Friday, July 13, 2018

Comment from a reader : "I find this to be staggeringly important. As an ordinary man, not a scholar, my understanding of this major event in world history has been formed almost entirely by works such as 'Mao's Great Famine

"I find this to be staggeringly important. As an ordinary man, not a scholar, my understanding of this major event in world history has been formed almost entirely by works such as 'Mao's Great Famine'.If this is false it not only forcibly changes my understanding of this vastly important part of China's and the world's history but casts further doubt upon the reliance I can place on my media and educators, the 'cultural narrative' I receive at home"

Comment from a reader of Democracy and Class Struggle on our publication of Sun Jingxian study of  Great Leap Forward and Famine.

Democracy and Class Struggle on the 40th Anniversary of Chairman Mao Zedong's death we pubished an  important document first published in 2013 by Sun Jingxian of  Jiangsu Normal University translated into English which challenges the dominant Western anti Mao narrative on the Great Leap Forward death toll, it was translated by Miss Dawn Chenyang Li for Democracy and Class Struggle.

For those who want a more detailed analysis of Sun Jingxian's pathbreaking work than the summary presented below visit here :

 来源:《中国社会科学报》2013年8月23日 第492期 
“30 million people starving to death” is not true

By Sun Jingxian
Source: Chinese Social Science News, 23 Aug 2013, Issue 492

[Summary] From today’s perspective, in those 3 years when 2.5 million people perished due to “nutrition-related deaths”, it’s a natural disaster as well as a human failing. We should certainly learn the lesson of history. However, to partially and groundlessly exaggerate the number of deaths is not a scientific approach, and cannot contribute to learning from historical experiences in order to march ahead more determinedly today.


In the last 30 years or so, in both China and abroad the great lie of “30 million people starving to death” during the Three Year Famine Period managed to spread widely. Some people see this statement as a “historical fact”, and it has been written into many professional books and documents, spreading across the entire society. But what is the actual truth of this matter?

1983年,国家统计局公布了1949—1982年我国每年的户籍统计人口数据。这一数据显示我国三年困难时期出现了人口统计数字大幅度减少的情况,其表现为1960—1964年间我国人口总数在扣除了人口自然增长(由人口出生和死亡产生的增长)后异常减少了2644万人,其中最突出的是1960年比1959年净减1000万人。 这一时期我国人口统计数据产生这一大幅度减少的真实原因长期以来一直没有搞清楚。一些人就把我国人口统计数据的这一大量异常减少解释为是由三千万以上的人非正常死亡造成的,这样就出现了“饿死三千万”的说法。

In 1983, the National Statistics Bureau published the annual population data of our country from 1949 to 1982. This data shows that during the Three Year Famine Period, the population figure decreased dramatically. More specifically during 1960-1964, apart from the natural growth of population (due to natural births and deaths), the total population abnormally decreased by 26.44 million people, and most dramatically the population in 1960 was less than the figure in 1959 by a net value of 10 million. The real reason for this significant decrease in the population statistical data has not been clarified for a long time. Therefore some people assert that it was due to the abnormal death of over 30 million people. This is how the idea of “30 million people starving to death” came about. 


In order to show how ridiculous the idea of “30 million people starving to death” is, one must correctly analyse the real reason for the dramatic decrease in population figures during this period. Starting from the second half of 2010, I have used three entire years to systematically research into this issue, and I have reached the following conclusions.


First Conclusion: Before the end of 1959, due to the needs of industrial development and the Great Leap Forward movement, in our country there was a huge migration of people from rural to urban areas. At least over 30 million people moved from the countryside into cities and towns. During this process there was a duplication or erroneous reporting of population figures by 11.62 million, which means that even though these people already migrated to urban regions and registered on the urban hukou [hukou = China’s household registration system – translator] system, but they did not delete themselves from their original rural hukou. (That is to say, they were registered on the urban and rural systems at the same time)

第二个基本结论:在1959年以前,由于户籍管理制度不健全,在我国(主要是广大农村地区)存在着较为严重的死亡漏报现象。根据1953年和1957年两次抽样调查的结果,可以估计出我国这一期间产生的死亡漏报人口约为750万,即有750万人在1959年以前已经死亡,但没有进行死亡登记注销户籍。 由于以上两方面原因,造成我国1959年底的户籍统计人口总数中,存在着应注销户籍人口1912万,占当时全国人口总数的2.84%。 山东省的情况证实了上述结论。山东省在1959年底进行了一次农村人口普查,发现全省存在应注销户籍人口152万人。如果按照山东省的比例,全国存在的应注销户籍人口数应为1890万。这与我们研究得到的数字(1912万)是非常接近的。这一事实证明了我们的研究结论是符合实际的。

