China 1960


There’s a dip in the global life expectancy curve in 1960 because 15 to 40 million people—nobody knows the exact number—starved to death that year in China, in what was probably the world’s largest ever man-made famine. The Chinese harvest in 1960 was smaller than planned because of a bad season combined with poor governmental advice about how to grow crops more effectively. The local governments didn’t want to show bad results, so they took all the food and sent it to the central government. There was no food left. One year later the shocked inspectors were delivering eyewitness reports of cannibalism and dead bodies along roads. The government denied that its central planning had failed, and the catastrophe was kept secret by the Chinese government for 36 years. It wasn’t described in English to the outside world until 1996. (Think about it. Could any government keep the death of 15 million people a global secret today?)