China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This panel situates the Great Leap Famine of 1958-62 in historical context, and examines new aspects of the disaster. Focal points include factors that made the famine so lethal, local-level modes of resistance, and continuity and change in terms of pre-famine, famine-era, and post-famine terminology, survival strategies, and non-food-related dimensions of crisis. The issue of scarcity cuts across the four papers. The famine, we find, was defined not only by the lack of food, but also by a dearth of approved language with which to diagnose and address the nature of the crisis, politically-feasible survival strategies, and sufficient clothing. Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley analyzes the Chinese Communist Party’s construction of a new vocabulary of disaster by contrasting the focus on edema as a primary cause of death in county-level reports from the Great Leap Famine with late-Qing and Republican-era discussions of famine mortality. Liu Shigu sifts through county archives from Anhui Province to investigate the reasons for and consequences of the demise, during the mid-1950s, of important traditional survival strategies such as escaping a disaster area in search of food. Chen Yixin shares Liu’s interest in peasant survival strategies, and uses interviews with Anhui villagers to examine food hoarding and recourse to village kinship networks as effective and understudied forms of collective resistance. Jacob Eyferth concludes the panel with an analysis of the counter-strategies China’s rural population employed to deal with the severe and prolonged “textile famine” that contributed to famine mortality, but persisted long after widespread starvation ended.