Networks of Destruction: Political Patronage and the Great Leap Famine of China


We study the mortality cost of political patronage in the context of China’s Great Leap Famine (GLF; 1958-1962). As a direct consequence of a series of radical and misguided policies implemented during a political and economic campaign initiated by China’s top leader Mao, the GLF caused millions of deaths in rural China, with famine mortality varying substantially across provinces. We show that provincial party leaders who were socially connected to Mao 1) pursued Mao’s policies with more zealousness, which led to significantly more famine deaths in their jurisdictions; 2) were more likely to get promoted right before the GLF; 3) had more interactions with Mao during the GLF. Our results point to political patronage as an important contributing factor of the Great Leap Famine.

Working Paper
Jean-Louis Arcand
Jean-Louis Arcand
Professor of Economics

My research interests include development economics, impact evaluation and nutrition and health.