Main Mao's Crusade: Politics and Policy Implementation in China's Great Leap Forward

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Chan's exhaustive research, using new material made available in the post-Mao era as well as archives from the 1950s and 1960s, has yielded novel insights into Mao, central decision-making, and policy implementation in the communist hierarchy.
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Studies on Contemporary China
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Studies on Contemporary China
The Contemporary China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies
(University of London) has, since its establishment in 1968, been an international
centre for research and publications on twentieth-century China. Studies on Contemporary China, which is edited at the Institute, seeks to maintain and extend that
tradition by making available the best work of scholars and China specialists
throughout the world. It embraces a wide variety of subjects relating to Nationalist
and Communist China, including social, political, and economic change, intellectual
and cultural developments, foreign relations, and national security.

Series Editor
Dr Frank DikoÈtter, Director of the Contemporary China Institute

Editorial Advisory Board
Professor Robert F. Ash
Professor Hugh D. R. Baker
Professor Elisabeth J. Croll
Dr Richard Louis Edmonds
Mr Brian G. Hook
Professor Christopher B. Howe

Professor Bonnie S. McDougall
Professor David Shambaugh
Dr Julia C. Strauss
Dr Jonathan Unger
Professor Lynn T. White III

Mao's Crusade
Politics and Policy Implementation in
China's Great Leap Forward




Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP
Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.
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with associated companies in Berlin Ibadan
Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press
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Published in the United States
by Oxford University Press Inc., New York
# Alfred L. Chan, 2001
The moral rights of the author have been asserted
Database right Oxford University Press (maker)
First published 2001
All rights res; erved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
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without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press,
or as expressly permitted by law, or under terms agreed with the appropriate
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Oxford University Press, at the address above
You must not circulate this book in any other binding or cover
and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Data available
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Chan, Alfred L.
Mao's crusade : politics and policy implementation in China's great leap forward /
Alfred L. Chan.
p. cm.Ð(Studies on contemporary China)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. ChinaÐEconomic policyÐ1949±1976. 2. Guangdong Sheng (China)ÐEconomic
policy. I. Title. II. Studies on contemporary China (Oxford, England)
HC427.9 .C476 2001
338.951 0 009045Ðdc21
ISBN 0-19-924406-5
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Typeset by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd., Chennai, India
Printed in Great Britain on acid-free paper by
Biddles Ltd.,
Guildford & King's Lynn

To My Parents

Several childhood memories from growing up in Hong Kong have left deep
impressions on me. In the midst of the Great Leap Forward in 1960 I had the
opportunity to visit my aunt on my first trip to a `foreign' country---Xinhui County in
Guangdong province. I remember the unfamiliar currency, and the fact that my aunt
had to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to queue up for a roast duck in order to
serve her guests a superb dinner. I also remember her telling us that all window
frames and even the loose screws in her sewing machine were requisitioned for the
iron and steel campaign.
Back home in Hong Kong, my amah often posted parcels (wrapped in hand towels
that were sewn together so that they could be reused) of food to the mainland,
complaining all the time about the cost of the postage and the custom duty. Cooked
rice that had been sun-dried was the staple because it weighed less. She would
complain that chickens imported from China were no good, because they were all
skin and bone. On the buses to school, the police would board occasionally to check
for illegal migrants; several times people were led away, because the way they
looked and dressed made them stand out. Indeed, at that time, I had little awareness
of the fact that China was in the grip of the worst famine and devastation of the
twentieth century during which millions perished.
The Great Leap Forward was a personal crusade of the flamboyant Mao
Zedong, who had single-handedly cajoled, pushed, and browbeaten his colleagues,
the more cautious planners, into the colossal economic and social experiment.
Mao's irrationality, wishful thinking, and delusion of grandeur soon became
infectious. The entire country was embarked on a massive and frenzied drive for
industrialization and radical changes. Yet, as the characters in Marcel Pagnol's
novels (an excerpt from the adapted screenplay is quoted below) indicate, extreme
voluntarism and the misguided faith in human will-power are not unique to Mao
and the Chinese. As political scientists have noted, decision-makers of both the
rich and poor countries can be afflicted by the `pathology' of decision-making--cognitive distortions, irrational consistency, `groupthink', goal displacement, and
wishful thinking. The difference is a matter of degree. Leaderships in poor countries are particularly susceptible to some kinds of grand `transformative' visions
that promise radical and rapid improvement of the livelihood of the population,
given the immensity and urgency of the problems of economic backwardness
and deprivation, and the need to legitimize the new regime. Yet, while misguided
policies in a rich country may create costly white elephants, similar policy mistakes in poor countries may spell calamity for the entire population, because
poor countries are much less able to cushion losses and spread risks. The disastrous consequences of the Great Leap Forward are a grave testimony to
this fact.



A book that has taken so long to complete incurs many debts over the years, but it
is a pleasure for me to acknowledge them. I am most grateful to three anonymous
referees for advice and the encouragement to rethink the issues. One referee, in
particular, provided detailed bibliographical guidance indispensable for the deepening of the analysis and for the completion of the book.
Research for the book has taken me to a number of libraries and the librarians'
help has been invaluable. Nancy Hearst, the ever-resourceful and knowledgeable
librarian at the Fairbank Center, Harvard University, provided assistance far beyond
the call of duty to make my many stays at Cambridge a most pleasant experience.
Jean Hung of the Universities Service Centre was always gracious and unwavering
in her help. Anna U, Director of the East Asian Library, University of Toronto, has
often been supportive. She also put together a grant that enabled me to purchase
provincial newspapers on microfilm for my research. At the same university, the
staff at the interlibrary loans department, Jane Lynch in particular, have been tireless
and efficient in responding to my incessant requests for interlibrary loans. The
librarians at the Hoover Institution (Stanford University), the School of Oriental and
African Studies, UCLA, University of Chicago, Oriental Manuscripts Room (British
Library), and the C. V. Starr East Asian Library (Columbia University), have made
my sojourns there fruitful and enjoyable. I thank them all.
To my former teachers---Stuart Schram who got me interested in Mao and the
Great Leap Forward, and Victor Falkenheim who inspired me in provincial politics--I owe a special debt of gratitude. I would like to thank my friends Ma Shu Yun, Kam
Wing Chan, Kai Yuen Tsui, Lo Shiu Hing, Kevin Kelleher, Gregory Alexander, and
Lesley Towers for their support and encouragement. Susanna Cheng and Richard
Wang helped me to secure materials from China, and for this I am grateful. I am also
thankful to my colleagues at Huron University College, Laura Wu, Jim Crimmins,
Paul Nesbitt-Larkin, Neil Bradford, and David Blair for support and encouragement.
At the University of Toronto the help from Don Schwartz, H. Gordon Skilling, the
late Robert Fenn, and Michael Donnelly, are appreciated. I am thankful to Michael
Frolic, David Zweig, and Michel Oksenberg for their interest at the various stages of
research and writing of the book. Family friends who have shown keen interest in
my project and provided companionship were Fanny Kato (and the late Nedda and
Tristan Kato), and for this I am grateful.
At OUP, Rebecca Bryant ensured the expeditious processing of the manuscript,
and John Callow did a splendid job of copy editing the manuscript with patience
and care. Thanks are due to Don Hickerson, who applied his editorial skills and
thoughtfulness to improve the flow of the presentation. Over the years, three
Directors of the Contemporary China Institute have shown interest and support for
the project. I would like to thank Richard Louis Edmonds and Robert Ash. Frank
DikoÈtter, in particular, has been most supportive and expeditious in handling the
Two fellowships from the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto,
a research grant from the York University--University of Toronto Joint Centre on
Modern Asia, and three travel grants from the Huron University College enabled me



