In the summer of 1962, China’s president, Liu Shaoqi, warned Mao Zedong that “history will record the role you and I played in the starvation of so many people, and the cannibalism will also be memorialized!” Liu had visited Hunan, his home province as well as Mao’s, where almost a million people died of hunger. Some of the survivors had eaten dead bodies or had killed and eaten their comrades. In “Tombstone,” an eye-opening study of the worst famine in history, Yang Jisheng concludes that 36 million Chinese starved to death in the years between 1958 and 1962, while 40 million others failed to be born, which means that “China’s total population loss during the Great Famine then comes to 76 million.”
Chinese statistics are always overwhelming, so Yang helps us to conceptualize what 36 million deaths actually means. It is, he writes, “450 times the number of people killed by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki” and “greater than the number of people killed in World War I.” It also, he insists, “outstripped the ravages of World War II.” While 40 to 50 million died in that war, it stretched over seven or eight years, while most deaths in the great Chinese famine, he notes, were “concentrated in a six-month period.” The famine occurred neither during a war nor in a period of natural calamity. When mentioned in China, which is rarely, bad weather or Russian treachery are usually blamed for this disaster, and both are knowledgeably dismissed by Yang.
Nowadays, Yang asserts, “rulers and ordinary citizens alike know in their hearts that the totalitarian system has reached its end.” He hopes “Tombstone” will help banish the “historical amnesia imposed by those in power” and spur his countrymen to “renounce man-made calamity, darkness and evil.” While guardedly hopeful about the rise of democracy, Yang is ultimately a realist. Despite China’s economic and social transformation, this courageous man concludes, “the political system remains unchanged.” “Tombstone” doesn’t directly challenge China’s current regime, nor is its author part of an organized movement. And so, unlike the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, Yang Jisheng is not serving a long prison sentence. But he has driven a stake through the hearts of Mao Zedong and the party he helped found.
Student of the law of evidence, evidence, inference, and investigation. Sometimes writes books. Sometimes writes articles. Sometimes tinkers with computer programs to support the marshaling of evidence for legal activities such as trials and pretrial discovery and investigation. And sometimes takes photographs.