Refugee Accounts of the Great Chinese Famine (Worksheet)

"A poster for schools shows the ideal people's commune, with a rich harvest, backyard furnaces, communal facilities for eating and washing, a centre for the elderly and the people's militia," 1958. chineseposters.net

Rather than relying on state-run media and tours, Miriam and Ivan London investigated the conditions in China from 1965-1975 by interviewing refugees who made the dangerous escape to Hong Kong by swimming through shark-infested waters. The worksheet found on the top right sidebar includes four quotes from people living in China during the Great Famine from different social, economic, and national backgrounds. Students can compare and contrast their experiences and answer questions as to whether or not the commune system during 1959-1961 reflected an egalitarian spirit.

The worksheet is available in .doc form for modifications. More accounts can be found in the full article here

BACKGROUND: Almost a decade after the Communist Revolution, Mao Zedong decided that China was not progressing fast enough toward the ideal Communist state, where all property would be held in common. So he launched the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958-61), which included confiscating all private land and organizing the peasants into farming communes, in which large groups of peasants worked together on farms and were paid with work points. Everything was shared, from farm animals to equipment. Even private cooking was banned and families ate together in large communal dining rooms. Mismanagement of this utopian program contributed to the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-1961, but problems did not stop there. Inefficiencies on farms and starvation continued until reforms began under Deng Xiaoping in 1978. The state tried to quiet the news of farming failures by publishing false or inflated numbers.

This worksheet works well in a global history, world history or comparative government class.