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Mao's Great Famine: The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62

(People's Trilogy #1)

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,632 ratings  ·  273 reviews
Between 1958 and 1962, China descended into hell. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up and overtake Britain in less than 15 years. The experiment ended in the greatest catastrophe the country had ever known, destroying tens of millions of lives. Access to Communist Party archives has long been denied to all but the ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published September 6th 2010 by Bloomsbury UK
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Cavak Supposedly. Try looking it up by the Chinese title: 毛泽东的大饥荒:1958-1962年的中国浩劫史

According to my limited Chinese fluency, it looks like it has been banned…more
Supposedly. Try looking it up by the Chinese title: 毛泽东的大饥荒:1958-1962年的中国浩劫史

According to my limited Chinese fluency, it looks like it has been banned in some Chinese stores for spreading "falsehoods" about Mao's influences and actions though. Maybe you might get lucky and find a pdf of it somewhere online.(less)

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Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
In a recent blog on Liberia I alluded in passing to Joseph Conrad, specifically having his novella Heart of Darkness in mind. Have you read it? If you have you will recall the final words of Kurtz in his moment of epiphany shortly before his death - The horror! The horror!

Let me take you to another heart of darkness; let me take you to China in the middle of the twentieth century, to the time of the so-called Great Leap Forward. I’ve been reading Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Dikötter, a new
This is one of those occasions when I almost wish the God i believed in was the vicious judgemental harsh one that some fundamentalists of all flavours seem to look to. This was brilliantly written but a really difficult wading through the horror and disgusting callousness of the Chinese regime at the time of the Great Leap Forward.

As I type this I went and found my copy of Billy Bragg's album 'Workers' playtime ' cos I wanted to check and yep lo and behold he has the image of happy communist
Jun 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, history, china
It is hard to exaggerate the sheer chilling effect this book by Frank Dikötter can have. It has made me realise that the statement by Gordon Kerr in his primer A Short History Of China that the death tolls in China throughout its documented 4000 years of history are ........"often staggering, demonstrating not only a disdain for human life" and with that also providing a "vast and inexhaustible supply of manpower". In the end this book brings the disdain and inexhaustible supply into focus.

Nov 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
One man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia. Utopia is a dream we aspire; an equilibrium that dignifies all human survival. When faultless notions embrace immorality and audacious obstinacy emitted from one solitary individual, an illusionary veil is fashioned camouflaging tyranny, torment and nightmarish endurance. On every occasion of my understanding Mao and his political explosion, I cannot help but to refer to my old frayed copy of Orwell’s 1984 blaring the ubiquitous caption:-"BIG BROTHER ...more
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Been from China myself, this books is a masterpiece. It told me stories that was never been told to me when I was a student in China back in the 80s and 90s. All the characters described in the book such as Deng, Zhu, and Peng were described to us as heroes in Chinese schools. I truly believed it when Frank Dikotter said that in recent interviews, people who survived the great famine still blamed the Soviet Union for the whole disaster, it was what had been told to me in Chinese school. Even ...more
Huma Rashid
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very informative, well researched book about the effects of the disastrous Great Leap Forward, a supposed revolution in industry and agriculture dreamt up by the fuckwit known as Mao Zedong.

It's long and dense, but a valuable, compelling read. The author focuses way more on the politics and political hierarchy of the times, at the expense of more personal stories from on-the-ground, in-the-trenches, but attempts to make up for that in the last part of the book.

It's well written enough, but
Nick Lincoln
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'll keep this brief. When cuddly old Uncle "Wedgie" Benn dies and the eulogies pour forth, remember him as an life-long apologist for Mao, the biggest of the socialist mass-murderers of the 20th century.

Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot et al pale by comparison to Mao. Read this book and try to comprehend what this moron did to 45 million of his own people.

Given the grim subject matter it's a "good" read - depressing but never grinding. It's essential for anyone interested in the evils of the big state
Jun 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
Unfortunately, this is a totally confusing ramble about statistics. The information would better be presented in tables and graphs rather than in prose. The other part of the book is about quotes or not by far too many people. Again, we get lost, especially those of us who only know a couple of the names in Chinese politics of the time. I stopped reading it more or less halfway through. I'm sure I caught most of the gist of the story, but spared myself endless tons of rice and other produce.
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: china
This is the least compelling volume of Frank Dikotter's recent trilogy on the years of communist rule in China from 1945-1976. The three works are undoubtably required reading if you are interested in the period, and are limited to English (as I am). This book notably won a prestigious Samuel Johnson Award for best non-fiction writing in 2011. Many of its more entertaining parts are excerpted from "The Private Life of Chairman Mao", a fascinating memoir written by Mao's personal doctor.

Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book makes a significant contribution to the knowledge of the common man, viz. me. Like Anne Applebaum's work on the Soviet Union, Mr. Dikötter has undertaken revealing, comprehensive research on a subject little understood in the popular conscience and done so in an eminently readable form. The naïve among us, I suppose, imagine the human condition to be rather tame; after all, do we not live in a world of modernity, happiness and constant, unremitting forms of entertainment? Mao's Great ...more
Apr 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I suppose that you can throw communism into the same pot as laws and sausages as far as things you don’t want to know about how they are made. You have to wonder about the collective damage done to the Chinese psyche when your omnipotent leader starves 35 million of his subjects to death simply to make a point in his argument. The logic involved in Mao’s Great Leap Forward is about a million times more Orwellian and anything George Orwell could have conceived in his darkest hour.

The bottom line
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
3.5 rating. Well written, interesting, and worth the read. However, it struck me as an expanded magazine article - it could have been much shorter without losing much. Or, perhaps better said, I think it could/should have had both more breadth and depth. E.g., it seems lacking in comparison to other books recently read - Clark's Iron Kingdom (re the history of Prussia) and The Emperor of All Maladies (a "biography" of cancer), both of which are, admittedly, superb.
Huw Evans
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about the effects of slavery at all levels of a totalitarian regime. In 1958 Chairman Mao effectively fell out with Stalin and determined that the People's Republic of China would become self sufficient, no matter what the cost. He became a slave to the idea that the population would take the Great Leap Forward willingly. He was aware that there would be suffering but felt that it would be worth the human cost.

The entire population were enslaved into the GLF resulting in the
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
When I picked up this book, I was planning to read, probably, 10 pages per night. That sounds about right, I thought I could deal with the anger and the sadness generated from 10 pages of writing. It turns out that it was harder.

It's almost strange that it's so hard. After all, Dikotter writes with such a calm, almost neutral voice. I myself couldn't keep calm as the horror plays out. Perhaps all of us know the general idea of the Great Leap Forward: collectivization, collapse of farming,
Jun 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Like most of my reviews, this is a personal response.

Despite the fact that the author uses admittedly "soft" sources (341) (due to the difficulty in accessing state archives that are not available to the public) it is a chilling account of what happened during this time.

Being a young mother, it was particularly difficult to read about the effects on the children, the women, and the elderly. The fact that women were forced out of the home and forced to leave their children in state run child
Steve Cunningham
Gruesome, horrifying, meticulously researched and eminently readable. Stalin is often (mis?)quoted as saying that "a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic"; his disciple Mao Zedong may have taken this literally, presiding over a bureaucratic regime so wholly, shockingly, wilfully corrupt and incompetent that the margin for error of those who died in the great Chinese famine is in the region of 15 million people (between roughly 30 and 45 million deaths). As a work of ...more
Wai Chim
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this...and want to puke. But because the contents of this books are so enlightening and powerful and the story of this tragic time is so gripping. It's a non-fiction book but the way it's presented you feel like you've been thrown into a real story. And all you can do is ask "why?"

I'm so glad that this books has finally been made possible. It's fresh and recent but because of the intense secretness of the official archives, the whole tragedy risks being erased from modern memory.

Josh Steimle
Sep 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing

This is not a good book to read if you're in need of cheering up. Also not good reading for when you're training for a 70K trail run, or doing anything physical, as you'll find your performance dragged down significantly.

If you need evidence of the pain and suffering a small group of people can do when given a monopoly on violence, or in other words, the power of government, this is a stark example.
Jul 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A well-researched book, even considering how difficult it still is to get information about this famine out of China. It very clearly describes the workings of Mao's inner circle in the first half of the book and the second half details the results of the failed communal experience. If you ever wondered why Communism doesn't work, read this fascinating, heartbreaking book. It should be required reading in colleges. (which will never happen.)
Sep 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Discrediting Mao has become an industry for a reason. As late stage capitalism metastasizes, imperialist armies rush out across the globe, and we accelerate past the global warming tipping point, the 21st century ruling class must inoculate us against remembering and calling upon the successes of socialism in the 20th century. The latest book produced by this well funded project is Mao’s Great Famine, by Frank Dikötter. It is more a collection of selected anecdotes than a legitimate analysis, ...more
Eric Li
Dec 19, 2012 rated it liked it
While the book itself was okay, I'm really glad I read this book because it really makes me want to talk to my parents more about their experiences during this time period (I haven't had a chance yet but I'll be seeing them in a few days). So thank you Dikotter for that.

