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This monumental work provides a new perspective on the historical significance of famines in China over the past three hundred years. It examines the relationship between the interventionist state policies of the eighteenth-century Qing emperors ("the golden age of famine relief"), the environmental and political crises of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (when China was called "the Land of Famine"), and the ambitions of the Mao era (which tragically led to the greatest famine in human history). In addition to a wide array of documentary sources, the book employs quantitative analysis to measure the economic impact of natural crises, state policies, and markets. In this way, the theories of Qing statesmen that have received much attention in recent scholarship are linked to actual practices and outcomes. Using the Zhili-Hebei region as its focus, the book also reveals the unusual role played by the institutions and policies designed to ensure food security for the capital, Beijing.
Lillian M. Li is Professor of History at Swarthmore College. She has previously published China's Silk Trade: Traditional Industry in the Modern World, 1842-1937 (1981) and coedited Chinese History in Economic Perspective (1992).