2009 sees the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Great Chinese Famine. Estimates of the number who died range as high as 40 million. There were floods, there was drought, but above all there was the chaos produced by Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward.” Peasants were dragooned into huge inefficient centralised farms, or were diverted from the land to make steel by melting down pots and pans in backyard furnaces, or to build giant, shoddy dams – many of which soon collapsed.
Other madcap schemes included killing all the birds, and planting seeds more closely together so they choked each other. The trouble was that even as people starved, the government propaganda machine was claiming that harvests were at record levels and that there were dazzling agri-technological achievements like crossing cows with pigs.
The full story is in my book A Disastrous History of the World.