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In 1958, Mao Zedong instituted the Great Leap Forward designed to transform China into a Communist utopia. Like many other utopian dreams of the 20th century, it proved a monumental disaster, resulting in a famine that lasted more than three years. Unlike the Holocaust or other major human catastrophes in the 20th century, there is no place in China’s collective public memory for the Great Famine. Its history has long been obscured by official taboos and restricted access to primary sources.

Between 2006 and 2010, Dr Zhou travelled across rural and urban China to interview more than one hundred famine survivors. Forgotten Voices of Mao’s Great Famine, 1958-1962: An Oral History is based on the over one hundred interviews she has collected and put together. It is the first book to give voice to survivors of the famine from all over China. In this talk Dr Zhou retraces her journey in China and shares how the interviews were elicited. Her account shows the continuing lack of openness in Chinese civil society and the difficulties of getting to the truth. Her talk also reveals that to a large extent the destruction of the Great Leap Famine continues to exercise an influence on everyday life in the Chinese countryside today.

Zhou Xun now lectures in Modern History at University of Essex, UK. She has authored or co-authored a number of well received and ground-breaking books including Youtai: Chinese Perceptions of Jews and Judaism (2001), Narcotic Culture: A History of Drug Consumption in China (2004) and Smoke: A Global History of Smoking (2004). She is one of only a handful of historians who are pioneering the history of the People's Republic of China through the use of new oral and archival evidence. She is currently creating the world’s first Oral History of Twentieth Century China online archive, which will contain English and Chinese transcripts.

All welcome.

Non-University of Westminster attendees please register with Dr Derek Hird, [email protected].