to complete the research. Finally, my warm appreciation goes to Michael Farewell
for support, inspiration, encouragement, for reading several drafts of the book and
offering many suggestions. It goes without saying that I am alone responsible for all
errors in facts and interpretation in the text.
Alfred L. Chan
November 2000

List of Abbreviations


1. Introduction: The Great Leap Forward (1958--1960)


2. Central Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao


3. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural and Agricultural Policies in 1958


4. The Ministry of Metallurgy and the Policies of Industrial
Development in 1958


5. Agricultural and Rural Policies in Guangdong, 1958


6. Policies of Industrial Development in Guangdong, 1958


7. Conclusion: Policy-making in a Mao-dominated system







Agricultural Producers' Cooperative
Central Committee
Chinese Communist Party
County Party Committee
Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Fagui Huibian
(A compendium of laws and regulations
of the People's Republic of China)
Five-Year Plan
Great Leap Forward
Gross Value of Agricultural Output
Gross Value of Industrial Output
Ministry of Agriculture
Ministry of Metallurgy
Municipal Party Committee
Neibu Cankao (Internal Reference)
Nanfang Ribao (Southern Daily)
Nongye Jitihua Zhongyao Wenjian Huibian
(A collection of important documents on agricultural collectivization)
The Twelve-Year National Programme on Agricultural
Development, 1956--67
National People's Congress
Provincial Party Committee
Provincial People's Committee
Renmin Ribao (People's Daily)
Renmin Shouce (People's Handbook)
Rural Work Department
State Council
State Economic Commission
State Planning Commission
Xinhua Banyuekan (New China Semi-Monthly)

The spring winds blows amid profuse willow wands,
Six hundred million in this land all equal Yao and Shun,
Crimson rains swirls in waves under our will,
Green mountains turn to bridges at our wish.
Gleaming mattocks fall on the Five Ridges heaven-high;
Mighty arms move to rock the earth round the Triple River,
We ask the God of Plague: `Where are you bound?'
Paper barges aflame and candle-light illuminate the sky.
Mao Zedong, Farewell to the God of Plague (July 1958)
Jean: First, I'll plant some leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, chervil . . . That's an hour's work
per day.
Ugolin: A kitchen garden?
Jean: Precisely. Next, I'll plan some high yield crops, vital for large-scale rabbit breeding.
Ugolin: Large-scale? You mean big rabbits?
Aimee: What we mean is . . . hundreds of rabbits a month, if not thousands!
Jean: No, Amiee, we'll stay within reasonable limits. Bring me my manual. You've raised
rabbits, haven't you?
Ugolin: I've got 6, and my uncle has 30.
Jean: In spite of that . . . You probably don't realize, how prolific these rodents are.
Here, read this.
Ugolin: I can read, but I don't understand numbers!
Jean: Well, I do. It means with one pair of rabbits, a modern breeder can obtain within three
years . . . a monthly yield of 500 rabbits. But this expert warns that raising over 5,000 heads
becomes a public health hazard. With 1,000 males and 5,000 females, a breeder would be
overrun with 30,000 rabbits the first month, and 2 millions by the tenth month! A province
or even a whole country could be wiped out by famine!
Ugolin: Really?
Aimee: Tell him about Australia!
Dialogue from the motion picture Jean de Florette, based on Marcel Pagnol's two novels,
The Water of the Hills: Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springs, trans. W. Evan Heyningen
(Berkeley: North Point Press, 1988).

Introduction: The Great Leap
Forward (1958--1960)
During 1957 and 1958 Mao Zedong was seized by a vision that economic development in China could proceed rapidly in leaps and bounds by relying on improvisation and mass spontaneity, rather than moderately by the planned and gradual
way pursued during the First Five-Year Plan (1FYP, 1953--7). Mao singlehandedly
initiated the Great Leap Forward (GLF), pushing his views relentlessly, and his
changing ideas and preferences shaped the momentous events of 1958 to 1960.
Although Mao's initial goal of `overtaking Britain in fifteen years' (in total quantity of major industrial output, not per capita) was not entirely unrealistic, under
political pressure the internal timetable became progressively shortened finally into
only two years while numerous ambitious plans were continuously piled one onto
another. Mao was confident that rapid economic development and social progress
could be achieved by boosting production through mobilizing every Chinese to
transform the country. By harking back to the mobilizational and guerrilla techniques
of the revolutionary years, Mao thought he had discovered an original alternative to
the Soviet model that China had copied during the 1FYP. Since the Leap was to be
driven by the creative energies of the masses, technicians and specialists, including
the Soviet experts, were sidelined. To further encourage zest in the entire population,
the regime, for the first time, introduced a far-reaching administrative decentralization that challenged the centralist assumptions of the Soviet model.
As such, the GLF was a major watershed in the history of the People's Republic
of China. Yet, it was both tragic and ironic that the collective euphoria, whirlwind
development, and exhaustive mobilizational frenzy were largely responsible for
plunging the country into an economic disaster from which it did not recover until
1965. Fully eight years were wasted in terms of economic growth and the cost of lost
opportunity was enormous, considering that this major setback occurred when other
Asian economies were experiencing their economic take-offs. Agricultural production plummeted for several years after 1958. The tremendous emphasis on steel
production led to short-term surges in output (from 5.35m. tons in 1957 to 18.66m.
tons in 1960), but then was followed by a full decade of decline. Moreover, the
ubiquitous drive for steel was achieved at tremendous cost in terms of waste and
sectoral imbalances. Light industry was a major casualty, resulting in acute shortages of daily necessities. Productivity, national income, and wages all declined.
Budgetary deficits for the three years and the effort to cover them by printing more


