"The Institutional Causes of China's Great Famine, 1959-1961"
Publication type: Working paper
This paper studies the causes of China's Great Famine, during which approximately thirty million individuals died in rural areas. We document that average rural food retention during the famine was too high to generate a severe famine without rural inequality in food availability; that there was significant variance in famine mortality rates across rural regions; and that rural mortality rates were positively correlated with per capita food production, a surprising pattern that is unique to the famine years and one that cannot be explained by existing theories of the causes of famine. We provide evidence that an inflexible and progressive government procurement policy where procurement was increasing in target production was necessary for generating this pattern.
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