Via the South China Morning Post, an informative and disturbing report: Mao Zedong's Great Famine of 1958-62 still blights rural lives, scholar says. The article deals largely with a new book, Forgotten Voices of Mao's Great Famine 1958-1962, by historian Dr. Zhou Xun. Excerpt:
The recent proliferation of books on the topic can be attributed to a desire by scholars to examine the communist regime's foundations in the 1950s and present a more systematic critique of it, says Dr Sebastian Veg, director of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China in Hong Kong.
The research also reflects an effort to record the stories of elderly witnesses with memories that are not part of the official narrative. The researchers have benefited from greater access to archives. However, while some documents have been declassified since the 1990s, Zhou says access to many files that she and other historians once consulted, particularly those held by provincial party committees, has since been withdrawn.
Zhou also tapped into an abundance of oral accounts. To many elderly peasants who have been physically and mentally scarred by the horrific events for five decades, telling their stories to Zhou was "a form of social healing", she says.
From her interviews with more than 200 survivors of the famine, most of them illiterate peasants, Zhou found that poverty, ill health and mental anguish continue to plague survivors.
The Dwarfs' Village is only 55 kilometres southeast of the provincial capital, Chengdu . But Zhou says it feels much more remote, with the impoverished community untouched by the wealth created by three decades of rapid economic growth.
It is not connected to a motorway, and it took Zhou nearly three hours to reach it - first by bus from Chengdu to the nearest township, and then by scooter on a bumpy, dusty country road.
Villagers told Zhou that 70 per cent of children born in the village during the famine suffered from the bone disorder, known in the medical community as Kashin-Beck disease. It affects rural residents in remote areas throughout Asia.
"Before that there were only two or three such cases in the area. But during the period of collectivisation, it became endemic in our village," one resident told Zhou. "Many people born in those years lost the ability to walk. Even now, many of them still cannot walk."
While Kashin-Beck disease is endemic in China, the nutritional deficiency of the Great Famine "is highly likely to have triggered an increase of the prevalence of the disease in this village", says Rodrigo Moreno-Reyes, chief clinical associate professor in the department of nuclear medicine at the Free University of Brussels.
Medicals experts say that while the cause of the disease is not fully understood, it is linked with poor conditions including deficiency in selenium, iodine and other minerals and vitamins linked with bone growth, as well as the intake of toxic substances.
The disorder often disappears when the economic and living conditions improve and may reappear when conditions become harsh again, according to Moreno-Reyes.
Zhou says she has deliberately kept the village's name and villagers' identities anonymous to protect them from retaliation by the local government, which wants to cover up their ordeal.
"They are still suffering now, and nobody cares about them," she says.
I reviewed another book on the subject in The Tyee back in 2011.