Introduction: The Great Leap Forward

money led to inflationary pressure and high prices. A dramatic drop in living
standards, aggravated by three years of natural calamities, led to widespread famine,
starvation, demoralization, and suffering. The consequence was the most severe
catastrophe of the twentieth century, as an estimated 15 to 46 million people perished during 1958--61.1
Politically, the GLF split the top leadership of the Chinese Communist Party
(CCP), and the subsequent retrenchment from the GLF in the early 1960s was so
bitterly controversial that it laid the roots of the Cultural Revolution that engulfed
the country later on in the decade. In foreign relations, the Leap was among the
catalysts that touched off the Sino-Soviet schism and the pull-out of Soviet assistance and experts in 1960 that made the break-up irreversible.
Such a critical, complex, and intriguing episode in Chinese political history raises
important questions. Who or what was responsible for the GLF? What were the
circumstances that made the GLF possible? What was the nature of Chinese politics in the late 1950s? How did the CCP whip up such a national frenzy? What
was Mao's role in the campaign? Why did the GLF fail?
A pioneering study of Chinese politics before the `Cultural Revolution' by
Parris Chang has postulated that the decision-making process involved many
participants, each pursuing his own vested interest, and each controlling some
clout and resources. Disputes and dissension in the top leadership were common,
and when the Politburo was deadlocked, the top leadership moved to the Central
Committee for resolution. The bureaucracy did not always implement central
directives and decisions automatically---it would block and modify central directives in order to subvert central intentions. In Chang's view, Mao was powerful, but
his power was constrained and never absolute, as he was constantly being checked
by colleagues who could thwart his wishes. His ability to assert himself fluctuated,
and he did not always carry the day. To get his way or to overcome political constraints, he had to engage in `politicking' and alliance building, appeal for `outside'
help, and coopt provincial leaders.2 In retrospect, Chang has exaggerated the degree
and impact of top leaders' opposition to Mao, and his analysis of `Mao the constrained leader' and what he calls a `pluralistic' policy-making process can no longer
be adequately supported. Chang is right, however, to draw attention to the phenomenon of bureaucratic resistance (and one should add, citizen resistance) to the radical initiatives in the implementation process, but he does not sufficiently pursue it.
Among early studies of elite politics in the 1950s are Roderick MacFarquhar's
two volumes on the origins of the Cultural Revolution. In the first volume, which
For estimates of the death rate, see Basil Ashton, Kenneth Hill, Alan Piazza, and Robin Zeitz,
`Famine in China', Population and Development Review, 104 (December), 1984: 613--14; Jasper Becker,
Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine (London: John Murray, 1996); Dali L. Yang, Calamity and
Reform in China: State, Rural Society, and Institutional Change Since the Great Leap Famine (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1996), 37--8; Zhonggong Dangshi Yanjiu, 1997, 1--14; Thomas Bernstein,
`Stalinism, Famine, and Chinese Peasants: Grain Procurement during the Great Leap Forward', Theory
and Society (May), 1984.
Parris Chang, Power and Policy in China, 2nd and enlarged edn. (University Park: Pennsylvania
State University Press, 1978).

Introduction: The Great Leap Forward


focuses on the 1956 to 1957 period, MacFarquhar shares Chang's view that Mao was
merely primus inter pares in the top leadership. In his opinion, Mao did not demand
or command `unquestioning obedience', and in the debates in the Politburo he could
be defeated, ignored, and even humiliated. Other top leaders prevailed over Mao on
a range of issues including the running of the economy, treatment of intellectuals,
and Party rectification. In MacFarquhar's view, to overcome his `weakness', Mao
had to cultivate allies to push his cause.3
This picture of a Mao constantly being checked by his colleagues is no longer
consistent with the findings of more recent research, but in his second volume
devoted entirely to the GLF (1958--60), MacFarquhar is closer to the mark regarding
Mao's role in the policy process. His evaluation changes somewhat by placing Mao
in the centre of things, as the only one who could unite the leadership in launching
the GLF, like a sergeant major bawling commands to his squad. And Mao's doubts
about the more extreme aspects of the Leap later prompted a brief turnaround. Then
again, at Lushan, he rallied the leadership to denounce and isolate Peng Dehuai
solely for his critique of the Leap. The Leap was then revived, only to be abandoned
again soon after. Unfortunately, this study, which was based only on documentation
available in the 1980s, had of necessity to paint major events in broad strokes,
missing many telling subtleties. For instance, discussion of the policy-making
conferences of the Third Plenum, and at Hangzhou, Nanning, and Beidaihe, is
sketchy and often tentative, and Chen Yun is said to be taking a back seat in 1958.
These trail-blazing studies offer many insights and much thoughtful analysis, but
they have become seriously dated by a large outflow of new materials from China,
especially during the 1990s. These new materials have cleared up riddles, exposed
misconceptions, and filled in many lacunas. Many assumptions and assertions made
by the above authors can no longer hold water.4
More recently, an influential study by David Bachman tries to explain the origins
of the GLF by referring to an intense struggle between two so-called `grand coalitions' in Chinese politics, the `finance coalition' and the `planning and heavy
industry coalition'. The latter, which Bachman claims, favoured mobilization of
heavy industry at the expense of agriculture and light industry, gained the blessing of
Mao, and its institutional interests became the development strategy of the GLF.
Bachman argues that Mao, who was neither interested in nor knowledgeable about
economic affairs, did not invent the GLF---he simply coopted the policy package
most appealing to him.5 As such, bureaucratic interests and positions are said to be
primary in Chinese policy formulation.
The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, i. Contradictions Among the People, 1956--1957 (London:
Oxford University Press, 1974); The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, ii. The Great Leap Forward,
1958--1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).
MacFarquhar's latest contribution, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, iii. The Coming of the
Cataclysm, 1961--1966 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), which benefits from post-Mao material,
takes the story to the 1960s, and in a reconsideration of the GLF, Mao is portrayed less as a unifying
sovereign and more as a suspicious Olympian Jove ready to hurl thunderbolts at his colleagues.
David Bachman, Bureaucracy, Economy, and Leadership in China: The Institutional Origins of the
Great Leap Forward (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).


Introduction: The Great Leap Forward

This bold and innovative reinterpretation, unfortunately, is plagued by fundamental flaws in methodology and interpretation. No evidence exists to support that
these coalitions existed, or that they were engaged in life-and-death struggles with
one another. The reduction of Mao to a mere referee in the bureaucratic struggle is
inconsistent with the facts. Moreover, Bachman's analysis focuses on the period
from September 1956 to October 1957, arguing that the economic policies of the
GLF had already coalesced by the spring and summer of 1957. This leaves out
completely the direct and forceful intervention by Mao from the Third Plenum
(September--October 1957) onward, which in our view, is crucial for explaining the
GLF. The larger context or policy environment during the 1956--7 period was
fanmaojin (opposing rash advance), a concerted effort by planners such as Zhou
Enlai, Chen Yun, Bo Yibo, Li Fuchun, and Li Xiannian, to rein in the excesses of the
first leap forward of 1956. In the same period the planners also attempted to chart the
future of the country by drawing up the Second Five Year Plan (2FYP), 1958--62.
Inevitably, there were disagreements and even debates among the planners, and
competition and conflict among the bureaucratic actors. Yet, when Mao intervened
forcefully in late 1957 and in early 1958, applying closure to the discussion, and
taking over running the economy from the planners, he set in motion the forces that
led inexorably to the GLF. The major policy cleavage was between Mao and the
planners, not among the planners themselves. A clear advantage of Bachman's
analysis is to draw attention to the different shades of opinion between the planners
and the bureaucratic actors in 1956--7, but he ultimately fails to demonstrate that
policy formulation for the Leap was the outcome of bureaucratic rivalry and conflict.6 In fact, in a recent study on foreign policy, Bachman concedes that Mao was
the `undisputed leader' who `had the last word on all issues', and that the `pattern of
absolute Maoist dominance' is demonstrated by his single-handed decision to
overturn the Third Five-Year Plan in favour of building the Third Front.7
More recent researches by Frederick Teiwes and Warren Sun, aided by new
documentation, have reaffirmed convincingly the centrality of Mao's dominance in
post-1949 politics. Their penetrating analyses of the Gao Gang affair, agricultural
collectivization in the 1950s, and the Lin Biao affair, show that Mao's dominance of
the elite decision-making process was even more extreme than previously suggested. Politics under Mao, they argue, resembled `court politics', and Mao's
authority was unrivalled and unchallenged. On issues in which he was interested,
For detailed critiques of Bachman's book, see Frederick Teiwes and Warren Sun, China's Road to
Disaster: Mao, Central Politicians, and Provincial Leaders in the Unfolding of the Great Leap Forward,
1955--1959 (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1999); Alfred L. Chan, `Leaders, Coalition Politics, and Policy
Formulation in China: The Great Leap Forward Revisited', Journal of Contemporary China, 8 (Winter-Spring), 1995. Key archival sources readily available since the 1970s, such as the several volumes of
Mao's Mao Zedong Sixiang Wansui (Long live Mao Zedong's Thought) n.p. 1967a, 1967b, and 1969, had
already cast doubt on Bachman's thesis. Bachman's rebuttal is in, `Chinese Bureaucratic Politics and the
Origins of the Great Leap Forward', Journal of Contemporary China, 9 (Summer), 1995.
David Bachman, `Structure and Process in the Making of Chinese Foreign Policy', in Samuel Kim
(ed.), China and the World: Chinese Foreign Policy Faces the New Millennium (Boulder, Colo.:
Westview Press, 1998), 37, 44--5.

Introduction: The Great Leap Forward


he exerted the dominant influence. He always got his way if he so chose, and his
words had to be obeyed. Although Mao's colleagues did on occasion articulate
policy preferences and represent bureaucratic interests, they were more often passive and reactive to Mao's demands, and clearly secondary in affecting policy
formulation. This situation was aggravated as a result of the `Cultural Revolution'
when the imperatives of the cult of personality severely limited the policy options
that could be articulated, and politics degenerated into petty squabbles and palace
intrigues divorced from real policy contents.8
After long-standing neglect, the subject of the GLF is beginning to receive the
scholarly attention it deserves, especially with an outpouring of new source materials from China.9 Teiwes and Sun's latest volume on the GLF is a sophisticated and
insightful analysis of the Leap from 1955 to 1959, with epilogues covering the
period from July 1959 to 1962.10 This most up-to-date study, fortified by new
documentary research and interviews with historians and former officials in China,
focuses on the central decision-making process that involved participants from both
Beijing and the provinces. It explores the origins of the GLF, and attempts to explain
how the `rational' economic policies of 1956--7 yielded to the fantastic policies of
the Leap. In so doing, the authors debunk the myth of the `two-line' struggle
interpretation and other misconceptions fostered both by misinterpretation of leadership conflict and misapplication of institutional analyses. During the Leap, the
authors maintain, Mao was determined to exert the utmost dominance by taking
personal charge of the economy, and consequently became even more intolerant of
dissenting opinions. This caused a fundamental change in the clout and role of other
political players. Planners who pushed fanmaojin in the past were either sidelined or
had no choice but to go along, offering no resistance. They were replaced by zealots
who catered to Mao's illusions---provincial leaders, hotheaded and sober ones
alike---who were closer to Mao's heart, and exerted a certain degree of influence with
him. Bureaucratic politics were muzzled, as the key concern of the ministries had
become less a pursuit of bureaucratic interest than a competition to demonstrate
loyalty to Mao. Teiwes and Sun present instead a picture of a dominant and
unchallenged Mao, surrounded by badgered or opportunistic leaders whose only
option was to closely follow ( jingen) the leader, even into disaster. Attempts by
these leaders to discreetly influence a fickle and inconsistent Mao did little to rescue a system in paralysis. They raise important questions about the sources and
Frederick Teiwes, Politics at Mao's Court: Gao Gang and Party Factionalism in the Early 1950s
(Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1990); Frederick Teiwes and Warren Sun (eds.), The Politics of Agricultural
Cooperativization in China, Mao, Deng Zihui, and the `High Tide' in 1955 (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe,
1993); eid., The Tragedy of Lin Biao: Riding the Tiger during the Cultural Revolution, 1966--1971
(London: Hurst, 1996).
Jean-Luc Domenach, The Origins of the Great Leap Forward: The Case of One Chinese Province
(Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995); Alfred L. Chan, `The Campaign for Agricultural Development in
the Great Leap Forward: A Study of Policy-making and Implementation in Liaoning', China Quarterly,
129 (March), 1992. Michael Schoenhals, Saltationist Socialism: Mao Zedong and the Great Leap
Forward, 1958 (Stockholm: Institutionen for Orientaliska Sprak, University of Stockholm, 1987).
Teiwes and Sun, China's Road to Disaster.

