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Was the 'Great Leap Forward' China's Failure to Comprehend Stalinism

MG is a keen political observer and commentator who has a ringside seat to the turbulent years of the present political scenario


The beginning

Mao Tse Tung was one of the revolutionary leaders of China. Time magazine in one of its issues after the visit of Richard Nixon to pay obeisance to Mao mentioned that he was one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century. Mao seized power in 1949
by ousting the US Supported dictator Chiang Kai Shek, in a bloody civil war.

One facet of Mao’s character must be understood that right from 1927, he had been perpetually waging some form of war through out. Only during the war years, he turned his attention to the occupying Japanese imperial army, In all other cases, his fight was against either opposition leaders or warlords. Thus his mind was conditioned by a desire to see that a state of ferment remained constantly around him. He perhaps felt constrained in a peaceful environment.

Part of his psyche can be seen that just after gaining power in 1949 he engaged the US and its allies in Korea in a war that cannot be termed a success. He also talked of exporting the world revolution. In 1949 he accepted Stalin, the Russian dictator as the senior leader, but after his death in 1953, he assumed that the mantle of leadership of the communist world would descend on him. When this did not happen he thought of ways to assert his authority so that the communist recognized him as the Communist messiah.

He occupied Tibet and waged a border war with India in 1962 and supported Castro at about the same time during the Cuban missile crisis.

At home, Mao enforced Stalinist concepts in agriculture and industry and he talked of the great leap forward. His concepts dictated by decades of a society always in ferment played a part in his campaign of the great leap forward. Part of this concept of the great leap forward was his twin campaigns of letting a hundred flowers bloom and the infamous Cultural Revolution. By these two campaigns, he hoped to keep the Chinese society in a state of ferment for ever and have an ongoing revolution that would propel China to a place in the Sun.

History records that both the campaigns of Mao the Cultural Revolution and 100 flowers bloom, Mao failed miserably.


Mao's frosted vision

History records that both the campaigns of Mao the 'Cultural Revolution' and the 'hundred flowers bloom' brought untold hardship to the common man. The policy of a hundred flowers was abandoned forthwith after Mao gauged the mood of his opponents, of whom many were arrested and sent to labor camps for
rehabilitation. By launching this campaign of 100 flowers, Mao furthered his iron grip over China and Chinese society. In this, he was able to purge any challenges to his power and dissidents were all eliminated.

The great leap forward was Mao’s attempt to bypass the historical concept of industrialization and development by keeping society in ferment as well. He assumed that a perpetual revolution was a necessity in the development of China. In this his mind conditioned by decades of war and turmoil made him believe in quick solutions, irrespective of the hardship it could cause to the people. In this, he showed a remarkable desensitized mind that was oblivious to the suffering of the common Chinese.

He started the collectivization of farms, abolished land ownership. The result was disastrous and famine stalked the land as Agriculture production fell to its nadir.

He also decided that China needs more iron and thus enforced a hair-brained scheme where he ordered all peasant houses to be converted to smelters for pig iron. This was against all canons of economic development and was different from anything Stalin had attempted. He hoped by his action that the world would recognize
him as the greatest Chinese after Kublai Khan. But he erred grievously in understanding Stalin’s concept of five-year development plans and a planned economy and the result was disastrous with over 30 million deaths recorded. To worsen matters the period was marked by famine and natural calamities, that had not been catered for.

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Mao perhaps had no qualms about the deaths conditioned as he mentally was of a society in ferment and a perpetual revolution. The Cultural Revolution was one such prop to keep society in ferment.
Nobody was to feel secure and even men of standing were hauled up for ‘correction’ campaigns. The Cultural Revolution and the formation of the Red Guards brigades were thus Mao’s attempt to keep society in ferment. But he forgot a cardinal principle that society cannot be kept in ferment and would unleash forces that would devour an entire generation. Thus the results were disastrous and nearly 30 million Chinese died. Perhaps Mao grievously miscalculated the forces he unleashed that devoured an entire generation.
Reports that trickled into the outside world from the bamboo curtain created a dismal picture of starvation, concentration or rehabilitation camps, famine, denunciations, and death. Leaving Mao unperturbed about all these. Nobody has been able to justify this aspect of Mao’s character. He took death as a part of the scenario, conditioned as he was by decades of war and its consequences. He failed to understand that Stalin enforced an iron will but brought stability. Mao did nothing like that he enforced an iron will all right, but unleashed forces of violence that ate up an entire generation.
Mao will thus be dammed in History for the later part of his career. His earlier achievements of ushering in a mass uprising pale into insignificance with the monstrosity of his crimes that he inflicted on the Chinese people.
Towards the end of his life, Mao perhaps realized the futility of what he had tried to achieve. His plan of a society in perpetual ferment and conflict towards progress was wrong. You cannot enforce anything and the results even by Chinese estimates are disastrous.

Mao is however towering figure as far as China is concerned, but the last phase of his life wherein he unleashed forces that went out of control will indict him as a man who was a megalomaniac in a way and perhaps more in the genre of Hitler.

Last word

All this is old news now but credit must go to the Chinese leadership led by chairman Deng who completely reversed Mao's theories and laid the foundation of what China is today; a challenge to the United States.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 20, 2021:

Pamela, thank you, you make very intelligent comments that show your wide knowledge, I hope Biden can handle China.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 20, 2021:

This is a very interesting article about history where Mao is concerned, MG. He sure was a horrible leader. I do think China is a big threat to the US, and I wonder what the next few years will reveal.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 20, 2021:

Thank you John for the nice comment. I have already commented in various articles that Nehru came second to Mao in strategy and planning. Actually the bigger mistake he committed was in 1949 when he allowed Mao to invade and capture Tibet. After that it was the downhill for India and Nehru.

Lt Col John Sebastion on January 20, 2021:

Hi MG, this is a nice article but I have some differences with you particularly with your appreciation of Mao. He was probably a butcher but at that critical moment when the Americans are breathing down the neck of China Inn 50s he kept the Chinese together and also faced up to the Americans in Korea. He also made a fool of Nehru who was talking all nonsense with regard to China and it was rude shock to him when entire Aksai Chin was taken over by China by default than anything else. Even Modi has been committing the same mistake with China by meeting the Chinese president 19 times I do not know what he are doing in those meetings. I however do agree and appreciate that your assessment of Mao may be correct but he remains a towering figure in Asian history much ahead of our own leader Jawharlal Nehru.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 20, 2021:

Yes, Thanks Tom, Mao was not a great man but sadly his body is still embalmed and kept for god knows what. His so called good work is a historical lie. He however outsmarted Nehru, who could never know what `China was planning. In 1971 The Russian pressure did have an effect, but Indian folly cost us defeat in 1962. That why I write Nehru had no idea of strategy. Millions died in China because of him , yet his spirit must be laughing as millions Q up to pay homage to him in Beijing.

tom on January 20, 2021:

mao was peoples emperor ,sex maniac ,his doctor wrote the book the secret life of chairman mao,womaniser,10 million died in great leap forward,to divert attention he attacked india,cultural revolution a lunder,1979 deng saved china by liberalisation,li zhisui wrote secret life of chairman mao,mao defeated nehru,ungrateful for indian medical mission,dr kotnis,he feared russian invasion,border clashes with russia,war monger ,chinese civil war,korean war,1962 war,he was not great ,his fourth wife ruined china,1971 war winter prevented chinese intervention,ussr would have attackerd sinkiang

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