Sunday, March 31, 2013

Broken Fact: Food Rationing

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping remembered that she and her sister were starving in the early days of Cultural Revolution because they had no food, until some kindly neighbors secretly left food for them. Then, as if to explain their survival, she wrote on Page 33:
I learned later that week that each of us got rations from the Communist government. We could collect food stamps from the neighborhood community office and exchange these for products at the community store. The government told us how much we could fetch each month -- for instance, ten kilos of rice, one bar of soap, a quarter kilo of salt, one bottle of soy sauce, a half kilo of meat, one bottle of cooking oil, ten eggs, and so on.

The Debunking:
Food and other daily essentials were severely rationed during the Cultural Revolution years. But that was not how it worked.

What every resident could collect from the government were not "food stamps" but "coupons," which entitles one to purchase a given amount of particular good. In order to obtain the specified food item, one still has to pay for it, instead of simply "fetch" it from the store.

Why is this distinction important? At that time, Fu Ping and her sister were just thrown into this dorm room on their own. It was even before she was supposedly assigned to a factory job (more on that later). They had no money or income. So even if they were receiving rationing coupons, they would not have been able to actually buy food.

Of course, the fact was that they had been well nourished, as shown in a picture taken in 1972, with no ill effects of starvation or malnutrition.

Oh yeah, one more nitpick. While most items were rationed at that time, I don't recall ever seeing salt or soy sauce on the list.

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