Introduction: The Great Leap Forward


means of Mao's power, particularly when Mao was attempting to turn things around
and when he was trying to maintain the upper hand.
Teiwes and Sun's study is the most accurate and perceptual portrayal of elite
politics in the period under consideration, throwing light on a whole range of issues.
We share their view of a Mao-dominated political process during that time. Our aim
then in this book is to further develop the themes raised by Teiwes and Sun,
expanding and substantiating those for which the new materials allow for even more
nuanced analysis. We will concentrate on what we call the `High Leap' of 1958,
adopting a finer focus as a means to explore the policy process of the Leap in more
On the theme of central decision-making, we are interested in the nature, characteristics, and degrees of Mao's dominance, and what made him such a formidable
leader. Our assumption is that Mao's dominance was derived not just from his
charismatic appeal, forceful character, and unshakable confidence, but also from
his strategic and tactical manúuvres over his subordinates, a fact often unexplored.
Moreover, Mao's role in the policy process from the end of 1957 to the autumn of
1958 was extraordinary and even unique. During this period, Mao single-handedly
switched the country onto a totally different development course, browbeat his
colleagues into submission, seized the running of the economy away from the
planners, and aroused every Chinese citizen into a total mobilizational frenzy. In
addition to the numerous ambitious and ever-rising targets promoted by him, he
ordained very restrictive timetables by which policies were to be made and
implemented. These self-imposed timetables called for overtaking Britain and
even the USA in a few years, for fulfilling the requirements of the Twelve-Year
National Programme for Agricultural Development (NPAD) in one year, and for
doubling the iron and steel output for 1958 in the four remaining months of the year,
to name just a few. The urgency and pressure-cooker atmosphere thus created
approximated a crisis situation, bringing tremendous stress on every Chinese.
Although the strategy of the Leap was to be repeated several times in the 1960s
and 1970s, it was never to reach the feverish pitch as in 1958. In this book, we are
interested in how policies were made in that period of the highest duress.
Other previously ignored but important dimensions of the Mao-dominated system
are the way GLF policies were implemented, the way they turned out (policy outcome), and how policy outcomes and feedback affected the calculations of the
decision-makers. Mao towered over his colleagues in decision-making at the centre
and controlled as well the manner by which policies were implemented. But ultimately
Mao was not omnipotent, and proved unable to control the final policy outcomes, and
the failure of most Leap policies is a grave testimonial to this point. Indeed, any
consideration of the central decision-making process would be incomplete without
referring to policy implementation; much of it was intergovernmental, involving all
levels of governments and administrative units.11 In order to fully explore the

Dennis J. Palumbo and Donald J. Calista, Implementation and the Policy Process: Opening Up the
Black Box (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), 182.

Introduction: The Great Leap Forward


policy-making process, it is necessary to link central decision-making with the work
of the implementation agencies, primarily the central ministries and the provinces.
Our intention in this book is to examine central decision formulation and policy
implementation as integrated parts of the policy process. This gives us a new and
broader perspective on Mao and the political process, the responsibilities of various
leaders, and why the Leap failed. It also allows us to comment on the relevance or
irrelevance of bureaucratic and institutional politics during the High Leap. In this
way, attention will go, as it should, beyond Mao's thinking and motivation to
encompass the roles of other key leaders in the `inner court', including Mao's close
advisers, as well as other institutional actors among the central bureaucrats and the
provincial authorities. They should all be viewed as part and parcel of the policymaking process during the GLF. All this fills an important gap in our knowledge of
the Great Leap Forward and the policy process under Mao.

Politics in a Leader-dominated System
As mentioned, Mao was the dominant force in post-1949 Chinese politics because of
many factors, not the least of which were his forceful personality, his charismatic
appeal, and his solid self-confidence. In central decision-making, Mao's dominance
was manifested by his ability to prevail over his colleagues, to subdue them, and to
manipulate them, against their better judgement, into willing and even enthusiastic
supporters of his vision and policies. This was particularly true when Mao felt
strongly about a certain issue, and had already made up his mind before consulting
his colleagues. Above all, at those times when he was being driven by a utopian
vision, as during the GLF and the `Cultural Revolution', his dominance was especially pronounced. The breadth of Mao's dominance was made crystal clear by his
ability, time and again, to inspire, to arouse, and to motivate virtually the entire
Chinese population from the central bureaucracy down to the grass roots.
Yet, this does not mean Mao was omnipotent, and he did not always seek to
dominate everything. There were times when he decided to lie low and did not assert
himself. At other times he was keen on cooperating with other leaders, and even
encouraged debates, according to the avowed principles of collective leadership.
Often his mind had not been made up, so he did not always pronounce the last word,
or he at least allowed his colleagues the benefit of the doubt. Issues he regarded as of
lesser import, he often delegated to his subordinates, and the same applied to failed
policies; he often left his colleagues to pick up the pieces. At times he was even
willing to yield power and official positions, although becoming resentful of his
colleagues for grabbing them a little too eagerly. Even on issues he regarded as
important, Mao sometimes needed advice and inspiration, and often relied on others
to give his evolving ideas substance, as well as to render him support and approval.
Yet, in all these cases where Mao's colleagues were allowed a certain free rein or
independence, they were later to be held accountable when Mao had either made up
his mind or changed it.

Introduction: The Great Leap Forward


Therefore, Mao's exercise of his influence was variable, depending on the
environment and circumstances. Other leaders on occasion disagreed with him, and
were sometimes able to push forward policies contrary to his inclinations and
wishes, often thinking that they were consistent with the Chairman's objectives.
During the retreat from the GLF in the early 1960s, when Mao was not taking charge
of day-to-day affairs, his lieutenants still checked with him on major decisions.12
Nevertheless, once he had made up his mind, and determined to interfere, Mao
usually got his way. In this respect, it would be a mistake to view his temporary
indecisions and lapses as manifestations of his `weaknesses' or the signs of a
`collective leadership'.
This brings us to another important but neglected source of Mao's dominance---the
constant tactical manúuvring he employed to maintain his strength and supremacy.
Mao could not always rest on his laurels as both the Lenin and Stalin of the Chinese
Revolution, or take his dominance for granted. Like all politicians, he needed
aggressive and ongoing tactics to secure his power, to neutralize his opponents, and
to get his policies accepted. His ability to define and redefine ideology, and to set the
agenda, were primary among a whole range of manúuvres that were used to assure
his unassailable position. In this book, we examine more closely Mao's tactics in the
context of launching and promoting the GLF.
This view of Mao as a `supreme leader' raises another question---why did the top
leaders follow him and how did they do it? The matter of `followership' is complex--there were the true believers, the loyal subjects, the opportunists---and there were the
Leninists whose primary value was unity and party discipline. Others followed
because of psychological self-denial or because they were under physical duress.
This range of motivations is not exhaustive, but it does suggest why Mao was so
often obeyed, revered, and followed, so that in crisis after crisis, few dared to blow
the whistle. The few who dared---like Deng Zihui about collectivization, Zhou Enlai
about maojin, and Peng Dehuai about the GLF---were either destroyed politically or
converted to the Maoist cause. Moreover, during the Leap, and especially in 1958,
passive following was not sufficient. Mao's colleagues were expected to actively
participate and to creatively apply the Chairman's policy principles. Mao might
have strong ideas about the Leap, but he also needed others for active encouragement and support, and for fleshing out his ideas. Mao did not invent all the Leap
policies, and did in fact, rely on his lieutenants for many of these policy initiatives.
What were the roles and contributions of these leaders to the Leap? This seldom
investigated topic will be the other major concern of this book.

