Eating Bitterness
336 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Mar 2012
Release Date:28 Feb 2011
Release Date:01 Jan 2011

Eating Bitterness

New Perspectives on China's Great Leap Forward and Famine

UBC Press

When the Chinese Communist Party assumed power, Mao Zedong declared that “not even one person shall die of hunger.” A little over a decade later, China was in the midst of the most devastating famine in modern history. Between 1957 and 1962 – the years commonly associated with the Great Leap Forward – some 30 million peasants died from starvation and exhaustion.

Rather than examining why party leaders stumbled so badly in their attempts to modernize China, Eating Bitterness explores what the Great Leap Forward meant for ordinary people in rural and urban settings, from the provincial level to the grassroots. Drawing on newly available sources including archival documents, oral interviews, and ethnographic data, the contributors offer new perspectives on the foundations and consequences of the Great Leap Forward and famine. They investigate the operation of people’s communes, resource allocation, power and decision making at the local level, and rural resistance and acquiescence.

This landmark volume lifts the curtain of officially propagated images of mass mobilization to expose the uneven and deeply contested nature of state-society relations in Maoist China and the role that history writing and memory have played in shaping narratives of the recent past.

This volume will be of interest not only to historians, sociologists, and political scientists of modern China, but also to scholars engaged in debate about state-society relations, the politics of famine, and post-revolutionary gender conflict.

An important collection that contributes both new perspectives and rich data. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the Great Leap Famine and the early years of the PRC. Kathryn Egerton-Tarpley, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol 71, Issue 2
This landmark volume brings the fruits of recent revisionist scholarship to a western readership. Its originality lies in the fact that is not only concerned with ‘high politics,’ but with the impact of the Great Leap Forward on society as a whole, in particular, on grassroots rural communities. The authors seek to get behind officially propagated images of mass mobilization by raising acute questions about the mix of enthusiasm and coercion that powered the mobilization and the relationship of central and provincial organs of government to local officials. I will use Eating Bitterness extensively in my teaching and research. Steve Smith, author of Revolution and the People in Russia and China: A Comparative History
Explaining how a Communist regime that came to power with peasant support could stumble so badly is a task that has engaged many scholars. Eating Bitterness is a very welcome addition to this literature. Several of its authors have had access to sources that only opened up recently, especially local archives; still others report findings from years of doing oral history in the villages. It will be an attractive reader in history and politics courses on contemporary China. Thomas P. Bernstein, co-author of Taxation without Representation in Contemporary China

Kimberley Ens Manning is an associate professor of political science at Concordia University. Felix Wemheuer is an assistant professor in the Department for East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna.

Contributors: Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Richard King, Xin Yi, Wang Yanni, Gao Hua, Yixin Chen, Jeremy Brown, Ralph A. Thaxton Jr., and Wangling Gao

Introduction / Kimberley Ens Manning and Felix Wemheuer

1 Re-Imagining the Chinese Peasant: The Historiography on the Great Leap Forward / Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik

2 Romancing the Leap: Euphoria in the Moment before Disaster / Richard King

3 The Gendered Politics of Woman-Work: Rethinking Radicalism in the Great Leap Forward / Kimberley Ens Manning

4 “The Grain Problem Is an Ideological Problem”: Discourses of Hunger in the 1957 Socialist Education Campaign / Felix Wemheuer

5 On the Distribution System of Large-Scale People’s Communes / Xin Yi

6 An Introduction to the ABCs of Communization: A Case Study of Macheng County / Wang Yanni

7 Food Augmentation Methods and Food Substitutes during the Great Famine / Gao Hua

8 Under the Same Maoist Sky: Accounting for Death Rate Discrepancies in Anhui and Jiangxi / Chen Yixin

9 Great Leap City: Surviving the Famine in Tianjin / Jeremy Brown

10 How the Great Leap Forward Famine Ended in Rural China: “Administrative Intervention” versus Peasant Resistance / Ralph A. Thaxton Jr.

11 A Study of Chinese Peasant “Counter-Action” / Gao Wangling



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