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Felix Wemheur, "Food Politics and Hunger in Maoist China (1953-1963)"

The Fairbank Center hosts Yomi Braester as he examines recent visual media practices, from traditional painting scrolls to state-of-the-art digital screens, and shows their collusion in the commodification of Chinaʼs cityscapes.

March 25, 2014 4:15pm to 6:00pm

The famine during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) was one of the most devastating catastrophes in human history. Several scholars explained the famine as a result of Mao Zedong’s “leftist policies” or conflicts between state and peasantry about grain. Felix Wemheuer will analyze the catastrophe and the way it ended against the background of the whole system of “food policies” that includes food production, consumption, rationing, relief, and import-exports. By the mid-1950s, the state established a hierarchy of consumption regarding the quantity and quality of food to the disadvantage of the rural population. During the famine, the government enforced policies to feed the cities by starving out the countryside, instead of ignoring hunger. The role of the necessity to maintain stability in the cities and the grain exports in order to understand the rural famine will be evaluated. Furthermore, Wemheuer will show that the increase of grain production cannot explain why the famine ended in 1962, but the whole system of food distribution was readjusted.

Felix Wemheuer is assistant professor for Sinology at the Institute for East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna. His book Hunger and Food Politics in Maoist China and the Soviet Union is to be published by Yale University Press (Agrarian Studies) in spring 2014. He published several journal articles on the Great Leap Forward and coedited the volumes Eating Bitterness: New Perspectives on China’s Great Leap Forward and the Famine (2011) and Hunger and Scarcity under State-Socialism (2012).  He is also the author of two popular books in German: a biography of Mao Zedong (2009) and The Great Hunger: Famines under Stalin and Mao. From 2000 to 2002, he studied Chinese and “History of the Communist Party of China” at the People’s University in Beijing. During various field studies in China, he held oral history interviews with older peasants, intellectuals, and local cadres on the Great Leap Forward famine. In 2006, he received PhD from the University of Vienna for his thesis on rural memories of the famine in Henan Province. From 2008 to 2010, Felix Wemheuer was a visiting scholar at the Fairbank Center.

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