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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Dennis Tao Yang, 2007. "China's Agricultural Crisis and Famine of 1959-61: A Survey and Comparison to Soviet Famines," Working Papers e07-4, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:vpi:wpaper:e07-4
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    File URL: ftp://repec.econ.vt.edu/Papers/Yang/Survey-CES-Yang-VT.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gale Johnson, D., 1998. "China's great famine: Introductory remarks," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 103-109.
    2. Cormac Ó Gráda, 2007. "Making Famine History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(1), pages 5-38, March.
    3. James Kung & Louis Putterman, 1997. "China's collectivisation puzzle: A new resolution," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(6), pages 741-763.
    4. 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.
    5. Sen, Amartya, 1983. "Development: Which Way Now?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 93(372), pages 742-762, December.
    6. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Xin Meng & Nancy Qian & Pierre Yared, 2010. "The Institutional Causes of China's Great Famine, 1959-61," NBER Working Papers 16361, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    Keywords

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

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