Feeding on Fancies with Recipe Books during the Period of China’s Great Famine (1958–1961)

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Journal / PublicationFood, Culture & Society
Publication statusOnline published - 24 Mar 2022


In 1958, the People’ s Republic of China initiated the Great Leap Forward campaign. In the same year, People’s Communes were established as an administrative entity in rural China with the goal of developing collective economy. One of the most important elements of the commune was the Communal Canteen (gonggong shitang), which were established to ensure all the members within the commune obtained a fair share of economic growth, while simultaneously forbidding the preparation of food at home. This article discusses three recipe books created for Communal Canteens published in 1959. These books suggested that the Communal Canteen provide various delicious and nutritious dishes, such as those containing meats and eggs. In reality, however, the recipe books did not play any significant role in the development of Communal Canteens, because of the nationwide famine that began in late 1958, thus neither meat nor eggs were available. By examining booklets published by local authorities and government documents, this article reveals the actual foods Communal Canteen provided, demonstrating that the government created false hope that a communist society could be achieved through Communal Canteens and the Great Leap Forward more generally.gonggong shitang)

Research Area(s)

  • Communal canteen, Great Famine, people's commune, People's Republic of China, recipe book