In the New York Times, Frank Dikötter, author of Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962
From 2005 to 2009, I examined hundreds of documents all over China, traveling from subtropical Guangdong to arid Gansu Province near the deserts of Inner Mongolia.
The party records were usually housed on the local party committee premises, closely guarded by soldiers. Inside were acres of dusty, yellowing paper held together in folders that could contain anything from a single scrap of paper scribbled by a party secretary decades ago to neatly typewritten minutes of secret leadership meetings.
Historians have known for some time that the Great Leap Forward resulted in one of the world’s worst famines. Demographers have used official census figures to estimate that some 20 to 30 million people died.
But inside the archives is an abundance of evidence, from the minutes of emergency committees to secret police reports and public security investigations, that show these estimates to be woefully inadequate.