According to the Wikipedia article the Great Chinese Famine, which the Communist Party of China commonly refers to as the Three Years of Natural Disasters, Three Years of Difficulty, or Great Leap Forward, famine occurred in China between 1959 and 1961. Natural disasters, especially flooding, were the initial causes of the Great Chinese Famine, which was compounded by the government’s policies on farm ownership, resulted in people abandoning their farms and in effect decreased farm output. Although this period was marked with extreme difficulty among the Chinese, it is referred in the controversial words to exonerate the country’s leadership as one of the causes of the famine Kung and Lin allege that the famine started in 1958-1961 a year earlier than the date recorded in the Wikipedia. Gooch Elizabeth also supports Kung and Lin on the exact time of the famine, affirming that it occurred in 1958-1961. Nevertheless, Houser, Sands, and Xiao hold the same view as the publication particularly in regard to the magnitude of the famine and the period when it occurred. According to them, the Great Chinese Famine is one of the major world’s greatest demographic disasters in the 20th century.
The Great Chinese Famine was caused by flawed government policies attributed to the Communist Party of China, drought, and poor weather. Due to the radical changes imposed by the government in country’s agriculture sector, there was a shortage of farm produce, which effectively led to the famine. Research findings by Houser and Xia support the government regulations as one of the major factors behind the unprecedented famine in the nation. Evidently, the famine occurred at a period of extensive social disorganization and upheavals resulting from rampant grain procurement, politics, communal dining characterized by excessive wastage, urban bias, and a decline in food availability. Confirming that the Chinese Communist party remains at the center of this adversity, the Wikipedia article clearly points out that the party’s chairman, Mao Zedong, drastic changes on how the ownership of the country’s farms and especially the prohibition farm ownership led to a decline in farm outputs. The failure to adhere to the chairman’s policies resulted in persecution. This heavy-handed government rule led to a state of instability as people revolted the state control on business and farming.
Houser, Sands, and Xiao opine that there are two basic hypotheses that explain the causes of this calamity are bad weather that lasted for three consecutive years and wrong national policies that misallocated and reduced agricultural production. Nevertheless, this assertion conforms to the publication as it offers the same factors that allegedly contributed to the Great Chinese Famine. However, the authors hold that weather and government policies had an equal contribution to famine. According to their suggestion, just like the government policies, adverse weather conditions especially in the regions that experienced extensive wet conditions, had the same contributing effects in the emergence of famine in China.
Nonetheless, the government policies that led to the Great Chinese Famine can be attributed to the Great Leap Forward of 1958-1961 that sought to achieve intense national economic development. Generally, this policy aimed at a wholesale economic transformation through the communal order of rural labor, self-sufficiencies segmented along regional boundaries, as well as a dual track (large-and small-scale) manufacturing investment venture and production. Although the Wikipedia post does not elucidate further on the Great Leap Forward policies, it holds it accountable for the famine. Actually, it shows that the policies and institutional changes during the Great Leap Forward worsened the initially nature-induced calamity. In fact, the article acknowledges that 30 percent of the disaster was caused by natural factors and 70 percent by government mismanagement of policies and resources.
According to the Great Chinese Famine article, during the Great Leap Forward, private cultivation was forbidden thus forcing millions of peasant farmers to move away from agriculture. Actually, these farmers were ordered to join the workforce to join the industrial production of steel and iron, which was then considered to be a major contributor in the nation’s economic advancement. Another policy change towards agriculture was the application of Trofim Lysenko policies (a Soviet pseudoscientist) such as close planting. However, this farming method stunted growth thus resulting in lowering farm yields rather that the initially projected. Lysenko’s colleague, Terentiy Maltsev also offered flawed agricultural policies that led to disastrous results. The article alleges that he misadvised the use of deep plowing (1-2 meters) rather than the normal plowing (15-20 cm) earlier practiced by Chinese peasants. His theory was based on the bad theory that fertile soil laid deep in the earth. Nonetheless, the government’s permit for these flawed theories contributed to the suffering of the people. Indeed, it failed to live to its mandate and offer the peasants appropriate farming advice that would have averted the disasters, however, this expectation was not tenable given that the administration discouraged private farming.
