Flat earth

No grain of truth

The best account yet of the famine caused by Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward, Jasper Becker's Hungry Ghosts, details the ludicrous claims of ever-greater grain yields made by zealous cadres. Propaganda photographs showed fields of wheat so thick that children could stand on it (in fact they were standing on a bench hidden by the stalks); China claimed to have overtaken the US in wheat production; surpluses were said to be so great that grain was given away free to Chinese allies like North Korea and Albania.

"Model communes" which vied with each other to claim new world records for grain output were actually condemning their members to death. The higher the reported production, the greater the quota which had to be handed over to the state, and since this often exceeded actual production, there was nothing left for the peasants to eat. The result: between 1958 and 1961, at least 30 million people starved to death, the worst such disaster in history.

Even though China, as Becker points out, has to this day never officially acknowledged that the famine took place, you would think the Communist Party and its propaganda organs might have learned a few lessons. Yet what is this I read? Last week the official Xinhua news agency claimed that Kesong village in faraway Tibet had set a world record of 15.075 tonnes of wheat per hectare in its summer harvest.

The Tibet Agricultural Research Institute, Xinhua solemnly reported, attributed the unusually high yield to favourable geographic conditions and the fine variety of wheat. All this just happens to be in the area which Tibetans regard as the cradle of their people, where they first tilled the soil.

At least the achievement was not attributed to the people's love of Marxist- Leninist-Maoist Thought, and nobody is likely to starve as a result of such nonsense. China has changed in many ways since the Great Leap Forward, even if some of its propagandists haven't.

Gourd and bad

THE Filipinos say anyone can grow kalabasa - the local breed of squash - simply by scattering the seeds on the ground. If you want to describe someone as stupid or inefficient in the Philippines, you call him or her a squash, apparently: President Fidel Ramos issues annual kalabasa awards to underperforming public servants.

All this may be very amusing to Filipinos, but the vegetable has become highly successful on export markets, especially in Japan. The Agriculture Secretary suggested that another name be found for the inefficiency prize, and the cabinet decided unanimously to switch to the term kulelat, or tail-enders.

But as we all know, the future lies in intellectual property, not in boring old agriculture. Rather than the kalabasa, the Philippines should be exporting what it symbolises. The idea of the head of state holding up the lousiest officials to ridicule has equal merit here - suitably adapted, of course. With acknowledgements to Graham Taylor and the Sun, the Queen should bestow annual turnip awards on the most uncivil servants.

Roar at a boar

I NOTE that officials in Romania have told peasants to shout or "make a loud noise" at herds of wild boar which trample their cornfields. The beasts are protected, and may not be shot.

This advice may not be as fatuous as it seems. At a game reserve where I was staying in Swaziland, the guests dived into their cabins when three rhinos lumbered into the camp. A member of the kitchen staff got rid of the pachyderms by waving a tea towel at them and shouting "Shoo! Shoo!"

The same tactic worked on the local pelican, but not before it had stolen a string of sausages I was about to barbecue. And wearing rubber flip- flops provoked the cranes to peck your ankles ... but all that is another story.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?