The Great Leap Forward in China (1958): Chairman Mao's Catastrophe

Karl, Rebecca E.

Publisher:  Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres
Year Published:  2010  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21264

In 1958, Chairman Mao Zedong made a promise that Chinese steel production would soon surpass that of Great Britain and America. It was known as "The Great Leap Forward," and the massive focus on steel had catastrophic consequences as it diverted labour and millions died of starvation.



Mao's rash promise that China's steel production would surpass England's within fifteen years and overtake America's in thirty had led to some strange developments. At a trivial level, many children born in 1958 and 1959 were named 'Chaoying' ('Surpass England') or 'Chaomei' ('Overtake America'). When the Great Leap was repudiated many years later, a number of this demographic cohort felt compelled to change their now embarrassing names. At a much more serious level, backyard furnaces were encouraged so that each family and locality could contribute to the overall targets in steel production. This was a waste of time, labor, and resources. Scarce fuel was burned to keep the furnaces going; household implements were melted down for their trivial amounts of iron ore; and labor better used for the harvest of bumper crops was eaten up by these schemes. And, the steel ingots produced in these furnaces were useless.But for Mao, backyard furnaces showed mass enthusiasm, mass creativity, and mass participation in economic development. Rather than dampen this mass movement, Mao encouraged it. ...

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