A revisionist literature on the Great Chinese Famine has emerged in recent years. These revisionists focus primarily on the question of agency. They claim that that neither poor weather nor the excesses of local cadres can explain the extent of mortality; rather, responsibility lies squarely with Mao and the CCP leadership. Using county-level data on mortality, output, rainfall and temperature for Sichuan province, I argue that this revisionist view is unconvincing. Weather admittedly played only a minor role, and the zealotry of the Party centre contributed significantly to the death toll. However, variations in mortality between Sichuan's counties appear to have been essentially random – suggesting that differences in local cadre responses to central government policy were decisive in determining the scale of famine.
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