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Great Leap Forward


In 1958 Mao Zedong announced the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to increase agricultural and industrial production. This reform programme included the establishment of large agricultural communes containing as many as 75,000 people. The communes ran their own collective farms and factories. Each family received a share of the profits and also had a small private plot of land. However, three years of floods and bad harvests severely damaged levels of production. The scheme was also hurt by the decision of the Soviet Union to withdraw its large number of technical experts working in the country. In 1962 Mao's reform programme came to an end and the country resorted to a more traditional form of economic production.


The Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward took place in 1958. The Great Leap Forward was Mao’s attempt to modernise China’s economy so that by 1988, China would have an economy that rivalled America.

Card issued to celebrate the Great Leap Forward

Mao had toured China and concluded that the Chinese people were capable of anything and the two primary tasks that he felt they should target was industry and agriculture. Mao announced a second Five Year Plan to last from 1958 to 1963. This plan was called the Great Leap Forward.

The Great Leap Forward planned to develop agriculture and industry. Mao believed that both had to grow to allow the other to grow. Industry could only prosper if the work force was well fed, while the agricultural workers needed industry to produce the modern tools needed for modernisation. To allow for this, China was reformed into a series of communes.

The geographical size of a commune varied but most contained about 5000 families. People in a commune gave up their ownership of tools, animals etc so that everything was owned by the commune. People now worked for the commune and not for themselves. The life of an individual was controlled by the commune. Schools and nurseries were provided by the communes so that all adults could work. Health care was provided and the elderly were moved into “houses of happiness” so that they could be looked after and also so that families could work and not have to worry about leaving their elderly relatives at home.

The commune provided all that was needed – including entertainment. Soldiers worked alongside people. The population in a commune was sub-divided. Twelve families formed a work team. Twelve work terms formed a brigade. Each sub-division was given specific work to do. Party members oversaw the work of a commune to ensure that decisions followed the correct party line.

By the end of 1958, 700 million people had been placed into 26,578 communes. The speed with which this was achieved was astounding. However, the government did all that it could to whip up enthusiasm for the communes. Propaganda was everywhere – including in the fields where the workers could listen to political speeches as they worked as the communes provided public address systems. Everybody involved in communes was urged not only to meet set targets but to beat them. If the communes lacked machinery, the workers used their bare hands. Major constructions were built in record time – though the quality of some was dubious.

The Great Leap Forward also encouraged communes to set up “back-yard” production plants. The most famous were 600,000backyard furnaces which produced steel for the communes. When all of these furnaces were working, they added a considerable amount of steel to China’s annual total – 11 million tonnes.

The figures for steel, coal, chemicals, timber, cement etc all showed huge rises though the figures started at in 1958 were low. Grain and cotton production also showed major increases in production.

Mao had introduced the Great Leap Forward with the phrase “it is possible to accomplish any task whatsoever.” By the end of 1958, it seemed as if his claim was true.

The consequences of the Great Leap Forward

However, in 1959, things started to go wrong. Political decisions/beliefs took precedence over commonsense and communes faced the task of doing things which they were incapable of achieving. Party officials would order the impossible and commune leaders, who knew what their commune was capable of doing or not, could be charged with being a “bourgeois reactionary” if he complained. Such a charge would lead to prison.

Quickly produced farm machinery produced in factories fell to pieces when used. Many thousands of workers were injured after working long hours and falling asleep at their jobs. Steel produced by the backyard furnaces was frequently too weak to be of any use and could not be used in construction – it’s original purpose. Buildings constructed by this substandard steel did not last long.

Also the backyard production method had taken many workers away from their fields – so desperately needed food was not being harvested. Ironically, one of the key factors in food production in China was the weather and 1958 had particularly good weather for growing food. Party leaders claimed that the harvest for 1958 was a record 260 million tons – which was not true.

The excellent growing weather of 1958 was followed by a very poor growing year in 1959. Some parts of China were hit by floods. In other growing areas, drought was a major problem. The harvest for 1959 was 170 million tons of grain – well below what China needed at the most basic level. In parts of China, starvation occurred.

1960 had even worse weather than 1959. The harvest of 1960 was 144 million tons. 9 million people are thought to have starved to death in 1960 alone many millions were left desperately ill as a result of a lack of food. The government had to introduce rationing. This put people on the most minimal of food and between 1959 and 1962, it is thought that 20 million people died of starvation or diseases related to starvation.

The backyard furnaces also used too much coal and China’s rail system, which depended on coal driven trains, suffered accordingly.

By 1959, it was obvious that the Great Leap Forward had been a failure and even Mao admitted this. He called on the Communist Party to take him to task over his failures but also asked his own party members to look at themselves and their performance.

“The chaos caused was on a grand scale, and I take responsibility. Comrades, you must all analyse your own responsibility. If you have to fart, fart. You will feel much better for it.”

Some party members put the blame of the failure of the Great Leap Forward on Mao. He was popular with the people but he still had to resign from his position as Head of State (though he remained in the powerful Party Chairman position).

The day-to-day running of China was left to three moderates: Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. In late 1960, they abandoned the Great Leap Forward. Private ownership of land was reinstated and communes were cut down to a manageable size. Peasants also had the incentive to produce as much spare food as was possible as they could sell any spare that they had a market.

These three moderates had restricted Mao’s power but his standing among the ordinary Chinese people was still high as he was seen as the leader of the revolution. He was to use this popularity with the people to resurrect his authority at the expense of the moderates. This was in the so-called Cultural Revolution.


  • Post author: BrainFeed
  • Post published: May 13, 2021
  • Post category: Education / Economy / International / People
  • Reading time: 3 mins read

When Chinese leaders launched the “Great Leap Forward” in 1958, they hoped the economic campaign would bring their economy on par with the United Kingdom’s economy in just fifteen years. In thirty, they hoped to overtake the United States. Instead, the “Great Leap” became the “Great Famine” and led to over 30 million deaths…

The Rise of Mao and the CCP

Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took control of China in 1949 following their victory in the Chinese Civil War (1945-49). They defeated their rival political party, the Kuomintang, who fled to Taiwan. The CCP established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and a monopoly on Chinese politics.

Mao Zedong

Upon taking power, the CCP began redistributing land, equipment, and farm animals from wealthier to poorer farmers. The government soon forced farms to pool those resources into ever-growing “co-operatives”. These were groups of farming households (up to 300), joined together to increase efficiency.

China Attempts a Great Leap

In 1958, the CCP launched an economic program called the “Great Leap Forward”. The goal was to transform China from an agrarian society into a modern industrial society that could compete with Western economic powers. Mao hoped to make use of the country’s massive supply of cheap labor (population: 640 million) to avoid importing heavy machinery.

