Love and Famine

Written by Han-Ping Chin
Review by Bryan Dumas

In this coming-of-age story, Dapeng Liu seeks to find his place within the burgeoning class struggle of Mao’s communist and cultural revolutions. As a 9th grade student in 1949, Dapeng welcomes the new communist regime with pride, and he is eager to volunteer wherever he can to further the revolution’s agenda. However, as he moves on to university, he quickly learns that being an intellectual in Mao’s China has serious repercussions. Eventually, Dapeng finds work in a national lab in Beijing working on electric power. His role is as an engineer assigned to various dam projects around the country.

But it is in this maelstrom of intellectuals and party cadres where Dapeng faces his greatest challenges. Amid programs to out anti-communists and shifting political alliances and ideals, Dapeng attempts to eke out a life for himself and his young bride. But purges, famine, and party demands all conspire against his good fortunes.

Set during the turbulent years of Mao Zedong’s rise and into the Great Leap Forward, Love and Famine is a rich and detailed look at the lives of both Chinese intellectuals and peasants alike. Han-Ping Chin’s autobiographical novel offers a glimpse into the way the Chinese lived during the formative years of China’s communist regime. At times, the story gets bogged down in tangents, and the myriad of characters and names can get overwhelming. However, Dapeng’s struggles and slow rise to triumph pull the reader along hoping for a semblance of a happy ending in the face of the near-insurmountable hardships surrounding him. A fascinating look at life during the Great Leap Forward, and a fine addition to the study and literature of the period.