Chinese famine of 1942–43

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The province of Henan in the modern People's Republic of China. Henan in China (+all claims hatched).svg
The province of Henan in the modern People's Republic of China.

The Chinese famine of 1942–43 occurred mainly in Henan, most particularly within the western part of the province. The famine occurred within the context of the Second Sino-Japanese War and resulted from a combination of natural and human factors. 2 to 3 million people died of starvation or disease and upwards of 4 million fled Henan. [1]

Henan Province

Henan is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Henan is often referred to as Zhongyuan or Zhongzhou (中州) which literally means "central plain land" or "midland", although the name is also applied to the entirety of China proper. Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization with over 3,000 years of recorded history, and remained China's cultural, economical, and political center until approximately 1,000 years ago.

Famine widespread scarcity of food followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality

A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including war, inflation, crop failure, population imbalance, or government policies. This phenomenon is usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. Every inhabited continent in the world has experienced a period of famine throughout history. In the 19th and 20th century, it was generally Southeast and South Asia, as well as Eastern and Central Europe that suffered the most deaths from famine. The numbers dying from famine began to fall sharply from the 2000s.

Second Sino-Japanese War military conflict between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1945

The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from July 7, 1937, to September 2, 1945. It began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in which a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops escalated into a battle.

Contents

Famine

Henan had previously suffered as a result of the war. Thousands of its young men had already been conscripted. In 1938 the Nationalist government flooded the Yellow River in an attempt to stop the advance of the Japanese. The flooding killed 500,000 to one million people in Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu. When Japanese troops did enter the area they caused much destruction, which contributed to causing the famine. [2] By the time of the famine itself, Henan was divided, with the eastern half of the province under occupation by Japan and the western half part unoccupied and nominally under the authority of the Nationalist government based in Chongqing.

1938 Yellow River flood 1938 flood in China

The 1938 Yellow River flood was a flood created by the Nationalist Government in central China during the early stage of the Second Sino-Japanese War in an attempt to halt the rapid advance of Japanese forces. It has been called the "largest act of environmental warfare in history".

Empire of Japan Empire in the Asia-Pacific region between 1868–1947

The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.

Anhui Province

Anhui, is a province of the People's Republic of China located in the eastern region of the country. The province is located across the basins of the Yangtze River and the Huai River, bordering Jiangsu to the east, Zhejiang to the southeast, Jiangxi to the south, Hubei to the southwest, Henan to the northwest, and Shandong for a short section in the north.

In 1942 the spring and summer rains failed, causing drought. In addition to this, locusts caused much damage to the existing harvest. The result was that the supply of grain in the affected areas was reduced greatly. This started to make itself felt by the winter of that year. Yet Chinese and Japanese authorities in the affected areas continued their grain requisition policies in order to feed their soldiers. Environmental historian Micah S. Muscolino also suggests that there is a link between the deliberate flooding of the Yellow River in 1938 and the 1942 famine as the flooding 'contributed to a total disruption of Henan's hydraulic and agricultural systems'. [3]

Locust grasshoppers

Locusts are certain species of short-horned grasshoppers in the family Acrididae that have a swarming phase. These insects are usually solitary, but under certain circumstances they become more abundant and change their behaviour and habits, becoming gregarious. No taxonomic distinction is made between locust and grasshopper species; the basis for the definition is whether a species forms swarms under intermittently suitable conditions.

Harvest process of gathering mature crops from the fields

Harvesting is the process of gathering a ripe crop from the fields. Reaping is the cutting of grain or pulse for harvest, typically using a scythe, sickle, or reaper. On smaller farms with minimal mechanization, harvesting is the most labor-intensive activity of the growing season. On large mechanized farms, harvesting utilizes the most expensive and sophisticated farm machinery, such as the combine harvester. Process automation has increased the efficiency of both the seeding and harvesting process. Specialized harvesting equipment utilizing conveyor belts to mimic gentle gripping and mass transport replaces the manual task of removing each seedling by hand. The term "harvesting" in general usage may include immediate postharvest handling, including cleaning, sorting, packing, and cooling.

The terrible conditions that the famine created were vividly described by journalist Theodore White in a special report written for Time magazine, published in March 1943. Cannibalism was rife and parents sold their children just to survive. [4] Disease bred in these conditions, contributing greatly to the death toll. [5] Relief efforts were organised by the government and Christian missionaries operating in the area. [6]

Time is an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City. It was founded in 1923 and originally run by Henry Luce. A European edition is published in London and also covers the Middle East, Africa, and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong. The South Pacific edition, which covers Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney. In December 2008, Time discontinued publishing a Canadian advertiser edition.

Cannibalism act or practice of eating the flesh or internal organs of its own beings

Cannibalism involves consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food. To consume the same species, or show cannibalistic behavior, is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom, and has been recorded in more than 1,500 species. Human cannibalism is well-documented, both in ancient and in recent times.