Mao saw steel and grain production as key pillars of the country’s economic development. Major investments were made in state-sponsored industrial projects. Urban populations swelled, which put a strain on rural food production.

Meanwhile, farms were forced into even bigger communes averaging 5,000 households. Communes had to sell a share of their production to the government- at prices set by the government. Commune leaders were under pressure to meet optimistic targets set by the CCP, which led them to exaggerate reported production levels.

The Great Famine

Climate disasters, including drought and flooding, conspired with this flawed economic model to bring about disaster between 1959-61. Grain production plummeted, and because grain sold to the state was based on inflated figures, farmers were left with little or nothing to eat. While farmers starved, China continued to export grain as Mao tried to convince the world his plan had been a success. Even when news of starvation and cannibalism trickled out of China, foreign aid was refused.

Inside the country, anyone who criticized the regime’s policy was denounced as a traitor. Thus, mass-scale famine ensued. Although the exact number of famine deaths is difficult to determine, estimates range from 30-55 million. Even at the lower bound, this marks the worst famine in human history.

Policies associated with the Great Leap began to be gradually phased out in 1960. In an attempt to resurrect the struggling economy, some private land was returned and communes were broken up. Mao even took a step back from decision-making… Until 1966, that is, when he launched a “Cultural Revolution” to root out any remnants of capitalist and traditional Chinese society. But that is a story for another BrainFeed…

Did You Know?

  • During the Great Leap Forward, Mao encouraged communes to participate in industrial production by building “backyard furnaces” (see below). The aim of these furnaces was to transform scrap metal into steel. Mostly, though, it resulted in the destruction of useful items (pots and pans), which were turned into useless masses of metal.
Backyard Furnaces

Mao's Great Leap Forward 'killed 45 million in four years'

Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China, qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history, an expert who had unprecedented access to official Communist Party archives said yesterday.

Speaking at The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival, Frank Dikötter, a Hong Kong-based historian, said he found that during the time that Mao was enforcing the Great Leap Forward in 1958, in an effort to catch up with the economy of the Western world, he was responsible for overseeing "one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known".

Mr Dikötter, who has been studying Chinese rural history from 1958 to 1962, when the nation was facing a famine, compared the systematic torture, brutality, starvation and killing of Chinese peasants to the Second World War in its magnitude. At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million.

Mr Dikötter is the only author to have delved into the Chinese archives since they were reopened four years ago. He argued that this devastating period of history – which has until now remained hidden – has international resonance. "It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century. It was like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot's genocide multiplied 20 times over," he said.

Between 1958 and 1962, a war raged between the peasants and the state it was a period when a third of all homes in China were destroyed to produce fertiliser and when the nation descended into famine and starvation, Mr Dikötter said.

His book, Mao's Great Famine The Story of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, reveals that while this is a part of history that has been "quite forgotten" in the official memory of the People's Republic of China, there was a "staggering degree of violence" that was, remarkably, carefully catalogued in Public Security Bureau reports, which featured among the provincial archives he studied. In them, he found that the members of the rural farming communities were seen by the Party merely as "digits", or a faceless workforce. For those who committed any acts of disobedience, however minor, the punishments were huge.

State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.

Mr Dikötter said that he was once again examining the Party's archives for his next book, The Tragedy of Liberation, which will deal with the bloody advent of Communism in China from 1944 to 1957.

He said the archives were already illuminating the extent of the atrocities of the period one piece of evidence revealed that 13,000 opponents of the new regime were killed in one region alone, in just three weeks. "We know the outline of what went on but I will be looking into precisely what happened in this period, how it happened, and the human experiences behind the history," he said.

Mr Dikötter, who teaches at the University of Hong Kong, said while it was difficult for any historian in China to write books that are critical of Mao, he felt he could not collude with the "conspiracy of silence" in what the Chinese rural community had suffered in recent history.


Evolution’s ‘great leap forward’: When did humans cross the intelligence rubicon?

Credit: Fiddes et al./Cell

Some scientists interpret this as suggesting the earliest Homo sapiens weren’t entirely modern. Yet the different data tracks different things. Skulls and genes tell us about brains, artefacts about culture. Our brains probably became modern before our cultures.

Key physical and cultural milestones in modern human evolution, including genetic divergence of ethnic groups. Credit: Nick Longrich

The “great leap”

For 200,000-300,000 years after Homo sapiens first appeared, tools and artefacts remained surprisingly simple, little better than Neanderthal technology, and simpler than those of modern hunter-gatherers such as certain indigenous Americans. Starting about 65,000 to 50,000 years ago, more advanced technology started appearing: complex projectile weapons such as bows and spear-throwers, fishhooks, ceramics, sewing needles.

People made representational art – cave paintings of horses, ivory goddesses, lion-headed idols, showing artistic flair and imagination. A bird-bone flute hints at music. Meanwhile, arrival of humans in Australia 65,000 years ago shows we’d mastered seafaring.

The Venus of Brassempouy, 25,000 years old. Credit: Wikipedia

This sudden flourishing of technology is called the “great leap forward”, supposedly reflecting the evolution of a fully modern human brain. But fossils and DNA suggest that human intelligence became modern far earlier.

Anatomical modernity

Bones of primitive Homo sapiens first appear 300,000 years ago in Africa, with brains as large or larger than ours. They’re followed by anatomically modern Homo sapiens at least 200,000 years ago, and brain shape became essentially modern by at least 100,000 years ago. At this point, humans had braincases similar in size and shape to ours.

Assuming the brain was as modern as the box that held it, our African ancestors theoretically could have discovered relativity, built space telescopes, written novels and love songs. Their bones say they were just as human as we are.

300,000 year old skull, Morocco. Credit: NHM

Because the fossil record is so patchy, fossils provide only minimum dates. Human DNA suggests even earlier origins for modernity. Comparing genetic differences between DNA in modern people and ancient Africans, it’s estimated that our ancestors lived 260,000 to 350,000 years ago. All living humans descend from those people, suggesting that we inherited the fundamental commonalities of our species, our humanity, from them.

All their descendants – Bantu, Berber, Aztec, Aboriginal, Tamil, San, Han, Maori, Inuit, Irish – share certain peculiar behaviours absent in other great apes. All human cultures form long-term pair bonds between men and women to care for children. We sing and dance. We make art. We preen our hair, adorn our bodies with ornaments, tattoos and makeup.

We craft shelters. We wield fire and complex tools. We form large, multigenerational social groups with dozens to thousands of people. We cooperate to wage war and help each other. We teach, tell stories, trade. We have morals, laws. We contemplate the stars, our place in the cosmos, life’s meaning, what follows death.

