What was the Great Leap Forward? Which peoples did it impact and what probably catalyzed this change?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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After the defeat of the Chinese Nationalist Party in October, 1949, the Communist Party established the People's Republic of China with Mao Tse-tung as its Chairman. Chairman Mao, the son of a wealthy farmer, shared the same vision of farming as the Russian Communists. For, they both believed that the government should have huge collective farms to gather in all the profits of farming in order to transform China into a communist state, and make it an industrialized nation. Private farming was prohibited, and those who sought to farm were persecuted and labeled as counter-revolutionaries. 

This plan to take over agriculture in the country and collectivize farming was known as The Great Leap Forward. Though it was a plan that was meant to profitably galvanize China into communism as it also became an industrial nation, it instead effected the Great Chinese Famine which resulted in the deaths of some 14 to 85 million people.

In one commune there were about 5,000 families, whose lives were controlled by this commune; they had no ownership of anything, and nurseries and schools were provided so that the adults could work. The old people went to "happiness houses." At first, it seemed that the communes were productive as there were 700 million people in communes by 1958. These people worked hard, trying to beat set goals, although some of the quality of the work was rather dubious. Nevertheless, at the end of 1958, the figures for production were up and The Great Leap Forward seemed a success.

During the following year, however, some of the steel that was produced in backyard furnaces was too inferior in quality to be put to use. Added to this, all the steel production had taken the workers out of the fields, and the land was not properly farmed. Swiftly produced farm equipment fell apart, and thousands of overworked people were injured and/or starved. Little food had been produced, and bad weather killed much of that.

In 1960 the weather was worse for crops than in 1959, and the people were placed on rations. Many became ill and unable to work; some died. Later in 1960 and 1962 Chairman Mao was sharply criticized for the failure of The Great Leap Forward. Shortly thereafter, Moderate Party members led the country and Mao Tse-tung was marginalized, a situation which caused him to lead the Cultural Revolution in 1966, a socio-political movement which also failed.

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