Complaints of hunger from the Great Leap Forward (1959)




In early 1959, a year into the Great Leap Forward, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) provincial committee in Shandong was flooded with letters regarding food shortages in the villages and People’s Communes:



“Between February 1st and February 15th we received 266 letters of complaint, passed down by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party or sent directly to the Provincial Party Committee. All the letters are concerned with food crises in the countryside… In regard to the content, most of them complained that a number of collective canteens have run out of food completely and that there is widespread fear in the countryside. Many villagers have fled or have become ill. Agricultural production has almost come to a halt…

It seems the crisis in Jianxiang is the most critical. Since the Chinese New Year, there have been at least nine letters of complaint describing the food crisis there. [Students and soldiers] wrote letters stating that each villager could get only 200 to 250 grams of food ration per day. A similar situation is depicted in letters [from Gutin commune]. These letters reveal the lack of food or even the absence of food in the countryside and that people are constantly worried about their livelihoods. Many villagers ended up having to fill their stomachs with wheat stubble [straw]…

On the first day of the New Year, many villagers from Zhou Yingli went to the fields to look for rotten sweet potatoes and carrots to fill their stomachs In some villages around Yucheng and Guting… a huge number of people have fled to other areas to beg for food. In Daming, owing to a lack of money, six people died of illness within eight days, without any treatment. In Xulou, six people died of starvation within ten days…

[Party members] from Yucheng Commune’s Xieji village wrote that in their village, each villager could manage to eat just 100 to 150 grams of rice. Most villagers are emaciated and their faces look pale. Quite a few have tried to commit suicide.

An anonymous letter from Gauncheng Commune describes the hardship that villagers are facing. Each person manages to get just 100 to 150 grams of rice or 250 grams of carrots, as the letter calls it, ‘food for ghosts’… It says that many villagers have been complaining and wanting to go to Beijing to inform Chairman Mao about the hardship people are facing. They want Chairman Mao and the Party to seek revenge for them.”

great leap forward hunger
A hungry Chinese child asks for a rice handout, purportedly during the Great Leap Forward
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