China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
My paper examines one form of collective resistance during China’s Great Leap Famine—food hoarding, which is little known in the current scholarship that sees Chinese peasants as starving in passivity. Yet, during the Leap even Mao Zedong realized that 500 million peasants, including village cadres, undertook a "tenacious resistance" against the Central Government's grain policy and practiced manchan sifen, or "underreported the grain output and secretly distributed grain among themselves." Based on interviews with the peasants in three villages in Anhui Province, my paper on food hoarding, which includes grain concealment, underreporting and secret distribution, unpacks the famine from the survival side. My study notices that despite many cases of individual resistance during the famine, more effective survival strategies had to take a form of collective resistance, because the state's communal food policy had deprived peasants of the private ownership of food, compelled them to eat collectively at village mess halls, physically destroyed their private kitchens, and thereby greatly limited the space for private initiatives in obtaining grain. Furthermore, village kinship networks played an important role. Sensing that their very existence was threatened by the policy-caused famine, the starved peasants fell back on their blood relatives and kinship networks as their final means of blunting aggressive state penetration of the villages. My paper argues that a widespread practice of food hoarding, as a protective resistance, saved many millions of starving rural people, making collective resistance an important reason for peasant survival during the famine.