Second Conclusion: Before 1959, due to flaws in the hukou management system, in our country (especially in the vast rural regions) there existed a severe problem of not reporting deaths. According to data from 1953 and 1957, one can estimate that during this period around 7.5 million deaths were not registered, that is to say, around 7.5 million people already died before 1959 but their hukou registers were not deleted. Due to both of these errors, at the end of 1959 there were 19.12 million hukou registers that should have been deleted, this was around 2.84% of the entire national population at the time. The specific situation in Shandong Province proves this conclusion. A general population censor was carried out in Shandong Province at the end of 1959, and it was discovered that there were 1.52 million people whose hukou registers should have been deleted. Extrapolating according to the ratio of the population of Shandong Province to the national population, it implies that the number of people who should have been removed from the hukou registers was around 18.90 million. This is very close to the figure of 19.12 million which was reached through our research. This fact proves that our research conclusions do correspond with the actual reality.


Third Conclusion: Around 1960 China carried out the work specified in the “Hukou Registration Legislation”, and in 1964 the second general national population censor was carried out. The duplicate and erroneous 19.12 million hukou registers were removed during these two instances of population data work.


Fourth Conclusion: Because our national economy experienced very severe problems during this period, from 1960 to 1963 a large scale movement to streamline the urban population was carried out. Over 30 million urban people were streamlined and went back to the countryside. During this process however 14.82 million people did not have their hukou registers changed properly. These people’s urban hukou were deleted, but they did not promptly register their new rural hukou, and therefore became people who were not registered on the hukou system. (They all re-registered their hukou during the later period of 1965-1979)


Due to the factors described in Conclusions 3 and 4, during 1960-1964 China’s population figure (apart from natural growths) seems to have decreased by 33.94 million. (Due to 11.62 million duplicate and erroneous hukou registers being removed, 7.5 million deaths that were originally not reported being registered, and 14.82 million people who failed to register their new hukou) This is the real reason for the seemingly huge decrease in China’s population figure at this time. All of these decreases are due to decreases in the statistical data, but they do not correspond to a decrease in the actual population. These decreases have no relation to the actual change in our country’s population, let alone due to millions of unnatural deaths.

以上事实充分证明,国内外一些人把这一减少解释为是由三年困难时期“饿死三千万”造成的,是完全错误的。 在“饿死三千万”这一说法的传播过程中,以科尔教授为代表的国外一些学者的研究、国内某课题组的专门研究,以及杨继绳、金辉、曹树基、丁抒等人的所谓研究起了极为重要的作用。其中杨继绳等人所谓研究的实质就是把由于各种复杂原因造成的我国(或各个地区)三年困难时期人口统计数据的减少,全部解释为是由人口非正常死亡造成的。 我们从学术的角度对上述所有这些研究逐一进行了分析,发现这些研究都存在着重大的学术错误,因此他们的观点都是不能成立的。

The facts described above demonstrate that it is completely wrong for some people both within China and abroad to explain this population decrease as due to “30 million people starving to death” during the Three Year Famine Period. During the process in which the idea of “30 million people starving to death” spread widely, the research represented by foreign academics such as Professor Kohl and also by Chinese academics in special research groups including people like Yang Jisheng, Jin Hui, Cao Shuji and Ding Yu had a very strong impact. 

More specifically the so-called “research” by people like Yang Jisheng reached the conclusion that the huge decrease in China’s population statistical figures during this period, which is actually due to various very complex reasons, can be completely explained by the abnormal deaths of huge numbers of people. From a scientific and academic perspective we have analysed these claims, and found that all of these so-called “research” possessed huge methodological flaws, and therefore none of their conclusions can be considered true.

