The Great Leap Forward Campaign of PRC


Chinese History  Updated:Thu, Jul 7, 2011 10:21 AM   By Bernd Chang


The Great Leap Forward of the People's Republic of China (PRC) was an economic and social campaign of the Communist Party of China (CPC), reflected in planning decisions from 1958

The Great Leap Forward of the People's Republic of China (PRC) was an economic and social campaign of the Communist Party of China (CPC), reflected in planning decisions from 1958 to 1961, which aimed to use China's vast population to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a modern communist society through the process of rapid industrialization, and collectivization.

At the beginning of the Great Leap Forward (大跃进) in 1957, Mao proclaimed that China would overtake Britain in production of steel and other products within 15 years. And by 1988, China would have an economy that rivaled USA. This episode was called surpassing Britain and catching up USA (超英赶美).

A year later, Chinese government 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.

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

People were mobilized to accomplish the goals of industrialization. The most famous campaign was to produce steel by masses (大炼钢铁).During the campaign as many as 600,000 backyard furnaces (土高炉) were erected nationwide. The Chinese were also forced to work 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.

Chief changes in the lives of rural Chinese included the introduction of a mandatory process of agricultural collectivization, which was introduced incrementally. Private farming was prohibited, and those engaged in it were labeled as counter revolutionaries and persecuted. Peasants were forced to form people’s communes (人民公社). 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. By the end of 1958, 700 million people had been placed into 26,578 communes.

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. 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. This phenomenon was called “Sending off satellite” (放卫星).

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.

The Great Leap ended in catastrophe, resulting in tens of millions of excess deaths. The Great Leap Forward was actually Great Leap Famine. Estimates of the death toll range from 16.5 to 46 million, with estimates by demographic specialists ranging from 18 to 32.5 million. Historian Frank Dikötter asserts that "coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the very foundation of the Great Leap Forward" and it "motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history."

However, until today, the Chinese government blames “three years of natural disaster (三年自然灾害)” and “Soviet Union pressing for payment of debts (苏联逼债)” for the actually human made catastrophe. All mainland Chinese have been taught in this way.

In subsequent conferences in 1960 and 1962, the negative effects of the Great Leap Forward were studied by the CPC, and Mao was criticized in the party conferences. Party members less economically left-wing like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping rose to power, and Mao was marginalized within the party, leading him to initiate the Cultural Revolution in 1966.
comments powered by Disqus