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Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  345 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
This first authoritative expose of the 1958-1962 famine prompted by China's collectivization plan, "The Great Leap Forward," comes at a time when the cult of Mao is alive and well inside China, and while agents of Chinese influence are able to arrange audiences with a President. Via his painstaking research and reporting that included two treks through interior Chinese pro ...more
Published February 27th 1997 by John Murray (first published June 13th 1996)
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Ian GalaDali
Malthusian Catastrophe

"The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and swee
Michael Connolly
Mar 10, 2012 Michael Connolly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, china
Mao said that the peasant who owned his own land was inherently capitalistic, and he forced four hundred million Chinese peasants to join collective farms. Khrushchev counseled Mao not to repeat Stalin’s mistake of rushing into collectivization too quickly, but Mao ignored his advice. Mao named his next step in the collectivization of agriculture “The Great Leap Forward” after the German philosopher Hegel’s assertion that progress comes in sudden leaps and bounds. In 1958 peasants replaced scien ...more
Jan 15, 2012 Meg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
*I wrote this review over a year ago and found it in a notebook and realized I had never typed it out.

This book was fascinating, dark and heartbreaking. I found it almost impossible to read at times. It may be the most depressing book I have ever read, and it is true.

China has had alot of famines. The climate lends itself to droughts, flooding and crops being infested by insects. The difference with Mao's famine was that is was not inflicted by nature, but by man. Mao was evil, manipulative and
Jan 01, 2012 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apparently this was the first book (in English) to chronicle what really happened during the Great Leap Forward in China (1958-1962), when 45 million people died during a time of peace and without natural disasters.

Mao wanted to surpass the Soviet Union in all ways possible, including grain and steel output. So to show the USSR it meant business, China exported more grain to the Soviet Union than it could afford to give up. Peasants slaved in the fields to work miracles, and as a result grew so
Dec 10, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"Hungry Ghosts" sets out to explain one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, and as a benefit, helps explain present-day China. Whether the specific numbers are accurate or whether Mao can be held personally responsible for the millions of starvation deaths is something that will be debated for years. However, books written about or by Ch'an monks who lived during that era support much of what Becker asserts (see George Crane's "Bones of the Master" as an example). After reading this, ...more
Skylar Hatfield
Mar 05, 2015 Skylar Hatfield rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Both essential and sickening. Must be read to understand the power of cult thought in politics to destroy the mind, soul, and body of the people. How can people allow themselves to be starved, beaten, raped, humiliated and de-humanized? How can leaders say they would rather a large percent of their population be starved to death as long as the remaining population remains loyal? How can an entire country willingly participate in the deceit that is killing them? Clearly, communism is a tragic, le ...more
Oct 08, 2008 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most depressing book I've ever read, but also the most shocking because a tragedy of such epic proportions is barely known in the western world and conveniently ignored in the eastern where the Chinese government was directly and knowingly responsible for the deaths of over 30 million of their own citizens during their efforts to implement the perfect Communist society during the late 1950s and 1960s.
Jul 11, 2015 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most compelling history books I've ever read, period. I'm a lover of history who recognizes that 90% of the books I read make most people fall to sleep - but with 'Hungry Ghosts', I recommend it even to those who typically would never pick up a history book at all.

The modern and recent scholarship of 'Hungry Ghosts' provides a perspective on Maoist China which has only recently been revealed. After reading this book, I must seriously reconsider the conventional wisdom that "Hitler was
Stephanie McGarrah
Interesting personal accounts of life under Mao and the CCP, focusing on the devastating famine that occurred between 1958 and 1962. It reads a little too much like a textbook, there's a lot of repetition and as much depth as I would have liked, but it was a good overview for me since I didn't know much about the famine itself.

I've been on a big anti-utopia kick lately, and after reading about the war on sparrows and insects under the "four pests campaign" and the ecological catastrophe that fo
May 26, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Journalist Jasper Becker, formerly the Beijing Bureau chief for the South China Morning Post, reconstructs the history of Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward (1958-61) and the resulting famine that devastated China in this historical work. Drawing on interviews with survivors and Communist Party officials, government documents, memoirs, and secondary literature, Becker provides a detailed, panoramic account that includes China's past experiences with famine; the collectivization of agriculture under ...more
Feb 09, 2011 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somehow I've been reading this mostly at lunch. Well researched, covers the Great Leap Forward and the deadliest famine in recorded history, with estimates ranging from 30-80million Chinese starved, killed, or not born as a result of Mao's vainglorious policies. Also examines the roots of the Cultural Revolution within the Great Leap Forward and examines reasons why the former is well-documented while the latter remains shrouded in secrecy to an extent that many still deny it ever happened.

Mary Catelli
Being an account of the Great Leap Forward famine. Which means that it is, often enough, not pleasant reading. It is, however, thorough and extensive in detail.

