China was ravaged by a famine 50 years ago that killed up to 45 million people. This is an incident which few would recall. After remaining a taboo subject for half-a-century, a former journalist attached with China state news agency is determined to inform the world about it.
Author Yang Jisheng is an unassuming figure, and since his retirement, he has worked on the innocuously titled Annals of the Yellow Emperor journal.
AdvertisementAccording to the Sydney Morning Herald, the horror stories penned by the 72-year-old are so savage and excessive, that they could almost be taken as the blackest of comedies; the bleakest of farces; the most extreme of satires on fanaticism and tyranny.
A decade after the Communist party took power in 1949, promising to serve the people, the greatest man-made disaster in history stalked the already impoverished land.
In the country's central Henan province alone, more than a million people - one in eight - were are wiped out by starvation and brutality over three short years.
In barely nine months, over 12,000 people - a third of the inhabitants - died in a single commune; a tenth of its households were wiped out.
Yang has devoted the past 15 years of his life to document the catastrophe that claimed at least 36 million lives across the country, including that of his father.
The Great Famine remains a taboo in China, where it is referred to as the Three Years of Natural Disasters or the Three Years of Difficulties.
Yang's monumental account, first published in Hong Kong, is banned in his homeland.
He says that he felt terribly depressed when he went through the documents for the first time, but with the passage of time, his feelings became numbed, and this enabled him to carry on with his project.
Though a sense of deep anger imbues his book, it is all the more powerful for its restraint.
Writing Tombstone has been a personal mission to remember those who died, including his father.
"I just had a very strong desire to find out the facts. I was cheated and I don't want to be cheated again," Yang says.
Yang is convinced that Tombstone will be published on the mainland, maybe within the decade.
He says there are probably 100,000 copies already in circulation, including pirated versions and those smuggled from Hong Kong.
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