Monday, 1 March 2010

China’s Great Leap Forward

You would make the People’s Republic of China great. Your campaign would transform the vast population of farmers into an industrialised country.

The pressure of numbers on the land was not a new problem. Past leaders had increased food production by cutting down forests, and later by introducing New World crops like corn which would grow on marginal lands. Now there was no more new land to use. New ideas were needed to feed the growing population.

If you controlled agriculture you could establish a monopoly over grain production. You could export it and raise capital to industrialise and pay off your country’s debts. You held meetings to force the peasants to give their land to the government. The grain stores filled and your officials announced bumper harvests, ignoring the widespread famine they were causing. If quotas dropped, you punished the desperate, starving villagers.

‘Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward is the way to the future,’ you told them. ‘Loyalty is essential.’ Those who spoke out were purged. Half a million disappeared in your Anti-Rightist Campaign.

You caused the worst famine ever recorded. Thirty million died. In 1959 you stepped down, feeling you had become a ‘dead ancestor’ still respected, but no longer consulted in matters of state.