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1.05  Great Leap Forward and its Aftermath (1958 – 65)

6 March 2018

China’s Second Five-Year Plan (1958 – 1962)


As aforementioned, PRC's first eight years (1949 – 1957), on the whole, was a period of achievement and cohesion.


On the eve of October 1, 1949, the CCP faced daunting challenges that included reuniting the fragmented society and polity, reinstituting social and public order, and reining in inflation and reducing unemployment in not just a war-torn but fundamentally backward economy.


Against all odds, however, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) succeeded in turning the situation around by 1957. Domestically, in addition to establishing a strong centralized state, the Chinese leaders had also embarked on a accelerated process of socialist transformation to not only put the country on a path to industrialization, based on the Soviet model of economic development, but also modestly lift living standards for the Chinese people. Externally, the success in holding back the advance of the US-led UN forces in the Korean War in 1953 not only galvanized China’s image among the newly independent states in the Third World but also enhanced Mao’s reputation, both as a military strategist and a communist leader prepared to stand up to the West.


For a country just recovering from extensive destruction caused by decades of fighting against a foreign invasion and a civil war, and, for a political leadership whose primary experience was war of liberation and not administration of a national economy, the outcomes by 1957 were nothing short of impressive. The year 1958 thus began with the Chinese Communist leaders feeling optimistic about their ability to lead the country up the path of rapid economic development and social progress. The achievements also bolstered the unity of the nascent nation state as well as the cohesion and stability of the Party leadership such that policy issues could be vigorously debated within official forums without any adverse impact to the regime.


Indeed, proposal for a Second Five-Year Plan (1958 – 62) was approved in as early as 1956 by the Party’s Eighth National Congress. Like the First FYP, the essence of the second was to transform China into an industrialized country with heavy industry leading the way. The proposal was thus merely a stepped-up version of the First Plan with industry scheduled to receive about 60% of investible resources and agriculture about 10%.


To be sure, not all Politburo members agreed on the best methods to use to accomplish the great tasks of economic development for the next phase, but overall confidence was high and the degree of underlying unity was clearly sufficient to enable the CCP to act in a consistent and decisive manner.


Hence, it was incomprehensible that the next eight year between 1958 and 1965 would turn out to be a period of traumatic transition in the Chinese revolution during which Mao launched China into a phase of irrational ideological craze, known as the Great Leap Forward (GLF大跃进), to boost both agricultural and industrial production before mounting, in the aftermath of GLF’s failures, a devastating attack at Lushan against many of the colleagues with whom he had worked for more than three decades. By 1966, that attack would, in turn, led China into another decade of tumultuous social, economic and political upheavals in yet another political campaign known as the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution (无产阶级文化大革命) orchestrated by Mao and his allies.


Why the Great Leap Forward?


Many factors contributed to Chinese top leaders’ decision to adopt the policies collectively known as the Great Leap Forward (GLF 大跃进) but the most fundamental were the problems produced by the 1st Five-Year Plan (FYP 1953 - 1957), modelled after the Soviet Union's development strategy.


Despite the impressive overall social, economic, and political progress made by the nation’s reconstruction efforts, it was becoming increasingly clear to the CCP leaders by 1957 that the Soviet model was not producing the desired results in both the rural agricultural and the modern industrial sectors. In agriculture, for example, the expansion of agricultural outputs from 1952 to 1957 just about kept pace with population increase while pressure on the available land mounted. The rural sector was thus not growing fast enough to provide additional capital for the nation’s industrial development and to feed the workers of the cities. As peasants streamed into the cities in 1956–57 to seek employment in the rapidly expanding state-run factories, where government policy kept wages rising rapidly, China’s urban population mushroomed from 77 million in 1953 to 99.5 million by 1957.[1] Meanwhile, in the industrial sector, an imbalance between installed capacity and raw materials supply was also rapidly developing, seriously impairing further industrial expansion.


