1. A Modernization Plan That Backfired and Killed Tens of Millions
Mao and his followers sought to revolutionize China’s countryside, where most of the population toiled as peasants. So they prohibited private farms, and ordered mandatory agricultural collectivization. Private farm plots were combined into big fields that belonged to the entire community. The theory was that economies of scale would come into play, and the big collectivized fields would prove more efficient and productive than the small plots. However, poor planning led to poor implementation of collectivization, and the yield of the big fields turned out to be less than that of the private plots.
Additionally, the Great Leap Forward emphasized ideological purity and fervor, rather than competence. So collectivization was led by enthusiastic and zealous overseers, instead of capable and competent managers. A series of natural disasters from 1959 to 1961 made things worse. The result was history’s greatest manmade disaster. By 1960, it was obvious that the plan for the Great Leap Forward had not been well thought out, but by then it was too late. The diversion of labor from farms to ill-advised industries such as backyard furnaces, plus the disruptions of collectivization, combined to produce a catastrophe. Between 1959 to 1962, up to 55 million Chinese starved to death or otherwise perished because of the screw-ups caused by the Great Leap Forward.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading