The Great Leap Forward

exhibit section showing artifacts and photos

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Artifacts on loan, courtesy of:
News Release (copy)
- from the Republican National Committee regarding Red China, 1961
--Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, Yorba Linda, California
National Security Action Memo (copy) - regarding status of Chinese attack on India, 1963
National Security Action Memo (copy) - regarding the landing of Mercury 9 near Communist China, 1964
--John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts

 

Mao's constant tinkering with the Chinese economy led to the disastrous "Great Leap Forward" campaign that pushed production toward "greater-faster-better-cheaper." It ultimately led to the exhaustion of the Chinese people, as well as an economic collapse so great that Mao was forced to accept the blame and step aside. Deng Xiaoping would lead China on the road to recovery. Mao was down, but not out.

In order to stimulate China's development, Mao launched the "Great Leap Forward" in 1958. Efficiency was thrust upon the people by organizing them into self-sufficient communities of 20-30,000 people who supported their own farms, industry, and markets. Everyone worked together in around-the-clock shifts, ate together in communal kitchens, and raised children together in communal schools.

But the "Great Leap Forward" was a complete failure. Poor harvests contributed to the starvation of an estimated 20 million people. The communes produced poor-quality goods, mismanaged industrial plants, and undermined the structure of Chinese families.

The political consequences were considerable. China's deterioration could not be hidden from Soviet Premier Khrushchev, who visited in 1959, and a rift grew between the two Communist giants. The Soviets suspended aid to China, which was devastating to the development of industrial and nuclear technology. Mao accepted the blame and gave up his leadership role, allowing the rise of moderate leader Deng Xiaoping.

Deng loosened communal restrictions, dropped unrealistic production quotas, and suspended the propaganda campaigns. China was on its way to recovery.

Meanwhile, Mao had withdrawn to Shanghai where he plotted his return to power. By 1965 Mao had gradually regained control of the Party with the help of a revolutionary group dubbed "the Gang of Four," led by his fourth wife, Jiang Qing. She was power-hungry, but nobody would become as powerful as Mao.


   


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