The suboptimal outcomes of the Soviet model when applied in China could be attributed to the differences in socio-economic conditions and factor endowments between the two countries. The Soviet strategy developed and implemented in the 1930s by Stalin demanded two conditions: that a planning mechanism channel resources overwhelmingly into the development of heavy industry and that the rural areas be exploited to provide resources to fund the growth of heavy industry in particular and of the urban sector in general. This approach, however, assumed that there was a real surplus in agriculture and that surplus could be captured to serve the goals of the political leadership.


The Chinese copied their planning apparatus so successfully from the Soviets that during their respective 1st FYPs, the Chinese managed to devote nearly 48% of their public capital investment to industrial development whereas the comparable Soviet figure was under 42%. The problem for the Chinese arose in the other part of the equation - the exploitation of the rural areas to support this urban industrial policy.


To begin with, the Chinese case differed in two fundamental respects from that of the Soviet Union which rendered any wholesale copying of the Stalinist economic development model unwise.

  • First and foremost, per capita output in China in 1957 was only half that of the Soviet Union in 1928. Thus, while the Soviets could debate how best to secure control over a consistent rural surplus, the Chinese had to develop a means first to create and enhance that surplus before worrying about how to exploit that surplus.

  • Second, while Soviet Party membership was more than 70% urban, the CCP was more than 70% rural in social composition. These differences in the social compositions of the two parties presumably made the CCP somewhat more reluctant to adopt a strategy premised on the misery of the countryside and the starvation of millions of country dwellers.


Moreover, with the ascension of Khrushchev to power and his efforts in destalinization, political and ideological relations between China and its major capital goods supplier, the USSR, not to mention also between that of Mao and Khrushchev, were deteriorating to the point where the sustainability of future aids and assistance from the Soviet became doubtful. Moreover, because Soviet assistance had been made available to China as loans, not grants, China had to repay more each year than it borrowed in new funds after 1956. Thus, the Chinese could no longer count on Moscow for net capital accumulation in its industrialization drive.[2]


To be sure, when implementing the Soviet model, the Chinese already adopted some local policy adaptions based on considerations of the differences between the two countries. In agriculture, because of China’s high annual rate of population growth, the issue of mechanizing was not as pressing as it had been in the Soviet Union during a comparable period of development. In the industrial sector, Soviet-type rates of expansion of output could conceivably have been obtained with a slower rate of urbanization by simply absorbing the urban unemployed and raising the labour participation ratio.


In the light of the suboptimal outcomes, despite the local policy adaptations, and the deterioration of relationship between China and the Soviet Union, it became increasingly plain to the Chinese leaders that in years to come the country would have to rely mainly on its own efforts to reach the goals which it had set for itself.


Thus, in late 1957 China began to grope for a strategy that would enhance agricultural output while still permitting the rapid growth of capital-intensive heavy industry. The different elements of such a strategy, especially with regard to the agricultural sector, were hotly debated at the Third Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee in September and early October of 1957.


By the winter of 1957, a new strategy of economic development, advocated by Mao, began to appear. Known as the “General Line of Going All Out and Aiming High to Achieve Greater, Quicker, Better, and More Economical Results in Building Socialism,” or the Great Leap Forward, the crux of the new strategy was to put to work hundreds of millions of bare hands every hour of the day through the general mobilization of underemployed rural labour.[3]  In other words, Mao wanted to utilize political and organizational tools, instead of the usual rational economic calculations and investments, to mobilize the peasants to boost agricultural output.


Mao’s utopian plan was contrasted by that of Chen Yun, the fifth-ranking member of the Party and the highest-ranking economic specialist, who premised his recommended solution on the more realistic assumption that the peasants would respond only to increased material incentives and not to either coercion or ideological exhortation. Material incentives required not only that the peasants receive good prices for their products but also that they have consumer goods available to purchase with the money they earned.


Chen’s plan therefore required the state to shift investments somewhat in the direction of light industry in order to provide the consumer goods necessary to make this rural strategy work. The light industrial sector would also produce relatively quick turnover on capital with a substantial profit rate, thus providing over time an adequate capital pool for the speedy development of heavy industry.


