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Tombstone: Remembering The Great Famine

Yang Jisheng, 72, spent a decade working undercover, secretly amassing official proof of China's great famine. "When you are writing history, you can't be too emotional. You need to be calm and objective," he says. "But I was angry the whole time. I'm still angry."

Yang Jisheng, 72, author of Tombstone, now available in English

“It’s not often that a book comes out that rewrites a country’s history.”

There are few Chinese families, mine included, who were not touched in some way by The Great Famine. Thirty-six million people died in the aftermath of Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward.
NPR’s Louisa Lim has just filed an important 2-part report on efforts to record the devastations of Mao’s Great Famine.
Part I: The lifelong work of a tenacious Xinhua reporter who refused to let history forget the man he called his father.
Part II:  The ongoing effort of young Chinese people to gather and preserve a oral history if the period.
From Part I:
“For Yang Jisheng, now 72, the famine hit home while he was away. He was 18, busy preparing a newspaper for his boarding school’s Communist Youth League, when a childhood friend burst into the room and said: “Your father is starving to death.”

Yang rushed home to find a ghost town — no dogs, no chickens, even the elm tree outside his house was stripped of bark, which had been eaten.

Yang Jisheng, 72, spent a decade working undercover, secretly amassing official proof of China’s great famine. “When you are writing history, you can’t be too emotional. You need to be calm and objective,” he says. “But I was angry the whole time. I’m still angry.”

The teenager took rice for Yang Xiushen, the man he called his father, but who was really his uncle. But the elder Yang was no longer able to swallow and died three days later.

“I didn’t think my father’s death was the country’s fault. I thought it was my fault. If I hadn’t gone to school, but had helped him dig up his crops, he wouldn’t have died,” Yang remembers. “My vision was very limited. I didn’t have the information.”

Listen and remember.

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