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FWF Research Project:

The Politicization of Hunger: Discourses of Food and State-Peasant Relationships in Socialist China and Soviet Union

Felix Wemheuer

Home Institution: Department for East Asian Studies, University of Vienna http://www.univie.ac.at/Sinologie/

Research Institution Abroad: Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~fairbank/

Despite the fact that the communist movement promised to abolish hunger; famines managed to occur several times under state socialism. This project aims to understand the interactions between the socialist state and the peasantry which resulted in serious famines. It will focus on the discourses food of hunger in China (1949-1958) and the Soviet Union (1928-1940). In this context, the project will explore how questions such as ‘what kind of food should be eaten’, and the definition of ‘how much food is enough to make a living’ became highly political issues. In China and the Soviet Union, the party established the narrative in the time before the famines that the peasants were pretending to be hungry in order to sabotage the state grain purchase. I will carry out research on the impact that these discourses of food and hunger had on the capability of the socialist regimes to deal with malnutrition and famine.  

This project is aimed to develop the methods of comparative research and overcome the exiting boundaries between Chinese and Soviet Studies. As a result, the project is designed to combine different theories and methodical approaches: My research will be based on theories of peasant resistance which consider peasants not just as passive victims of the governments. The peasants are active actors who are using “the weapons of the weak” to promote their own interests and ensure their survival. My research will be linked to the comparative food studies and new comparative approaches to the models of socialism in the Soviet Union and China. It will rethink the usefulness of terms such as “Chinese Way”, “State Socialism” or “Stalinization of the PRC” regarding the state-peasant relationship. The project will contribute to the deconstruction of the “Chinese way” and will contribute to understand hunger and famine which are still one of the greatest problems of humanity.




Hunger and Socialism
Department of East Asian Studies
University of Vienna

Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1
1010 Vienna
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