Chen's policy recommendation was the most comprehensive and rational developmental alternative put forward. Its only shortfall was that his formula for balanced growth would not produce any developmental miracles in the next few years.


Moreover, the Hundred Flowers movement and the resulting Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957 had largely discredited the urban intelligentsia and any development strategy that depended centrally on their contributions. The incarceration of the "rightists" by the authorities during the campaign also reduced the numbers of intellectuals outside of prison camps. By the fall of 1957, the radical, anti-intellectual atmosphere had also spread from the urban to the rural areas. Thus, the Anti-Rightist Campaign in both the urban and rural areas bolstered the position of those who believed that proper mobilization of the populace could accomplish tasks that the "bourgeois experts" dismissed as impossible. Within that context, it was unlikely that Chen’s well-balanced policy recommendation would be seen in rational light, not to mention also the difficulty he would have finding enough experts within the ministries to map out the strategy.


Finally, two other factors further prompted Mao to forsake Chen’s comprehension economic solution for a political solution: 

  • On a social level, the Chinese urban society was becoming increasingly stratified by the mid-1950s. This stratification extended into the government bureaucracies where a complex system of civil service grades was instituted in 1955. Similar grading systems were applied to various sectors of industry, commerce, and the educational system. The natural results were increasing status consciousness among the Chinese and encouragement of the type of careerism that was good for economic growth but rubbed against Mao's revolutionary grain. A strategy that relied more on ideological and coercive method than on economic and status incentives might thus help to keep this unwanted social spinoff of the 1st FYP in check.

  • Second, Mao's own position in the system would be affected by the type of economic development strategy pursued. Mao’s personal political strengths lay in the areas of foreign policy (especially toward the great powers), rural policy, and issues of revolutionary change (essentially, defining how rapidly change could be carried out). Urban economics, and especially the technicalities of finance and planning, were subjects about which he knew very little. Thus, Mao complained bitterly at the Nanning Conference in January 1958 that the Finance Ministry had for several years been sending the Politburo position papers so technical and complex that he simply had to sign them without even reading them. This situation naturally limited Mao's role in the system and hardened his determination to change it by forcing through a strategy of development that shifted the action from the areas in which he lacked strength to those where he felt more confident.


On the most fundamental level, the motivations producing the GLF strategy drew from very deep currents in the history of the Chinese Communist movement when CCP entered Yanan after the Long March in the mid-1930s. The revolution faced seemingly intractable odds then. But by the end of WWII, the CCP and its army had vastly increased in size, strength, and vigour, despite the almost constant military challenges from the KMT or the Japanese. The CCP quite naturally tended in later years to idealize that time in the wilderness, seeing it as a period when the Party was truly close to the masses, when bureaucratism and social stratification did not tarnish revolutionary idealism, and when highly-motivated leaders and their followers overcame seemingly insuperable odds to survive and eventually conquer. Given the developmental challenges presented by the Soviet model at the end of the 1st FYP, Mao and much of the rest of the top leadership seem to have harkened back to the Yanan spirit (and methods) as the source of their hope that mass mobilization, social leveling, attacks on bureaucratism, disdain for material obstacles - would once again save the Chinese revolution for its founders.


It is therefore not surprising that, throughout the 1958, the GLF strategy won the wholehearted support of Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and most other leaders. The only obvious civilian dissenters at the Politburo level that year were Premier Zhou Enlai, the head of the state apparatus which would be sidelined by the strategy, and the more levelheaded top economic administrator, Chen Yun who espoused a more balanced approach of developing the light industry first to help capture the surplus value from the rural sector for investment in heavy industry. Within the military, many army leaders, including the Defense Minister Peng Dehuai, also did not like the GLF strategy because of the new obligations imposed on the military to support the militia and to participate in civilian work that the GLF imposed on the PLA.[4]


