Event: The Great Leap Forward

Great Leap Forward 1958-1960

Responding to growing pressure to advance China technologically and economically, Mao Zedong advanced new initiatives to boost agricultural and manufacturing production. Because of China’s large population, in order to keep employing workers, industrial development would have to follow labor-intensive patterns, rather than relying strictly on labor-reducing technologies. Therefore, the earliest directives called for boosted food produce in order to feed the enormous working populations, who would need increased nourishment for increased labor. To meet this increased food need, agriculture was collectivized into large communes, of roughly 5,000 families in size. Each commune shared tools, land, and other resources to produce agricultural output in accordance with the high quotas placed by the state leadership. Another aspect of the Great Leap Forward was the increased demand for manufacturing and industrial output. Communes were equipped with backyard smelting furnaces, with which communes could collect and process scrap metal into steel or other manufacturing metal needs. However, the quality of this steel was often poor, and when it was used in building projects, flaws in the metal often led to structural collapses. Factory production was similarly poor: because of impossible quotas, production of construction and agricultural equipment was often rushed to the point of shoddy production. As a result, thousands of injuries occurred as farming equipment malfunctioned, as workers fell asleep at their jobs, and as the infrastructure of the country fell apart due to unprepared industrial output. The most overwhelming negative effect of the policy was the fact that all these initiatives actually reduced agricultural production, while only minimally increasing industrial output. The result: massive and widespread starvation, even though weather would have permitted good harvests, had the communes not been obsessed with mining scrap metal from the earth. With huge outcry from the population and enormous pressure, Mao eventually recalled the initiatives, citing his own failure and asking the population to examine themselves, as well. The failure also weakened his position in Chinese high politics. The long-lasting impact of the Great Leap Forward was the death of millions and the diminishing of Mao’s political prestige. Unfortunately, this led to his next political move: the Cultural Revolution, another period of chaos and terror that would grip the country for nearly a decade.