In a small village in central China, a man was boiling meat. This was strange because it was 1961 and no one had meat. For more than two years they had all been starving, dying, in the largest famine of the 20th century, which killed at least 45 million people, according to new archives used in Frank Dikötter’s groundbreaking book, “Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962.”
The other villagers, suspicious, reported the man to local officials, who found a hair clip, ornaments and a scarf belonging to a girl who had disappeared a few days before. This incident of cannibalism was not isolated. According to Dikötter, human meat was traded on the black market, most of it taken from the plentiful dead, and sometimes mixed with dog meat to disguise it.