Monday, December 11, 2006

The New Way Forward aka The Great Leap Forward


History of the People's Republic of China

1949-1976 - The Mao Era
Korean War
Hundred Flowers Campaign
Anti-Rightist Movement
Great Leap Forward
Cultural Revolution
Lin Biao
Gang of Four
Tiananmen Incident
1976-1989 - Era of Reconstruction
Economic reform
Tiananmen protests
1989-2002 - A Rising Superpower
One Country, Two Systems
Hong Kong
Chinese reunification
2002-present - China Today

See also:
History of China
History of Beijing
History of Shanghai

Prominent Leaders
Mao - Deng - Jiang - Hu
Other China topics
Culture - Economy
Geography - Politics - Education
China Portal
This box: view • talk • edit
The Great Leap Forward (Simplified Chinese: 大跃进; Traditional Chinese: 大躍進; pinyin: Dàyuèjìn) of the People's Republic of China was an economic and social plan to use China's vast population to rapidly transform mainland China from a primarily agrarian economy dominated by peasant farmers into a modern, industrialized communist society. Mao Zedong based this program on the Theory of Productive Forces.

The Leap was initiated and led by Mao, and carried out by the Communist Party of China from 1958 to early 1962. Mao believed that progress and its resulting abundance of goods, if implemented fearlessly, could come in great leaps and bounds. The plan is generally agreed to have failed in its intentions, leading to millions of deaths plus widespread economic dislocation, and is widely regarded both in and out of China as an unmitigated policy disaster.

Contents [hide]
1 Historical background
2 The Great Leap Forward
3 Climate conditions and famine
4 Consequences
5 References
6 Further reading

[edit] Historical background
Main article: History of the People's Republic of China
In October 1949 after the retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China and assumed power in the country. One of its first and most important policies was land reform, whereby the land holdings of landlords and more wealthy peasants was forcibly redistributed to poorer peasants. Within the Party, there was major debate as to how and at what pace there should be further land reform. A moderate faction including Politburo member Liu Shaoqi argued that change should be gradual and that any collectivisation of the peasantry should await industrialisation, which could provide the agricultural machinery necessary for mechanised farming. A more radical faction led by Mao Zedong argued that the best way to finance industrialisation was for the Government to take control of agriculture, thereby establishing a monopoly over grain distribution and supply. This would allow the State to buy at a low price and sell much higher, thus raising the capital necessary for the industrialisation of the country. It was realised that this policy would be unpopular with the peasants and therefore it was proposed that the peasants should be brought under Party control by the establishment of agricultural collectives which would also facilitate the sharing of tools and draft animals. This policy was gradually pushed through between 1949 and 1958, first by establishing "mutual aid teams" of 5-15 households, then in 1953 "elementary agricultural cooperatives" of 20-40 households, then from 1956 in "higher co-operatives" of 100-300 families. These reforms (sometimes now referred to as The Little Leap Forward) were generally unpopular with the peasants and usually implemented by summoning them to meetings and making them stay there for days and sometimes weeks until they "voluntarily" agreed to join the collective.

Besides these economic changes the party implemented major social changes in the countryside including the banishing of all religious and mystic institutions and ceremonies and replacing them with political meetings and propaganda sessions. Attempts were made to enhance rural education and the status of women (allowing females to initiate divorce if they desire) and end foot-binding, child marriage and opium addiction. Internal passports were introduced in 1956 forbidding travel without appropriate authorisation. Highest priority was given to the urban proletariat for whom a welfare state was created.

The first phase of collectivisation was not a success and there was widespread famine in 1956, though the Party's propaganda machine announced progressively higher harvests. Moderates within the Party, including Zhou Enlai, argued for a reversal of collectivisation. The position of the moderates was strengthened by Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 Secret speech at the Twentieth Congress which uncovered Stalin's crimes and highlighted the failure of his agricultural policies including collectivisation in the Soviet Union.

