Discussion paper

DP8012 The Institutional Causes of China's Great Famine, 1959-61

This paper investigates the institutional causes of China's Great Famine. It presents two empirical findings: 1) in 1959, when the famine began, food production was almost three times more than population subsistence needs; and 2) regions with higher per capita food production that year suffered higher famine mortality rates, a surprising reversal of a typically negative correlation. A simple model based on historical institutional details shows that these patterns are consistent with government policy failure in a centrally planned economy in which the government is unable to easily collect and respond to new information in the presence of an aggregate shock to production.


Yared, P, N Qian and (2010), ‘DP8012 The Institutional Causes of China's Great Famine, 1959-61‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 8012. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp8012