Cover Up and Outcome
Although the change of policy could have been effected, massive cover-up of the crop-failure contributed to the famine’s negative impact. Apparently, Mao Zedong sought to obtain a firsthand evidence of the famine in one of the affected regions, Shaanxi province. However, party leaders in the local area gave him wrong advice to the communal peasants by telling them to uproot plants and replanted them in the model farm that was to be toured by the chairman. Another cover-up involved the prohibition doctors from listing starvation as one of the causes of death on the deceased’s death certificates. These factors gave the wrong impression about the policies and caused a lot of losses and death among the Chinese people. From the article, it is clear that the crop yield decreased from 200 million tons in 1958 to 143.5 million tons in 1960. Additionally, due to food deficiency and lack of marriage-incentive, the birth rate decreased to 2.086% in 1960 to 2.922% recorded in 1958. Further, the death rate changed from 1.198% in 1958 to 2.543% in 1960. This article postulates that the death toll rose to 36 million people over the period 1958-1962.
Kung and Lin affirm the high death rate postulating of between 16.5 million and 30 million people died from the Great Chinese Famine. On the same point, Gooch notes that during the Mao rule in China, approximately 32.5 million Chinese died due to lack of food and related causes. Nonetheless, Gorgens, Meng, and Vaithianathan suggest that the death as a result of the Great Chinese Famine was biased particularly on the height of the children. According to the authors, taller children survived the epidemic compared to their shorter peers under the age of five years. Nonetheless, the famine did not discriminate only on height factor but also on a gender basis. Mu and Zhang submit that it affected women and men differently; they observed that the effects of the famine such as illiteracy and disability affected women more than men,
Nevertheless, the effects of the Great Chinese Famine still exist in modern China. It is postulated that the provinces that record severe famine also record minimal per capita GDP relative to other less affected regions. Additionally, people born of the families that suffered massively from the famine remain are sired shorter than those who were less hit by the famine. This aspect is indicated by the lasting effect of fetus nutritional insult; people who suffered fetal deprivation of nutrients developed diseases in their older age.
Suggestions on the Wikipedia Post
The Wikipedia post should be updated to include the following:
- 1958 to 1961 as the exact date for the Great Chinese Famine, because it resulted majorly from the 1958-1962 Great Leap Forward government policies.
- Just like government policies, the adverse weather conditions had the same impact on the famine, but the government regulations worsened the effects of the weather conditions.
- The impact of the famine was biased against the Chinese people, especially in relation to the height of the children who were under five years of age at the time. The taller children had a higher chance of survival than the shorter ones.
- The effects of the famine are felt in today’s world especially in regards to the per capita GDP in which it is lower in regions that were adversely affected by the famine according to research.
- The impact of the famine affected women and men differently given that its effects on illiteracy and disability were more severe in women than in men.
Gooch, Elizabeth. “Estimating the Long-Term Impact of the Great Chinese Famine (1959–61) on Modern China.” World Development 89 (2017): 140-51.
Gørgens, Meng, and R. Vaithianathan. “Stunting and Selection Effects of Famine: A Case Study of the Great Chinese Famine.” Journal of Development Economics, 97.1 (2012): 99-111..
Houser, Sands, and Xiao. “Three Parts Natural, Seven Parts Man-made: Bayesian Analysis of China’s Great Leap Forward Demographic Disaster.” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 69,.2 (2009): 148-59.
Kung, Jks, and Jyf Lin. “The Causes of China’s Great Leap Famine, 1959-1961.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 52. 1 (2003): 51-73.
Mu, and Zhang. “Why Does the Great Chinese Famine Affect the Male and Female Survivors Differently? Mortality Selection versus Son Preference.” Economics and Human Biology 9. 1 (2011): 92-105.
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. Houser, Sands, and Xiao. “Three Parts Natural, Seven Parts Man-made: Bayesian Analysis of China’s Great Leap Forward Demographic Disaster.” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 69, no. 2 (2009): 148.
. House et al. Three Parts Natural, Seven Parts Man Made, 141.
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. Gørgens, Meng, and R. Vaithianathan. “Stunting and Selection Effects of Famine: A Case Study of the Great Chinese Famine.” Journal of Development Economics, 97.1 (2012): 99-111.
. Mu, and Zhang. “Why Does the Great Chinese Famine Affect the Male and Female Survivors Differently? Mortality Selection versus Son Preference.” Economics and Human Biology 9. 1 (2011): 92.
. Gooch. Estimating the Long-Term Impact of the Great Chinese Famine, 146.
. Gørgens, Meng, and Vaithianathan, Stunting and Selection Effects of Famine: A Case Study of the Great Chinese Famine
. Mu, and Zhang, Why Does the Great Chinese Famine Affect the Male and Female Survivors Differently? 94.