In 1957 Mao responded to the tensions in the Party, by promoting free speech and criticism under the Hundred Flowers Campaign. In retrospect this proved to be a ploy to allow critics of the regime, primarily intellectuals but also low ranking members of the party critical of the agricultural policies to identify themselves. Once they had done so, at least half a million were purged under the Anti-Rightist campaign organised by Deng Xiaoping, which effectively silenced any opposition from within the Party or from agricultural experts to the changes which would be implemented under the Great Leap Forward.

By the completion of the first 5 Year Economic Plan in 1957, Mao had come to doubt that the path to socialism that had been taken by the Soviet Union was appropriate for China. He was critical of Khrushchev's reversal of Stalinist policies and alarmed by the uprisings that had taken place in East Germany, Poland and Hungary, and the perception that the USSR was seeking "Peaceful coexistence" with the Western powers. Mao had become convinced that China should follow its own radical path towards a Communist utopia.

[edit] The Great Leap Forward

Propaganda poster of the steel production objective. The text reads: "Take steel as the key link, leap forward in all fields".The Great Leap Forward was the name given to the Second Five Year Plan which was scheduled to run from 1958-1963, though the name is now generally limited to the first three years of this period. Mao unveiled the Great Leap Forward at a meeting in January 1958 in Nanning. The central idea behind the Great Leap was that rapid development of both China's agricultural and industrial sectors should take place in parallel. The hope was to industrialize by making use of the massive supply of cheap labour and avoid having to import heavy machinery. To achieve this Mao advocated that a further round of collectivisation modelled on the USSR's "Third Period" was necessary in the Chinese countryside where the existing collectives would be merged into huge People's communes. An experimental commune was established at Chayashan in Henan in April 1958. Here for the first time private plots were entirely abolished and communal kitchens were introduced. At the Politburo meetings in August 1958, it was decided that these people's communes would become the new form of economic and political organisation throughout rural China. Astonishingly for such a dramatic social change, by the end of the year approximately 25,000 communes had been set-up, each with an average of 5,000 households. The communes were relatively self sufficient co-operatives where wages and money were replaced by work points. Besides agriculture they incorporated some light industry and construction projects.

Mao saw grain and steel production as the two key pillars of economic development. He forecast that within 15 years of the start of the Great Leap, China's steel production would surpass that of the United Kingdom. In the August 1958 Politburo meetings, it was decided that steel production would be set to double within the year, most of the increase coming through backyard steel furnaces. Mao was shown an example of a backyard furnace in Hefei, Anhui in September 1958 by provincial first secretary Zeng Xisheng. The unit was claimed to be manufacturing high quality steel (though in fact the finished steel had probably been manufactured elsewhere). Mao encouraged the establishment of small backyard steel furnaces in every commune and in each urban neighbourhood. Huge efforts on the part of peasants and other workers were made to produce steel out of scrap metal. To fuel the furnaces the local environment was denuded of trees and wood taken from the doors and furniture of peasants' houses. Pots, pans, and other metal artifacts were requisitioned to supply the "scrap" for the furnaces so that the wildly optimistic production targets could be met. Many of the male agricultural workers were diverted from the harvest to help the iron production as were the workers at many factories, schools and even hospitals. As could have been predicted by anyone with any experience of steel production or basic knowledge of metallurgy, the output consisted of low quality lumps of pig iron which was of negligible economic worth. However, Mao's deep distrust of intellectuals and faith in the power of the mass mobilisation of peasants led him to order this massive countrywide effort without consulting expert opinion. Moreover the experience of the intellectual classes following the Hundred Flowers Campaign led those aware of the folly of such a plan to not dare voice criticism. According to his private doctor Li Zhisui, Mao and his entourage visited traditional steel works in Manchuria in January 1959 where he found out that high quality steel could only be produced in large scale factories using reliable fuel such as coal. However he decided not to order a halt to the backyard steel furnaces so as not to dampen the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses. The program was only quietly abandoned much later in that year.

Substantial effort was expended during the Great Leap Forward on large-scale but often poorly planned capital construction projects, such as irrigation works often built without input from trained engineers.