The details of our tools, fashions, families, morals and mythologies vary from tribe to tribe and culture to culture, but all living humans show these behaviours. That suggests these behaviours – or at least, the capacity for them – are innate. These shared behaviours unite all people. They’re the human condition, what it means to be human, and they result from shared ancestry.

We inherited our humanity from peoples in southern Africa 300,000 years ago. The alternative – that everyone, everywhere coincidentally became fully human in the same way at the same time, starting 65,000 years ago – isn’t impossible, but a single origin is more likely.

The network effect

Archaeology and biology may seem to disagree, but they actually tell different parts of the human story. Bones and DNA tell us about brain evolution, our hardware. Tools reflect brainpower, but also culture, our hardware and software.

Just as you can upgrade your old computer’s operating system, culture can evolve even if intelligence doesn’t. Humans in ancient times lacked smartphones and spaceflight, but we know from studying philosophers such as Buddha and Aristotle that they were just as clever. Our brains didn’t change, our culture did.

Middle Stone Age technology.

That creates a puzzle. If Pleistocene hunter-gatherers were as smart as us, why did culture remain so primitive for so long? Why did we need hundreds of millennia to invent bows, sewing needles, boats? And what changed? Probably several things.

First, we journeyed out of Africa, occupying more of the planet. There were then simply more humans to invent, increasing the odds of a prehistoric Steve Jobs or Leonardo da Vinci. We also faced new environments in the Middle East, the Arctic, India, Indonesia, with unique climates, foods and dangers, including other human species. Survival demanded innovation.

Many of these new lands were far more habitable than the Kalahari or the Congo. Climates were milder, but Homo sapiens also left behind African diseases and parasites. That let tribes grow larger, and larger tribes meant more heads to innovate and remember ideas, more manpower, and better ability to specialise. Population drove innovation.

Beijing from space. Credit: NASA

This triggered feedback cycles. As new technologies appeared and spread – better weapons, clothing, shelters – human numbers could increase further, accelerating cultural evolution again.

Numbers drove culture, culture increased numbers, accelerating cultural evolution, on and on, ultimately pushing human populations to outstrip their ecosystems, devastating the megafauna and forcing the evolution of farming. Finally, agriculture caused an explosive population increase, culminating in civilisations of millions of people. Now, cultural evolution kicked into hyperdrive.

Artefacts reflect culture, and cultural complexity is an emergent property. That is, it’s not just individual-level intelligence that makes cultures sophisticated, but interactions between individuals in groups, and between groups. Like networking millions of processors to make a supercomputer, we increased cultural complexity by increasing the number of people and the links between them.

So our societies and world evolved rapidly in the past 300,000 years, while our brains evolved slowly. We expanded our numbers to almost 8 billion, spread across the globe, reshaped the planet. We did it not by adapting our brains but by changing our cultures. And much of the difference between our ancient, simple hunter-gatherer societies and modern societies just reflects the fact that there are lots more of us and more connections between us.

Nick Longrich is a Senior Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology and Paleontology at the University of Bath. Nick is interested in how the world evolved to be the way it is. He studies mass extinction, adaptive radiation, dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and mosasaurs, among other things. Find Nick on Twitter @NickLongrich

A version of this article was originally published at the Conversation and has been republished here with permission. The Conversation can be found on Twitter @ConversationUS

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.


Great Leap Forward - History

"My parents were peasants who worked in the field. We grew wheat in the area where I lived, and they were part of a production team," said Yang, who was born in 1964, three years after the Great Leap Forward had ended. "They would often bring up the topic of the Great Leap famine and tell how bad things were during that time."

Yang's curiosity about the period led him to write the book Calamity and Reform in China: State, Rural Society and Institutional Change Since the Great Leap Famine, to be published this spring by Stanford University Press. The book, one of the first major works to analyze the period, relates how the Great Leap Forward and the subsequent famine still influence China today.

Unlike the later Cultural Revolution, which is well known in the West, the Great Leap Forward has been less of a focus for research by Western scholars -- yet, according to Yang, it was one of the most influential periods of Chinese history. It was the pivotal event that led China to adopt reforms in rural areas after Mao's death in 1976, resulting in the dismantlement of the people's communes that the Chinese government had fervently advocated during the Great Leap Forward.

Communist dream leads to mass death

The Great Leap Forward was begun in 1957 by Chairman Mao Zedong to bring the nation quickly into the forefront of economic development. Mao wanted China to become a leading industrial power, and to accomplish his goals he and his colleagues pushed for the construction of steel plants across the country.

The rural society was to keep pace with the dream by producing enough food to feed the country plus enough for export to help pay for industrialization. As a result of the Communist revolution, landowners had been stripped of their property, and by 1957 peasants already were forced to work in agricultural cooperatives.

These changes were intended to improve conditions for everyone by collectivizing agriculture and establishing communal eating facilities where peasants could eat all they wanted free of charge. This utopian dream turned into a nightmare as the central leadership grew increasingly out of touch with reality, Yang found through his study of government records and personal accounts.

At the beginning of the Great Leap Forward, Mao proclaimed that China would overtake Britain in production of steel and other products within 15 years. Other Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, supported Mao's enthusiasm, according to documents Yang studied in China.

A year later, Mao radically revised the timeline for catching up to Britain -- what was to be accomplished in 15 years now had to be done in just one more year, he said.

"Frequent changes in the timetable were symptomatic of the Great Leap, which, in retrospect, was fantasy incarnate. Even more exaggerated targets were subsequently presented, and then frequently revised upward, for steel, grain, cotton and other products. Any semblance of serious planning was abandoned," Yang said.

In pursuit of its goals, the government executed people who did not agree with the pace of radical change. The crackdown led to the deaths of 550,000 people by 1958.

The government also plunged the country into a deep debt by increasing spending on the development of heavy industry. Government spending on heavy industry grew in 1958 to represent 56 percent of state capital investment, an increase from 38 percent in 1956.

People were mobilized to accomplish the goals of industrialization. They built backyard furnaces for iron and steel and worked together on massive building projects, including one undertaken during the winter of 1957-58 in which more than 100 million peasants were mobilized to build large-scale water-conservation works.

Local leaders competed with one another to see who could create the most activity. In the rush to recruit labor, agricultural tasks were neglected, sometimes leaving the grain harvest to rot in the fields, Yang said. In the frenzy of competition, the leaders over-reported their harvests to their superiors in Beijing, and what was thought to be surplus grain was sold abroad.

Although in theory the country was awash in grain, in reality it was not. Rural communal mess halls were encouraged to supply food for free, but by the spring of 1959, the grain reserves were exhausted and the famine had begun.

