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Kathryn Jean Edgerton-Tarpley
San Diego State University (San Diego, CA 92182-0001)
The Loss of Heaven: Changing Responses to Famine from Late Imperial to Maoist China

Research and writing leading to a book on state responses to famine in China, 1800-1976.

My book project maps changing Chinese responses to calamity by employing case studies of three major famines that struck North China under governments with very different ideological foundations. Because the prospect of fellow humans starving to death is so disturbing, famines generate intense discussion of a given culture’s ultimate values. Yet conceptions of what ethical responses to famine entail are neither static nor universal. China experienced radical change between the late-Qing (1800-1912), Republican (1912-49) and Maoist (1949-76) periods. I examine how such change impacted state and societal responses to the North China Famine of 1876-79, the Henan Famine of 1942-43, and the Great Leap Famine of 1958-62. I find that in twentieth-century China, the rejection of long-held cosmological interpretations of famine made it easier for the state to engineer disasters in the name of a supposedly greater good, and harder for leaders to accept blame for and relieve calamities.

Project fields:
Cultural History; East Asian History

Awards for Faculty

Research Programs

$60,000 (approved)
$60,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2021 – 8/31/2022