On the communes a number of radical and controversial agricultural innovations were promoted at the behest of Mao. Many of these were based on the ideas of now discredited Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko and his followers. The policies included close cropping, whereby seeds were sown far more densely than normal on the incorrect assumption that seeds of the same class would not compete with each other. Deep plowing (up to 2m deep) was encouraged on the mistaken belief that this would yield plants with extra large root systems. Even more disastrously it was argued that a proportion of fields should be left fallow.

The initial impact of the Great Leap Forward was discussed at a Party congress in Lushan in July/August 1959. Although many of the more moderate leaders had reservations about the new policy, the only senior leader to speak out openly was Marshall Peng Dehuai. Mao used the conference to dismiss Peng from his post as Defence Minister and denounce both Peng (who came from a poor peasant family) and his supporters as bourgeois and launch a nationwide campaign against "rightist opportunism". Peng was replaced by Lin Biao, who began a systematic purge of Peng's supporters from the military.

[edit] Climate conditions and famine
Despite these harmful agricultural innovations, the weather in 1958 was very favourable and the harvest promised to be good. Unfortunately, the amount of labour diverted to steel production and construction projects meant that much of the harvest was left to rot uncollected in the fields in some areas. Although actual harvests were reduced, local officials, under tremendous pressure from the central authorities to report record harvests in response to the new innovations, competed with each other to announce increasingly exaggerated results. These exaggerated results were used as a basis for determining the amount of grain to be taken by the State to supply the towns and cities and export markets. This left barely enough for the peasants to eat, and in some areas, starvation set in. During 1958-1960 China continued to be a substantial net exporter of grain, despite the widespread famine experienced in the countryside, as Mao sought to maintain face and convince the outside world of the success of his plans.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica Yearbooks for 1958 to 1962 mentions abnormal weather: droughts followed by floods. This includes 30 inches of rain at Hong Kong in five days in June 1959, part of a pattern that hit all of South China. However, all weather data for Encyclopaedia Britannica Yearbooks came from Chinese government sources.

In 1959 and 1960 the weather was less favorable, and the situation got considerably worse, with many of China's provinces experiencing severe famine. Droughts, floods, and general bad weather caught China completely by surprise. In July of 1959, the Yellow River flooded in East China. According to the Disaster Center [1], it directly killed, either through starvation from crop failure or drowning, an estimated 2 million people, and ranks as the seventh deadliest natural disaster in the 20th century.

In 1960, at least some degree of drought and other bad weather affected 55 percent of cultivated land, while an estimated 60 percent of northern agricultural land received no rain at all [2].

With dramatically reduced yields, even urban areas suffered much reduced rations; however, mass starvation was largely confined to the countryside, where as a result of massively inflated production statistics, very little grain was left for the peasants to eat. Food shortages were bad throughout the country; however, the provinces which had adopted Mao's reforms with the most vigor, such as Anhui, Gansu and Henan, tended to suffer disproportionately. Sichuan, one of China's most populous provinces, known in China as "Heaven's Granary" because of its fertility, is thought to have suffered the greatest absolute numbers of deaths from starvation due to the vigor with which provincial leader Li Jinquan undertook Mao's disastrous reforms.

The agricultural policies of the Great Leap Forward and the associated famine would then continue until January 1961, where, at the Ninth Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee, the restoration of agricultural production through a reversal of the Great Leap policies was started. Grain exports were stopped, and imports from Canada and Australia helped to reduce the impact of the food shortages, at least in the coastal cities.

[edit] Consequences

Propaganda poster of the Great Leap Forward. The text reads: "Long live the General direction! Long live the Great Leap Forward! Long live the People's Commune!"The Great Leap Forward is now widely seen, both within China and outside, as a major economic disaster, being more of a Great Leap Backward that would affect China in the years to come. As inflated statistics reached planning authorities, orders were given to divert human resources into industry rather than agriculture. According to various sources, the death toll due to famine was most likely between 20 and 43 million. The three years between 1959 and 1962 were known as the "Three Bitter Years" and the Three Years of Natural Disasters. Many local officials were tried and publicly executed for giving out misinformation[3].

