The Great Leap Forward

The extraordinary number of deaths during the Chinese revolution is difficult to comprehend. The Soviet Union had a similar experience when Stalin forced the population to modernize Russia's agricultural and industrialization practices. Historians estimate that Mao's Great Leap Forward (1958–1962), mandatory collectivization, forced labor, and the famine that ensued caused the deaths of between 18 and 30 million people in China.

Read this article on the Great Leap Forward. Pay attention to the toll it had on the people of China and how these experiences have shaped today's China.


The Great Leap Forward Movement began at the Second Session of the Eighth National Congress of the CPC in May 1958. The Great Leap Forward Movement included "the general approach of building socialism", "Great Leap Forward" and "people's commune", thus earning the name of "Three Red Flags Movement". The movement emerged as a product of the "general approach of building socialism", the core of which, namely the slogan of "much, fast, good and saving", was proposed in the second half of 1955 and quickly implemented in the work nationwide. In around October 1957, the Central Committee of the CPC made a clear arrangement for the Great Leap Forward Movement. The rapid emergence of such movement in agriculture catalyzed the same movement in industry.

The "Great Leap Forward" movement in agriculture and industry also promoted such movement in a wide range of fronts, such as transportation, commerce, culture, education and healthcare. Due to the insufficient experience of socialism and the consequent poor understanding of the laws of economic development and the basic situation of China's economy, the Great Leap Forward Movement was directly related to the criticism against the "anti-leap forward" approach. After PRC was founded, the whole country was so eager to achieve success that Mao Zedong prioritized the rapid economic development since 1953.

In the absence of foreign aid and with internal struggle, the Great Leap Forward Movement failed in the PRC that was founded for less than 10 years, which triggered a hugely negative impact on China's economy at that time and later. The subsequent Cultural Revolution was launched by Mao Zedong who aimed to purge dissidents and consolidate his authority.

In addition to the economic loss that was severer than that of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution also caused great political turmoil that resulted in social unrest, educational stagnation, talent gap and waste of human resources. Most scholars have attributed the failure of the Great Leap Forward to policy errors, which were not acknowledged by Mao Zedong who even sent the economy and people of China to a deeper dilemma by eliminating dissents in the Cultural Revolution.

The Great Leap Forward was the product of multiple interactive factors, among which the international environment then merited attention. From the perspective of China, it adopted the strategy of prioritizing heavy industry because regular development could no longer meet the needs of extracting agricultural surplus in the Forging Ahead Strategy. Externally the blockade of imperialism, the excessive desire of the socialist camp to surpass its capitalist counterpart, and the deterioration of the relations between (the Communist Parties of) China and the Soviet Union led to the Great Leap Forward.

The precise analysis and judgment of the international situation lay foundation for the correct approaches, principles and policies on socialism; socialist modernization should invariably adhere to the two-pronged principle of independence and opening up; economic development must follow its own inherent objective laws (Yu, 2004). Yang (2005) pointed out that the "Great Leap Forward" was a socialist philosophy of development deviating from the right track and fueled by the sole pursuit of instant benefit; essentially the movement fantasized about breaking away from objective laws and realizing the great socialist advance merely through subjective will; its basic form was to launch mass movements that violated the law of development and the people-centered approach, resulting in disastrous consequences.

Given that the discussion on the causes of the Great Leap Forward Movement is of great practical significance to the socialism with Chinese characteristics, this study is to explore the causes, consequences and impact of the Great Leap Forward Movement in China.