The Chinese famine of 1958–1961 is characterized not only by its great magnitude but also by the uniqueness of its causes. In this article we present evidence that conventional reasons; including FAD and entitlement failure, fail to offer plausible explanations for the tragedy because of the obvious contradiction between food availability and excessive deaths during the famine period. Our thesis is that the famine is caused by consumption inefficiency, a result of the free food supply in the communal dining system in the famine period. This causal factor is unique and unprecedented in the famine history and theory. Yet the thesis is consistent with a basic economic precept: if property rights for food in a society are not defined, food consumption will be inefficient. This inefficiency mades the previously barely adequate food supply in China inadequate, causing a large-scale famine.

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