Resistance is Futile? Institutional and Geographic Factors in China’s Great Leap Famine


Year: 2018 HiCN Working Paper No. 266

I present evidence that China’s state capacity was an important determinant of famine mortality during China’s Great Famine (1959-61). I hypothesize that variation arising from the interaction of terrain ruggedness and provincial-level political ideology identifies the propensity for local leaders’ will- ingness to shirk implementation of the 1958 national development plan, the Great Leap Forward. I find that communities under the jurisdiction of a Party Secretary aligned politically with Mao Zedong were differentially shielded from famine conditions by rough terrain. I also find that additional benefit from ruggedness applies to these communities’ subsequent economic development and is attributable to the limiting effect rugged terrain had on each provincial authority’s ability to administer his territory, including demanding compliance of local leaders during the period.

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