6 - THE ESCAPE FROM FAMINE AND DEATH  pp. 199-230

THE ESCAPE FROM FAMINE AND DEATH

By Ralph A. Thaxton, Jr

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Between the autumn harvest of 1959 and the spring hunger of 1960, the existential situation of Da Fo's inhabitants deteriorated sharply. Reduced to one-fourth jin (4.2 ounces) of food per day – the equivalent of about two cups of rice or a few slices of bread – in the spring hunger of 1960, the public dining hall grain ration in Da Fo was a quarter of the daily ration during the killer Madras Famine in India of 1877. Yet most people in Da Fo survived the ensuing terrible year of the Great Leap Forward Famine. If grain concealment, the black market, and gleaning rights were all but eliminated and if the Liangmen People's Commune and Da Fo party leaders had usurped the household entitlements of the past, such as selling off family land and property to purchase food or seeking hunger loans from landlord patrons, how did villagers escape death?

China's rural people, including the tillers of Da Fo, avoided losing all of their crops to state procurement during the Great Leap famine by eating the crops of the collective before the harvest. People from all three of Da Fo's harvest companies say that 90 percent of their members survived primarily by relying on chi qing, as villagers call the practice of eating immature or unripe crops. This means that if we focus mainly on the amount of the harvest taken by commune officials after the harvest was reaped rather than the struggle over the harvest within the fields of the collective, we cannot grasp the most effective survival strategy when starvation threatened in 1960 and 1961.

6

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