To what extent did Mao's policies in the 1950 and 1960 develop China into a modern industrial state?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mao would have made the argument that his policies in the 1950s and 1960s moved China into modern industrialism. His justification for this resided in how he emphasized progress as critical for the Chinese people and its industry. The first Five Year Plan sought to move China away from agriculture.  Instead, the focus of Chinese economy existed in the industrial sector and bolstering industrial production.  The plan helped to enhance modern industrialism in China because of the move into an industrial stage of development.  Investment into industry and channeling this into a state- driven form of capital wealth was a primary concern of the First Five Year Plan.  The statistics and focus of the Chinese government emphasis would help to make the case that modern industry was evident: "Coal production in 1957 reached 131 million tons, increasing 98% from 1952, while Gross output value from industry and agriculture rose from 30% in 1949 to 56.5% in 1957."  Leaders were able to point to such ideas as evidence of Chinese industrialization in the First Five Year Plan.

The Second Five Year Plan continued this emphasis into the 1960s.  Mao's government perceived that enhancing industrial production was vital to sustaining the modernization of the economy: "The country saw increases in capital construction over those observed during the first Five-Year Plan and also saw significant increases in industry (doubling output value) and income (workers and farmers, increase by as much as 30%)."  This was also coupled with a decreasing dependence on the Soviet Union, helping to facilitate a more independently industrialized China.  Mao argued that breaking away from the Russian influence made the case that China was moving into a more modern and industrialized setting.  

The plans that Mao put forth were designed to substantiate China's movement towards the development of greater industry.  The statistics that Mao and his leadership touted help to support this.  I think that one of the fundamental questions would be whether all of Chinese citizens experienced this industrialization process.  Mao ran things with such an oppressive tendency that those who did not experience the trend of industrialization were simply eliminated from the process. While Mao's stated aims were to modernize and industrialize China, much of it was done under the guise of consolidating his power.  The widening of his own control and reach into Chinese society and government was of primary concern.  Due to this, it is difficult to get a clear read on whether or not industrialization was widely experienced.  It has to be viewed with some level of skepticism because of Mao's tight control on governmental processes.  Ensuring that statistics were made to favor the growth was not outside of such a desiring of control.  It becomes difficult to fully ascertain whether or not Mao's actions were absolute in China's movement into fully modern industrialization.  The First and Second Five Year Plans made active strides to move China into new terrain of industry. The exact extent that these actions moved China into a fully modern and industrialized state can be debated and discussed.

moustacio | Student

Mao's policies in the 1950s to the 1960s failed, to a large extent, in developing China into a modern, industrialised nation. Mao sought to industrialise the nation through the economic and social campaign known as the Great Leap Forward. Launched in 1958, the campaign aimed to transform China from an agrarian, backward country into a modern nation.  A policy of rapid industrialisation and collectivisation was advocated, large amounts of funds were used to construct huge state enterprises for steel production, peasants were encouraged to establish small-scale backyard furnaces to produce iron and steel, and communist organisations, known as the “People’s Communes”, were set up, where private ownership was abolished. Wooden doors and windows were burned to fuel the fires in the furnaces and domestic household items melted to produce metal. This was a huge waste of resources as the steel produced was often of low-quality and thus could not be used in industrial activities. Residents of the communes not only had to work together, they also ate together at  canteen. The communes soon ran out of food and faced with a lack of food reserves, large-scale famines occurred. Agricultural innovation, as advocated by Mao, also did not drastically raise grain production. In fact, policies, such as close-cropping, only lowered production rates. State officials, afraid of being punished, provided the central authorities with fabricated statistics that painted a rosy picture. As a result, the government took away more grain from the communes, which were exported to support poorer communist states, while Chinese starved to death. The campaign was a disaster of unprecedented proportions, resulting in a great famine that destroyed 30-40% of houses in China saw more than 30 million people dead at the end of it. Mao’s reputation declined and he was forced to cede the presidency to Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who rose in power within the Communist Party, which led to a change in policy direction. Clearly, the campaign failed, to a large extent, in modernising China and instead only plunged the country into severe economic woes.