The Great Leap Forward Strategy


Hence, beginning at the Qingdao Conference (青岛会议) in July 1957 and continuing through the following year, Mao began advocating new measures that culminated in a radically new approach that would enable China to seek rapid simultaneous development of agriculture and industry by relying on labour rather than Soviet’s approach of machine-centred industrial processes and by using organizational and mobilizational techniques, which the CCP had honed to a fine edge in Yanan, to change people’s working habits. The Chinese leaders, particularly Mao, hoped that by emphasizing manpower rather than machines and capital expenditure, the country could make a great leap forward and bypass the slow, more typical process of industrialization through gradual accumulation of capital and purchase of heavy machinery, as espoused by the Soviet model.


In May 1958, during the Second Plenum of the Eighth Party Congress (第八次全国代表大会第二次会议), the CCP adopted the “General Line for Socialist Construction” (社会主义建设总路线) which advocated “going all out, aiming high and achieving greater, faster, better and more economical results in building socialism” (鼓足干劲、力争上游、多快好省地建设社会主义). The key strategy for achieving that would be the Great Leap Forward (GLF, 大跃进) strategy which was also formally adopted at the Second Plenum, just as the Second Five-Year Plan (1958 – 1962) got under way. Notably, what started off as “socialist transition” in the early 1950s had by now become “socialist construction”.


Briefly, the GLF strategy had four key elements:[5]

  • To make up for a lack of capital in both industry and agriculture by fully mobilizing underemployed labour power especially in the rural sector to accelerate growth and to provide inputs (especially food) for urban industrial growth. This, in turn, would allow China to accomplish the simultaneous development of industry and agriculture.

  • To carry out "planning" by setting ambitious goals for China's leading economic sectors and in essence simply encouraging any type of innovation necessary to permit the other sectors to catch up with these key sectors.

  • In industry, to rely on both modern and traditional methods to enhance output. Hence, major steel complexes would continue to receive substantial new investment but at the same time "backyard" steel would be smelted by any group capable of doing so.

  • In all areas, to disregard technical norms (and the specialists, including the Soviet experts, who stressed them) while in relentless pursuit of "more, faster, better, and more economical results" (多快好省). In practice the "more and faster" overwhelmed the "better and more economical."


In 1958, to facilitate the implementation of the above four elements, the CCP embarked on its first economic reform. The central theme was administrative decentralization to delegate power to the lower levels of government. Reform measures implemented included the transferring of power relating to planning, control of enterprises, allocation of state resources, review and approval of capital construction projects, finance administration including tax collection and credit administration, and labour administration.


Next, the GLF strategy also sought to address issues inherent in the rural organizational structure created by the earlier process of collectivization. Despite the astounding success of the socialist transformation of agriculture by 1957, for example, the huge number (i.e. 753 000) of advanced cooperatives created meant that each cooperative was relatively small comprising of only one hundred to two hundred households. More importantly, their organization was separate from the grassroots leadership making them difficult to control. There was an overall resultant adverse effect on agricultural productivity. There was thus pressure in the countryside to devise a bigger unit that would be able to control large labour resources and also to fit neatly into the government administrative hierarchy so that effective leadership could be exercised over the advanced cooperatives to facilitate mobilization on a large scale.


In March 1958, the Party decided that the advanced cooperatives be consolidated into larger ones called People’s Communes (人民公社) which would serve as a labour and rural capital mobilization device for the GLF. The resources mobilized were not only for strictly agricultural tasks but also for (a) labour intensive investment projects such as irrigation, water conservation, and afforestation, and (b) small scale industry such as cloth weaving, the manufacture of simple tools, repair of machinery, and the making of a wide range of industrial products, including the smelting of pig iron.


Ideologically, the Chinese proclaimed the communes an advanced form of socialist organization enabling China to reach full communism in a fraction of that time it took the Soviets to get within sight of that state of perfection.


