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And in typical bureaucratic style, statistics were produced: Becker's carelessness with sources undercuts the effect of these stories. His citations are sparse; bafflingly, those to published works do not include page references. Many citations are to unspecified interviews or secret party documents. It is normal for an author to keep such sources secret, but it would have been appropriate to apprise readers of their nature and offer a defense of their reliability.

Anyone who studies China knows how the historical victors demonize the losers. Horror stories are an unfortunate reality of life in the 20th century, but they are also a technique of totalitarian propaganda. True respect for the victims means caring which stories are true. When an official document says a particular local official raped and tortured peasants and ate rich meals while others starved, is it telling the sober truth or creating a myth designed to foist blame on the losers and clean up the images of the winners so they can continue to rule?

Becker does raise four important questions in a final chapter: What motivated Mao to lead his country into such a disaster? Why were local officials willing to torture their people to participate in Mao's fantasy? Why didn't the peasants revolt? What would have happened if Mao's senior colleagues had united to oppose him? Other questions could also be asked about the Communist Party's organizational and communications structure, the politics of Mao's court, the mental world of the sufferers, the social and demographic distribution of famine deaths, the literary and ideological treatment of the event, its historical relationship to the Cultural Revolution and the post-Mao reforms and its place in the comparative history of class persecutions.

But by the end of the book it is too late to answer in depth either Becker's questions or others. Economist Amartya Sen, whom Becker cites, has supplied the main conclusion: Jasper Becker in Hungry Ghosts: Bruce Cumings on the kind of racism that I first read this book when it came out.


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Now, 13 years later, I find it has lost none of its shock value. According to the U. However, that is 80, for a population of only 29,, Blacks in Had we gone back to the Great Leap and had that same problem proportionately in China, then with These latest techniques depend on blaming Mao for not evening out the starvation situation in the provinces.

That is one thing that Jasper Becker does in his methods of calculation of death that MIM would not do to any country. In other countries, the disparity in numbers resulting from internal migration will be called just that—internal migration. We could interview anybody who knew about any murders in North Dakota.

Did Mao Really Kill Millions In The Great Leap Forward?

Next would be the student posters saying the North Dakota governor was a mass murderer. Or maybe we should conclude that some people moved and the birth rate was not that high.


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  • Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine by Jasper Becker!
  • Again we do not want to diss all demography. On the whole we encourage people to accept in most circumstances that demography helps contribute to the big picture. Here because of what Jasper Becker and others have done we are going to have to take another dig at MacFarquhar. When we at MIM read volume 3 of The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, we realized that his first 8 pages of the book were really errata for the typos in volume 2 of the book concerning death tolls in China.

    Jasper Becker and others took these sorts of numbers in a different light, which upon second reading, we see MacFarquhar also did encourage, so now we have to give MacFarquhar another beating. On page 5 of volume 3, MacFarquhar prints a curious table which lists population changes only for the provinces that lost population in the Great Leap and its aftermath of class struggle. As we read this we thought we knew he was trying to say that perhaps future scholars would be able to dig into more provincial records and reconcile numbers more accurately than previous estimates.

    After all, on the previous page, did he not realize he published a table that implied only a handful of millions not even 15 lost in the Great Leap? The province attracting the most attention in this because of its agricultural potential and size is Sichuan. MacFarquhar reported it this way on page 2: Four years later, in , the figure had dropped by over 6 million to 64,, The high was not exceeded until It turns out that other people took this data the wrong way.

    Although Jasper Becker himself reports on migration inside China, there are anti-communist stereotypes feeding into this statistical approach.

    Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine – Leading Light Communist Organization

    One is to picture a militarized society where no one is allowed to go anywhere. We actually do not like leaving questions like these to tabloid journalists like Jasper Becker. Becker admits that there was a flood of refugees into Hong Kong. For him, his book is a collection of thoughts, each condemning Mao, but none of which have to be consistent with each other.


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    • In addition, there is a problem here in how academic language gets translated into journalism too. What actually happened was the following. Food got very tightly rationed. New medical units started and moved into the countryside from various places. So Banister reports that a province lost 8 million people. She did her job. Becker tells us all the terrible stories about people migrating to save their lives going so far as to stealing and forging official forms to do it and not having babies because they were too malnourished. After all, if there are no births, the population will go down from natural causes and there is no need for any book by Banister at all.

      Estimates range from 7 to 9 million out of a population of at least 70 million.

      Serve the People! Build the New Power! Conquer the World!

      The lowest figure revealed by official population statistics is 7. When we go to the footnote for the first sentence of this quote, we find Banister again. However, this is what the footnote actually said in Becker: So again we are dealing with some mistake or projection of births. It is only a whole pages later, after the damage is done from the above that Becker admits: When we turn to Banister, the story gets worse. Banister goes on to list the circumstances accounting for migration: Many migrants are military personnel.

      Well, which is it: The ulterior motive for this is that these propagandists know there is only so far they can go in accusing Mao.

      Hungry ghosts : Mao's secret famine

      Everybody knows that China ended up with over a billion people and that the population size itself increased hugely under Mao, say from million in to million in No one is really saying that China is trying to fake its way into having a billion people and by now communications are modern enough that such a story would sound pretty silly if the propagandists made it up. He is supposed to give us a slice of the data of all the angles he has seen on the Great Leap. The bourgeois journalist and the empiricist historian imagine this is the highest integrity and we have to agree if we were stuck at the level of individual detail like some journalists and Anglo-Saxon historians.

      This is the fatal hole in his story breaking down the Chinese statistics at the province level in order to come up with higher fatality levels than previous estimates. She seems reconciled to the fact that it declined during the Great Leap. Nonetheless, she says that during tough conditions, officials probably did a bad job keeping track of deaths. Again the problem for her story—that would also be true of people who quietly took off for other provinces or new industrial, military, penal or medical jobs: Banister concludes that the famine chaos justified her in thinking deaths were underreported and she jazzes up her model that shows 15 million deaths to total 30 million with underreporting counted.

      That is why we are serious when we say use any method the bourgeois demographers want but just insist that it be equally applied to other countries. In general, even-handed demography will show socialism the winner of the comparison with capitalism. However, what Jasper Becker has done and how he popularizes demography has forced us to counter with some criticisms of how he popularized demography. Jasper Becker is a little sloppy on this point, but he essentially admits that the big hole in his own mind is the birth rate during the Great Leap.

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      Unfortunately for Jasper Becker in his overreaching, he has innovated another way of defending Mao—again just by applying the same standards Becker uses but equally. If we admit that as Becker says people were hiding people and food in the Great Leap because of the rationing system and if Banister is worried about disarray in the government reporting because of the emergency, it also follows that the entire crude death number reported in the census figures could be from undercounting live people caused by secret migrations or administrative breakdown.

      If an official went to a family grave site and said that that was where the bodies of the missing family members are, would the family volunteer that in fact uncle went down to Hong Kong? While attempting to account for dead people, did the census also account for people who were still alive and kicking—but illegally or semi-legally in another province? Fortunately, because Mao was such a vastly superior leader compared with u.