Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Waiting for "Tombstone": New Book on China's Great Leap Forward + Mass Famine Causes Nerd Excitement, Ban by Beijing

The book by Yang Jisheng is called "Tombstone," and it has not yet been translated into English. Still, news of its existence has been spreading, and folks are becoming excited about this study of Mao's criminally stupid, monstrously destructive Great Leap Forward campaign that led to the starvation of millions of Chinese. The buzz/hype is that Yang's research could be the definitive account of that famine (2 volumes, 1000+ pages!).

Also: It's been banned in mainland China. This means, of course, that we should all rush out and read it as soon as possible, no?

Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post has a preview that includes this piquant selection from Yang's introduction:
"I call this book Tombstone," the author, Yang Jisheng, writes in the opening paragraph. "It is a tombstone for my father who died of hunger in 1959, for the 36 million Chinese who also died of hunger, for the system that caused their death, and perhaps for myself for writing this book."
Yang is not pulling any punches. 36 million may actually be a conservatively low number; then again, I don' think that includes the millions more who suffered but survived. 36 million people. The mind can't even comprehend the scale of this. That's as if the entire population of Taiwan starved to death -- plus 13 million more -- in a three-year period.

Also, thanks to blogfriend Pursuit of Serenity for reminding me about this "Tombstone" news.

If you would like to learn more about the Great Leap Forward and don't want to wait for the "Tombstone" translation, try Jasper Becker's Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine. It's said to be the first authoritative treatment of the subject in English (I think). In any case, it's readily accessible and also easy to read (it's not written in "Nerdish"!).

The famine that resulted from the Great Leap Forward is part of modern China's history that the autocrats of Beijing would like everyone to gloss over and forget. Learn about it. A gutted history is no real history at all.

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