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The Demography of China’s 1958-61 Famine

A Closer Examination

Zhongwei Zhao  By the same author

      Anna Reimondos  By the same author

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AbstractOne of the largest famines in human history took place in China half a century ago. This disaster, lasting from 1958 to 1961 in many areas, resulted in a huge number of excess deaths. While the causes, magnitude and profound impacts of this catastrophe have been brought to light in recent decades, many issues about the famine remain to be adequately examined. This paper aims to fill some gaps in our knowledge about the demography of China’s great famine. It concentrates on the demographic consequences of the famine and individual demographic responses in some of the most severely affected provinces. By analysing demographic data collected by China’s 1982 and 1988 national fertility sample surveys, the study provides further insights on changes in marriage, mortality, fertility and pregnancy outcomes during the famine period. The study reveals a dramatic increase in mortality and a decrease in marriage and fertility during the famine period, which had a significant impact on Chinese population. There were remarkable differences, however, in the demographic consequences of the famine between urban and rural areas and in demographic responses between people with different social and demographic characteristics. These findings are very important in improving our understanding of past demographic behaviour.

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