I know. I already flunked out of NaBloPoMo. J let me know first thing this morning when he checked the blog. In fact, he woke me up to tell me. Thanks, J.
But I was up late last night. Reading. I used to read A LOT. Like all the time. And then I got busy – one kid, then another kid, and a house, and a job just doesn’t leave a lot of free time for reading the way I’d like to. I used to read 3-4 books a week – now I might read 3-4 a month. I do read tons of blogs and I have about a million news apps on my phone but books have fallen to the end of the list.
I was checking Google Reader last night and one of the blogs I read did a mini book review of a book about the famine in China resulting from Mao’s initial implementation of the Great Leap Forward. The blogger said straight up that this was was not an easy read but was worth the effort as it was the most comprehensive and well-researched book he’d ever seen on the topic. The book is called Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 and was written by Yang Jisheng. His book was originally written in Chinese and has taken several years to be edited and translated into English. Even with the editing it’s still a lengthy book at 650 odd pages and it is alternately dry, due to all of the statistics, and yet horrifying due to the awful, awful stories of all the dead (and of the survivors who lived through the horrors of the time).
Just imagine for a moment. At least 36 million people dead – the majority of whom starved to death – over a 4 year period. 36 million. That’s nearly the population of California. Dead. Starved to death. Parents, children, babies. All of them.
And all of that was caused by the ideas of one man and his plan to collectivize the Chinese peasants into communal work units. One man. I can’t even imagine how truly charismatic he must have been (in the beginning) to convince so many to follow him. I know that he eventually led by fear and violence but in the beginning people followed him because they believed in him and his vision for the country. With the perspective of hindsight and a Western lens it seems unbelievable that such a tragedy could happen but it did and I think people, but especially parents of Chinese children since this is a part of their first country’s history, should examine it to try and understand the events and the impact.
So even though the book is a little bit expensive – even on Kindle – I downloaded it and got sucked right in. It’s not a fast or easy read and I found myself having to re-read some parts over and over again to follow all the players and crunch the numbers in my head. And then it hit close to home.
Henan province – Merry’s province – was the province that suffered the highest number of casualties. Nanyang Prefecture – Merry’s city – was in the top 3 with tens upon tens of thousands of villagers dying from starvation. It just boggles.my.mind that this one man set forth all of the actions that ultimately led to me having these two beautiful girls sleeping upstairs – 7 thousand miles from where they began. Really, it just boggles my mind.
I’m only a couple of chapters in at this point. I haven’t even finished the entire chapter on Henan province so I’ve not even ventured into the chapter on Hubei province yet. I want to read more and more but at the same time it is very chilling and I find that I have to break away from it also – it’s pretty graphic and some of the things that happened ain’t pretty.
I’ll leave you with some links.
Here’s the book: Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962
And here’s a review from The Boston Globe: ‘Tombstone’ by Yang Jisheng, translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian
*UPDATED* with a new link to an NPR story (with audio): A Grim Chronicle Of China’s Great Famine