Operationally, the mobilization was made possible by vesting in the communes many of the functions formerly exercised on the local or township (乡) level by government offices. The communes thus administered within their region such diverse activities as marketing, commerce, education, public health, labour, public security, communications, small-scale industry, and of course, agriculture. For the Party to have better control over the communes, the management of the communes would be integrated with government administration at the local levels.


In July 1958, the People’s Communes Campaign was launched nationwide to organize people’s communes on a large scale. The process was completed by October 1958. By which time, the 753,000 advanced cooperatives had been reorganized into 26,000 people's communes. On average, each commune was made up of 28.5 advanced cooperatives comprising a total of more than 4,500 rural households. Within each commune, production brigades (生产大队later called administrative districts), encompassing the original cooperatives, were established. Each production brigades further comprised of production teams but the production brigade was the unit of production management and economic accounting.


In effect, the entire rural China had switched over from the loosely organized voluntary elementary cooperatives to compulsory advanced cooperatives and finally to the integrated people’s commune system within only three years (i.e. 1955 – 1958).


Collectively, the “General Line Socialist Construction”, the Great Leap Forward strategy and the People’s Communes Campaign were known as the Three Red Banners (三面红旗) that served as the guiding ideology for socialist construction for the next phase of development beginning 1958.


With the administrative decentralization completed and the people’s commune system in place by October 1958, the institutional groundwork had been laid for the implementation of the Great Leap Forward. In agriculture, it would involve increasing output through greater cooperation and greater physical effort within the communes. In industry, the construction of large plants was to continue, as in the 1st FYP, but it was to be supplemented by a huge drive to develop small industry, making use of a large number of small, simple, locally built and locally run plants not only in the urban areas but also the rural communes.


Progress of the campaign would be measured by the annual grain and steel production. To whip up the ideological fervour of the masses, Mao’s declared that China would "surpass Britain in three years and America in ten years" (“三年超英,十年赶美”,简称“赶英超美”). In June 1958, Mao had himself worked out a plan for steel production: to reach 11 million tons in 1958, more than twice the 5.35 million tons produced in 1957; to reach 25 million tons in 1959, surpassing Britain; and to reach 60 million tons in 1962. Correspondingly, impractically high quotas were set for grain and steel production by officials at all levels as a result.


Problems in the Implementation of the Great Leap Forward Strategy

The successful completion of the administrative decentralization and the People’s Communes Campaign helped lay the institutional groundwork for the launch of the GLF strategy. The significant shifts in the political situation brought about by the organizational changes, however, presaged troubles that the central, be it the Party or the government, could have little control over because the genie had been let out of the bottle.


Firstly, the shift of development strategy from planning toward mobilization meant that the apparatus best suited to mobilization efforts - the CCP (i.e. the Party) - would assume a relatively greater role which would inevitably come at the expense of the government bureaucracy responsible for planning. At the highest levels, for example, the CCP apparatus directed by the Politburo and the Secretariat (headed by Deng Xiaoping) would play a far more important role, with the functions of the premier and the State Council reduced accordingly. At the same time, the 1958 reform program of administrative decentralization also stripped considerable power from the central government bureaucracy and transferred it in many cases to local Party cadres. The combined result is that the government bureaucracy had been weakened by the GLF campaign.


Secondly, the GLF shunted technical specialists aside in production units and replaced them with political generalists good at firing up the enthusiasm of the workers. It raised the pervasiveness of political demands in all fields to a new level, as superhuman work motivated by political zeal was key to the successful implementation of this new developmental approach. An important result of the discrimination against expertise would be the dismantling of the state statistical system, the bulwark of a development strategy that depended on expert calculation of possibilities and optimalities. At the same time, it introduced important new strains into Sino-Soviet relations, as it de facto decreased the authority of the many Soviet advisers in China and implicitly challenged the previously sacrosanct Soviet model.


