The Great Leap Forward took place in 1958. The Great Leap Forward was Chinese premier Mao Zedong’s attempt to modernise China’s economy so that by 1988, China would have an economy that rivalled the United States.
It is argued that these policies led to a famine in the years 1959-61 (although some believe the famine began in 1958). A variety of reasons are cited for the famine. For example, excessive grain procurement by the state or food being wasted due to free distribution in communal kitchens. It has also been claimed that peasants neglected agriculture to work on the irrigation schemes or in the famous “backyard steel furnaces” (small-scale steel furnaces built in rural areas).
Mao Zedong admitted that problems had occurred in this period. However, he blamed the majority of these difficulties on bad weather and natural disasters. He admitted that there had been policy errors too, which he took responsibility for.
Even according to figures released by the Deng Xiaoping regime, industrial production increased by 11.2% per year from 1952-1976 (by 10% a year during the alleged catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution). In 1952 industry was 36% of gross value of national output in China. By 1975 industry was 72% and agriculture was 28%. Mao’s supposedly disastrous socialist economic policies paved the way for the rapid (but inegalitarian and unbalanced) economic development of the post-Mao era.
Although problems and reversals occurred in the Great Leap Forward, it is fair to say that it had a very important role in the ongoing development of agriculture. Measures such as water conservancy and irrigation allowed for sustained increases in agricultural production, once the period of bad harvests was over. They also helped the countryside to deal with the problem of drought. Flood defenses were also developed. Terracing helped gradually increase the amount of cultivated area.
Document: "The Ten Major Relationships"
Most of the main economic themes of the `Great Leap Forward' which Mao promoted in 1958 are to be found, in more moderate form, in his earlier speech of April 1956, the `Ten Major Relationships'. Mao later characterised the `Ten Major Relationships' as containing his first attempt to formulate an approach to socialist construction based on China's own conditions. The first five of the ten major relationships dealt with what Mao considered to be the chief contradictions of the Chinese economy:
- Heavy vs. light industry. Mao felt that after having followed a USSR-influenced development plan for five years, it was now necessary to increase the proportion of investment allocated to light industry and agriculture.
- Coast vs. interior. Economically, the coast was much more developed. This imbalance should be alleviated. But Mao prrescribed an indirect approach, arguing that in the short run it was necessary to take better advantage of the existing industrial base along the coast in the North-East and East China regions, so that in the long run materials would exist to develop the interior.
- Investment in economic development vs. defence. Mao called for a 20 to 30 percent cut in the share of defence and administrative spending in the total budget, on the grpounds that faster economic construction would enhance China's military power in the long run.
- State and enterprise vs. individual worker. Mao said that wages and working conditions should be improved as production increases, and that squeezing the peasantry as ocurred in the USSR should be avoided.
- Central vs. local authority. The independence of enterprises and autonomy of local authorities should be increased.
This report is from an article by Hang Dongping, published by the China Study Group in 2003:
Jimo County, one of the worst hit places in the whole country, suffered spring draft and summer floods for three consecutive years. On June 30, 1958, a ten-hour rainstorm with a precipitation of 249 mm caused 22 rivers to overflow and wrecked 69 dams and reservoirs. On June 15, 1959, intense rain damaged 75,900 mu crops, wrecked 4,629 houses and killed 8 persons. In summer of 1959, there was a locust breakout in five communes that ruined 18,584 mu crops. On May 27, 1959, a hailstorm ruined 31,000 mu crops of five communes in west of Jimo County, causing an estimated grain loss of 1.35 million kilos. On July 27, 1960, a hurricane attacked the whole county, ruining 777,000 mu of crops. On August 17, 1961 a rain storm with a precipitation of 230 mm in three hours flooded 280,000 mu crops. On top of that, there were also other minor natural disasters. These natural disasters, compounded by other problems, caused severe grain shortages in Jimo County.
- Maurice Meissner, The Deng Xiaoping Era. An Enquiry into the Fate of Chinese Socialism, 1978-1994, Hill and Wray 1996.
- see for example the report of the American Rural Small-Scale Industry Delegation, Chair Dwight Perkins, Rural Small-Scale Industry in the People’s Republic of China, University of California Press 1977 and E. Wheelwright and B. McFarlane The Chinese Road to Socialism, Penguin 1973.
- Mao's Famine Debunked. Maoist Rebel News Blog.
- Mao said this in his talk of 10 March 1958 to the Chengdu Conference. See Carl Riskin p 115. Also, Riskin cites Stuart Schram, Chairman Mao Talks to the People (1974), pp 42, 101.
- These five points are as described in Carl Riskin, pp 115-16.
- Hang Dongping cites Jimo County Gazettes, p 41.
- Ibid, pp 42-43.
- Ibid, pp 132-141.
- Carl Riskin, 1987. China's Political Economy.
- Hang Dongping, 2003. `The Great Leap Famine, the Cultural Revolution and Post Mao Rural Reform: The Lessons of Rural Development in Contemporary China,' China Study Group. chinastudygroup.net
- Jonathan Ball, Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward? - Monthly Review.