The Great Leap Forward

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Main Events of the Great Leap. Peasants organised into huge communes (approx. 24,000 across China)State quotas demanded from each commune

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The Great Leap Forward

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1. The Great Leap Forward

2. Main Events of the Great Leap Peasants organised into huge communes (approx. 24,000 across China) State quotas demanded from each commune – what was left was for the commune Individuals were paid in ‘work points’, which could be regained from commune stores in form of food, clothes, other items.

3. Main Events of the Great Leap Commune canteens fed everyone; commune nurseries looked after children; commune ‘happy homes’ provided for the elderly. Autumn 1958 saw the decision that all communes should produce their own steel via ‘backyard steel furnaces’ – this instruction was unrelated to the availability of local resources.

4. Main Events of the Great Leap Much revolutionary ardour was expended upon the furnaces, and much woodland cut down for them – huge long-term environmental cost. Most of the steel produced was of poor quality and un-useable. Good harvest in 1958 also encouraged the Central Committee to propose unrealistically high targets for future production, which were enthusiastically embraced by commune officials.

5. Problems with the Great Leap Revolutionary enthusiasm, state propaganda, and ideology, all contributed to the unwillingness to face up to the reality of the Great Leap from 1959 onwards – that it was failing tragically. While communes failed to meet their high targets, the state continued to take its promised share of grain, leaving virtually nothing for commune members.

6. Problems with the Great Leap Peasants had also been encouraged to use new, and seriously, flawed, methods of grain production (resulting from Mao’s obsession with the ideas of discredited Soviet agronomist Lysenko). This led to even worse grain production Furthermore, natural disasters – drought and flooding – destroyed much of the subsequent three years’ harvest. Chinese later called these the “Three Bitter Years”.

7. Problems with the Great Leap Even as grain production was failing, reports continued to be made of bumper harvests. Wide-scale famine caused starvation and instances of cannibalism Death rate from these years is estimated at between 20 and 30 million

8. Peng De Huai’s Opposition Peng was a senior figure in the CCP, a comrade of Mao’s for 30 years, and a respected soldier. He held position of Minister of Defence He had had differences with Mao on previous occasions, and shown he was not cowed by Mao’s authority. On a visit to his home province in Hunan (next to Mao’s home province) he noted the reality of the Great Leap.

9. Peng De Huai’s Opposition He was clearly affected by the general poverty, including the poor conditions in the ‘happy home’. He also understood that figures were unrealistic – asking the local manager about the tendency to exaggerate. Peng determined to bring the failures of the Great Leap to Mao’s attention

10. Peng De Huai’s Opposition In July 1959 the CCP’s Central Committee gathered at Lushan for a conference to assess the Great Leap Peng wrote a private letter to Mao outlining the problems he had seen Mao angrily copied the letter to everyone and denounced Peng Mao also appeared to threaten civil war against opponents – “If the Chinese People’s Liberation Army should follow Peng Dehuai, I will go to fight guerrilla war.”

11. Peng De Huai’s Opposition Peng had recently visited the Soviet Union, and coinciding with his own criticism was a published attack on the Great Leap experiment by Khrushchev in Russia. This led to accusations that Peng was a Soviet mole Peng had been outmanouevred, no-one supported him, and he was stripped of office and exiled. The conference swung into line behind Mao Peng died in detention during the Cultural Revolution (1974), being posthumously rehabilitated in 1996.

12. Who was responsible for the Great Leap failure? Natural disasters certainly played a part – bad weather conditions were responsible for the famine Jack Gray cites Liu Shaoqi, as saying the disasters were 70 per cent “man made”, but points out the left denied this. Gray also credits Mao with facing up to the famine and accepting responsibility at Lushan

13. Who was responsible for the Great Leap failure? Nonetheless, after Lushan, Mao did nothing to correct the problems of the Great Leap. He withdrew from public life (resigning as President – or Chairman – of the PRC) and left his successor, Liu, and others to deal with the aftermath. The situation was also clearly worsened by the attitude of the state in promoting exaggerated targets, and collecting and selling grain needed by peasants.

14. Did the Great Leap achieve anything? Some successful flood and irrigation schemes were carried out as a result of the mass mobilisation of the Great Leap – although Jung Chang points out (“Mao: The Unknown Story”) that many of the reservoirs associated with these collapsed with disastrous consequences in later years. Women were brought into the work force for the first time – continuing the process of liberating women in China.

15. Did the Great Leap achieve anything? The diversification of the countryside economy, although a failure at the time, was more successfully reintroduced in the 1980s. Access to education increased, thanks to communal development. Uranium prospecting formed the basis of China’s successful nuclear development The famine deaths were no worse than earlier in the century – before the CCP came to power.

17. What happened next? With Mao’s withdrawal, the control of economic life fell to his colleagues – notably Liu Shaoqi (now president) and Deng Xiaoping. In 1962 they began restoring private plots to peasants Communes were substantially reduced down Factory and industrial workers saw bonuses and incentives restored to help boost production.

18. What happened next? The retrenchment policies were influenced considerably by the observations and reports of respected Politburo member Chen Yun, in summer 1961 (see Spence, p.559) However, as the party pursued retrenchment, it was also becoming apparent that many rural cadres were abusing their positions (Spence, p.560-561).

19. What happened next? The concerns over corruption coincided with Mao’s increasing restlessness at being on the sidelines – he complained of being treated “like a dead ancestor”. The Socialist Education Campaign, established in 1962, was to be the vehicle for rooting out corrupt practices. It also ended up containing the seeds of the Cultural Revolution, and Mao’s return to supreme power.

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