Mao’s Little Helper

John Schwartz generally works the tech beat at the New York Times, but he’s written a fine review of “Snow Falling in Spring”, a children’s book about Mao’s China. We join the narrative in the middle of the account of the Great Leap Forward:

…Neighbors contribute their cooking pots and cutlery for the cause. When Li’s grandmother asks if anyone has seen her cleaver, the little girl proudly responds, “Yes, I helped our country with it.” The family retrieves the big kettle and some spoons from the pile, but the cleaver, as she recalls, “had joined its comrades in the burning fire, doing its share for China.” Everyone has a good laugh over that one.

Then there is the war on the sparrows, a crusade to eliminate the accused scourge of crops. Li and her brother, Di Di, cheer lustily as her father’s pellet gun fells one feathered threat after another.

But things do not go as hoped. Making good steel, it turns out, is more difficult than it looks, and the government rejects the lot, leaving the neighbors downhearted and decidedly less well equipped in their kitchens.

As for the sparrows, well, the government had not considered the fact that sparrows eat insects. Crops are ravaged. In coming years, as a result of natural and man-made disasters, millions die.

And then things really begin to get bad.

I don’t suppose China’s youngsters are reading this book.

And speaking of the Times’ tech beat, Ashlee Vance has jumped to the Grey Lady from The Register. My condolences on the demotion.

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