Mao’s Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward was a disastrous attempt in 1958 by Mao Zedong to rapidly industrialize China. He banned all private holdings and created communes where peasants who no longer owned their own land would live together in a field and would be forced to work steel instead of farming. Each farm would be given a steel furnace and often every peasant in the commune was forced to work long hours. Mao also tried to improve farming through a number of misguided techniques set forth by Trofim Lysenko. The techniques decreased grain production but local leaders were under so much pressure that they actually falsely reported large increases in grain production in order to please their superiors. Unfortunately, these numbers were used to determine how much grain was sent to the capital to be used for export, the false numbers meant little if any grain was left to feed the peasants.
These and other polices of the Great Leap Forward are believed to be responsible for the Chinese Famine which resulted in the deaths of millions of Chinese. 30 to 40% of all houses were also destroyed as part of the Great Leap Forward as the materials were needed for their efforts to industrialize. Even as Mao knew his people were starving, he continued to export grain in order to save face and some even claim he knew millions would die through his program but he thought it was a worthwhile sacrifice. The economy also failed as the period of the Great Leap (1958 – 1961) was the only time between 1953 and 1973 that the economy regressed. Officials who had lied about harvests were publicly executed and Mao took a backseat to government affairs for several years. Liu Shaoqi said in 1962 that 30% of the economic crisis and famine was the result of nature and 70% human error.