Tombstone, the 1959-1961 Famine in China

In the Wall Street Journal, Michael Fathers writes a book review for Yang Jisheng’s “Tombstone”, a detailed account revealing long-concealed facts of the Great Famine during 1959-1961 under Mao’s reign:

For the general reader, “Mao’s Great Famine” is unlikely to be bettered. “Tombstone” is something quite different, a condensed, yet magisterial 600-page edition of a densely detailed, two-volume Chinese-language account by Yang Jisheng, a retired Chinese journalist and Communist Party member.

[…] As a teenager in 1959, Mr. Yang watched his father die of starvation. Years later, while working in a senior editorial post at Xinhua, China’s state-controlled news agency, he began his own search for the truth behind the famine. The author spent 20 years tracking down survivors across China and using his authority as a respected Communist cadre to access provincial archives. It was, in part, expiation for his shame in not questioning his father’s death.

[…] Mr. Yang concludes that Mao Zedong knew early on that his policies of extracting extortionate levels of foodstuffs from an impoverished countryside were killing millions. He uncovers the “arrest plans” and the quotas given to the police and militia for each province in dealing with those accused of speaking out against the Great Leap Forward and the regime. It was as if the quotas were political production targets. In 1958 Anhui province, a center of the famine, was given an “arrest quota” from the central government of 45,000 people. Officials surpassed the quota with 101,000 arrests. Many of those arrested died of starvation in labor camps.

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