Chapter 12: The Great Famine
12. The Great Famine The factors responsible for China’s Great Famine in the years 1959–61 are also the causes of the failure of Mao’s strategy of concurrent development. While several good studies are available (see Kueh 1995; Becker 1996; Walker 1998; Riskin 1998; Lin and Yang 2000; Kung and Lin 2003) the most recent one by Yang (2009) is the most reliable and comprehensive one and this discussion largely follows it. Prior to Sen’s contribution (1977) the cause for famine was mainly attributed to the decline in food availability (FAD) as a result of either natural or man-made disasters. However, Sen argues that the more crucial factor may, in fact, have been problems with the distribution rather than the production of food, for example entitlement failure (EF). In a market economy the famine affects segments of the population who lose their entitlement to food because of the sudden loss of their possessions, or loss of the means to buy food, or because of change in the relative price structure which makes it difficult for them to acquire sufficient food. In his studies of several well-known historical famines in India he found that famines occurred even in the absence of FAD, simply because of EF. However, in the case of China’s famine at the end of the Great Leap Forward it has been shown that both factors were present: there was a significant decline in FAD and also EF on the part of the rural population (Lin and Yang 2000;...
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