Onto the book itself, it feels a little too much like an academic writing. There are tons of numbers thrown in there and he explains how he got these numbers and addresses some of the possible biases for the numbers which
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a book you won't find in Chinese libraries - it destroys the image of Mao Zedong as the benevolant leader of Communist China. It is a book full of tragedy, the so-called Great Leap Forward which took the lives of approximately 30 million Chinese people (some estimates even consider a death toll of 45 million) during the great famine which was caused.

The Great Leap Forward starts with the bidding between China and Russia. Kruschchev boosts that Russia will overtake the United States in 15
Aug 07, 2014 rated it liked it

Dikotter did a lot of research for this book. He gets 5 stars for that. But the presentation of the material thematically makes it difficult to follow. If I were looking for a GENERAL indictment of communism or Maoism, I could think of no better collection of facts than this book (although he often devolves into sadomasochistic descriptions of the various atrocities that humans are capable of inflicting on each other). However, that's not what I was expecting from this book. I
Desirée Whittington
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A horrific subject, well researched and clearly organized. I would most definitely recommend this read if you would like a comprehensive and thorough look at the famine and its terrible effect on millions of people under Mao Zedong.
Aaron Million
Oct 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
When most people hear about or think of flagrant human rights abuses or evil regimes in the 20th century, what comes to mind – understandably – is Hitler's Nazi Germany, Stalin's brutal purges in the 1930s and 40s, the Khmer Rouge, or the ethnic cleansing in 1990s Bosnia. What doesn't tend to come to mind, but is equally as appalling and horrible, is Mao's “Great Leap Forward” from 1958-1962 in China. Reading Frank Dikotter's intense and well-researched book after eating is probably not ...more
Praachi Misra
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a difficult read. It is not something one can gallop through. It is superbly researched, and written in a factual style, rightly overcoming the inclination to embellish or catastrophise.

However, the horror cannot be unseen. Every few pages, I had to put the book down to try and grasp the enormity of the violence and chaos unleashed during the 'Great Leap Forward'. Social structures that had existed for centuries took only a decade to crumble completely. Here, I look at the period
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: internet, audio-book
A must read in order to understand modern China. Mao's giant leap forward cost around 30 million people but created 500 million in the decade ahead. From cannibalism of humans, cannibalism of animals, eating mud cakes and plastic rise, the extent of this sounds like Europe in middle ages.
When you see Chinese, remember those are the kids of parents that had almost nothing to eat and that affected their body structure and the characteristics of the next generations.
How can you blame 1? You
Ronald Chan
Dec 31, 2017 rated it did not like it
My view on this book can be summed up by what Han Dongping said about it in "Remembering Socialist China, 1949-1979":

"Frank Dikötter, the author of Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, won the 2011 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, Britain's most prestigious book award for non-fiction. It is also rumoured that he received a $2 million scholarship for writing his book. But one of my friends in Malaysia alerted me that the front cover of his book used a
There is a great deal to commend in Dikötter's chronicle of The Great Leap Forward. The work undertaken in sifting through what must have been mountains of (often misleading) statistics and reports to produce a damning indictment on the madness which savaged a population, stands as a testament to the author's academic excellence. One would expect it to take a place as one of the key works on the period, to be used by academics in the seemingly futile attempt to comprehend the scale of suffering ...more
Steve Mclellan
Jan 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book represents an overview of one the most shocking man-made cataclysms in world history. In this book we see how one autocratic leader took the idea of the 'Great Leap Forward' in order to propel onward his ambition for China to be a major industrial nation. In the process of trying to realize his dream, Mao instigated the destruction of forty-five million people's lives. The way in which the history in this book has been researched, its attention to detail gives new life to all the ...more
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Dikotter is dishonest about Mao 2 27 Mar 29, 2019 05:31PM  

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Frank Dikötter is the Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Professor of the Modern History of China on leave from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Born in the Netherlands in 1961, he was educated in Switzerland and graduated from the University of Geneva with a Double Major in History and Russian. After two years in the People's Republic

Other books in the series

People's Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957
  • The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976