No one is sure exactly how many people perished as a result of the spreading hunger. By comparing the number of deaths that could be expected under normal conditions with the number that occurred during the period of the Great Leap famine, scholars have estimated that somewhere between 16.5 million and 40 million people died before the experiment came to an end in 1961, making the Great Leap famine the largest in world history.

People abandoned their homes in search of food. Families suffered immensely, and reports of that suffering reached the members of the army, whose homes were primarily in rural areas. As soldiers received letters describing the suffering and the deaths, it became harder for leaders to maintain ideological discipline. Chaos developed in the countryside as rural militias became predatory, seizing grain, beating people and raping women. From famine to reform

During the struggle for survival, farmers in nearly one-third of the rural communities took matters into their own hands, abandoning the people's commune in favor of individual farming. Heavy central control was reduced, and the country's agricultural production improved.

Following Mao's death in 1976, central leaders disagreed over rural policies. Taking advantage of this policy paralysis, peasants and local cadres made alliances in those areas that had suffered severely from the Great Leap Famine and contracted land to the farm household. In just a few years' time, the people's communes were dismantled. Agricultural performance improved dramatically and gave momentum to the reforms under Deng.

The memory of the famine reinforced the important role peasants play in China's development, Yang said. That memory also has undermined the appeal of central planning in rural policy-making.

"Historical developments during more than four decades of Communist rule in China have again and again shown us how the unanticipated consequences of elite policies subverted their attempts at fundamental social engineering," Yang writes in Calamity and Reform in China. Institutional changes in China are the result of a contest between the elite and the masses, between the state and the society, he said.

"This study thus points to the crucial importance of guarding against those who claim to know some magic route to the radiant future, be they politicians like Mao or party intellectuals who supported Mao or the new technocrats who claim to have found a scientific way to make China rich and powerful and who happily clamor for more power for themselves."

The best way to prevent the country from following another movement like the Great Leap Forward is to create mechanisms that check those in power, Yang said.

"Had there been a free press and other institutions of oversight that are commonly found in open political systems, the Great Leap famine would certainly not have attained the magnitude it did," said Yang, who continues to follow events in China through visits there as he develops his academic career in the United States.

Yang became interested in the social sciences as a college student in Beijing, where he studied engineering. He received his B.S. in industrial engineering in 1983 from Beijing University of Science and Technology and developed an interest in English, which led him to receive his diploma for advanced studies in English in 1984 from Beijing Foreign Studies University.

He came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in political science in 1986 and received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1993, the same year he joined the Chicago faculty.

Although he does not see rapid democratization coming to China, he has noticed some indications of ways in which the system there is beginning to rein in the excess power of overzealous leaders. "To some extent the trend toward decentralization, market-based competition and legal rule has spread decision-making power throughout the system," he said.

The new leadership is, however, "tentative, reactive and at times schizophrenic," Yang said. "They are less driven by firm ideological convictions than by sheer desire to remain in power.

"The balance between the state and society thus appears precarious, but it is also less susceptible to elite manipulations and more likely to produce policies dealing with the concrete problems that crop up in a state that is undergoing rapid economic development and social change."


Great Leap Forward - History

Economic development under the People's Republic of China government started with about 150 development projects planned, financed and staffed by the Soviet Union. When political ideological differences between Mao Zedong and Nikita Khrushchev led to a split, the 15,000 Soviet engineers and staff on the development projects were withdrawn and the blueprints for the projects destroyed. China did not have the technological and financial resources to complete these projects on its own and Mao Zedong was made conscious of how vulnerable China was in depending upon outside aid, even from communist regimes.

It was then that the conviction developed with Mao that China would industrialize on its own, pulling itself up by its own bootstraps, so to speak. Mao was also aware that the first attempt to create a socialist economy was brought to a halt in the Soviet Union in 1921 when peasants reacted to confiscation of their grain harvest by declining to plant and produce as much grain. Mao was also aware that when Stalin began his five-year plans he collectivized agriculture in order to have control over what was planted and produced. Mao should have also been aware, although perhaps he was not, that the collectivization program in the Soviet Union was a great failure in terms of production and that a severe famine occured in the Ukraine afterwards. Nevertheless Mao called for the Chinese peasants to be organized into communes. This, in effect, took away the land that had been distributed to the peasants in the years immediately after 1949. The peasants had been urged to confiscate the lands of the landowners and distribute it to the peasants that farmed it. This land distribution program was extremely popular with the peasants and contributed to their support of Mao's Communist Party. But the peasants had the land for less that ten years before the State took it away from them.

First, peasants were organized into cooperatives of 20 to 40 families. This was at the village level. Next the cooperatives were replaced by county-wide collectives involving hundreds of thousands of people. In addition to calling for the creation of communes Mao urged the peasants to build backyard blastfurnaces to make iron and steel for tools. The peasants were supposed to melt down scrap metal to make useful items such as tools and utensils. In practice the program worked backwards with peasants melting down useful items to produce unusable masses of metal. This happened because the State exhorted the peasants to increase production from the backyard blast furnaces and when they ran out of scrap they started melting down anything they could find, including tools and utensils. Some of this destruction of useful objects to increase the production from the backyard blastfurnaces might be attributed to enthusiasm but probably more of it was due to there being quotas of production from the furnaces that had to be met. Communist leaders at the local level faced with possible personal punishment for not meeting the quota or destruction of useful items of metal and of wood for fuel usually would choose to try to meet the quota. But the mixture of metals and the impurities in the fuel produced metal that could not be formed into anything useful. The metal was too brittle.

The more incidious consequence of the backyard blastfurnaces and other nonagricultural projects of the Great Leap Forward was that they took labor away from food production and led to a shortfall in food. China was, as always in recent history, on the edge of subsistence and any decrease in food production means privation if not starvation.

To make matters worse the centralized control resulted in no one with the authority to change things being informed of the decline in food production. The commune leaders were under pressure to exceed past production and when production declined they did report it. They, in fact, reported what the higher authorities wanted to hear. Thus the policy errors that were leading to food shortfalls went on beyond the point when anyone could do anything about them. The central government made things even worse for the peasants by taking a share based upon the falsified production figures and thus leaving the peasants too little to survive on.

In addition to the decline in food production due to the diversion of effort away from agriculture there was losses in food production because of the erroneous policies promoted by the State. One of these idiocies was close planting. If two plants are set too close to each other there is not enough nutrients in the soil to feed both and both die. The State promoted close planting of grain to increase productivity. The initial growth of a plant derives from the nutrient stored in the seed itself. With close planting the initial germination produces spectacular results, but when the growth of the plant has to depend upon nutrients drawn from the soil the close planting produces failures. During the Great Leap Forward there developed a competition for creating the most striking demonstrations of close planting. The record was probably the case which produced a famous photograph of children standing on top of a wheat field that could hold their weight. Jasper Becker, in his history of the Great Leap Forward era Hungry Ghosts tells that an interviewee told him that the picture was faked. There was a bench hidden in the wheat below the children's feet that supported them.

