Radical Target Setting and China’s Great Famine

51 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2017 Last revised: 7 Jan 2021

See all articles by Chang Liu

Chang Liu

Princeton University

Li-An Zhou

Peking University - Guanghua School of Management

Date Written: May 18, 2019

Abstract

This paper empirically examines the role of radical targets for grain yields in triggering China’s Great Famine (1959-61), one of the largest man-made catastrophes in human history. Beginning in 1958, the Chinese central government assigned different targets for grain yields in most counties, based on their geographic location. All targets seemed unrealistically high. Using novel county-level data, combined with a spatial regression discontinuity strategy, we find evidence that these radical grain targets prompted excessive procurement and subsequent famine. Our estimates show that a one-standard-deviation increase in grain yield targets led to an 18‰ higher death rate in 1960. This paper sheds new light on the consequences of target-setting in an authoritarian regime without considering local contexts.

Keywords: Performance Target, China’s Great Famine, Spatial Regression Discontinuity

JEL Classification: O21, N45, P26

Suggested Citation

Liu, Chang and Zhou, Li-An, Radical Target Setting and China’s Great Famine (May 18, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3075015 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3075015

Chang Liu (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

Li-An Zhou

Peking University - Guanghua School of Management ( email )

Peking University
Beijing, Beijing 100871
China

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