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Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962

Yang Jisheng

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“A tombstone is memory made concrete. Human memory is the ladder on which a country and a people advance. We must remember not only the good things, but also the bad; the bright spots, but also the darkness. The authorities in a totalitarian system strive to conceal their faults and extol their merits, gloss over their errors and forcibly eradicate all memory of man-made calamity, darkness, and evil.”

“the CCP’s dictatorship of the proletariat made Mao the most powerful emperor who had ever ruled China.”

“The campaign against right deviation revived the Communist Wind, Exaggeration Wind, Coercive Commandism Wind, and Chaotic Directives Wind that had been restrained during the first half of 1959.”

“Starvation was a prolonged agony. The grain was gone, the wild herbs had all been eaten, even the bark had been stripped from the trees, and bird droppings, rats, and cotton batting were used to fill stomachs. In the kaolin clay fields,22 starving people chewed on the clay as they dug it. The corpses of the dead, famine victims seeking refuge from other villages, even one’s own family members, became food for the desperate.”

“Later the county authorities ordered a “sanitation drive” in which all burial pits were stomped flat so that no trace could be found. Jing”

“In a country in which an imperial mentality was deeply entrenched, people from the outset regarded the central government as the voice of authority, and the party used the “magical power” of the central government to instill its values in the entire populace. Inexperienced youth sincerely believed in these teachings, and their parents, out of either blind faith or fear of the regime, did their best to prevent their children from revealing any line of thought diverging from that of the government, requiring their children to be submissive and obedient.”

“I harbored no doubts regarding the party’s propaganda about the accomplishments of the “Great Leap Forward” or the advantages of the people’s communes. I believed that what was happening in my home village was isolated, and that my father’s death was merely one family’s tragedy. Compared with the advent of the great Communist society, what was my family’s petty misfortune? The party had taught me to sacrifice the self for the greater good when encountering difficulty, and I was completely obedient. I maintained this frame of mind right up until the Cultural Revolution.”

“Friends and relatives encouraged me to erect a gravestone for my father. I thought that even though I was not a high official, I would erect for my father a tombstone grander than any of those others. Then I recalled that in 1958, many of the village's tombstones had been dismantled for use in irrigation projects or as bases for smelting ovens in the steelmaking campaign during the Great Leap Forward; some had been laid out on roadways. The more impressive the monument, the greater the likelihood of it being demolished. My father's tombstone had to be erected not on the ground, but in my heart. A tombstone in the heart could never be demolished or trampled underfoot.”

“Confronted by the severe consequences of the Great Famine, President Liu Shaoqi once said to Mao Zedong, “History will record the role you and I played in the starvation of so many people, and the cannibalism will also be memorialized!”26 In the spring of 1962, Liu once again noted that “Deaths by starvation will be recorded in the history books.”27 Yet after more than forty years, no full account of the Great Famine has been published in mainland China. More than regrettable from a historical standpoint, it is an offense to the memories of the tens of millions of innocent victims.”

“China has undergone an enormous transformation. But because the political system remains unchanged, the great changes in the economic and social sphere have resulted in an unequal allocation of the fruits and costs of economic reform. The combined abuses under the exclusive profit orientation of a market economy and the untrammeled power of totalitarianism have created an endless supply of injustice, exacerbating discontent among the lower-class majority.”

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Book Keywords:

communism, love, china, tombstone, famine, starvation, death, loss, family, father, grief

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