Jasper Becker in Hungry Ghosts traces the foolishness of close planting to the fraudulent science of the Soviet Union. T.D. Lysenko was a quack who got the support of Joseph Stalin and ruled over Soviet genetics for twenty five years. Among the many erroneous notions promoted by Lysenko and which had to be accepted in Marxist countries was his "law of the life of species" which said that plants of the same species do not compete with each other but instead help each other to survive. This was linked to the Marxist notion of classes in which members of the same class do not compete but instead help each other survive. So Marxist ideology seemed to support the notion that the denser grain was planted the better it was for the grain. But in reality this close planting led to whithering of the plants after the initial germination phase. Lysenko was responsible for many other foolish notions most based upon the precept that environment not genetics determine plant characteristics. Lysenko argued that if you grew plants a little farther north each year they would adapt to the climate and eventually you would be able to grow oranges in the arctic. All of the Lysenko nonsense had to accepted in the Soviet Union and promoted in propaganda as scientific truth. The Marxists in China apparently believed it was the truth. The reality was that this nonsense resulted in less production of food under conditions of bare survival.

Some tried to communicate to Mao the failures of the Great Leap Forward but were denounced as traitors. Marshal Peng Dehuai who commanded the Chinese troops in the Korean War was one of those denounced and branded as a counter-revolutionary by Mao. Peng captured the situation well in a poem:

The millet is scattered over the ground.
The leaves of the sweet potato are withered.
The young and old have gone to smelt iron.
To harvest the grain there are only
children and old women. How shall we get through the next year?

This version of the poem quoted in Jasper Becker's Hungry Ghosts

Famine ensued and was particularly severe in some areas. The people in these areas were forbidden to leave their area and so were doomed to starvation. Altogether about thirty million people died in the famine. The famine was caused by the shortfall in food production but this was a result of the bad policies and centralization of power in the central government. It was made worse by the refusal to admit the problem. During the time peasants were starving in the country side the government was shipping to grain to the Soviet Union to repay loans. Some grain also rotted in warehouses in the cities where it was taken from the communes.

This famine was kept secret from the outside world until China began opening up to the outside world and demographers began analyzing the the population statistics.

When Mao finally accepted the fact that the Great Leap Forward had failed he left the task of achieving an economic recovery to Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai. Harrison Salisbury believes there is evidence that Mao made an explicit agreement with the three that he would give them free rein for five years. The three did bring about the recovery but in 1966 Mao sought to return to absolute power again. The power struggle took the form of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). It was a social and economic disaster for China but it was brilliant guerilla warfare on the part of Mao. Mao may have been a fool in matters of economic policy but he was a genius in guerilla warfare.


Flaw #4 | The Water

China could only meet its ambitious grain quotas by also seizing control of the water.

This attempt was also catastrophic.

During the Great Leap Forward, multiple irrigation channels were built to supply water to dry lands. This was done in a rushed way, with no input from experts, but at a great human cost.

The irrigation projects were referred to as “killing fields” by the peasant workers and hundreds of thousands of starved and exhausted people gave their lives in China’s irrigation program.

But the irrigation channels themselves were poorly constructed. Similarly to the irrigation project in the Soviet Union that destroyed the Aral Sea while manically growing cotton, China was driven by aggressive quotas and abused the land and the cheap labor it had at its disposal instead of applying educated and strategic planning.

Multiple dams were built during this period on the same principle. Forced labor, rushed projects. As a result, two decades later when Typhoon Nina struck the Henan province, 62 poorly-constructed dams collapsed in one of history’s worst ecological and humanitarian disasters.


Great Leap Forward - History bibliographies - in Harvard style

Your Bibliography: 1999. 50 Years of Communism in China. [online] Available at: <http://partners.nytimes.com/library/world/asia/china-index-timeline.html> [Accessed 24 August 2015].

Great Leap Forward (1956-1960)

In-text: (Great Leap Forward (1956-1960), 2012)

Your Bibliography: Chineseposters.net. 2012. Great Leap Forward (1956-1960). [online] Available at: <http://chineseposters.net/gallery/theme-04.php> [Accessed 19 October 2015].

Famine Can Tilt the Sex Ratio of Future Generations. But Why? | DiscoverMagazine.com

In-text: (Famine Can Tilt the Sex Ratio of Future Generations. But Why? | DiscoverMagazine.com, 2015)

Your Bibliography: Discover Magazine. 2015. Famine Can Tilt the Sex Ratio of Future Generations. But Why? | DiscoverMagazine.com. [online] Available at: <http://discovermagazine.com/2013/nov/08-sex-ratios> [Accessed 19 October 2015].

Han, D.

Farmers, Mao, and Discontent in China: From the Great Leap Forward to the Present

In-text: (Han, 2009)

Your Bibliography: Han, D., 2009. Farmers, Mao, and Discontent in China: From the Great Leap Forward to the Present. [online] Monthly Review. Available at: <https://monthlyreview.org/2009/12/01/farmers-mao-and-discontent-in-china/> [Accessed 21 October 2015].

Harms, W.

China's Great Leap Forward

In-text: (Harms, 1996)

Your Bibliography: Harms, W., 1996. China's Great Leap Forward. [online] Chronicle.uchicago.edu. Available at: <http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/960314/china.shtml> [Accessed 16 October 2015].

People's communes are good - Rui Guangting - 1958

In-text: (People's communes are good - Rui Guangting - 1958, 1960)

Your Bibliography: Iisg.nl. 1960. People's communes are good - Rui Guangting - 1958. [online] Available at: <http://www.iisg.nl/exhibitions/chairman/chn07.php> [Accessed 19 October 2015].

Mack, L.

Chinese History: First Five-Year Plan (1953-57)

In-text: (Mack, 2006)

Your Bibliography: Mack, L., 2006. Chinese History: First Five-Year Plan (1953-57). [online] About.com News & Issues. Available at: <http://chineseculture.about.com/od/historyofchina/a/Chinese-History-First-Five-Year-Plan-1953-57.htm> [Accessed 11 October 2015].

Meisner, M. J. and Meisner, M. J.

Mao's China and after

1986 - Free Press - New York

In-text: (Meisner and Meisner, 1986)

Your Bibliography: Meisner, M. and Meisner, M., 1986. Mao's China and after. New York: Free Press.


