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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us