Finally, the communes had grown to become huge, centralized units embracing several standard marketing areas. Serving both as the basic-level government organs and the key economic units, they proved too large to manage. Their size permitted them to take control over not only agricultural production but also local industry, commerce, education, and the militia. Under communes’ direction, moreover, the organization of agricultural labour changed dramatically, with many peasants now assigned to specialized work teams that traveled from one village to another to perform particular tasks. Moreover, their attempt to base members' incomes on the total production of units that embraced tens of thousands of peasants provided too few incentives for individual effort.


The Outcomes of the Great Leap Forward Strategy


Rural China was gripped by the first go-communism craze with the launch of the GLF. Local governments at all levels, now with newly acquired administrative power as a result of the decentralization, responded to the Mao’s call for China to surpass the West by launching capital construction projects, recruiting workers, and commandeering resources from peasants in attempts to accomplish impossible plan targets, such as to double steel output every year.


The campaign was implemented with such haste by overzealous cadres in the rural areas that many serious problems soon began to emerge. One such example was the practices of extreme egalitarianism in the name of communism, often involving indiscriminate, unpaid-for transfer of resources among collectives at the same level or different levels. Meanwhile, many small backyard steel furnaces sprouted in every village and urban neighbourhood. The number of capital construction projects supported by a huge increase of employees in state-run enterprises (SRE) also shot up. As an indication of the extent of the craze, the number of projects in any single year from 1958 to 1960 was more than the total number of projects initiated during the entire 1st FYR period. During the same three-year period, fixed asset investments were 71% more than the total during the 1st FYP period. The number of employees employed by state-run enterprises also increased from 24.51 million at the end of 1957 to 59.69 million by the end of 1960.


Initially, this seemingly know-nothing approach, devoid of specialized inputs from subject experts, appeared to work for a while. Two elements also combined to make 1958 a year of substantial real economic achievements and thus to lend some credibility to the Great Leap strategy. First, the 1958 weather was exceptionally good, with the result that agricultural performance was better, other things being equal, than would normally have been the case. Second, in the industrial sector many of the major projects that had been begun during the 1st FYP began to come on stream during 1958, producing impressive growth in industrial output.


These factors made it possible for a leadership that wanted to believe in the efficacy of the radical GLF to find some support for its faith. This in turn led to a rising crescendo of support for the GLF, both within the CCP and among the general populace, through the early and middle months of 1958. Foreign observers were astonished by the fervour of the peasants who put in incredibly long hours with virtually no rest and sustained this grueling pace for weeks on end. Every day, some 90 million peasants smelted iron in home-made backyard furnaces (most of it brittle and unusable), 60 million women tended to communal kitchens, laundries, and commune nurseries, and 90 million peasants collected human and animal manure. After a hard day’s work in the fields, 77 million Chinese moved tons of earth to build irrigation works, and another 100 million exerted themselves in deep ploughing.


The leadership's claims for the efficacy of these efforts grew as the fervour built. In some areas, the newly formed communes began to do away with money as a medium of exchange, and by the fall, the common assumption that the country's perennial food problem had been solved led to free supplies of food for many commune dwellers.


Had the GLF produced even a substantial portion of what was hoped, it would have further knit together the already impressive solidarity of the central leadership. But things did not turn out that way.


The virtual destruction of the statistical system combined with tremendous pressure on cadres down the line to produce astonishing results soon led to an enormous amount of false reporting which seriously misled the leadership as to the actual state of affairs in the country. Cadres exaggerated the output results when production actually declined. Steel output, having hit the 11 million ton mark, was soon to reach 35 million tons, they claimed, and in one year grain production had risen from 195 million metric tons to 375 million tons. In reality, if the unusable portion of the steel output is subtracted, steel production in 1958 was not 11 million tons, but 5, slight below the 1957 level; the production of grain was not 375 million metric tons, but a revised official 250 million, and in actuality probably less than the 1957 figure of 195 million metric tons. The economy was soon thrown into disarray even though local officials were reporting record-breaking production figures which were later found to be grossly inflated. The situation was also exacerbated by calamities of nature, first in 1959, then in 1960 and 1961. In the end, the uncontrolled burst of activities led to wasteful consumption of huge resources and deteriorating efficiency.


