The Timeline of Mao Zedong's Life and Leadership

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Imagine a nation of people dropping dead during the wake of a new plan which promises a better life. With high hopes to make China equal in class to Great Britain by 1980, the Great Leap Forward of 1958-1962, became the largest political and economic disaster in history. Mao Zedong’s word was so powerful that almost overnight, people’s communes started to accept the ideas for a better future. Mao fired the military defense leader and installed collectivism and industrialization. This rapidly turned the Peoples Republic of China to Socialism. A mass mobilization movement later stripped away basic human rights. Economic regression and the death of millions from starvation later deferred the Great Leap Forward which was called on by communist party leaders. In this paper, I will explain how the firing of Peng Dehaui, later led to campaigns, collective action, famines, and the Great Retreat in the wake of the failure of food production. The contention of this essay is that the Great Leap Forward only caused destruction and chaos to the Communist Party of China.

Middle of Outline

  1. Advisors where removed from China in July of 1956 after Khrushchev denounce the crimes of Stalin, his cult, and his collectivization campaigns. As a result, the Stalinist model was suspended in China and Mao’s ideas were no longer in favor. He turned to the people to regain trust by inviting the whole country to express themselves freely and criticize the leadership. This was called the Hundred Flowers Campaign.
  2. The Hundred Flowers Campaign for Mao was to flush out all the critics. By turning to the people and gaining their trust, he could publicly identify all the people who spoke against the regime as class enemies. About 500 thousand teachers where labeled as rightist and sent to the Jiabiangou re-education camp.
  3. In 1958, Mao Zedong unveils a new policy at the communist party conference in Nanjing. He calls it the Great Leap Forward.
  4. Mao’s view was that China would have a new industrialized centrally planned country by 1973 which would rival or surpass the UK in 15 years. The two goals for the plan were Collectivization and Industrialization.
  5. Chinese peasants were used to the private ownership of small bits of land. Mao forced the farms and peasants into communes. This was Collectivization. All the land was common ownership. Thomas describes how people before Collectivization dealt with different social classes. “The party had united with the upper middle peasants. They didn’t understand the nature of the class struggle. Political education was needed.”
  6. In 1958, Chinas economy was agrarian. Agriculture and peasant farming were the main source of capital. Mao realized how successful the Industrial Revolution was for European countries between 1760-1840. He wanted to accomplish the same goal but in 15 years. By the first year, nearly 750 million people were forced into 25,0000 communes in china.
  7. Peasant life was disrupted as private ownership was completely abolished. Farm workers who had no previous expertise in industrial work were forced to start undertaking industrial tasks. The communist party set unrealistic targets which were highly unrealistic for production of steel and food.
  8. Yang Jisheng, a Chinese journalist and a primary source within China during this time writes a book about what he saw. He states, “commune members foraged for food or fled. Production grinds to a halt, mass starvation ensues, and many die.”
  9. In the people communes, peasants had no right to free speech. They’re skills were not taken into consideration. Everything was decided by the authorities who mostly knew nothing about the subject. Land suitable for one type of crop was used for another. As a result, poor harvests caused the first food shortages. Mao made communes compete.
  10. Reaching a record production was called ‘launching a satellite’. Communes where rewarded with food and water when their production was above others. Because of so many exaggerated figures, the tax paid in grain by the communes where calculated on a false basis.
  11. The food production in 1959 was a complete failure. China contracted debt with the USSR for the purchase of hundreds of factories that were delivered and ready for use. Beijing would repay Moscow with agricultural produce. Mao wanted to increase the repayment of debt even if it meant people would starve.
  12. In January of 1962, the secretary of culture and education Wu Zhipu states, “I can never repay my debt to the fifty million people of Henan as long as I live.”
  13. Radical collectivization and senseless quotas for farm and steel production in small backyard furnaces where stopped. The Chinese leadership knew that their policy was killing millions of people. Their leadership was can issue of power about who should be accountable for the deaths. Liu Shaoqi took full responsibility since Mao declared himself a demigod and accountable to no one.


A closer look at China’s Great Leap Forward of 1958-1962 presented in this paper has uncovered further evidence that the famine had a catastrophic consequence. Even with the overwhelming mass of peasantry, Mao’s revolution could not sustain itself. Although China would not be a world power with a leading economy it has today without Mao, The Great Leap Forward was a disastrous campaign. Because of its effects on food production and political corruptness, we can better understand how overworking and setting unrealistic goals has a direct negative effect on people and efficiency on a country. Overall, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward sought complete disregard for basic human rights and created the greatest death toll the world has ever seen. I didn’t get help from the library or a historian. I think the research that I’ve done has been in depth enough and didn’t need help. JSTOR and WSU Libraries are helpful. It would be beneficial for me to go to the library as to make sure my grammar and flow to connecting logic between ideas makes sense.

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