The Politics of Implementation in a Mao-dominated System
To further analyse Mao's dominance, let us for analytical reasons divide the policy
process into central policy formulation and policy implementation. Mao could

MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, iii. 469.

Introduction: The Great Leap Forward


prevail upon his lieutenants and inspire and move millions of Chinese citizens,
yet central decisions still had to be implemented by the bureaucracy, and this was
by no means automatic. Government bureaucracies, governed by their own
operational preferences and vested interests, display a range of behaviour which
makes control difficult, and often frustrates central wishes, initiatives and directions.
Policies that profoundly affect the lives of target groups, such as workers and
peasants, may often be implemented only by draconian measures, and slippages
cannot be fully avoided. Typically, a good deal of the implementers' energy goes
into such activities as the evasion of responsibilities, scrutiny, and blame.13 In
China, although Mao dominated decision-making and determined the manner by
which policies were to be implemented, he was unable to completely control the
implementation process, to command the behaviour of the peasants, workers, and
cadres, or to determine the policy outcome. Consequently, most Leap policies turned
out to be utter fiascos.
Implementation researches have highlighted four important factors. First, a
gap often exists between the setting of policy goals and the actual policy outcome.
In fact, goal modification is unavoidable when implementers are encouraged
to adapt by taking into account new situations and contingencies, and to continually
refine the definitions of problems and solutions. This adaptive behaviour can be
detrimental to the original goals, as discretion once granted cannot be entirely
controlled. Second, policies can fail because of poor problem identification, bad
policy design, and vague objectives, and not due to the faults in implementation
alone. Third, implementers doing their job affect all stages of the policy process--agenda setting, problem identification, formulation, implementation, feedback,
and evaluation. As they engage in continuous routine problem solving, they are
thereby interpreting and influencing the direction policy is going. While devising
routines, taking shortcuts and making decisions, they are actually reformulating
and redesigning policy. In this way, implementers shape outcomes actively, at
times even more so than the original policy designers. Finally, implementation,
which takes place in a bureaucratic setting, is affected by a range of self-serving
behaviour, which in turn is shaped by the political, social, and economic environment. Any adequate analysis of the policy process during the GLF must take these
factors into account.
There is yet no detailed study of how the GLF was implemented, but the opening
of this black box will reveal that much policy was made during implementation
itself. By observing this period we are able to better understand the organizational
and behavioural dynamics of the Chinese policy process in general. Indeed, the
general phenomena of bureaucratic competition, `tokenism', inertia, ritualistic
behaviour, `buck-passing', and so on, has always been prevalent in Chinese politics.
The Chinese people themselves, of course, discuss the subject frequently, and this

Eugene Bardach, The Implementation Game (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1977), 85 and


Introduction: The Great Leap Forward

itself should be a valuable source of information.14 Indeed, the kind of bureaucratic
behaviour most often chosen depends on the context of the time. What was the
implementation process like when the domineering Mao chose to run the economy
himself ? How were policies implemented when the planners were sidelined, the
planning system destroyed, and when Maoist zealots came to the fore? In 1958, the
imperative of closely following the leader and the tremendous pressure exerted on
the bureaucracy transformed it in important ways, so the bureaucrats had to
improvise new games or strategies to lessen the pressure, to evade responsibility and
to ensure their own survival.
The existence of a large amount of new information and contemporary materials
such as provincial and regional newspapers makes a better understanding of the
implementation process possible. In the Chinese context, the approach discussed
here will enable us to examine how the intense mobilization took place, and the
manner by which goals or ideals were either realized or thwarted. In our opinion, this
is the key to understanding why the Leap failed.

Power and Policy Dynamics during the High Leap of 1958
To explore these issues in more depth, this book focuses on policy formulation and
implementation and the vertical linkages between the centre and the provinces in
policy-making in 1958. This allows us to observe, in concrete terms, the interaction
between the different levels of government and party organizations, especially
within the context of mobilizational campaigns. Our examination of central decision-making focuses on Mao and the other national leaders. Since agricultural and
rural development and the iron and steel campaign were the two centrepieces of the
Leap, we explore the roles of two central ministries---the Ministry of Agriculture
(MA) and the Ministry of Metallurgy (MM)---and how they promoted and implemented the GLF campaigns. At the regional level, we focus on Guangdong province
and its role in the policy process.
The choice of the central ministries has several purposes: first, by treating them
as components of the centre we explore the nature of the interaction between
the centre and the province in a policy-making context; second, we examine their
roles as bureaucratic actors in their own right; and third, we examine them as policy
implementers. The provinces, on the other hand, were the chief agents for the
In his Inside Bureaucracy (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967), Anthony Downs distinguishes five types of
bureaucrats---climbers, conservers, zealots, advocates, and statesmen---who are motivated by different
things and who display variable behavioural patterns, see pp. 88--91. Similar analysis and categories are
made by the Chinese themselves. See, for example, Zhou Enlai, `Oppose Bureaucratism', in Zhou Enlai
Xuanji (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1984), ii. 418--22. An almost identical version is, probably erroneously, attributed to Mao. See `Chairman Mao Discusses Twenty Manifestations of Bureaucracy', in
David Milton, Nancy Milton, and Franz Schurmann, People's China (New York: Vintage Books, 1974),
248--51. See also Francis Rourke, Bureaucracy, Politics, and Public Policy, 3rd edn. (Boston: Little,
Brown, 1984).

Introduction: The Great Leap Forward


execution of central policies, and our exploration of the ways in which Guangdong
province carried out these policies not only throws light on the characteristics of
policy-making, but allows us to test general propositions about central--provincial
relationships in China. We believe that this multi-layered analysis best reflects the
various dimensions of the GLF.

