NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

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

Xin Meng, Nancy Qian, Pierre Yared

NBER Working Paper No. 16361
Issued in September 2010
NBER Program(s):   POL

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 the policy outcomes 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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16361

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