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The Great Leap Forward Essay

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The ‘Hundred flowers’ campaign was followed by a new militant approach to Chinese economics. Shaoqi believed that the PLA and the military complex should be strengthened for several reasons; firstly the rejection of Mao foreign policy (Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence) in order to prepare for the invasion of Tibet and other island provinces free from mainland influence since the days of the KMT republic. Secondly the war in Korea had created a ‘siege-mentality’ in China (similar to USSR in the 1930s), China would be ready for invasion.

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Xiaoping believed that the people could be motivated and ideologically aroused. Mao supported this initial plan believing that this ‘Second Five Year Plan’ could work better than the first. However he was wary of Shaoqi’s motives and did not wish to see the people merely exploited and made to work towards unrealistic targets. He initiated the ‘xiafang’ movement, which took the Leap down to the countryside level. The xiafang movement would have several stages.

Primarily it would concentrate on heavy industry and mobilisation of the urban regions. Beijing would begin this with a ‘march to work’ programme. Next, the increasing of the indoctrinisatation of technology experts and the scientific community. Finally the xiafang movement would move to the rural areas with party cadres and members moving ‘to the people’ and helping them in agricultural policies. It is at this point that the debate arises – critics have suggested that Mao supported the scheme because he was unhappy with the USSR’s ‘de-Stalinisation’ of itself. He was undoubtedly concerned about his country’s over-reliance on Soviet help.

The split over the direction occurred in late 1958, by then nearly 750,000 new collectivised farms had been created and agricultural output was at China’s highest ever, Mao wanted to create forums to discuss problems with the ‘Leap,’ he also wanted greater self-sufficiency amongst the communes. Shaoqi resisted this idea believing that centralisation was the only means of ensuring success. He introduced the radical mass dormitories with over 5000 people to each one. This new housing was resisted bitterly and Mao argued that it was essential the CCP listened to the people. Zhou Enlai also voiced concerns over plans to release worker from these collectives for overly grand projects such as hydro-plants and irrigation works. Mao quickly seized upon growing disenchantment and distanced himself from the ruling committee.

1959 was a disastrous year for the Chinese economy, in February of that year; Shaoqi admitted that the CCP had exaggerated figures for success. Famine ravaged Mao’s home province of Hunan and Zhu’s Jiangxi. Food shortages affected Beijing; raw materials were in short supply for the industrial complex.

Xiaoping worsened the situation by creating the Department of Economic Growth ((based upon the Soviet Gosplan model) which centralised directives and set even higher targets. The direct result was the over-production of poor quality goods, a virtual collapse of heavy industry through mismanagement, a malaise and a demoralisation and exhaustion of the peasant population. The intellectual wing of the CCP demanded the plan was scrapped, which led to a vicious purging of the intelligentsia. Mao who personally bore the brunt of blame for the ‘Leap’ fiasco stepped down from office in April.

The following year saw a massive shift in the balance of power; the Second National Congress gave Lui Shaoqi complete control of the CCP and all Mao’s positions. Defence minister Peng Dehuai openly attacked Maoist policies and firmly placed the blame on Mao. However, Lin Baio a noted Maoist successfully ousted Dehuai out of office and accepted the post of Defence minister.

He offers Zhu De the post of C-in-C of the army, who declines. Lin Baio resigns in 1961 after China’s successful total annexation of Tibet. He is alarmed at the threat to invade Taiwan and the attacks on Jinmen and Mazu. By 1961, the swing to the right was almost complete with Shaoqi in the ascendancy and his fraction most of the positions of power. However with the battle for supremacy gaining momentum by 1962 with Mao’s spectacular return to power, the political landscape of China would never be the same and the CCP by 1970 would be decimated from top to bottom.

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