torsdag 4. april 2024

From China's Past: The North China famine, 1920-21

Starting in summer 1919, a rainless twelve months visited five Chinese provinces, precipitating China’s most severe food crisis since the 1870s. The famine would affect roughly the same geographical area as in the great North China famine of 1876-79, menacing anywhere between 20 and 30 million destitute residents of Zhili, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi over the winter of 1920-21. Although the crisis struck toward the beginning of China’s so-called Warlord period, a formidable relief response was mobilised by Chinese society starting in the summer of 1920. Together with a major international relief operation launched later in the year, famine-related deaths were limited to an estimated 500,000 by the time healthy spring harvests returned to much of the North in 1921.

The immediate catalyst for the famine was partial or total failure of the Autumn 1920 harvest in more than 300 counties, but other underlying factors allowed the drought to lead to starvation conditions for many millions: among these were extreme poverty in remote and densely populated rural areas, limited transport infrastructure, a weak and cash-poor central government, and an ecologically scarred, flood-prone landscape that limited fall-back sources of income for afflicted communities.