Essay on the Evolution of the Political System in China Using the Great Leap Forward Campaign as an Example

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Table of contents

  1. Nutritional Deprivation
  2. Decline in Birth Rate
  3. Role of Political Forces
  4. Economic Organization - Introduction of Collectivization
  5. Industrialization
  6. Commune System
  7. Over Production and Poor Quality
  8. Treatment of Villagers
  9. Conclusion

The Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) campaign was launched to transform the agrarian economy of Republic of China into socialistic economy with an aim to bring rapid growth but, in contrary resulted in famine and disaster. It was introduced by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the chairmanship of Mao Zedong. In an attempt to surpass the Soviet Union and the United States the China’s economy ended up with great recession and political struggle (Jung and Cheng, 2019). It plagued the whole economy starting as an economic revolution but, eventually evolved into cultural evolution. This essay is a detailed discussion supporting my argument that the Great Leap Forward was a total failure and the repercussions of the failed policies were faced by generations to come. The researched articles referred from the library support the claim on my statement. Various claims are discussed in detail under the following headings.

Nutritional Deprivation

The horrific magnitude of the nutritional deprivation was widespread. Though history reveals that the peasants were fed to eat as much as five meals a day under the leadership of Mao Zedong. But the feast turned into a famine. Surprisingly, the extent of famine was so massive that by the year 1960 masses of China were feeding their hunger pangs by eating anything to keep themselves alive like, chaff, grass, tree leaves, bark and roots, and wild plants. Nutritional disorders became a cause to trigger various life-threatening diseases and disorders like night blindness, rickets, beriberi, diarrhea and a shameful act of cannibalism. The amount of devastation was huge that the villages were dead with dead corpses lying on the roadside with no companions to bury the dead (Jowett, 1990). A survival strategy called Chi Qing was adopted by the villagers during the worst years of the famine. In this survival strategy the villagers ate the raw wheat crop in the fields as a survival against famine and hunger (Thaxton, 2008). Though the weather during the Great Leap Forward era in 1958 promised a good harvest but, the deviation of the labor from the agriculture to iron and construction industry left the harvest unattended. In spite of good harvest, it rotted as it was not collected in time. But, due to governmental pressure inflated and false figures of the production were reported. It was testified from different sources that famine was a result of conscious negligence and Mao’s stubbornness to maintain high export quota of food grains. The breakdown in the agricultural reporting system under the Mao’s political leadership was greatly responsible for food shortages in addition to natural disasters like flood, drought, plant disease and other such natural calamities.

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Decline in Birth Rate

The famine and malnutrition occurred due to the failed policies of Mao Zedong. As a consequence, the infant mortality soared high due to increased malnutrition leading to epidemic spread of diseases (Jowett, 1990). And, there was a significant decline in the birth rate with decrease in the population. The current estimates advise was that by 1960 infant mortality gave rise to almost 300 deaths per 1000 live births with the decline in fertility rate. Additionally, the life expectancy at birth seemed to have taken a toll to getting halved. Few decades later the reasons behind the failed policies that converted the feast to famine were investigated. And, it was incurred that the food grain production was reduced due to the mismanaged Great Leap Forward strategy. In order to avoid the over production of the grains there was way less production. The land sown with food grains showed a decline by over 20 million hectares. As the disaster was nationwide thus, it was not a result of weather failures but due to failed policies. A research by Song (2007) concluded that starvation or malnutrition directly impacted the short-term famine.

Role of Political Forces

During the Great Leap Forward era, the political strings were held by the Party General Secretary Deng Xiaoping who headed the Central Secretariat. Upon the orders of Mao, the Central Secretariat was empowered with all the powers relating to economic management. Thus, Deng was the prime person responsible for directing the central secretariat in framing policies based on the crazy vision of Mao. The five major groups relating to framing policies in the field of science, economy and finance, political, foreign affairs, culture and education were planned and implemented under the direction of Deng. Mao applauded Deng’s Central Secretariat efficiency and effectiveness and in return Deng was always a strong supporter of the rash and aggressive policies introduced by Mao (Chung, 2013). Though Mao firmly controlled the campaign of the Great Leap Forward but, the reins of real control were in the hands of Deng. Mao had duly assigned the economic affairs to Deng and had full faith in his abilities. Deng in return felt obliged to return the favor of faith in his abilities and thus, was a great supporter of Mao’s principles. The political system during the Great Leap Forward era was that of totalitarianism which was evident from diverting the agrarian workers towards production of steel and iron. Though the political officials were aware that majority of the framed policies were leading to starvation and finally death but, still no action was taken to bring any modifications. The humanity was dead in the mindset of the political officials. They intentionally let the people die due to starvation so that the food is saved. And, the survived can get to eat. As the main motive was to export the grains by depriving the common masses. Also, the peasants were confined to their villages only. They were not allowed to leave their starving villages as the households were registered. Also, the reluctance of government to take the international aid, strained international relations and discrepancies in the internal records were other major flaws of the government that resulted in disaster. Being a tremendously huge country, the fallacies had a greater impact with greater horrified implications at a vast scale. Shameless flattery of the government officials was another survival tip that was a known fact amongst the common masses.

