An estimated thirty-six million Chinese men, women and children starved to death during China's Great Leap Forward in the late 50's and early 60's. One of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century, the famine is poorly understood, and in China is still euphemistically referred to as the three years of natural disaster. As a journalist with privileged access to official and unofficial sources, Yang Jisheng spent twenty years piecing together the events that led to mass nationwide starvation, including the death of his own father. Finding no natural causes, Yang lays the deaths at the feet of China's totalitarian system and the refusal of officials at every level to value human life over ideology and self-interest. Tombstoneis a testament to inhumanity and occasional heroism that pits collective memory against the historical amnesia imposed by those in power. Stunning in scale and arresting in its detailed account of the staggering human cost of this tragedy,Tombstoneis written both as a memorial to the lives lost an enduring tombstone in memory of the dead and in hopeful anticipation of the final demise of the totalitarian system.
One of the 20th century's worst catastrophes is a monument to Maoist tyranny and mismanagement, argues this hard-hitting study of China's Great Famine. Chinese journalist Yang, whose father died in the famine, compiles grim statistics-he estimates that 36 million people perished-and heartrending scenes of mass starvation and familial cannibalism. Even more shocking is his account of China's Great Leap Forward economic campaign, which caused the famine by pulling peasants from fields to work on ill-conceived industrial projects, melting down farming tools in backyard steel mills, and crippling agricultural productivity with collectivization schemes. Yang meticulously analyzes the delusional Communist ideology that nurtured the calamity: terrified of bearing bad news, party officials offered fantastic tales of bumper harvests to their superiors, who then exacerbated the hunger by hiking grain requisition quotas and exporting food while Mao's sycophantic personality cult prevented moderate leaders from challenging his disastrous economic experiments. This condensed English version of Yang's two-volume Chinese original suffers from disorganization; the outlines of the famine emerge only fitfully from his fragmented and repetitive accounts of its progress in individual provinces. Still, it's a harrowing read, illuminating a historic watershed that's too little known in the West. Map. Agent: Peter Bernstein. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Farrar, Straus & Giroux
October 30, 2012
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