The power of Frank Dikoetter's ground-breaking work on the disaster that followed China's attempted `Great Leap Forward' lies not in the detail of his evidence (though that shows that Mao's fumbled attempt at rapid industrialization probably cost 45 million Chinese lives). It stems from the exceptional reasoning skills that allowed Dikoetter to turn years of researching in obscure Chinese archives into a compelling narrative of disaster, and above all to link two subjects that had been treated as distinct by most of his predecessors: the extent of the crisis in the countryside, and the actions (hence the responsibility) of the senior Chinese leadership.
In Dikoetter's view, ultimate responsibility for the catastrophe lies at the door of Mao Zedong himself; the Chairman conceived and ordered the policies that led to the famine, and he did nothing to reverse them or limit the damage that was being wrought when evidence for their disastrous impact reached him. Dikoetter's ability to persuade his readers of the fundamental truth of these arguments - despite his admission that his access to sources was necessarily limited and incomplete - together with the clear structure of his presentation combine to produce a work that has had enormous influence on perceptions of Mao and of the Great Leap Forward itself.
Dr John Wagner Givens holds a DPhil in politics from the University of Oxford. He is currently an Asian Studies Center Associate and Adjunct Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, having previously held positions as a post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Center for Asian Democracy at the University of Louisville, as Associate Lecturer at the University of the West of England, and as a Visiting Scholar at Nankai University in Tianjin. Dr Wagner's research interests span a range of topics including Law, Foreign Policy, and Political Economy, but he specializes in ostensibly liberal institutions in nondemocratic regimes. He is currently working on a book manuscript on lawyers who sue the Chinese state.
Ways in to the text Who was Frank Dikotter? What does Mao's Great Famine say? Why does Mao's Great Famine matter? Section 1: Influences Module 1: The Author and the Historical Context Module 2: Academic Context Module 3: The Problem Module 4: The Author's Contribution Section 2: Ideas Module 5: Main Ideas Module 6: Secondary Ideas Module 7: Achievement Module 8: Place in the Author's Work Section 3: Impact Module 9: The First Responses Module 10: The Evolving Debate Module 11: Impact and Influence Today Module 12: Where Next? Glossary of Terms People Mentioned in the Text Works Cited