It opens with an overview of famine in China, the Communist takeover and plans for the peasantry, and an account of the infamous Ukrainian famines, which he presents as the closest analogue to the Great Leap Forward.

It then goes through the collectivizations and the nonsense science that led to the famine. Ludicrous farming practices. The
Sep 24, 2008 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating, dark, and heartbreaking ! If anyone has questions about whether Communism is a great idea, this should put that question to rest. Mao turned his country upside down, inside out, and truly perverted the truth beyond recognition with his great Communist agricultural projects. He collectivized private property and then used junk science to force on China agricultural practices and programs that most KNEW were disastrous to the growing of food. When the programs began to ...more
Oct 20, 2009 Betsy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Jasper Becker in Hungry Ghosts: "North Korea seems in the grip of a death-cult psychosis that leaves it impervious to rational notions of self-interest" (339).

Bruce Cumings on the kind of racism that is allowed to run free when talking about North Korea: "Prominent Americans lose any sense of embarrassment or self-consciousness about the intricate and knotty problems of racial difference and Otherness when it comes to North Korea and its leaders" (49).

I'm sure there are better books about the G
Jun 10, 2015 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't believe I knew nothing of this when I was a child' at the time it was happening
Jan 24, 2016 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
History sometimes really makes you question your faith in humanity.
Sarah Adams
Feb 02, 2014 Sarah Adams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thorough explanation of how a man-made famine came about, and how a broken government perpetuated it. Gruesome details of how people survived such a time. A great perspective on an event that is rarely talked about, but made huge impacts on China's culture.
Thomas Armstrong
Jul 13, 2013 Thomas Armstrong rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An incredible story that few people in this country (or, apparently in China) know about. The chapter on cannibalism is hair-raising. Becker writes well, provides lots of ''in the trenches'' accounts as well as providing a narrative that unfolds in horrifying detail the evil that Mao perpetrated upon the peasants he had depended upon to bring him to power. Should be a part of every high school history class.
Nov 01, 2007 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoy Becker's writings. This is probably one of the few books that I could say changed my life and it began my interest in studying modern Chinese history. Mao was both evil and incredibly manipulative, but nonetheless brilliant. I especially enjoyed the postword on North Korea and how they are going through the exact same thing as China did forty years ago. And we are doing nothing about it.
Charles Redfern
Aug 24, 2008 Charles Redfern rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The so-called "Great Leap Forward" brought unmitigated disaster on China and a great leap backward. Mao forced new farming methods on his people and ignored reports of starvation. The result: 12 million died, a greater toll than that of the Cultural Revolution. The breaks the myth that communism brough a better life for most Chinese.
Feb 05, 2009 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lengthy account of the suffering and deaths that resulted from Mao's "Great Leap Forward" in which as many as 30 million people may have died. The author, who lives in Beijing, spent years interviewing survivors and has recorded details that were unknown to the world outside China for many years.
Carol C
Nov 28, 2012 Carol C rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very detailed account of what was done to the Chinese people by Mao & his operatives in the government and covered the devastation of the people on a very personal level. My sons kept asking when I would start reading something happy, so Riordan's Lightning Thief was next.
Jul 05, 2011 Jimileek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia
Someone is to blame for the death of 30 million Chinese. That someone is Mao Zedong. I've never read such an exhaustively researched compulsively readable historical account. Becker makes no bones about it - he calls Mao "the architect of the famine." Highly recommended.
Mar 01, 2008 Tasha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book i read in college. I took so many Asian history classes because their history is astounding and long! I love it and this book captures a darker side of the history. Not for the weak hearted, but for the truth seekers and realists.
Dec 31, 2012 Colin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese-history
This was a great read however, it is very gritty and sometimes a bit disgusting. Becker tells the story of Mao's famine from the people's point-of-view. His story is quite engaging. This is a must-read for anyone interested in China.
Excellent book to read along with Lisa See's Dreams Of Joy. This is a real account of what happened in China during Mao's reign. After I read Dreams of Joy, I wanted to know more about that time period and this explained the horror.
Aug 23, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the only books I've been required to read for a class that I truly enjoyed reading. Extremely shocking! At times I found myself contemplating putting it down, because it was so angering to know that such a thing actually happened.
Lori Flatland
very good depiction of the cost of communism. so compelling and harrowing in it's illustration of the consequences of personality cults. reinforces the belief that humans are meant to have freedom of conscience about all.
Jan 30, 2013 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating information presented in a very dry way, but my goal was mostly to learn about Mao's Great Leap Forward and it's accompanying famine, which I did! It's the first on a list of 3 or so books I want to read about Mao.
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Jasper Becker is a British journalist who spent 30 years covering Asia including 18 years living in Beijing. His reporting on uprisings, refugees and famine in China, Tibet and North Korea garnered him many awards and he is a popular speaker and commentator on current events in Asia. He now lives in England and has just finished his tenth book, tentatively called The Fatal Flaw. Earlier books suc ...more
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