later Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (The Cultural Revolution) was occurring across the closed border - this was Mao's response to being sidelined after the disaster of The Great Leap Forward. At this later time, I remember crowds in the streets of Hong Kong shouting and waving Mao's little red book as the Chinese cult of his personality became ever stronger, so I particularly related to this book, and rate it 5*. Sadly there can be few if any photos from the period to liven up the 629 pages of text in 'Tombstone', as Mao's Cultural Revolution in 1966 lead to the wholesale destruction of such historical artifacts under the banner "Destroy the old world; Forge the new world."
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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. It was never meant to be a `pot boiler' but the narrative can be a bit of a slog. This led me to regard it more as a reference book. I was reminded of `The Spanish Civil War' by Hugh Thomas (I have two copies) which is the most complete work on the subject but jeez it can be hard going rather like an `official' history can be where it chronicles every detail possible. Compare that with Anthony Beevor's Spanish Civil War and the latter is a cracking read whilst also being informative. So for the serious scholar this is a must, for a beginner it will not be a good introduction because of its sheer breadth and complexity. I still found it really rewarding, but it has taken me a while to get through it, but this was never meant to be a thrill ride, it is a remarkable testament to one man's dedication and one countries collective grief.
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VINE VOICEon 19 September 2013
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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, and Very Short Introductions: Mao), I found Tombstone to be an altogether different, more sobering account of what was one of the titanic failures of Mao Zhedong's period of leadership. Whereas those other books had historical, and even cultural distance, Tombstone offers up the vivid, personal account of somehow who lived through the ordeal. As such, Yang Jisheng evinces a greater sense of anger and regret than those other books I've read and although there is the occasional sense that his personal investment in the story somewhat distorts his historical perspective (and, considering the realities of the Famine, how could it not?), it is a weighty, densely-packed book that burns itself in your mind like a Pulitzer Prize Winning photograph. This is not to overstate the book's success or to agree that reading it is essential to forming an understanding of one of the great human tragedies of the past century (frankly, I'm not sure it is essential), it is to state what I think is most appealing and rewarding about the book: its naked, brutal effect. A fine history book that's at least worth a shot for anyone wanting to think beyond the current stereotypes, cliches and disdain being peddled about China in the wake of its definite arrival as one of the world's superpowers.
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