Famine Politics in Maoist China and the Soviet Union


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Felix Wemheuer

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An authoritative study of food politics in the socialist regimes of China and the Soviet Union

 During the twentieth century, 80 percent of all famine victims worldwide died in China and the Soviet Union. In this rigorous and thoughtful study, Felix Wemheuer analyzes the historical and political roots of these socialist-era famines, in which overambitious industrial programs endorsed by Stalin and Mao Zedong created greater disasters than those suffered under prerevolutionary regimes.

Focusing on famine as a political tool, Wemheuer systematically exposes how conflicts about food among peasants, urban populations, and the socialist state resulted in the starvation death of millions. A major contribution to Chinese and Soviet history, this provocative analysis examines the long-term effects of the great famines on the relationship between the state and its citizens and argues that the lessons governments learned from the catastrophes enabled them to overcome famine in their later decades of rule.
Felix Wemheuer is is professor of Modern China Studies at the University of Cologne. He has published three books on twentieth-century Chinese political history and numerous journal articles.
“This manuscript is a major achievement. It compares two complex countries in great detail. The author analyzes in detail the strategies, tactics, and failures of the two ‘Great Leaps.’”—Thomas P. Bernstein, Columbia University
“The author provides the first comprehensive and systematic analysis of the impact of the two great famines created by the socialist states of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. . . . This is by far the most authoritative comparative study of the two greatest famines of the twentieth century.”—Peter C. Perdue, author of Exhausting the Earth and China Marches West
“Wemheuer’s book is a major contribution to our understanding of China’s Great Leap Famine, and a stimulating example of what comparative research on famines under state socialism can offer.”—Kate Edgerton-Tarpley, San Diego State University
“This is an important, brave, and timely book. His case for different ways of assessing these man-made famines may be controversial. But it is built on plausible evidence and on cogent analysis, and defiantly demands attention.”—Cormac Ó Gráda, author of Famine: A Short History
“In this bold and innovative study of famine and ‘food politics’, Wemheuer is intellectually fearless, tackling big questions and bringing a welcome spirit of scholarly dispassion to current debates, while never losing sight of the awfulness of his subject.”—Steve Smith, All Souls College, Oxford

“. . . a valuable and detailed backdrop to a history of [f]ood under socialism.”—Anton Masterovoy, Contemporary European History

“Wemheuer’s comparative study is a valuable reference work to recent literatures on these two famines, with the caveat that readers should be cautious about his discussion of the USSR. It is a corrective to the prevailing trend of 'intentionalist' interpretations that have acquired wide political support despite their scholarly inadequacies, and as such is an important book to read for anyone convinced of 'famine-genocide' views.”—International Review of Social History
ISBN: 9780300195811
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
344 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
5 b/w illus.
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