On her blog, Xujun Eberlein responds to an article by Jaime Florcruz called “China 60 years on: From Mao to today,” in which he writes about the Cultural Revolution: “For ten years, China was condemned to political turmoil and economic malaise. Perhaps the only factor that kept the country from total collapse was the people’s incomparable resilience and their ability to ‘chi ku’ (eat bitterness, or bear hardship).”
What he said wasn’t really wrong, but he missed the main factor. During the disastrous ten years from 1966 to 1976, peasants had kept farming and providing food for the nation. Because of this, despite the chaos and paralysis of the state apparatus, urban food shortages were not nearly as severe as in the “three-year famine” period (1959-61). I remember food rationing in my childhood during the Cultural Revolution, and how each family was forced to take a portion of “coarse grain” such as corn to supplement rice the “fine grain.” I also remember meat rationing and my craving for pork dishes, but we did not starve. Not even close. Thanks to the hard-working peasants — those are the people that have shouldered China’s crises time and again.