Food - Drink
Canteens' Troubling History In Communist China
By ELIAS NASH
When Mao Zedong rose to power in China, he developed the People’s Commune system, leading an estimated 99.1% of Chinese farmers to live in communes by October 1958. The People's Communes put a ban on all private property, including food, which was instead served in free, but flawed communal canteens.
The Chinese people were no longer allowed to prepare food for themselves, and farms had to send all of their crops to the canteens, which gave the communal eateries a monopoly on food supply. The government confiscated cooking equipment and private kitchens were destroyed, and the "free" part wasn't exactly a boon, either.
Initially, most people seemed happy to go along with equal access to free food, but the belief that the government would always provide food led to overindulgence and food waste. Combined with other aspects of Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, such as deforestation and destruction of farming equipment, this system led to starvation.
In 1959, China's Yellow River flooded, causing crops to fail, and the following year brought a devastating drought that led to the Great Famine, one of the worst humanitarian crises in Chinese history. Mao was forced to rescind some of his initiatives, and the canteen system was phased out by 1962 as personal cooking returned.