In his work China's War with Japan, 1937 – 1945, which is broadly sympathetic to Chiang Kai-shek, Rana Mitter places much of the blame at the hands of corrupt or incompetent local officials. He notes that Chiang announced a reduction in the grain quota for Henan but the head of the Henan grain administration collected more than the quota demanded anyway. [7] Officials in the neighbouring provinces refused to send their surplus grain to Henan. [8] A further example of this incompetence and corruption comes from Runan County where a grain storage system had been set up at the outbreak of war. However, officials there had never actually stored the grain and used it instead to make private deals. [9] Theodore White described being invited to a feast by local authorities which included delicacies such as 'chicken, beef, water chestnut and three cakes with sugar frosting'. [10] The Chongqing government is, however, blamed for reacting slowly and sending paper money instead of food for relief. [11] Mitter notes that the famine can be seen as a consequence of the reduction of the Nationalist government's authority over the provinces as the war dragged on. [12] He also says that Chiang's government was also reluctant to press further for a reduction in the grain tax when national survival was at stake. [13]

Chiang Kai-shek Chinese politician and military leader

Chiang Kai-shek, also known as Generalissimo Chiang or Chiang Chungcheng and romanized as Chiang Chieh-shih or Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese politician and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death. He was recognized by much of the world as the head of the legitimate government of China until 1971, during which the United Nations passed Resolution 2758.

Rana Mitter British historian

Rana Shantashil Rajyeswar Mitter FBA is a British historian and political scientist of Indian origin who specialises in the history of republican China. He is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University, Deutsche Bank Director of the Dickson Poon China Centre, and a Fellow and Vice-Master of St Cross College. His 2013 book China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival, about the Second Sino-Japanese War, was well received by critics.

Runan County County in Henan, Peoples Republic of China

Runan County is a county under the administration of the prefecture-level city of Zhumadian, in the southeast of Henan province, China.

Political ramifications

In Communist controlled areas, the authorities did reduce the grain quotas for those most affected by the drought. Mao Zedong exploited this for propaganda purposes to portray his government as more benevolent than the Nationalist government. This was effective as it became 'an obvious point of comparison'. [14] [15] The Communists were able to pursue this policy in part because they depended on guerilla warfare and did not need to maintain a standing army in order to participate in the wartime alliance. [16]

Communist Party of China Political party of the Peoples Republic of China

The Communist Party of China (CPC), also referred to as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China. The Communist Party is the sole governing party within mainland China, permitting only eight other, subordinated parties to co-exist, those making up the United Front. It was founded in 1921, chiefly by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao. The party grew quickly, and by 1949 it had driven the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government from mainland China after the Chinese Civil War, leading to the establishment of the People's Republic of China. It also controls the world's largest armed forces, the People's Liberation Army.

Mao Zedong Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China

Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese communist revolutionary who became the founding father of the People's Republic of China, which he ruled as the Chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. His theories, military strategies, and political policies are collectively known as Maoism.

Legacy

The Chinese famine of 1942–43 has been referred to as 'China's forgotten famine', [17] overshadowed by the war that took place around it and the much greater famine of 1958–61. Even in Henan itself this tragic period is not well remembered or talked about, with novelist Liu Zhenyun saying that there is a 'collective amnesia' in the province. [18] Interest in the event has rekindled in recent years however, with the release of the film Back to 1942 , adapted from Liu Zhenyun's novel Remembering 1942.[ citation needed ]

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References

  1. Micah S. Muscolino (2011). 'Violence against people and the land: The environment and refugee migration from China's Henan Province, 1938–1945.' Environment and History (17), pp. 301–302.
  2. Rana Mitter (2013). China's War with Japan, 1937–1945: The Struggle for Survival. London: Allen Lane. p. 268.
  3. Muscolino (2011), p. 294.
  4. Diana Lary (2010). The Chinese People at War: Human Suffering and Social Transformation. Cambridge University Press. p. 124.
  5. Odoric Y. K . Wou. (2007). 'Food shortage and Japanese grain extraction in Henan'. IN: Stephen MacKinnon, Diana Lary and Ezra F. Vogel (eds.), China at War: Regions of China. p. 178.
  6. Lary (2010). p. 124.
  7. Mitter (2013), p. 269.
  8. Mitter (2013), p. 268.
  9. Mitter (2013), p. 271.
  10. Mitter (2013), p. 272.
  11. Mitter (2013), pp. 271–273.
  12. Mitter (2013), p. 273.
  13. Mitter (2013), p. 275.
  14. Mitter (2013), p. 275.
  15. Ralph Thaxton (2008). Catastrophe and Contention in Rural China: Mao's Great Leap Forward Famine and the Origins of Righteous Resistance in Da Fo Village. Cambridge University Press. p. 56.
  16. Mitter (2013), p. 280.
  17. News China Magazine (January 2013) 'The Forgotten Famine' Archived 2014-09-14 at the Wayback Machine
  18. Liu Zhenyun (November 2012). 'Memory, Loss'. Published in The New York Times.