In addition to the tendency to exaggerate, the first go-communism craze also gave rise to the cadres’ tendency to be authoritarian, to give arbitrary orders, and to behave as the privileged. All these caused great harm particularly to the peasants. In response to Mao’s call to increase production of steel, for example, members of the commune even melted farming tools only to produce steel that were of low grade and were often unusable. Meanwhile, as a result of shortage of farming tools, fields were left uncultivated. Worse, cadres insisted that peasants leave land fallow in 1959 to avoid losses from not having enough storage facilities to handle the anticipated surplus.  The senseless behaviors of the cadres and peasants dented grain output which was already falling as a result of the inefficiency of the communes and the large-scale diversion of farm labour into small-scale industry. Between 1958 and 1960, agricultural output declined by 25%.[6]


By the end of 1958, Mao and others were aware that extremism in the name of the GLF was causing some damage. Inspection trips by the leaders during the fall of 1958 indicated that problems, masked by the exaggerated reporting of the cadres, were brewing. In some places, peasants’ stories of food shortages belied the official statistics that showed abundance almost everywhere. In other areas, the excellent crops were not harvested fully and on time because too many workers had been shifted into local industry or had left to join the large state-run factories in the cities. By early 1959, information about the actual results of state grain procurement revealed that the situation was worse than previously thought. At the same time, the performance of the steel sector made clear that the original utopian goal of producing 30 million tons of steel in 1959 (1957 production had been 5.35 million tons) could not be reached.


Thus, by late 1958, even though Mao still felt the basic GLF strategy was sound, he was worried that the "leftist" errors among cadres carrying out the policy could produce a catastrophe that would do great harm both to China and to his own position. Adjustments to the program were thus necessary. During that spring Mao led the effort to bring greater rationality and efficiency to the program by making appropriate modifications in targets and policies. He called for the 1959 steel target to be reduced from 30 million to 20 million tons. As for grain production, he was so alarmed by the actual state procurement at the end of 1958 that he demanded the level of communization be decreased and called for a greater restraint over the activities of the lower-level cadres and peasants. He even threatened, for dramatic effect, to resign from the Party if appropriate reforms were not adopted. During this same period, Mao also invited Chen Yun to reassume an active role in devising appropriate industrial targets and implementing related measures to make the Great Leap more rational and effective.


In the following few months, however, the movement proved difficult to bring under control, as cadres who had inherited greater power during 1958 continued to resist any retreat from the policies of that year. Key supporters of the backyard steel production drive were also reluctant to admit the problems of this effort. And more generally, sentiment in favour of going "all out" seemed to remain strong at the provincial through commune levels of the Party apparatus. The GLF had freed the countryside from the chains of the cities and freed the peasant cadres from the scrutiny of the urban-bred experts. They were too intoxicated by the new-found sense of empowerment to want to hold back.


Finally, the Chinese leaders were also taken by surprise and distracted by the Tibetan revolt during the spring of 1959, which saw Dalai Lama fled to India for safety. Even though the revolt was put down by reinforcement of troops sent in from outside, the issue of how to handle the diplomatic and security fallout continued to trouble the leadership into the summer.

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[1] See Encyclopaedia Britannica. “The transition to socialism, 1953–57.”

[2] See Encyclopaedia Britannica. “The transition to socialism, 1953–57.”

[3] See Harry G. Shaffer. (1967). “The Communist World: Marxist and Non-Marxist Views, Volume 2.” Ardent Media, Pg 173 – 176.

[4] Cambridge Vol 14. Pg 306 - 308                                                                      

[5] Cambridge Vol 14. Pg 305 - 306

[6] See Denis Twitchett & John K. Fairbank. (Eds) (2008). “The Cambridge History of China: Volume 14. The People's Republic, Part 1: The Emergence of Revolutionary China 1949-1965.” Cambridge University Press. Pg 318.

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