Starting in the early 1980s, critics of the Great Leap added quantitative muscle to their arsenal. U.S. Government employee Judith Banister published what became an influential article in the China Quarterly, and since then estimates as high as 30 million deaths in the Great Leap became common in the U.S. press. Critics point to birth rate assumptions used in the most widely cited projections of famine deaths.

During the Great Leap, the Chinese economy initially grew. Iron production increased 45% in 1958 and a combined 30% over the next two years, but plummeted in 1961, and did not reach the previous 1958 level until 1964.

Despite the risks to their careers, some Communist Party members openly laid blame for the disaster at the feet of the Party leadership and took it as proof that China must rely more on education, acquiring technical expertise and applying bourgeois methods in developing the economy. Liu Shaoqi made a speech in 1962 at Seven Thousand Man's Assembly criticizing that "The economic disaster was 30% fault of nature, 70% human error."[4]. It was principally to crush this opposition that Mao launched his Cultural Revolution in early 1966.

Mao stepped down as State Chairman (President) of the PRC in 1959, predicting he would take most of the blame for the failure of the Great Leap Forward, though he did retain his position as Chairman of the CCP. Liu Shaoqi (the new PRC Chairman) and Deng Xiaoping (CCP General Secretary) were left in charge to execute measures to achieve economic recovery. Moreover, Mao's Great Leap Forward policy came under open criticism at a party conference at Lushan, Jiangxi Province. The attack was led by Minister of National Defense Peng Dehuai, who had become troubled by the potentially adverse effect Mao's policies would have on the modernization of the armed forces. Peng argued that "putting politics in command" was no substitute for economic laws and realistic economic policy; unnamed party leaders were also admonished for trying to "jump into communism in one step." After the Lushan showdown, Peng Dehuai, who allegedly had been encouraged by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to oppose Mao, was deposed. Peng was replaced by Lin Biao, a radical and opportunist Maoist. The new defense minister initiated a systematic purge of Peng's supporters from the military.

Additionally, this loss in Mao's regime meant that Mao became a "dead ancestor," as he labeled himself: a person who was respected but never consulted, occupying the political background of the Party. Furthermore, he also stopped appearing in public. All of this he later regretted, as he relaunched his Cult of Personality with the Great Yangtze Swim.

In agrarian policy, the failures of food supply during the Great Leap were met by a gradual de-collectivization in the 1960s that foreshadowed further de-collectivization under Deng Xiaoping. Political scientist Meredith Woo-Cumings argues: "Unquestionably the regime failed to respond in time to save the lives of millions of peasants, but when it did respond, it ultimately transformed the livelihoods of several hundred million peasants (modestly in the early 1960s, but permanently after Deng Xiaoping's reforms subsequent to 1978.)"[5]

After the death of Mao and the start of Chinese economic reform under Deng Xiaoping, the tendency within the Chinese government was to see the Great Leap Forward as a major economic disaster and to attribute it to the cult of personality under Mao Zedong, and to regard it as one of the serious errors he made after the founding of the People's Republic of China.

[edit] References
^ The Most Deadly 100 Natural Disasters of the 20th Century as of 3 July, 2006, The Disaster Center (accessed 3 July, 2006)
^ Mao and Lincoln (Part 2): The Great Leap Forward not all bad, Asia Times, 1 April, 2004 (accessed 3 July, 2006)
^ Chinese Village, Socialist State By Edward Friedman, Kay Johnson, page 243, as seen in Google Book Search[2]
^ Twentieth Century China: Third Volume, Beijing, 1994, Page 430
^ The Political Ecology of Famine: The North Korean Catastrophe and Its Lessons, Meredith Woo-Cummings, ADB Institute Research Paper 31, January 2002. URL Accessed 3 July, 2006

[edit] Further reading
Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, 1996.
Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts : Mao's Secret Famine, 1998.
Philip Short, Mao: A Life, 1999.
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, 2005.
This article incorporates public domain text from the United States Library of Congress Country Studies. - China
Retrieved from ""
Categories: Economic disasters | Economic history of the People's Republic of China | History of the People's Republic of China


Post a Comment

<< Home