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.

Impact of the Great Leap Forward

Some researchers believe that the Great Leap Forward ruined the economy by shattering its overall balance. Some hold that the serious consequences of the Great Leap Forward should not be confined to the direct economic losses of up to RMB 120 billion. After the Great Leap Forward, it took five years to adjust the national economy before it was restored to the 1957 level.

In the middle of and after the Great Leap Forward, Mao remained reluctant to fully acknowledge the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward and took the attitude towards the Great Leap Forward as a criterion to tell whether people were revolutionary or not. Thus, in the 10th Plenary Session of the 8th Central Committee of the CPC, he proposed the Party's fundamental approach in the socialist stage, followed by a left-wing socialist educational campaign aimed at cracking down on the capitalist roaders. This campaign resulted in the undue repression on a large number of grass-roots officials and the subsequent Cultural Revolution.

In the expanded working conference of the CPC Central Committee attended by over 7,000 people in 1958, Liu Shaoqi, instructed by Mao, made an oral report in addition to a written one as instructed by Mao Zedong. However, the drawbacks and errors of the Great Leap Forward acknowledged in the oral report were more serious than those in the written one, and the former clearly stated that the main culprit for the famine in many places was man-made disasters while natural disasters only made it worse.

These words greatly displeased Mao Zedong. Liu was so brave that he uttered the truth and criticized the "Great Leap Forward" launched by Mao; Deng Xiaoping was kind and pragmatic. Not outspoken, he had never tried to justify Mao's "Three Red Flags"; Zhou Enlai took the big picture in mind and strictly reflected himself; while keeping Mao's authority intact; Zhou honestly faced the national difficulties without being afraid to tell the truth.

Among the high-ranking leaders, Lin Biao deviated from others by boasting Mao's "Three Red Flags" and portraying Mao as the embodiment of truth. According to Lin's rhetoric, all the mistakes and drawbacks during the Great Leap Forward should be attributed to the inability to grasp and implement Mao's ideas and instructions. Encouraged by Lin, Mao was even more reluctant to reflect on himself and held a grudge against Liu, marking the preface to the Cultural Revolution.

After the Cultural Revolution was launched in 1966, the management system was ruined, labor discipline was absent, planning and statistics system collapsed, and the rampant Red Guards and armed conflict by the worker class paralyzed production and traffic. As a result, the total losses of national income in that decade amounted to approximately RMB 500 billion. In addition to the substantial economic losses, Tsai and Dou revealed that the Cultural Revolution had a great impact on the human resources in the upcoming years.

For example, the average length of education of the population over 15 years old in 1982 was 4.8 years. Eliminating some of the effects caused by the Cultural Revolution, this figure was estimated to be 5.6 years, meaning that the Cultural Revolution cut the potential human resources stock by 14.3%. In addition, the Great Leap Forward caused the break-up of the Sino-Soviet relation. Many practices and objectives of the Great Leap Forward received constant doubt and criticism from Soviet cadres and experts. Khrushchev criticized the "People's Commune" system implicitly in his report for the 21 st National Congress of the Soviet Communist Party.

In early June 1960, the CPC publicly distributed materials criticizing the Soviet Communist Party at the World Trade Union Conference in an attempt to force the Soviet Union to correct its mistakes, while the Soviet Communist Party sieged the CPC delegation in Bucharest in late June, with the purpose of subjecting the CPC to compliance. As neither side was ready to compromise, Nikita Khrushchev announced that he would withdraw all Soviet experts working in China within a time limit, bringing the antagonism between China and the Soviet Union known to the public.

The dialogue between the Communist Parties of China and the Soviet Union in July 1963 showed once again that there was no room for compromise between China and the Soviet Union. The breakdown of the Sino-Soviet Union relation was irrecoverable. In a word, the Great Leap Forward had caused negative effects on the politics, economy, society and culture in China, and resulted in the loss of economic and technical assistances by foreign countries. Internationally the loss of support by the Soviet Union made the situation even more difficult for China.