Contents

Besides the name "Three Years of Great Famine" (simplified Chinese: 三年大饥荒 traditional Chinese: 三年大饑荒 pinyin: Sānnián dà jīhuāng ), the famine has been known by many names.

  • Before June 1981: "Three Years of Natural Disasters" (simplified Chinese: 三年自然灾害 traditional Chinese: 三年自然災害 pinyin: Sānnián zìrán zāihài ).
  • After June 1981: "Three Years of Difficulty" (simplified Chinese: 三年困难时期 traditional Chinese: 三年困難時期 pinyin: Sānnián kùnnán shíqī ).

Production drop Edit

Policy changes affecting how farming was organized, with devastating effects, coincided with droughts and floods. As a result, year-over-year grain production fell dramatically in China. The harvest was down by 15% in 1959 compared to 1958, and by 1960, it was at 70% of its 1958 level. [21] Specifically, according to China's governmental data, crop production decreased from 200 million tons (or 400 billion jin) in 1958 to 170 million tons (or 340 billion jin) in 1959, and to 143.5 million tons (or 287 billion jin) in 1960. [22]

Death toll Edit

Due to the lack of food and incentive to marry at that time, according to China's official statistics, China's population in 1961 was about 658,590,000, some 14,580,000 lower than in 1959. [23] The birth rate decreased from 2.922% (1958) to 2.086% (1960) and the death rate increased from 1.198% (1958) to 2.543% (1960), while the average numbers for 1962–1965 are about 4% and 1%, respectively. [23] The mortality in the birth and death rates both peaked in 1961 and began recovering rapidly after that, as shown on the chart of census data displayed on the left. [24] [25] Some outlier estimates include 11 million by Utsa Patnaik, an Indian Marxist economist, [26] [note 2] as well as 3.66 million by Sun Jingxian (孙经先), a Chinese mathematician. [27] It is widely believed that the government seriously under-reported death tolls: Lu Baoguo, a Xinhua reporter based in Xinyang, explained to Yang Jisheng why he never reported on his experience: [28]

In the second half of 1959, I took a long-distance bus from Xinyang to Luoshan and Gushi. Out of the window, I saw one corpse after another in the ditches. On the bus, no one dared to mention the dead. In one county, Guangshan, one-third of the people had died. Although there were dead people everywhere, the local leaders enjoyed good meals and fine liquor. . I had seen people who had told the truth being destroyed. Did I dare to write it?

Yu Dehong, the secretary of a party official in Xinyang in 1959 and 1960, stated: [28]

I went to one village and saw 100 corpses, then another village and another 100 corpses. No one paid attention to them. People said that dogs were eating the bodies. Not true, I said. The dogs had long ago been eaten by the people.

  • A research team of the Chinese Academy of Sciences concluded in 1989 that at least 15 million people died of malnutrition. [29]
  • Li Chengrui (李成瑞), former Minister of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, estimated 22 million deaths (1998). [30][31][32] His estimate was based on the (27 million deaths [7][33] ) estimated by Ansley J. Coale, and the (17 million deaths) estimated by Jiang Zhenghua (蒋正华), former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. [30][34]
  • Judith Banister, Director of Global Demographics at the Conference Board, estimated 30 million excess deaths from 1958-1961. [5][35][36] , a British scholar, showed in his book Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine that most estimates of the famine death toll range from 30-60 million. [37][38]
  • Cao Shuji (曹树基), Distinguished Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, estimated 32.5 million. [30][39][40][41] , senior journalist from Xinhua News Agency, concluded there were 36 million deaths due to starvation, while another 40 million others failed to be born, so that "China's total population loss during the Great Famine then comes to 76 million." [42][43] , a Chinese economist and winner of the 2012 "Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty", put the death toll at 36 million [44]
  • Liao Gailong (廖盖隆), former Vice Director of the History Research Unit of the CCP, reported 40 million "unnatural" deaths due to the famine. [29][45]
  • Chen Yizi (陈一谘), a former senior Chinese official and a top advisor to former CCP General SecretaryZhao Ziyang, concluded that 43 million people died due to the famine. [46][47][48] , Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and the author of Mao's Great Famine, estimated that at least 45 million people died from starvation, overwork and state violence during the Great Leap Forward, claiming his findings to be based on access to recently opened local and provincial party archives. [49][50] His study also stressed that state violence exacerbated the death toll. Dikötter claimed that at least 2.5 million of the victims were beaten or tortured to death. [51][52] His approach to the documents, as well as his claim to be the first author to use them, however, have been questioned by some other scholars. [53] Dikötter provides a graphic example of what happened to a family after one member was caught stealing some food:

Liu Desheng, guilty of poaching a sweet potato, was covered in urine . He, his wife, and his son were also forced into a heap of excrement. Then tongs were used to prise his mouth open after he refused to swallow excrement. He died three weeks later. [54]

Cannibalism Edit

There are widespread oral reports, and some official documentation, of human cannibalism being practiced in various forms as a result of the famine. [58] [59] : 352 [a] [60] Due to the scale of the famine, the resulting cannibalism has been described as being "on a scale unprecedented in the history of the 20th century". [58] [59]

The Great Chinese Famine was caused by a combination of radical agricultural policies, social pressure, economic mismanagement, and natural disasters such as droughts and floods in farming regions.

Great Leap Forward Edit

Mao Zedong, Chair of the Chinese Communist Party, introduced drastic changes in farming policy prohibiting farm ownership. Failure to abide by the policies led to punishment. [52] [61] [62]

People's communes Edit

During the Great Leap Forward, farming was organized into people's communes and the cultivation of privately owned plots was forbidden. The agricultural economy was centrally planned, and regional Party leaders were given production quotas for the communes under their control. Their output was then appropriated by the state and distributed at its discretion.

In 2008, Yang Jisheng would summarize the effect of the production targets as an inability for supply to be redirected to where it was most demanded:

In Xinyang, people starved at the doors of the grain warehouses. As they died, they shouted, "Communist Party, Chairman Mao, save us". If the granaries of Henan and Hebei had been opened, no one need have died. As people were dying in large numbers around them, officials did not think to save them. Their only concern was how to fulfill the delivery of grain. [28]

The degree to which people's communes helped bring about the famine is controversial. Each region dealt with the famine differently, and timelines of the famine are not uniform across China. One argument is that excessive eating took place in the mess halls, and that this directly led to a worsening of the famine. If excessive eating had not taken place, one scholar argued, "the worst of the Great Leap Famine could still have been avoided in mid-1959". [63] However, dire hunger did not set in to places like Da Fo village until 1960, [64] and the public dining hall participation rate was found not to be a meaningful cause of famine in Anhui and Jiangxi. [65] In Da Fo village, "food output did not decline in reality, but there was an astonishing loss of food availability associated with Maoist state appropriation". [66]

Agricultural techniques Edit

Along with collectivization, the central government decreed several changes in agricultural techniques that would be based on the ideas of later-discredited Russian agronomist Trofim Lysenko. [67] One of these ideas was close planting, whereby the density of seedlings was at first tripled and then doubled again. The theory was that plants of the same species would not compete with each other. In natural cycles they did fully compete, which actually stunted growth and resulted in lower yields.

