How far were Maos agricultural policies responsible for the scale of the Great Famine in China, 1958-1962?

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Tiffy Ching


How far were Mao’s agricultural policies responsible for the scale of the Great Famine in China, 1958-1962?

Mao’s agricultural policies were extreme, unpopular and carelessly thought through which made them largely responsible for the scale of the Great Famine. These policies included bad agronomical theories of Lysenkoism and ‘Sparrowcide’, as well as Collectivisation and the agricultural policies from the Great Leap Forward. Chinese researchers were told that the Soviets ‘had discovered and invented everything,’ which meant that they looked up to the USSR believing that their actions and ideas i.e. Lysenkoism, a Soviet theory, would also benefit China. There were also other contributions which can be argued to have caused the huge scale of the famine such as the effects of the Anti-rightist campaigns in 1957, Party corruption, USSR grain repayments along with terrible weather conditions and the situation in Tibet.

Collectivisation from 1953-57, was the first agricultural policy taken on by Mao which was unsupported by the peasants in the countryside who were the majority of the population. The whole aim for Collectivisation was to massively increase grain production at a relatively quick pace, but the difficulties of implementation only led to a 3.8% increase overall of crop production, and only a tiny 1% in the last year in 1957. These disappointing figures represent how Mao failed to understand the peasants which were a vital factor towards why millions were unwilling to cultivate land. This is because peasants were no longer allowed to farm for themselves as the grain produced went to the State instead, to feed the cities, leaving many to starve. This caused an increased atmosphere of discontent among the peasants and this is unsurprising when historians such as Jon Halliday suggest that the living standards of the peasants did not improve, but instead caused severe hardship for them. Due to the failure of the policy, more radical changes needed to take place which occurred in Mao’s more ambitious plan of the Great Leap Forward.

 The Great Leap Forward, introduced in May 1958, caused a significant decrease in grain production overall which had detrimental effects on society and welfare. Mao believed that the people of China were willing to work on an ideological basis, meaning that they were self-motivated without the need for incentives to work. He thought that propaganda was sufficient enough to encourage the peasants to work long hours and to ‘maintain their enthusiasm’ but his overestimation led to a decrease in production instead. For example, 200 millions of tonnes of grain were produced in 1958 but by the end of the plans in 1962 only 160 millions of tonnes were produced. Millions of peasants in the countryside were starving as the grain they cultivated was being taken away, leaving them with very little or no grain to feed from. Peasant life in the countryside was further worsened when families were broken up under the policy, which was Mao’s intention. Tools including those for farming, were also being melted in ‘Backyard Furnaces’ an industrial policy simultaneously occurring with agricultural production under Mao’s slogan of “Walking on two legs.” However, this dual focus meant harvests were not being tended, leaving crops to rot in the fields as workers felt the need to produce steel at the same time. The high targets and long hours of work only produced poor quality production, which left a strong sense of a lack of motivation among the peasants, especially when there was so little food to eat. Furthermore, the Great Leap Forward’s aim of creating a self-sufficient China could not have been done at a worse time when the scale of the Great Famine had become to hit, meaning that self-sufficiency was no longer a realistic target to aim for, especially when Mao was importing food from abroad. The bad outlook of the Great Leap Forward was emphasised under bad agronomical theories which resulted in major crop failure.

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 Since 1949, USSR influence was great in China which led Mao to the bad decision of adopting the fraudulent theory of Lysenkoism in 1958, hoping that it would massively increase China’s crop production on a revolutionary scale. When it was applied however, the consequences were very grave because the crops did not successfully grow, meaning the theory failed to live up to its extraordinary claims, even in the best weather conditions. To highlight the extent of the matter, the policy was implemented everywhere, which underlines the devastating effects this had on the peasants and workers. It also demonstrates Mao’s ...

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This is an excellent response that displays good knowledge, bold analysis and a clear understanding of the question. There are occasional grammatical errors but these do little to distract from the overall quality of response. 5 Stars.