Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward also refers to a hypothesized stage in human evolution.

The Great Leap Forward (Template:Zh-stp) was a campaign by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of the People's Republic of China from 1958 to early 1960 aimed at using mainland China's plentiful supply of cheap labor to rapidly industrialize the country.


Historical background

During the 1950s, the Chinese had carried out a program of land distribution coupled with industrialization under state ownership with grudging technical assistance from the Soviet Union. By the mid-1950s the situation in mainland China had somewhat stabilised, and the immediate threat from the wars in Korea (U.S.) and Vietnam (France) had receded. People perceived as capitalists by the new leadership had been expropriated in 1952-1953, members of the left-wing opposition imprisoned at the same time, and the remaining Kuomintang on the mainland had been eliminated. For the first time in generations, China seemed to have a strong and stable national government.

However, Mao Zedong had become alarmed by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's term since the Twentieth Congress. He perceived that far from "catching up and overtaking" the West, the Soviet economy was being allowed to fall behind. Uprisings had taken place in East Germany, Poland and Hungary, and the USSR was seeking "Peaceful Co-existence" with what the Chinese regarded as imperialist Western powers. These policies meant for Mao that the PRC had to be prepared to "go it alone."

The Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward borrowed elements from the history of the USSR in a uniquely Chinese combination. Collectivization from the USSR's "Third Period;" Stakhanovism from the early 1930s; the "people's guards" Khrushchev had created in 1959; and the uniquely Chinese policy of establishing communes as relatively self-sufficient economic units, incorporating light industry and construction projects.

It was thought that through collectivization and mass labor, China's steel production would surpass that of the United States only 15 years after the start of the "leap."

An experimental commune was established in Henan early in 1958, and soon spread throughout the country. Tens of millions were mobilised to produce one commodity, symbolic of industrialisation—steel. Approximately 25,000 communes were set-up, each with around 5,000 households.

The hope was to industrialise by making use of the massive supply of cheap labor and avoid having to import heavy machinery. Small backyard steel furnaces were built in every commune while peasants produced "turds" of cast iron made out of scrap. Sometimes even factories, schools, and hospitals abandoned their work to smelt iron. Simultaneously, the peasants were collectivised.

The Outcome

The Great Leap Forward is now widely seen both within China and outside as a major economic disaster. As inflated statistics reached planning authorities, orders were given to divert human resources into industry rather than agriculture. Various Western and Eastern sources ( put the death toll at about 30 million people, with majority of the deaths owed to starvation. The three years between 1959-1961 were known as the "Three Bitter Years" as the Chinese people suffered from extreme shortages of food. It is believed by some to have been the greatest famine in history. The death toll incurred by China as a result of this program distinguishes Mao as the dictator who caused the greatest number of deaths of his own people, surpassing Joseph Stalin (Pol Pot of Cambodia killed a larger percentage of his country's population, but he fell far short of Mao in absolute numbers of victims).

According to Jasper Beckerz - a journalist with long experience in China - in his book Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine, most of the critics of the Great Leap outside China "watched China from Hong Kong." Thus, the conflict in the 1950s and 1960s over the Great Leap shaped up roughly along the lines of those who had experience living in Mao-governed China and those who did not.

W.E.B. DuBois (1959, author of an article "China") visited China during the Great Leap Forward and never supported famine-related criticisms of the Great Leap. Another author visiting China during the Great Leap named Anna Louise Strong wrote a book titled When Serfs Stood Up in Tibet based on her experience. However, critics point out that both these authors had been taken through Potemkin village style tours of China, never travelling outside of the supervision of the authorities. Strong's book is also heavily criticized for its very positive portrayal of Chinese rule in Tibet.

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.

Today there is a growing exchange of ideas between China and the West. Discussion of population projection and statistical issues of the Great Leap is becoming more frequent.

During the Great Leap, the Chinese economy initially grew, and iron production increased 45% in 1958 and a combined 30% over the next two years, but plummeted in 1961, and would not reach the level it was at in 1958 until 1964. The famine period was once known as the Three Years of Natural Disasters, although this name is now rarely used in China because it is acknowledged that the disasters were less rooted in natural events than bad economic planning. It is also called the Great Leap Famine.

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. It was principally to crush this opposition that Mao launched his Cultural Revolution in early 1966.

Mao stepped down as Chairman of the CCP in 1959, predicting he would take most of the blame for the failure of the GLF. This left a large vacuum of power within the Party, hence the resulting "Power Struggle". Liu Shaoqi (PRC Chairman) and Deng Xiaoping (CCP General Secretary) were left in charge to execute measures to achieve economic recovery. Additionally, this failure in Mao's regime meant that he became a "dead ancestor" as he labelled himself, a person which was respected but never consulted, occupying the political background of the Party. Furthermore, he also stopped appearing in public. All of this was later regretted by Mao, as he relaunched his Cult of Personality with the publishing of the Little Red Book and the Great Yangtze Swim.

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.

See also


  • Greene, Felix. A Curtain of Ignorance: China: How America Is Deceived. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1965)
  • Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts : Mao's Secret Famine. (1998)

External links

he:ื”ืงืคื™ืฆื”_ื”ื’ื“ื•ืœื”_ืงื“ื™ืžื” id:Lompatan Jauh ke Depan ja:大躍進政策 nl:Grote Sprong Voorwaarts zh:大跃进


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