Why 1958?
It is customary to treat the GLF from 1958 to 1960 as a whole, although recent
research has followed a more varied time scale and avoids such rigid
periodization.15 The GLF has commonly been divided into three distinct periods,
with different emphasis in policy-making in each. The first period, from the Third
Plenum of September/October 1957 to November 1958, can be called the High
Leap, when the most radical policies and experiments of the Leap were introduced
and implemented. This was followed by a second period of retrenchment lasting
about eight months from November 1958 to July 1959 during which a partial retreat
from the GLF was effected. The third period, from July 1959 to January 1961, was
marked by another major attempt to push forward the GLF and ended with the
official termination of the GLF strategy by the centre, although the ultimate abandonment of the Leap took much longer to complete.16
Other studies focus more narrowly on one province,17 and more specialized
studies are now needed so that important differences and nuances are not obscured.
This book will focus on the High Leap of 1958 for several reasons. First, our
interest is in how and why Leap policies were formulated and implemented so
there is a need to probe deeper than has previously been done, as our objective is
to scrutinize events on an almost day-to-day basis. Second, Mao's dominance
reached its zenith between the spring and autumn of 1958, making for an extraordinarily intense policy process.18 The voices of moderation were stifled, and
normally pragmatic leaders such as Zhou Enlai and Deng Zihui suspended their
doubts and disbeliefs to follow Mao, becoming most vocal and aggressive supporters
of the Leap. They were responsible for whipping up much of the Leap fervour
in 1958. Yet when Mao had changed his mind, they followed him gingerly in
applying retreat policies in subsequent years. This allows many analysts, especially
those in China, to gloss over what happened in 1958 and focus on the later period
to cite the top leaders' alleged opposition to the Leap to clear their names, thus
obscuring the issues.19 Third, 1958 was the high point of the GLF with numerous
Teiwes and Sun, China's Road to Disaster, focuses on 1955 to 1959, and discusses the period from
July 1959 to 1962 in two epilogues.
See for example, Dangdai Zhongguoshi Yanjiu, 2, 1995, 28--30.
Domenach, The Origins of the Great Leap Forward; Chan, `Campaign for Agricultural
Teiwes and Sun, China's Road to Disaster, 178.
Examples will be noted throughout this book, because even the most reputable publishers in China
continue to put out hagiographies. Suffice it to note here the most egregious examples of studies of Deng


Introduction: The Great Leap Forward

campaigns and radical innovations, but it also witnessed the retreat and abandonment
of some of the original goals of the movement, when Mao began to turn around. In
addition, it was also a self-contained period in terms of the yearly production cycle.
Normally, policy changes were occasioned by year-end production performance
reports---agricultural performance figures were known in autumn, and industrial
production figures, at the end of the year. Focusing on just one year enables us to
examine policy-making closely, to explore in detail the nature of policy reversals and
to compare policy objectives with policy outcomes. Broadly speaking, in significant
ways, especially in policy innovations, 1958 was the GLF; in no single year during
the 1949 to 1976 period had there been an attempt at such a colossal mobilization to
achieve so much in so little time. We need to treat 1958, the year of unique and
extreme radicalism, as seriously as the facts suggest.
To pursue the above themes, Chapter 2 of this book will explore policy formulation at the centre, tracing the origins of the GLF from 1955 to 1958, paying
particular attention to the manner and tactics by which Mao laid down Leap policies.
Chapter 3 focuses on the Ministry of Agriculture (MA) and its role in the policy
process, since the Leap began with agriculture and later extended to rural institutional changes. Chapter 4 is a consideration of the Ministry of Metallurgy (MM)
because iron and steel production was a centrepiece of the GLF effort. We discuss in
detail how a burgeoning bureaucratic organization was transformed into a Maoist
agent for radicalism and mobilization. Chapter 5 discusses the implementation of
agricultural and rural policies in Guangdong, and how the province was bent and
shaped according to the demands of the Leap. Chapter 6 explores the implementation of the industrialization policies in Guangdong, and how they were
eclipsed by the mandate to enforce the iron and steel campaign. Chapter 7 will
conclude with a discussion of the policy process in 1958. Our analysis will draw
extensively on material made available in the post-Mao era, especially that from the
1990s, but rely equally on archival materials in order to paint as accurately as
possible the various dimensions of the GLF.
Xiaoping. Most of these note his saying that everyone, including himself, was hot-headed during the Leap,
but details of what he did and said are always blank. See for example, Wu Shihong and Gao Yi (eds.),
Deng Xiaoping yu Gongheguo Zhongda Lishi Shijian (Deng Xiaoping and the major events of the
Republic) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2000), 52--3; Gong Li, Zhou Jingqing, and Zhang Shu, Deng
Xiaoping zai Zhongdai Lishi Guantou (Deng Xiaoping at critical historical junctures) (Beijing:
Zhonggong zhongyang dangxiao chubanshe, 2000), 147.

Central Policy Formulation
Under a Dominant Mao
An examination of the process of policy formulation of the Great Leap Forward in
1958 inevitably highlights Mao's predominance and the dogged but impulsive
manner by which Leap policies were instigated. Driven by a grand transformative
vision, he assumed direct command like a hero-emperor in personal charge of a
military campaign, designing and controlling every move, and monitoring everything closely. The Leap was Mao's crusade; he had every incentive to see it succeed.
So, in 1958, he spent close to ten months touring the country---extremely unusual in
his post-1949 career---returning to Beijing only for the most important meetings or
occasions. His purpose was to inspect the grass roots, garner support from regional
leaders, as well as to understand and promote the GLF.1 He also dispatched a coterie
of personal aides and secretaries to act as his eyes and ears. His authority in 1958
was absolute and unrivalled, and he demanded undivided loyalty and obedience
from his colleagues and subordinates. Those who questioned the Leap were browbeaten and humiliated into impotence. The planners' feeble resistance to Mao's
initiatives crumbled quickly under his relentless pressure. (The term `planners' is
used here to refer to China's top economic officials including Zhou Enlai, Chen
Yun, Li Fuchun, Li Xiannian, and Bo Yibo.) They were replaced in the inner
sanctum of policy formulation by zealous leaders (both central and regional) who
toadied to Mao's every whim and utterance. Nevertheless, even these disciples faced
risk, depending on how well they read Mao's intentions. As Mao changed position or
even reversed himself, those who failed to adjust in time would also come under
the chairman's wrath, e.g. Chen Boda and later, Wu Zhipu. Chinese analysts often
credit Mao as the first one to initiate a turnabout by the end of 1958.2 Under the
circumstances, who else but Mao could have done so? Indeed, at many critical