Another policy known as "deep plowing" was based on the ideas of Lysenko's colleague Terentiy Maltsev, who encouraged peasants across China to eschew normal plowing depths of 15–20 centimeters and instead plow deeply into the soil (1 to 2 chi or 33 to 66 cm). The deep plowing theory stated that the most fertile soil was deep in the earth, and plowing unusually deeply would allow extra-strong root growth. However, in shallow soil, useless rocks, soil, and sand were driven up instead, burying the fertile topsoil and severely stunting seedling growth.

Four Pests Campaign Edit

In the Four Pests Campaign, citizens were called upon to destroy sparrows and other wild birds that ate crop seeds, in order to protect fields. Pest birds were shot down or scared away from landing until dropping in exhaustion. The mass eradication of birds resulted in an explosion of the vermin population, especially crop-eating insects, which had no predators without the birds.

Illusion of superabundance Edit

Beginning in 1957, the Chinese Communist Party began to report excessive production of grain because of pressure from superiors. However, the actual production of grain throughout China was decreasing from 1957 to 1961. For example:

  • In Sichuan Province, even though the collected grain was decreasing from 1958 to 1961, the numbers reported to the central government kept increasing. [68]
  • In Gansu, the grain yield declined by 4,273,000 tonnes from 1957 to 1961. [8]

This series of events resulted in an "illusion of superabundance" (浮夸风), and the Party believed that they had an excess of grain. On the contrary, the crop yields were lower than average. For instance, Beijing believed that "in 1960 state granaries would have 50 billion jin of grain", when they actually contained 12.7 billion jin. [69] The effects of the illusion of superabundance were significant, leaving some historians to argue that it was the major cause of much of the starvation throughout China. Yang Dali argued that there were three main consequences from the illusion of superabundance: [70]

First, it led to planners to shift lands from grain to economic crops, such as cotton, sugarcane, and beets, and divert huge numbers of agricultural laborers into industrial sectors, fueling state demand for procured grain from the countryside. Second, it prompted the Chinese leadership, especially Zhou Enlai, to speed up grain exports to secure more foreign currency to purchase capital goods needed for industrialization. Finally, the illusion of superabundance made the adoption of the commune mess halls seem rational at the time. All these changes, of course, contributed to the rapid exhaustion of grain supplies.

Iron and steel production Edit

Iron and steel production was identified as a key requirement for economic advancement, and millions of peasants were ordered away from agricultural work to join the iron and steel production workforce. Much of the iron produced by the peasant population ended up being too weak to be used commercially.

More policies from the central government Edit

Economists Xin Meng, Nancy Qian and Pierre Yared showed that, much as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen had earlier claimed, aggregate production was sufficient for avoiding famine and that the famine was caused by over-procurement and poor distribution within the country. They show that unlike most other famines, there were surprisingly more deaths in places that produced more food per capita, explaining that the inflexibility in the centrally planned food procurement system explains at least half of the famine mortality. [71] Economic historians James Kung and Shuo Chen show that there was more over-procurement in places where politicians faced more competition. [72]

In addition, policies from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the central government, particularly the Three Red Banners and the Socialist Education Movement (SEM), proved to be ideologically detrimental to the worsening famine. The Three Red Banners of the CCP "sparked the fanaticism of 1958". The implementation of the Mass line, one of the three banners which told people to "go all out, aim high, and build socialism with greater, better, and more economical results", is cited in connection to the pressures officials felt to report a superabundance of grain. [73] The SEM, established in 1957, also led to the severity of the famine in various ways, including causing the "illusion of superabundance" (浮夸风). Once the exaggerations of crop yields from the Mass Line were reported, "no one dared to 'dash cold water ' " on further reports. [74] The SEM also led to the establishment of conspiracy theories in which the peasants were believed to be pretending to be hungry in order to sabotage the state grain purchase. [75]

Power relations in local governments Edit

Local governments had just as much, if not more, influence on the famine than did higher rungs of government. As the Great Leap Forward progressed, many provincial leaders began aligning themselves with Mao and higher Party leaders. [76] Local leaders were forced to choose between doing what was best for their community and guarding their reputation politically. Landlords began "denouncing any opposition as 'conservative rightism ' ", which is defined broadly as anything anti-communist. [77] In an environment of conspiracy theories directed against peasants, saving extra grain for a family to eat, espousing the belief that the Great Leap Forward should not be implemented, or merely not working hard enough were all seen as forms of "conservative rightism". Peasants became unable to speak openly on collectivization and state grain purchase. With a culture of fear and recrimination at both a local and official level, speaking and acting against the famine became a seemingly impossible task. [75]

The influence of local government in the famine can be seen in the comparison between the provinces of Anhui and Jiangxi. Anhui, having a radical pro-Mao government, was led by Zeng Xisheng who was "dictatorial", with ties to Mao. [78] Zeng firmly believed in the Great Leap Forward and tried to build relationships with higher officials rather than maintain local ties. Zeng proposed agricultural projects without consulting colleagues, which caused Anhui's agriculture to fail terribly. Zhang Kaifan, a party secretary and deputy-governor of the province, heard rumours of a famine breaking out in Anhui and disagreed with many of Zeng's policies. Zeng reported Zhang to Mao for such speculations. As a result, Mao labeled Zhang "a member of the 'Peng Dehuai anti-Party military clique ' " and he was purged from the local party. Zeng was unable to report on the famine when it became an emergency situation, as this would prove his hypocrisy. For this he was described as a "blatant political radical who almost single-handedly damaged Anhui". [79]

Jiangxi encountered a situation almost opposite to that of Anhui. The leaders of Jiangxi publicly opposed some of the Great Leap programs, quietly made themselves unavailable, and even appeared to take a passive attitude towards the Maoist economy. As the leaders worked collaboratively among themselves, they also worked with the local population. By creating an environment in which the Great Leap Forward did not become fully implemented, the Jiangxi government "did their best to minimize damage". From these findings, scholars Manning and Wemheuer concluded that much of the severity of the famine was due to provincial leaders and their responsibility for their regions. [80]

Natural disasters Edit

In 1958, there was a notable regional flood of the Yellow River which affected part of Henan Province and Shandong Province. [81] [82] [83] [84] [85] [86] It was reported as the most severe flood of the Yellow River since 1933. [85] [86] In July 1958, the Yellow River flood affected 741,000 people in 1708 villages and inundated over 3.04 million mu (over half a million acres) of cultivated fields. [85] The largest torrent of the flood was smoothly directed into the Bohai Sea on 27 July, and the government declared a "victory over the flood" after sending a rescue team of over 2 million people. [81] [85] [87] The spokesperson of the Flood Prevention Center of Chinese government stated on 27 July 1958, that: [85]

This year we defeated the large flood without division of torrents or breaks on dams, which secures the big harvest of the crops. This is yet another miracle created by the Chinese people.

