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China's Agricultural Crisis and Famine of 1959-61: A Survey and Comparison to Soviet Famines

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  • Dennis Tao Yang

Abstract

China?s Great Leap Forward (GLF) of 1958-61, a campaign of unprecedented mobilization efforts to achieve rapid industrialization, ended as a catastrophe. National grain production collapsed and a widespread famine claimed millions of human lives. This paper reviews a growing economic literature on this historical crisis. While multiple causes are hypothesized, empirical findings suggest that the collapse of grain production was primarily attributable to a systematic failure in central planning, involving the diversion of agricultural resources to industry and excessive grain procurements that precipitated malnutrition among peasants and decimation of labor productivity. The resulting decline in grain availability, as well as urban bias in China?s food distribution system, became the main culprits of the enormous famine. In light of the Chinese experience, this paper also explores the role of defective planning in the Soviet famines of 1931-3 and 1947.

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File URL: ftp://repec.econ.vt.edu/Papers/Yang/Survey-CES-Yang-VT.pdf
File Function: First version, 2007
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number e07-4.

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Length: 42 pages
Date of creation: 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:vpi:wpaper:e07-4

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Keywords: central planning; food supply; famine; urban bias; China; USSR;

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References

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  1. Wei Li & Dennis Tao Yang, 2005. "The Great Leap Forward: Anatomy of a Central Planning Disaster," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(4), pages 840-877, August.
  2. Gale Johnson, D., 1998. "China's great famine: Introductory remarks," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 103-109.
  3. Cormac Ó Gráda, 2006. "Making Famine History," Working Papers 200610, School Of Economics, University College Dublin.
  4. Lin, Justin Yifu & Yang, Dennis Tao, 1998. "On the causes of China's agricultural crisis and the great leap famine," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 125-140.
  5. Sen, Amartya, 1983. "Development: Which Way Now?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 93(372), pages 742-62, December.
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Cited by:
  1. Meng, Xin & Qian, Nancy & Yared, Pierre, 2010. "The Institutional Causes of China's Great Famine, 1959-61," CEPR Discussion Papers 8012, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

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