The Great Chinese Famine, 1959-1961


The Great Chinese Famine was a period between 1959 and 1961 in the history of the People’s Republic of China characterized by widespread famine. Some scholars have also included the years 1958 or 1962. Wikipedia

Start date: 1958

Total deaths: 15–55 million

Consequences: Termination of the Great Leap Forward campaign


What caused the Great Chinese Famine 1959?

The Great Chinese Famine was caused by a combination of radical agricultural policies, social pressure, economic mismanagement, and natural disasters such as droughts and floods in farming regions.





Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Mandarin Service was announced yesterday as a gold medal winner at the 2020 New York Festivals Radio Awards in the Documentary category. The service won a top prize for its piece titled, “China’s Great Famine: Sad Songs of Peasants in a Food War”, a collection of oral histories from survivors of the man-made catastrophe that unfolded between 1959 and 1961. RFA’s Korean Service was recognized as a finalist in the Best Human Interest category for its series on North Korean defectors, “13 North Koreans’ 10,000 km Journey in Search of Freedom.”

“Radio Free Asia’s Mandarin and Korean Services deserve this recognition,” RFA President Bay Fang said. “Whether sharing first-hand accounts of survivors from a brutal period in China or covering the grueling journey of North Korean defectors seeking a better life, RFA journalists bring to light great stories of humanity that need to be told.

“For audiences in China and North Korea, two of the world’s worst abusers of media freedom, this brand of in-depth journalism is especially important.”

In producing “China’s Great Famine,” Mandarin Service reporters Yun Wang and Yasa Guo worked closely with three Chinese scholars who collected and archived oral accounts from those who endured years of starvation and hardship. These chilling personal stories of the famine, which claimed tens of millions of lives, are shared publicly for the first time. The radio documentary chronicles a horrific chapter in history that has been suppressed by the Chinese Communist Party, which has never reported the actual number of lives lost.

For RFA’s finalist entry, the Korean Service’s reporter Jung Min Noh accompanied a rescue mission to cover the incredible journey of 13 North Korean asylum seekers. This group, which included two children, crossed the Mekong River into a country in Southeast Asia, ending a perilous two-month journey to begin the process of seeking asylum in South Korea.

Due to concerns over the coronavirus crisis, the New York Festivals Radio Awards ceremony, usually held annually in Manhattan, was canceled this year. Other winners at this year’s New York Festivals Radio Awards include the BBC, CBS, Bloomberg, and Al Jazeera, as well as RFA’s sister network Alhurra.

About RFA

Washington, D.C. — Radio Free Asia is a private, nonprofit corporation broadcasting and publishing online news, information, and commentary in 9 East Asian languages to listeners who do not have access to full and free news media. RFA’s broadcasts seek to promote the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” RFA is funded by an annual grant from USAGM.


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