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Was the Great Leap Forward a ‘Tragedy of Good Intentions’?

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Was the Great Leap Forward a 'tragedy of good intentions'? Date: 5th May 2002 Name: Nikki May Wing Chow Was the Great Leap Forward a 'tragedy of good intentions'? The Great Leap Forward is recognized as one of the main distinguishing features of the Maoist paradigm. Ultimately the Great Leap led to famine, where between the years 1958 and 1962 more than 30 million Chinese starved to death.1 The startling nature of the famine is that for about twenty years after it occurred, no one was really sure whether or not it had happened, until American demographers were able to examine China's statistics in the mid-80s.2 Although Mao was the central actor during the Great Leap, of course he was not the sole figure. Other leaders and institutions played their roles too, but the questions that cloud this phase of the Maoist paradigm are directed at determining what exactly caused the devastating failure of the Great Leap. Was the strategy itself flawed, due to bad policies? Was it the implementation of the strategy that was flawed? Or was it external factors that failed the Great Leap? At the time the Great Leap was initiated there were unusual political situations that underpin the failure. The bureaucratic tensions that flowed through the party, in addition to Mao's personal agenda are key elements in understanding the failure of the Great Leap. However, had the political context been removed from history, were the intentions and policies of the Great Leap good providing they were not pushed to the extreme? ...read more.


behalf and on the peasant's. The empirical line that allows scientists to separate reality from fantasy through their research seemed to dissolve into ridicule, when people stared claiming they had successfully accomplished the impossible. In Guangzhou, children and teachers crossed a pumpkin with a papaya, and runner beans with soybeans.16 Super-big plants emerged, as described in China Youth News, "The grains of sorghum are as big as those of corn...giving a much greater yield".17 Extraordinary animals were born, when Yorkshire sows were crossed with a Holstein Friesian cow using artificial insemination.18 These examples may not have had any long lasting effects over the outcome of the Great Leap, but reflect the mind frame of the people at the time. The consequences were much more serious however, when the people were convinced by the state and perhaps, by themselves even, that there were huge grain surpluses. Mao encouraged peasants to eat all they wanted, and Deng Xiaoping confirmed that "we can all have as much as we want".19 Of course, the quotes were fabrications in order to please Mao, and food that was supposed to last six months was consumed in six weeks. The 'logic' that underpinned the incredible agricultural and breeding accomplishments lay in the work of a Russian pseudo-scientist called Lysenko. He was praised by Pravda in 1927 as a 'barefoot scientist', and went on to make ridiculous, yet trusted discoveries.20 Mao, an ignorant in agricultural techniques, read Lysenko's work and issued statements instructing the communes to follow "Lysenko's Eight-Point Plan".21 Once again, Mao was demonstrating his willingness to copy Russia's policies and use their economic strategies as models for China. ...read more.


The cult of Mao was significant because it was made possible through a series of complicated turn of events and patterns in history. Arguably, it could be pinpointed to the Chinese culture, ever suspicious of external forces (as they are later compared to their Japanese neighbors, who in contrast, flourished through Western involvement), mostly uneducated and still gripped by the optimism of revolution. From an outsider's point of view, the Chinese seemed ignorant, ready to believe anything that Mao told them, even to the point where they might have convinced themselves of their own lies and fabrications. However, this is what made the Great Leap unique and catastrophic - "the essence was the breakneck speed generated by ideology and mass mobilization".32 Mao's role in the disaster must not be underestimated though. The crucial factor that sealed the fate of the 30 million plus who starved to death was Mao's interpretation of the events from the perspective of late 1957 and early 1958. His consistent refusal to acknowledge the famine raises questions surrounding the actual control Mao had over the policies of the Great Leap Forward. It is possible that he was simply reaction to crisis after crisis, intent on satisfying his own personal agenda to remain in total and complete power. For this, he was willing to sacrifice the lives of many. In themselves, the policies were not bad. However, when surrounded by the bureaucratic tensions where key officials were denied the "right to speak", what resulted cannot be viewed as anything else but a man-made disaster. Within a cloak of fear and oppression Mao's Great Leap emerged, but like castles built on sand it too would crumble, but with devastating consequences. ...read more.

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