But the government was encouraged to report success and hide failures. [7] Because the 2 million farm laborers from the two provinces were ordered away from the fields to serve as a rescue team and were repairing the banks of the river instead of tending to their fields, "crops are neglected and much of the harvest is left to rot in the fields". [88] On the other hand, historian Frank Dikötter has argued that most floods during the famine were not due to unusual weather, but to massive, poorly planned and poorly executed irrigation works which were part of the Great Leap Forward. [49] At this time, encouraged by Mao Zedong, people in China were building a large number of dams and thousands of kilometers of new irrigation canals in an attempt to move water from wet areas to areas that were experiencing drought. [89] [90] [91] [92] Some of the works, such as the Red Flag Canal, made positive contributions to irrigation, [93] [94] but researchers have pointed out that the massive hydraulic construction project led to many deaths due to starvation, epidemics, and drowning, which contributed to the famine. [91] [92] [95] [96]

However, there have been disagreements on the significance of the drought and floods in causing the Great Famine. [3] [12] [13] [14] [97] According to published data from Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences ( 中国气象科学研究院 ), the drought in 1960 was not uncommon and its severity was only considered "mild" compared to that in other years—it was less serious than those in 1955, 1963, 1965–1967, and so on. [98] Moreover, Yang Jisheng, who was a senior journalist from Xinhua News Agency, Xue Muqiao, then head of the National Statistics Bureau of China, said in 1958, "We give whatever figures the upper-level wants" to overstate natural disasters and relieve official responsibility for deaths due to starvation. [15] Yang claimed that he investigated other sources including a non-government archive of meteorological data from 350 weather stations across China, and the droughts, floods, and temperatures during 1958–1961 were within the typical patterns for China. [15] Western scholars have also pointed out that:

Many foreign observers felt that these reports of weather-related crop failures were designed to cover up political factors that had led to poor agricultural performance. They also suspected that local officials tended to exaggerate such reports to obtain more state assistance or tax relief. Clearly, the weather contributed to the appalling drop in output, but it is impossible to assess to what extent. [7]

Initial cover-ups Edit

Local party leaders, for their part, conspired to cover up shortfalls and reassign blame in order to protect their own lives and positions. [62] [99] Mao was kept unaware of some of the starvation of villagers in the rural areas who were suffering, as the birth rate began to plummet and deaths increased in 1958 and 1959. [70]

In visits to Henan province in 1958, Mao observed what local officials claimed was increases in crop yield of one thousand to three thousand percent achieved, supposedly, in massive 24-hour pushes organized by the officials which they called "sputnik launches". But the numbers were faked, and so were the fields that Mao observed, which had been carefully prepared in advance of Mao's visit by local officials, who removed shoots of grain from various fields and carefully transplanted them into a field prepared especially for Mao, which appeared to be a bumper crop. [59] : 122

The local officials became trapped by these sham demonstrations to Mao, and exhorted the peasants to reach unattainable goals, by "deep ploughing and close planting", among other techniques. This ended up making things much worse the crop failed completely, leaving barren fields. No one was in a position to challenge Mao's ideas as incorrect, so peasants went to extreme lengths to keep up the charade some grew seedlings in their bedding and coats and, after the seedlings quickly sprouted, "planted" them in fields—the bedding made the plants look high and healthy. [59] : 122

Like in the massive Soviet-created famine in Ukraine (the Holodomor), doctors were prohibited from listing "starvation" as a cause of death on death certificates. [59] [100] This kind of deception was far from uncommon a famous propaganda picture from the famine shows Chinese children from Shandong province ostensibly standing atop a field of wheat, so densely grown that it could apparently support their weight. In reality, they were standing on a bench concealed beneath the plants, and the "field" was again entirely composed of individually transplanted stalks. [62]

Cultural Revolution Edit

In April and May 1961, Liu Shaoqi, then President of the People's Republic of China, concluded after 44 days of field research in villages of Hunan that the causes of the famine were 30% natural disaster and 70% human error (三分天灾, 七分人祸). [17] [18]

In January and February 1962, the "7000 Cadres Conference" took place in Beijing, which was attended by more than 7,000 communist party officials nationwide. [101] [29] [47] During the conference, Liu formally announced his conclusion on the causes of the great famine, while the Great Leap Forward was declared "over" by the Chinese Communist Party. [101] [102] [103] The policies of Mao Zedong were criticized. [102] [103]

The failure of the Great Leap Forward as well as the famine forced Mao Zedong to withdraw from active decision-making within the communist party and the central government, and turn various future responsibilities over to Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. [104] A series of economic reforms were carried out by Liu and Deng and others, including policies such as sanzi yibao (三自一包) which allowed free market and household responsibility for agricultural production. [105] [106]

However, the disagreement between Mao and Liu (and Deng) grew larger and larger. In 1963, Mao launched the Socialist Education Movement and in 1966, he launched the Cultural Revolution, during which Liu was accused of being a traitor and enemy agent for attributing only 30% to natural calamities. [7] [12] [104] [107] Liu was beaten and denied medicine for diabetes and pneumonia he died in 1969. [107] On the other hand, Deng was accused of being a "capitalist roader" during the Cultural Revolution and was purged twice. [108]

Reforms and reflections Edit

In December 1978, Deng Xiaoping became the new Paramount Leader of China and launched the historic Reforms and Opening Up program which fundamentally changed the agricultural and industrial system in China. [109] [110] [111] Until the early 1980s, the Chinese government's stance, reflected by the name "Three Years of Natural Disasters", was that the famine was largely a result of a series of natural disasters compounded by several planning errors. During the "Boluan Fanzheng" period in June 1981, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officially changed the name to "Three Years of Difficulty", and stated that the famine was mainly due to the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward as well as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, in addition to some natural disasters and the Sino-Soviet split. [1] [2] Academic studies on the Great Chinese Famine also became more active in mainland China after 1980, when the government started to release some demographic data to the public. [112] [113] A number of high-ranking Chinese officials had expressed their views on the famine:


Watch the video: The Great Leap Forward. Mao Zedong and the History of China (January 2022).