Surviving Mao’s Great Famine
Posted by Author on February 7, 2011
By James Burke, Epoch Times Staff, Feb 6, 2011-
BANGKOK—In order to help him sleep at night, 10-year-old Jiang Nai Ke ate the plaster from the walls of his grandparent’s home to dull his hunger pains during the worst period of the Great Famine.
All around him during 1960 people began dying of starvation. By the time the famine came to a halt in 1962, half of the people in the village where he lived in Liaoning province, northern China, had perished.
“People did what they did to survive, they ate anything,” said Jiang now in his early 60s and living in Bangkok. “Some people even ate the dirt; they would grab the earth and eat it.”
Some even resorted to cannibalism.
Great Leap Forward
Two years earlier in 1958, Communist Party leader Mao Zedong instigated his Great Leap Forward which he said would propel China’s agricultural and industrial output ahead of the developed world.
“The officials implemented some very weird decisions on how to conduct farming in 1958,” recalled Jiang who described the land around his grandparent’s village as consisting of sandy soil that was able to grow peanuts, corn, rice and wheat.
“It was a political movement called ‘digging the earth.’ The farmers even had to dig up crops they were growing and near ready to harvest, just to use these new techniques. The people had to dig one meter deep and the good topsoil was put one meter underground, so it was not good for planting. It was useless and crazy,” Jiang said.
The reforms also included a “melting steel” political movement, Jiang said, which forced Chinese to turn in their metal possessions—pots, spoons, door knobs—which would be melted down in backyard blast-furnaces to produce steel which proved to be brittle and useless.
Organized into communes, peasant communities across China were also ordered by local cadres to hand over all of their food to the authorities.
“So they bring out the food, and the officials check that you have given everything,” said Jiang.
“Nobody dared to resist the orders because the Party had already killed a lot of people and everyone was scared. They did this all across the country.”
Jiang said that after four months of everyone eating at a communal “big kitchen” the village’s food supply ran out and people were then told to fend for themselves.
“The local authorities had some pans left and they give them back to the families so they could cook at home but the people had no food to cook. They gave it all to the big kitchen before.”
Starvation Sets In
Despite favorable weather conditions, the Marxist pseudo-scientific agricultural methods meant that the crops in Jiang’s area failed. “So people cannot find anything to eat, people have to go to the mountains to find wild vegetable, then leaves and whatever grasses were edible. Then they ran out and we had to dig and eat the roots,” he said, adding that people then began eating the bark off the trees.
“Each day I would go out and look around for something to eat in the countryside, and other kids did the same,” he said. “People’s legs began swelling and their stomachs began swelling and even their heads were swelling up,” he said describing the affects of starvation.
“My grandfather starved to death in the spring of 1960. He was walking outside and suddenly he fell down and died. Because we had no money, we used a closet as a coffin for him. I almost starved to death. Every day there was nothing to cook for my family, no food. Almost every day we heard someone in the village had starved to death.”
Driven by desperation, Jiang said some of the villagers resorted to cannibalism.
“Someone from another village passed through and fell down and starved to death. His body lay there during the daytime, but at dusk people came out and cut up his body to pieces. That was the first act of cannibalism I can remember,” he said.
People then began finding their dead relatives were being dug up from the cemetery to be eaten. “People who buried their families would have to stay at the cemetery at night to guard their family’s graves,” said Jiang.
45 Million People Killed
Outside of his village, Jiang was not aware that starvation was felt across China.
“At that time we did not know it was happening all over the country, we thought it was just happening in our area because the authorities controlled the news,” said Jiang. “During this period while we were walking on the edge of death we were still thinking that the Party would come to save us, we were still thinking like that at that time. I do not think that way anymore.”
Based on extensive research through Party archives and other records, Frank Dikotter (chairman professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong) last year estimated that in the 1958–1962 famine and related violence 45 million people were killed. In urban areas the famine was less severe as limited rations were allocated.
The tragedy of the great famine and the disasters of The Great Leap Forward are not publicly acknowledged inside China today. Four years after the starvation ended, Mao launched the Great Cultural Revolution.
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