Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine
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Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  226 ratings  ·  36 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
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Published February 27th 1997 by John Murray (first published June 13th 1996)
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Ian [Paganus de] Graye
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...more
Michael Connolly
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
Susan
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...more
Meg
*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...more
Ann
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
Jeff
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.
Kim
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.

Also...more
Richard
"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
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...more
Betsy
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...more
Sarah Adams
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
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.
Melissa
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.
Chuck
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.
Jim
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
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.
Jimileek
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.
Tasha
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.
Colin
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.
Kathleen
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.
Sarah
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.
Loriflatland
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.
Lisa
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.
Kyle
An amazingly depressing book. Extremely informative. Good read for anyone interested in the obvious downfalls of socialism and what can result from too much power in the hands of a delusional leader.
Deborah
This book details very clearly the tragedies that fell upon the Chinese people during the rule of Mao. It was compelling and educational. I had a hard time putting it down.
Brianna Marie
A nice follow up to The Wild Swans, equally as horrifying and and shocking. While it lacked the heavy emotional connection, the stories were still interesting.
Ruth
The most depressing book I have ever read. A tragic story of political gatekeeping, mass movements gone wrong, and cannibalism...

true story.
Bethany
I'm pretty good on Chinese history, but this book was brutally informative. I can't say it's a "good" topic, but I'm glad I read it.
Sara
An excellent look at the Great Leap Forward - and the damage Mao did to China at the height of his power. Haunting.
Helen
Unbelievable history of famine in China. It was excellent, but I found parts of it difficult to read.
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