Famines have played an important role in China’s history. Because the Confucian classics interpreted natural disasters as warnings from Heaven, in ancient and imperial China feeding the people in times of crisis was viewed as an essential part of retaining the mandate to rule. Formative famine-relief measures were codified in China’s first imperial dynasty, the Qin (221–206
After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, famines continued to be a test of state legitimacy. But Chinese modernizers largely rejected Confucian interpretations of famine in favor of the claim that modern science and technology would provide the best defense against disasters. By the 1940s, both the Chinese Nationalists and their Communist rivals called on people to sacrifice for the nation even during famine times. The Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949 promising that under Communist rule “not one person would starve to death,” but within a decade it presided over the most lethal famine in Chinese and world history. The horrors of the Great Leap Famine of 1958–1962 forced Chinese Communist Party leaders to make changes that ultimately paved the way for the rural reforms of the 1980s.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.
Colonial Indonesia’s sugar industry, developed under Dutch and Sino-Indonesian auspices over a period of almost three centuries, beginning c.1650, evolved into a unique configuration, in which an industrialized sugar complex became embedded within a much larger peasant economy farming rice and “second” crops. It was on this agrarian basis and largely self-financed that Indonesia’s colonial sugar industry, located exclusively in the island of Java, became one of the leading sectors of the international sugar economy of the late colonial era, eventually rivaling even Cuba—the nonpareil of such producers—as an exporter to world markets. During the Inter-War Depression of the 1930s and the subsequent decade of war and revolution, the sugar industry lost much (and eventually all) of its international standing—yet it managed to survive into Indonesia’s post-colonial era, albeit in an attenuated form.