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Reviewed by:
  • Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962
  • Fang Lizhi (bio)
Frank Dikötter, Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 (New York: Walker, 2010), 448 pp.

As one of the many who personally lived through the fearful years from 1960 to 1962 in China, I would like to thank Frank Dikötter, whose book reliably exposes the details of the largest famine in Chinese history. A few tens of millions of people died of starvation during the catastrophe known as the "Great Leap Forward," a product of Mao's insane and cruel utopia, which was based, in turn and in part, on the so-called science of Marxism. One acre of land, Marxist science determined, could produce 5 million kilograms of grain; this and other statements of the kind could be found almost every day in the People's Daily, the most important newspaper of communist China. Dikötter's book describes an omnipotent leader so ignorant, rash, and reckless as to apply the adulatory word science to such stupidity and, on its basis, to make policy decisions that would affect the lives of 1 billion people. Certainly, many with common sense knew the mendacity of the "Great Leap Forward," even at the time. China was, however, and remains a country that suppresses speech. That anyone who ever queried Mao's policies was silenced and punished is a fundamental cause of the great famine. [End Page 373]

Fang Lizhi

Fang Lizhi, former vice president of the University of Science and Technology of China, was named "most wanted counterrevolutionary criminal" by the Chinese authorities in 1989. Following a year's refuge in the US embassy, he was permitted to emigrate and has since held positions at Cambridge University, the Institute for Advanced Study, and, the University of Arizona, where he is now professor of physics and astronomy. Recipient of the Nicholson Medal of the American Physical Society, the Freedom Award of the International Rescue Committee, and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, he is the author of more than 230 scientific papers and author, coauthor, or editor of twenty books, including Bringing Down the Great Wall: Writings on Science, Culture, and Democracy in China.



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