Economic Organization - Introduction of Collectivization

Mao’s overly ambitious attitude was primarily the cause behind the total failure of his Great Leap Forward program. He forced collectivization which showed an astonishing effect. The peasants showed a great enthusiasm and at a very fast pace the majority of the agricultural households took the form of collectives. Collectivization is defined as forced merging of sole households into collective farms or in simple words, co-operative run farms. Mao’s aggressiveness to launch the great leap forward program was very strong. He introduced two major campaigns, namely ‘Anti-Rightist Campaign’ and ‘Socialist Education Campaign’, to suppress the ones who opposed (Zhou, 2012). As the collectivization was forced hastily, it turned to be total failure. Long – term implications of the forced changes were ignored. There was improper planning and mismanagement along with the rigidity of the imposed collectivization (Diamond, 1985).


In an attempt to speed up the growth the agrarian economy was compelled to get converted in industrial economy. To support the Great Leap Forward program the monumental and gigantic statues were built in Beijing around the Tiananmen Square. The process of building the same was unbelievably very fast. The massive projects like constructing people’s hall, railway station was erected with the blink of an eye. The Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961 intended to transform the agrarian economy into an industrialization (Wang et. al., 2013). Millions of the peasants became the state workers and were added to state payrolls. It showed the swelled wage bill with loss in co-ordination and material shortages. Thus, in reality it turned out to be total failure resulting in mass starvation and devastation. Lack of skilled labor and inability to see the harsh consequences of indulging in the unknown fields of production like iron and steel also left the country in reckless state.

Commune System

Mao was a strong believer of commune system and initiated taking away the private ownership from the individuals and creating a practice to altruism and selflessness. He was overly ambitious to prove the skills of the Chinese community to the whole world. As a result, the private ownership was taken away from more than one billion of small peasants to organize new social system, the commune (Chang, 2019). The peasant’s life was ruined at a basic level as they were not able to secure food due to their inability to rent, sell or keep their lean as collateral for loans. This was due the after effects of the commune system. Eventually, the improvised state of the peasants was beyond control leading to other multiple issues like famine and malnutrition.

Over Production and Poor Quality

To compete with the developed nations in a very short span of time Mao got overly pushy to make things happen overnight. The peasants were instructed to plough the land four feet deeper and plant three times more seedlings over the same area of land to get higher production. Similarly, all the common masses were asked to join hands together to form the production teams to produce iron and steel with an emphasis of increasing the production by 300 times (Chong, 2019). The masses were highly motivated to work over the clock so as to prove their mettle of progressing ahead of the Soviet Union. The end results were devastating as due to deep plowing and inaccurate irrigation methods, the farmland production was ruined. Additionally, the quality of the iron produced was of very low quality. Thought the quality was production was poorly managed but it did not stop due to the false pride to keep the high production. The commune officials inflated the production statistics which stimulated setting higher production quotas and false playing of statistics. The communist party officials considered the leadership of their party for the crisis and emphasized the role of education and acquiring technical expertise to attain the heights in development of the country as a whole.

Treatment of Villagers

It was also confirmed that as the villagers were forced in to the commune system and the ones who opposed were violently beaten to death. Thus, starvation was not only the reason for the deaths. Millions of the villagers were tortured and forced to commit the suicide. The military tortured the people were beaten if they rebelled against the guidelines of the government like, reporting the incorrect number of the harvest, begging food, or if they tried to go away from a famine-stricken area. The brutality of the government on the common masses brought sadness and pain. Compulsive collectivization and political indoctrination taught various survival techniques amongst the common masses. Various beliefs and practices including the institution of religion was a source of hope and healing by majority of the grief- and poverty-stricken peasants (Xun, 2012).


Overall, the Great Leap Forward was a huge disaster. It had massive repercussions as discussed in this essay and took five years for the China’s economy to restore back. In strive to excel in less time with impractical vision to compete with the developed nations like Soviet Union and United States, blindfolded the leaders who could not visualize the worst that was being followed. He (2014) in his research concluded that the Great Leap Forward (1958–61) program was conducted on experimental mode to that aimed at altruism by removing the private property rights and achieve faster industrial growth with central planning under the abled leadership of Mao, Deng and their associates. But it resulted in famine, starvation, widespread of diseases, death and total disaster impacting the masses countrywide. The common masses were forced, suppressed and deprived of their basic necessities of living. In nutshell, it is saddening to see that how the wrong policies under the supervision of highly motivated leaders like Mao and Deng could not bring the change as desired. But the world witnessed that after the lessons were learned and reforms were made thereafter to bring China back to the path of development.

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Essay on the Evolution of the Political System in China Using the Great Leap Forward Campaign as an Example. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
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