Eating Bitterness

New Perspectives on China's Great Leap Forward and Famine

Edited by Kimberley Ens Manning and Felix Wernheuer

  • Published: 2011. Paperback 2012
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 336 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: US rights only
  • Distributed for: UBC Press
  • Contents

When the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, Mao Zedong declared that "not even one person shall die of hunger." Yet some 30 million peasants died of starvation and exhaustion during the Great Leap Forward. Eating Bitterness reveals how men and women in rural and urban settings experienced the changes brought on by the party leaders' attempts to modernize China. This landmark volume lifts the curtain of party propaganda to expose the suffering of citizens and the deeply-contested nature of state-society relations in Maoist China.
Kimberly Ens Manning is an assistant professor of political science at Concordia University. Felix Wemheuer is an assistant professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna. The contributors include Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Richard King, Xin Yi, Wang Yanni, Gao Hua, Yixin Chen, Jeremy Brown, Ralph A. Thaxton Jr., and Wangling Gao.

"Explaining how a Communist regime that came to power with peasant support could stumble so badly is a task that has engaged many scholars. Eating Bitterness is a very welcome addition to this literature. Several of its authors have had access to sources that only opened up recently, especially local archives; still others report findings from years of doing oral history in the villages. It will be an attractive reader in history and politics courses on contemporary China."
-Thomas P. Bernstein, co-author of Taxation without Representation in Contemporary China

"This landmark volume brings the fruits of recent revisionist scholarship to a western readership. Its originality lies in the fact that is not only concerned with high politics, but with the impact of the Great Leap Forward on society as a whole, in particular, on grassroots rural communities. The authors seek to get behind officially propagated images of mass mobilization by raising acute questions about the mix of enthusiasm and coercion that powered the mobilization and the relationship of central and provincial organs of government to local officials. I will use Eating Bitterness extensively in my teaching and research."
-Steve Smith, author of Revolution and the People in Russia and China: A Comparative History

Introduction / Kimberley Ens Manning and Felix Wemheuer

1. Re-Imagining the Chinese Peasant: The Historiography on the Great Leap Forward / Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik

2. Romancing the Leap: Euphoria in the Moment before Disaster / Richard King

3. The Gendered Politics of Woman-Work: Rethinking Radicalism in the Great Leap Forward / Kimberley Ens Manning

4. "The Grain Problem Is an Ideological Problem": Discourses of Hunger in the 1957 Socialist Education Campaign / Felix Wemheuer

5. On the Distribution System of Large-Scale People's Communes / Xin Yi

6. An Introduction to the ABCs of Communization: A Case Study of Macheng County / Wang Yanni

7. Food Augmentation Methods and Food Substitutes during the Great Famine / Gao Hua

8. Under the Same Maoist Sky: Accounting for Death Rate Discrepancies in Anhui and Jiangxi / Chen Yixin

9. Great Leap City: Surviving the Famine in Tianjin / Jeremy Brown

10. How the Great Leap Forward Famine Ended in Rural China: "Administrative Intervention" versus Peasant Resistance / Ralph A. Thaxton Jr.

11. A Study of Chinese Peasant "Counter-Action" / Gao Wangling


"An important collection that contributes both new perspectives and rich data. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the Great Leap Famine and the early years of the PRC."
-Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley, The Journal of Asian Studies