New film addresses taboo subject: China's Great Famine
Mao's 'Great Leap Forward' blamed for starvation of millions
File picture shows a 2009 rally in Hong Kong with posters reading: 'The Great Leap Forward: 30 million people starved to death'. Picture: Christian Science Monitor/Reuters
August 18, 2014
For filmmaker Hu Jie, telling the truth about China's Great Famine is a sacred duty, however much it flies in the face of government censorship and public indifference.
Mr. Hu’s latest film "Spark," which has so far shown publicly only in Hong Kong, chronicles four students in the Chinese heartland of Lanzhou who start a short-lived underground magazine in 1960 at the height of the famine. The magazine, also called Spark, dares to blame the mass starvation on the Communist Party, which promptly arrests the students.
“These kind of people are the spiritual support for the nation to survive in a noble and elegant way,” Hu told The Christian Science Monitor in a recent telephone interview from his home in Nanjing. “They show there is light and life in the darkness of their time and ours.”
Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" pushed impossible harvest quotas and experimented with failed Soviet farming techniques. When output failed to keep pace with the quotas, Communist officials persecuted peasants that Mao accused of holding back food. In parallel, peasants who tried to forage for food were persecuted or killed – and all as state granaries had supplies and the nation exported foodstuffs.
At the time, to admit openly there was a famine, even though bodies were strewn along railway lines, was to be labeled a “counterrevolutionary” or a “rightist” and subject to punishment.
The exact death toll is still unknown. In recent years, some researchers have cited a number of 38.7 million fatalities based on state archives, and not encountered any official denial, sources say. For many years, the party referred to the period as "Three years of natural disasters." Lately this has been amended in party and government texts to "Three years of difficulties."
Whether that revision is due to the work of scholars like Yang Jisheng, author of "Tombstone," an exhaustive study of the famine first published in Hong Kong in 2008, or filmmakers like Hu who buck the official narrative, is unknown.
"Tombstone" appeared in an English translation in 2012. In an op-ed published that year in The New York Times, Mr. Yang wrote that a full accounting of the famine could “…undermine the legitimacy of a ruling party that clings to the political legacy of Mao, even though that legacy, a totalitarian Communist system, was the root cause of the famine.”
Source: Christian Science Monitor
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