三年困难时期,我国一些地区确实出现了“营养性死亡”现象,并且在以河南省信阳专区为代表的极少数地区,这种问题还非常严重。我们利用几种不同的方法对三年困难时期我国的“营养性死亡”人数进行了估算,估计出这一时期的“营养性死亡”人数在250万以下。 这里所说的“营养性死亡”主要指的是营养性疾病(浮肿病等)死亡、营养性疾病合并其他疾病死亡,也包括“完全性饥饿死亡”(即“饿死”)。

During the Three Year Famine Period, there were indeed some “nutrition-related deaths” in some regions of China, and in very few areas such as the Xinyang Special District in Henan Province, such issues were especially severe. Through various methods we have estimated the number of “nutrition-related deaths” during this period, and this figure would be no more than 2.5 million. “Nutrition-related deaths” as described here would include deaths either partially or completely due to diseases caused by the lack of food, as well as people literally starving to death.

在上述“营养性死亡”的数字中,“饿死”(完全性饥饿死亡)只是其中的一小部分。 在研究中,我们专门查证了我国这一时期死亡率最高的600多个县的地方志和其他大量资料,查证的结果证实了我们的这一估算是比较符合实际的。 站在今天的角度看,那三年间出现250万人“营养性死亡”,既是天灾,也是人祸,历史的教训值得深刻汲取;但是,片面地、无端地夸大非正常死亡人数,并不是严谨的学风,更无助于正确地总结历史的经验教训,坚定今日的前行方向。 

It is also the case that among the “nutrition-related deaths” described here, people literally starving to death only constitutes a small minority. In our research, we specifically looked into massive amounts of official documents in over 600 counties in which the death rate during this period was the highest, and our results has generally verified our estimated figures. From today’s perspective, one should say that 2.5 million “nutrition-related deaths” during those three years were the result of both “natural disasters” and “human failings”, and there are indeed historical lessons to be learned here. However, to partially and groundlessly exaggerate the number of deaths is not a scientific approach, and cannot contribute to learning from historical experiences in order to march ahead more determinedly today.

(The Author is a Professor at Jiangsu Normal University)


Dispute over the Great Leap Forward by Mobo Gao (Extract from Why the Battle for China'a Past is Relevant)

I will deal with an issue that is arguably most damaging to the Mao legacy, the starvation caused by the Great Leap Forward. In my case study of Gao Village I have made it clear that though not even one person died from starvation in the village, there was obvious shortage of food and obvious hunger. 

There is no doubt that there was a famine during 1959 and 1960, but there are controversies on the origin, cause and effect of the Great Leap Forward policies.

It is generally assumed that many people would have lived longer without the famine and many would have been born had there not been the famine. 

However, in what way and to what extent China’s population growth was affected by the Great Leap Forward is being hotly debated even today. 

China’s official population statistics published in the early 1980s seem to show that there was a population decline in that period, instead of growth on the basis of normal death and birth rates, and that this was in the range of several to tens of millions of people.

But the Chinese official statistics are based on data collected on household registration. There can be errors and fraud in household registration during the period for two important reasons. 

First, the data could not be complete and could be erroneous because the household registration system (hukou) was yet in the process of being established and it would take years to make it work properly. 

Secondly, the Great Leap Forward policies involved huge internal migration, first from rural to urban areas, as industrialization was expanding, and then from urban to rural areas as industrialization was contracting in the face of shortages  of grain and failure of some foolish policies such as backyard iron and steel manufacturing.

During these years households might have failed to register when they moved back to rural areas (Sun 2014). Because the population base of China is so huge that a tiny percentage of non-registration means large absolute numbers.

The exact death toll of the Great Leap Forward could never be established because there were no comprehensive records. 

All proposed numbers are guesses  based on assumptions and different methods (Yang 2013). However, what is clear is that the more one is anti-Mao, anti-socialist China, and anti-communist the higher the number one is likely to propose or to accept.

It is also worth remembering that in recent centuries the Chinese have been haunted by hunger and starvation. As foreign correspondents, missionaries and travellers witnessed before the establishment of the PRC, China was constantly devastated by natural disasters and starvation on a large scale which sometimes  claimed millions of lives. 

The large-scale famine which took place during 1959 and 1960 was the first, last and only one in the whole history of the Mao era and the whole history of the PRC. 

This cannot be just luck or accident. It was the result of decades of hard work that built a solid infrastructure of irrigation and management of rivers and lakes by massive manpower mobilized  by Mao’s campaign as well agricultural technological breakthroughs that are mentioned in the above text. 


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