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Communal dining system and the puzzle of the Great Leap Famine : Re-examine the causality between communal dining and the famine

Yuan Liu (School of Economics and Management, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China)
James G. Wen (Department of Economics, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, United States and Institute for Advanced Research University, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Shanghai, China)
Xiahai Wei (School of Economics and Management, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China)

China Agricultural Economic Review

ISSN: 1756-137X

Article publication date: 28 October 2014

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explain the puzzle of Chinese Great Leap Famine, which started with a good harvest in the end of 1958 and ended with lowest rural grain consumption per capita in 1961, by focussing on the communal dining system characterized by compulsory collectivization of peasants’ total grain rations, and deprivation of private plots and household sideline production.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper uses the panel data of 25 provinces from 1958 to 1962 to make the benchmark estimations by POLS and endogeneity-elimination estimations by 2SLS, employing the great advance in agricultural cooperative movement between 1954 and 1956 and the rural population density as the IVs for the radicalism of communal dining system during the Great Leap Forward. The β coefficients and Gfields decomposition are also presented to assess the relative importance of various factors on famine.

Findings

The empirical study finds that the communal dining system does play a critical role on the famine. The evidences of the β coefficients and Gfields decomposition basing on previous estimations also show that communal dining system is the most important cause on the famine.

Social implications

The lesson from communal dining system on famine provides reference for resolving the current “Three Agrarian Issues” in China. It is important to allow peasants to exit from the compulsive collective system.

Originality/value

The paper discovers the institutional root of the famine by the endogeneity-elimination estimations of IVs and the assessment of relative importance of various factors on famine by β coefficients and Gfields decomposition.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

JEL Classifications —N55, Q18, P26

The grant from MOE(Ministry of Education of PRC) Project of Humanities and Social Sciences (Project No. 09YJC790099) and Trinity College of USA are deeply appreciated. The authors want to thank Adam Grossberg and Ling Wang for their editing helps and beneficial comments. The authors also want to thank all the participants for their comments and criticisms of the seminars held, respectively, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Social Sciences, Fudan University on December 18, 2009 and at the East Asian Institute, the National University of Singapore on Jan.12, 2010 and at the School of Economics and Management, South China Normal University on May 31, 2013. Thanks the referee’s constructive comments, the remaining errors and mistakes are solely the authors. The authors thank reviewers of the China Agriculture Economic Review for their useful comments, and also acknowledge the financial support provided by China Scholarship Council, through the research work at The Institute of Cotton Research, Anyang, China.

Citation

Liu, Y., G. Wen, J. and Wei, X. (2014), "Communal dining system and the puzzle of the Great Leap Famine : Re-examine the causality between communal dining and the famine", China Agricultural Economic Review, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 698-716. https://doi.org/10.1108/CAER-10-2013-0139

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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