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Great Chinese Famine (1958–1961)

  • By: Kristin Stevens
  • In: Encyclopedia of Disaster Relief
  • Edited by: K. Bradley Penuel & Matt Statler
  • Subject:Public Health (general), Public Policy (general)

The Great Chinese Famine, also known as the Great Leap Forward disaster, occurred in China 1959–61. Up until the 1980s, this period was known in China as Three Years of Economic Difficulty, Three Bitter Years, or Three Years Natural Disasters. These names belie the tragedy and the human element in causing this famine. The Chinese government acknowledges 15 million dead, but best estimates indicate about 30 million dead, making it the largest famine in human history.

The famine was an outcome of both drought and overly ambitious political directives under the communist government of Mao Zedong in 1958. While the drought likely contributed to some degree, the political management of resources ultimately caused the famine. Mao Zedong had initiated a period of agricultural collectivization as part ...

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