Utsa Patnaik / GLF famine

From Brian Turner <myrd62@yahoo.com>
Date Fri, 2 Mar 2007 01:15:18 -0800 (PST)
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In-reply-to <1172811347.45e7ae5305bad@imp.webmail.hku.hk>

--- Daniel Frederick Vukovich <vukovich@hkucc.hku.hk>

> Brian,
> Three cheers for the work of Chris Bramall, no
> question.  But you are either
> talking about a different Patnaik or different
> article.  There was something
> that circulated on this list (ten years ago?) from
> her, written for a CPI-M
> newspaper.  That is a different thing altogether.

It's the same.  On page 3 of "Republic of Hunger",
which is online, Patnaik uses dismissive quotes around
the world "famine" because the official death rate was
about the same as India's normal death rate.  Unlike
this writing, I seem to recall in other writings this
point was made without pointing out that demographers
uninanimously reject it.  
Here's what Bramall says about it:

Excerpt from "The Last of the Romantics? Maoist
Economic Development in Retrospect"  China Quarterly
Sept 2006

Nor do I think there is much to be said for
downplaying the scale of the Great Famine (1958-1962).
To do so only plays into the hands of those who would
cast any defence of Maoism as morally equivalent to
Holocaust denial. In any case the evidence leaves
little room for equivocation. To be sure, drought
played an important role in reducing output, and was
not merely a CCP rationalization.6 And some scholars
have argued that the evidence on excess mortality
during the Leap remains unconvincing; for them, the
demographic cost was in terms of lost births rather
than increased deaths. This point has been put most
eloquently by the distinguished Indian scholar, Utsa
Patnaik, who claims that the commonly-quoted figure of
30 million excess deaths is a '...retrospective,
patently ideological construction'. More precisely:

"The figure of 30 million has passed into popular
folklore. However, a study of how it has been arrived
at shows that this estimate has no scholarly basis
whatsoever. It is a travesty of the norms of academic
integrity, that grossly exaggerated estimates of
famine deaths derived in this arbitrary manner have
been uncritically quoted and promoted and that they
enjoy so much currency." 

I should like to say that I agree with Patnaik.
However, the overwhelming weight of evidence contained
in the mortality records released by various Party
organs, not least in the xian zhi [County Records], is
hard to gainsay. Take Dayi, one of Sichuan's two
hundred plus counties. The data in the xian zhi reveal
that there were 4,911 deaths in 1957. This rose to
31,872 in 1959, and peaked at 33,045 in 1960 before
returning to 4,225 in 1962.8 If we assume that the
1957 death toll was normal, that implies total excess
mortality of 67,204 during 1958-1961. Applied to the
whole of the province (Dayi's population was about
300,000 in the late 1950s), that produces an excess
mortality total of over 14 million. Now Dayi may be
unusual; the data I have collected for thirty
different counties drawn from across Sichuan produce
an average death rate which is about half the Dayi
figure. And Sichuan suffered more than the average
Chinese province. Nevertheless, the famine toll was
high in several other provinces; mortality rates were
very high in Anhui, and not much lower in Gansu and
Guizhou. Moreover, even if we halve the Dayi mortality
rate to estimate the provincial total, we still have
over 7 million deaths in Sichuan alone. It is
therefore very easy to construct mortality totals for
the whole of China which exceed 20 millions. To
repeat, these are actual deaths, not 'hypothetical


      However, there is no need to deny the famine in
order to defend Maoism. It is much easier to point to
a rate of long run capability improvement that was
much more impressive than that achieved in most other
poor countries. The best comparison is with India. In
the early 1950s, Chinese life expectancy at birth was
about eight years higher than in India, but by the
time of Mao's death, the gap had increased to about
thirteen years; only during the famine years of the
early 1960s was the differential briefly reversed.
Accordingly, even if we allow for famine deaths, the
number of net lives saved in China as a result of
improvements in health care and a more equal
distribution of income far outweighs India's
achievement over the same period. This sort of 'net
lives calculus' is undoubtedly distasteful, but it is
one of the few sensible ways to think about China's
relative development record. 

> You say you havent seen any critiques of Bannister's
> figures...

One letter 'n' in the spelling of her name

> ... but that is what
> the Patnaik article from 2002 (I think?) precisely
> does-- it is the subject of
> the piece. And there are no GLF vital stats I'm
> aware of.

I stand corrected on the first.  On the latter, there
are reported official PRC death and birth rates during
the famine (post Deng I think).  Thus's Patnaik's no
famine claim earlier. 

>  The previous census was what '55 or '57 latest?  

There was one in 1953 that demographer Ping Ti-ho
endorsed as less than perfect but the best available
figure, and the 1982 census which had lots of
participation by western demographers which added
credibility to it.  The once suppressed 1964 census
(the famine being the obvious reason for suppression)
was released in the early Deng years I think.  It is
taken as probably right because it fits with the other
data well. 

But Banister did not rely only on these censuses.  She
looked at all possible sources of information,
particularly a huge 1973-75 cancer survey which
collected a lot of vital stat info useful for
demographers, and according to Bramall was analyzed
with a fine toothed comb by scholars from the American
Medical Association.  

Incidentally, if we are to throw out Banister's GLF
year demographic reconstructions as faulty as Patnaik
asserts, should we do the same for the really
impressive drops in death rates she estimated for the
period of 1950s collectivization and the Cultural

> And for the record,
> you dont do well to trash
> talk Patnaik or any of the JNU/Frontline/Samat
> people for that matter.  Good
> grief. 

I'm only criticizing Patnaik's comments on the GLF,
not anything else, to say nothing of Frontline et al
in general, which I respect.  

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