Party secretaries never traveled to the countryside where desperation was total and cannibalism rampant. To cover up evidence of the famine local cadres had mass graves stomped flat and crops planted on top. With millions dying, the cadres entertained at lavish feasts and had meals delivered to luxury hotels. Survivors remember: “We were swollen with starvation, while the cadres were swollen with overeating.” Officials responsible for millions of deaths were merely transferred to other bureaucracies — unfairly, as some of them judged, since they merely acted on party orders.
Yang’s book can be compared with Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago,” since its evidence was also bravely collected under Communism with the goal of helping dismantle the totalitarian system that had sanctioned mass killings. This system has outlived itself, writes Yang, who believes China should disavow its Communist ideals and erect memorials to the victims of the Great Famine.
Alexandra Popoff grew up in the Soviet Union. She is the author of two books of nonfiction, “Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography’’ (2010) and “The Wives: The Women Behind Russia’s Literary Giants’’ (2012).