Tombstone Book Summary - Tombstone Book explained in key points

Tombstone summary

Yang Jisheng

Brief summary

Tombstone by Yang Jisheng is a meticulously researched account of the devastating Great Chinese Famine, caused by Mao Zedong's policies. It illuminates the untold tragedy that impacted millions of lives.

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    Summary of key ideas

    Unveiling the Famine

    In Tombstone, Yang Jisheng begins by revealing the shocking truth about China's Great Famine of from 1958 to 1961. The catastrophe was the result of Mao Zedong’s disastrous policies, including forced collectivization and industrialization, which were blindly implemented. Encapsulating individual stories within the larger narrative, Jisheng offers an unprecedentedly detailed account of how the bureaucratic system failed its own people.

    Across China, rural populations were left starving as food was requisitioned by the state. Ironically, grain silos were left full while the people were driven towards starvation by the poverty-stricken peasants. The fear of punishment, incentivized lying about grain production, leading to the creation of excessively ambitious state quotas that communities could not meet, further spiral down to exacerbating the situation.

    Interrogating the Communist Party's Role

    Jisheng questions the Chinese Communist Party's role in the famine, describing the systemic flaws and suppression of information that contributed to the magnitude of the catastrophe. Local officials falsely inflated grain production statistics to please their superiors, resulting in the government confiscating grain based on these inflated figures. This full-fledged totalitarianism led to millions of innocent deaths.

    Furthermore, the Chinese regime harshly punished whistle-blowers or anyone who attempted to expose the truth about the famine. The systemic violence and mismanagement are vividly portrayed, making Tombstone a shocking yet crucial documentation of the struggle and suffering during this devastating period in Chinese history.

    Victims Telling Their Stories

    Jisheng narrates countless heart-wrenching stories acquired from his extensive research and interviews with survivors and victims’ relatives. Hunger became so prominent that cannibalism occurred, and in some areas, families exchanged children to eat to avoid the taboo of consuming one’s own kin. These accounts highlight the unimaginable hardship experienced by the population and provide a human context to the dire statistics of the famine.

    The author also introduces various individuals who dared to confront the highly oppressive authorities, although almost all faced punishment. The stories serve as a testament to fearless individuals who chose to value truth over their lives. What stands out is the fact that few heroes or villains exist in this narrative—only victims of a circumstantially horrifying situation.

    Exposing the Truth Amidst Political Retaliation

    In the final part of Tombstone, Jisheng reflects on his own complicity as a CCP member and his transformation into a critic of the regime. The author admits his earlier ignorance, which is laid bare for readers: his father's death from starvation, his initial acceptance as a tragic necessity, and his later realisation of its cause being political mismanagement.

    In conclusion, Tombstone, is a brave and searing indictment of the Great Famine and the Chinese Communist Party's role in the calamity. The book is not just a historical account, but a monument — a tombstone — for those who were lost and cannot be mourned openly due to political reasons. It is a lasting testament to the consequence of political fanaticism, a testament to the tens of millions of people who suffered needlessly in the name of an ideal."

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    What is Tombstone about?

    Tombstone by Yang Jisheng is an in-depth exploration of the devastating famine that occurred in China between 1958 and 1962. Through meticulous research and personal accounts, Jisheng uncovers the true extent of the tragedy and reveals the political decisions and policies that led to the loss of millions of lives. The book serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of understanding historical events and their impact on society.

    Who should read Tombstone?

    • History enthusiasts interested in understanding the Chinese Cultural Revolution
    • People passionate about social justice and human rights
    • Readers curious about the impact of political ideologies on societies and individuals

    About the Author

    Yang Jisheng is a Chinese journalist and author renowned for his groundbreaking work on the Chinese Communist Party and its policies. He spent over 40 years working for the official state news agency, Xinhua, and is most well-known for his book, Tombstone. This monumental work documents the Great Chinese Famine, shedding light on the immense suffering and loss of life during this period. Jisheng's meticulous research and fearless reporting have earned him international acclaim and cemented his status as one of China's foremost investigative journalists.

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