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These interviews follow a basic script, but the author consciously allowed the interviewees to drive the conversation.

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Frierson is open about breaking rules of etiquette to engage more intimately with her interviewees and also about presenting interviews with different levels of editing. The interviews themselves are, as one would expect, heartrending and follow familiar patterns of late-night arrests, loved ones who vanish, separation, displacement, and lives of hardship and limited opportunities.

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She excels at giving a subjective sense of being there. These introductions often highlight what Frierson wants the reader to take away from the text, which at times seems a little forced. The discussions in the interviews reveal a diversity of fates and ways of understanding them. As a result, this book is ultimately an oral history collection and could be seen as an appendix to the previously published volume.

The author succeeds in framing her subject in a way that both tells the story she wants to get across and invites critical engagement by the reader.

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Citation: Brandon Michael Schechter. He said: 'I have to ask the party secretary. He pauses.

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Half a century on, the government still treats the famine as a natural disaster and denies the true death toll. They don't dare to admit the system's problems … It might influence the legitimacy of the Communist party," Yang says. The death toll is staggering.

It is "equivalent to times the number of people killed by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki … and greater than the number of people killed in the first world war," he writes. Many think even this is a conservative figure: in his acclaimed book Mao's Great Famine , Frank Dikotter estimates that the toll reached at least 45 million. Tombstone meticulously demonstrates that the famine was not only vast, but manmade; and not only manmade but political, born of totalitarianism. Mao Zedong had vowed to build a communist paradise in China through sheer revolutionary zeal, collectivising farmland and creating massive communes at astonishing speed.

In he sought to go further, launching the Great Leap Forward: a plan to modernise the entire Chinese economy so ambitious that it tipped over into insanity. Many believe personal ambition played a crucial role. Not satisfied with being "the most powerful emperor who had ever ruled China", Mao strove to snatch leadership of the international communist movement. If the Soviet Union believed it could catch up with the US in 15 years, he vowed, China could overtake Britain in production.

His vicious attacks on other leaders who dared to voice concern cowed opposition. But, as Yang notes: "It's a very complicated historical process, why China believed in Maoism and took this path. It wasn't one person's mistake but many people's. The plan proved a disaster from the first. Local officials, either from fanaticism or fear, sent grossly exaggerated reports of their success to the centre, proclaiming harvests three or four times their true size.

Higher authorities claimed huge amounts of grain for the cities and even dispatched it overseas. Cadres harassed or killed those who sought to tell the truth and covered up deaths when reports of problems trickled to the centre. Even so, work by Yang and others has proved that senior leaders in Beijing knew of the famine as early as It is better to let half the people die so that others can eat their fill.

Ruthlessness ran through the system. In Xinyang, the Henan city at the centre of the disaster, those who tried to escape the famine were rounded up; many died of starvation or from brutality in detention centres.

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Police hunted down those who wrote anonymous letters raising the alarm. Attempts to control the population tipped over into outright sadism, with cadres torturing victims in increasingly elaborate, ritualistic ways: "The textbooks don't mention this part of history at all," says Yang.

People's ideology has been formed over many years. So right now it's very necessary to write this book; otherwise nobody has this history.

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There are signs that at least some in China want to address it. Last year, the Southern People's Weekly dared to publish an issue with the words "Great Famine" emblazoned starkly across the cover. Inside, an article referred to the calamity as a manmade problem. Yang is convinced that Tombstone will be published on the mainland, maybe within the decade. He adds with a smile that there are probably , copies already in circulation, including pirated versions and those smuggled from Hong Kong: "There are a lot of things people overseas know first and Chinese people learn from overseas," he points out.

But in other ways the shutters are coming down. Zhou Xun, whose new book, The Great Famine in China , collects original documents on the disaster for the first time, writes that much of that material has already been made inaccessible by archives. They are not going to let people look at this stuff any more," warns Beijing author and photographer Du Bin, whose forthcoming book, No One In The World Can Defeat Me, juxtaposes accounts and images of the horror with the cheery propaganda of the time.

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In China, history cannot be safely contained within a book; it always threatens to spill over: "Although many years have passed, the Communist party is still in charge of the country," says Yang. Some hope that the new generation of leaders taking power may be willing to revisit the country's history and acknowledge the mistakes that have been made. Others think it will be easy for them to continue smoothing over the past.

He recalls meeting a worker from Xinyang who lost two family members to the famine. The man's teenage grandson simply could not believe his recollections, and the pair ended up rowing. Yet the power of the truth to reshape China is manifest in its effect on Yang himself: "I was a very conservative person growing up with a Communist education.

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My mind was very simple. Now, my mind is liberated. I believe China should move forward to democracy and market economy," he says. He is, says Lusby, a true patriot; his diligent and risky work is not just for his father and himself, but for his country: "The Chinese people were cheated. They need real history. Topics China. Famine Communism Asia Pacific features. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All.