Recently I had a chance to speak with Boi Boi Huong (mp3, audio play link below). Her family emigrated to Holland from Vietnam when she was young. While in college, she took a stronger interest in China, and in fact completing her thesis on the Great Leap Forward. The timing of her work was interesting, because this had been just couple of years following 1989. Western academia and press at that time were especially hostile to China and China’s political system. The Great Leap Forward has always being used in the Western press and academia to vilify Mao Zedong and his policies, especially with the millions of deaths coinciding that period. Once Huong found out a bit about the circumstances of that period, she was able to quickly figure out the dominant narratives in the West were flawed. (Make sure to also read Ray‘s excellent post, “Another Look at the Great Leap Forward” and Allen‘s robust analysis of the death numbers, “Did Millions Die in the Great Leap Forward: A Quick Note on the Underlying Statistics.”)
As many Hidden Harmonies readers who are of Chinese descent likely could identify, having everything related to ‘China’, be it culture, history, people, ideas, companies, government, or whatever constantly cast in negative light really represses a bit of who we are. We may be citizens of whichever country we live in, but we should be allowed to feel proud about our heritage just like everyone else. To the Chinese, Mao was a symbol of modern China. Under his leadership, ordinary Chinese were finally freed from imperialism, invasions, and centuries of miserable life. Mao is more than the mere mistakes he has committed. Nor is he any of that exaggerated sins pinned against him in the West.
Click on the play button or right-click on the link to save the podcast for local listening: link. Please bear in mind English is not Huong’s primary language.
This is a followup on a previous post titled Did Millions Die in the Great Leap Forward: A Quick Note on the Underlying Statistics. In that post, I pointed out that the only systematic data available from the time (the census of 1953 and 1964) were such that they could neither support nor refute the hypothesis that millions upon millions died during the Great Leap Forward. The claim that 15 or 30 or even 45 million people died – true or false – simply is not testable against the margin of errors inherent with the 1953 and 1964 census figures.
In a comment, long-time commentator jxie referenced some of the so-called “newer” research involving non-contemporaneous data that I want to quickly address in this post. One thing I failed to address in my prior post is that since the mid 80’s – with the release of data such as the Cancer Epidemiology Survey in 1976, the fertility survey of 1982 giving fertility rates dating back to 1940, and the re-release of the 1953 and 1964 census in 1982 where the population figures are broken down by age and gender groups (“cohorts”) – many researchers have claimed that they are able to prove how many millions actually died during the Great Leap Forward. Various reputable scholars estimated the death count to be anywhere between 20 to more than 45 million. I want to address such studies, focusing in particular on Banister’s 1987 study that jxie cited.
Banister’s 30 Million Dead Hypothesis
Judith Banister is one of the most respected and prominent demographer in the West on China. In what has become a classic book published in 1987, Banister estimated that some 30 million died during the Great Leap Forward (p. 118, Banister). Continue reading Did Millions Die in the Great Leap Forward: A Quick Note on non-Contemporaneous Data
[This is part I or a 2 part series on the underlying statistics of the Great Leap Forward. Part II can be found here]
Recently, Ray wrote a great post – and readers added valuable comments – that provided some contexts surrounding the Great Leap Forward. When people discuss the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), the starting point is almost always the millions killed. I want ask: how fair is that starting point?
In this post, I want to briefly focus on specific issue of the underlying statistics – and the often-made claim that millions and millions (I have heard upward of 70+ million!) died in the Great Leap Forward.
According to official Chinese data released in 1983, some 16 million died during the years of the Great Leap Forward (1958 to 1961). But how good is this number (or any other number)? Continue reading Did Millions Die in the Great Leap Forward: A Quick Note on the Underlying Statistics
The Founding of the New Republic
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, two events are so controversial that they almost cannot be discussed rationally or void of politics. One of them is the Great Leap Forward of 1958, and the other being the Cultural Revolution of 1966. A reference to history cannot be avoided for any event, more so an event as significant as GLF. The PRC was founded in 1949 October the 1st. What most people didn’t realize is, on that day, the Communist Party of China and its military arm, the People Liberation Army controlled less than 2/3 the territory of modern China. Areas such as Chongqing, Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hainan, Xizang, Taiwan etc are still under the control of various Nationalist armies. In fact, Gansu and Xinjiang was only taken by the Communist in September. It would be June 1950 when all those regions except Hainan, Xizang and Taiwan were to be liberated.
Continue reading Another Look at the Great Leap Forward
For me personally, the Mainland’s grandparents and great-grandparents are China’s most interesting generation. As soon as I could string a few sentences together I was trying to get our neighbours to tell us about their stories and experiences. But Xinran, the authour of China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation, being Chinese, can go light-years farther in an interview than I can with my novice Mandarin, mere beginner’s cultural understanding, white face and 大鼻子。
Continue reading (Letter from Joel) Mainlanders and their pasts, Mainlanders and their selves