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Did Millions Die in the Great Leap Forward: A Quick Note on non-Contemporaneous Data

February 14th, 2013 11 comments

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 1 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). Read more…

Notes:

  1. For a discussion how it is a mistake to defer the study of politically charged subjects to “scholars,” see Joseph Ball’s article titled “Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?” which I have linked in the previous post