Mao's tours in 1958 are described in detail in Xiao Xinli (ed.), Xushe Dajiang Nanbei de Mao Zedong
(Mao Zedong's inspection tours north and south of the Yangzi) (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1993); Jia Zhengqiu (ed.), Mao Zedong Waixun Ji (Mao Zedong's inspection tours) (Changsha:
Hunan wenyi chubanshe, 1993); Zhao Zhichao, Mao Zedong Shierci Nanxun (Mao Zedong's twelve
inspection tours to the south) (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2000); Wu Xiaomei and Li Peng,
Mao Zedong Zouchu Hongqiang (Mao Zedong emerges from the Red Walls) (Beijing: Zhonggong
zhongyang dangxiao chubanshe, 1993).
See, e.g. Bo Yibo, Ruogan Zhongda Juece yu Shijian de Huigu (A review of certain major policies
and events) (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang dangxiao chubanshe, 1993), ii. 807.


Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao

junctures before then, instead of slowing down or making modifications, Mao
pushed relentlessly down the road to disaster.
The GLF was born out of the First Five-Year Plan (1FYP, 1953--7) which had
brought generally impressive results, particularly in industry and heavy industry.
However, although collectivization was completed in a few years, agricultural
production remained stagnant, as an increase in grain production barely kept up
with the demands of population growth, and shortages in agricultural raw materials
created bottlenecks and disproportions in the economy. Rapid industrial development was accompanied by the swelling of the urban population, putting more
pressure on the urban food supply. To be sure, these problems were already
recognized as early as 1956, when the Second Five-Year Plan (2FYP) was on the
drawing board, and extensive discussions were reflected in the pages of the professional journals. The Soviet model, which China copied lock, stock, and barrel,
came under increasingly critical light. Furthermore, at the eve of the 2FYP, there
was a general desire by policy-makers to start something new, to invent and try out
new approaches to existing problems. Mao shared these sentiments, but his obsession was to accelerate economic development and industrialize China rapidly. Yet,
few top leaders were prepared to go to the same lengths and extremes as Mao.
More immediate events had also contributed to the sense of optimism, impatience,
and imminent breakthrough that infected most Chinese leaders. `The Hundred
Flowers' and the subsequent `Anti-Rightist Campaign' in 1956 and 1957 had
tarnished the prestige of the Party, and Mao and the Party needed a breakthrough to
counter the criticisms by the `rightists'. The ongoing rectification campaign directed
at the Party, which later expanded into a socialist education movement nationally,
gave Mao the impression that the values and work style of the people were being
transformed. In foreign affairs, China's relationship with the Soviet Union had
improved. The Soviet testing of an ICBM in August, the signing of a secret SinoSoviet defence agreement in October (which promised missile and atomic bomb
technologies from 1957--61 as well as an atomic energy research institute in Beijing),
and the launching of the first two Soviet Sputniks in October and November, convinced Mao that the socialist camp had surpassed the West in technical superiority.3
Indeed, the Leap approach did not immediately emerge full-blown in Mao's mind,
as he was driven as much as by ideology as by intuition, expediency, and whim;
most elements of the GLF were only gradually fleshed out in 1958. Hence the
resultant development strategy was a kaleidoscope of ideas that was neither coherent
nor consistent. The only constant was Mao's obsession with speed and penchant for
spontaneity and periodic disorder. He was impatient with rigid rules and regulations,
Cong Jin, 1949--1989 Nian de Zhongguo, ii. Quzhe Fazhan de Suiyue (China 1949--1989: The years
of tortuous development) (Henan: Henan renmin chubanshe, 1989), 113--14; Chu Han, Zhongguo
1959--1961: Sannian Ziran Zaihai, Changbian Jishi (China, 1959--1961: A detailed record of the three
years of natural calamities) (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1996), 228; Liu Guoxin and Liu Xiao
(eds.), Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Lishi Changpian (A detailed history of the PRC) (Nanning:
Guangxi renmin chubanshe, 1994), ii. 201; Su Donghai and Fang Kongmu (eds.), Zhonggua Renmin
Gongheguo Fengyun Shilu (A real record of the major events of the PRC). Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin
chubanshe, 1994), i. 503.

Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao


and during the GLF this was translated into a passion to dismantle the planning
system copied from the Soviet Union and to resurrect methods proven effective
during the revolutionary wars. Driven by a euphoric vision, Mao mistook illusion for
reality, vowing to overtake Britain and the United States, in industrial production in
one or two decades, and also---during 1958---periodically advancing the timetable.

The First Leap Forward, Fanmaojin, and
Mao's Resurrection of the `Leap' Strategy
To trace the origins of the GLF, it is necessary to examine its antecedent, the
abortive first leap forward of 1956.4 Much of the drama of the two `Leaps' was
played out between an ambitious and impatient Mao and the more cautious and
responsible planners, all of them had only limited experience in running a large and
complex economy. Eventually, Mao's efforts to counter the planners led to the
de facto destruction of the planning system and paved the way to the Leap in 1958.

The First Leap Forward 1955--1956
After China had scored some success at the Bandung Conference (April 1955) and
the Geneva Conference (April to July 1955, when a cease-fire in Indochina was
agreed), the Politburo felt that an era of `international cease-fire' had materialized,
and that the `imperial' powers were unlikely to start a world war or a war against
China for another decade or so. Hence it was felt that this international relaxation of
tension could afford China the breathing space to accelerate socialist construction.5
In the summer of 1955, the State Council began to consider goals for the 2FYP and
a long-range (1953--67) strategic plan. Because this plan covered two years that
had already passed, it was often called the Twelve-Year Plan. The State Planning
Commission (SPC) added up tentative proposals of the ministries and projected
production targets for 1967 as follows: grain 300m. tons; cotton 2.8m. tons; steel
18m. tons; and coal 280m. tons.6 The gross value of industrial and agricultural
output was projected to increase 9.5 per cent in fifteen years. Yet, Mao was

The following analysis of the 1956 Leap draws from Zhonggong Zhongyang Wenxian Yanjiushi
(ed.); Jin Chongji (ed.), Zhou Enlai Zhuan (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1998), iii. ch. 47;
Xie Chuntao, Dayuejin Kuanglan (The raging waves of the GLF) (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe,
1990), 1--29; Bo Yibo, Ruogan Zhongda Juece yu Shijian de Huigu (A review of certain major policies
and events) (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang dangxiao chubanshe, 1993 and 1997), i. 521--61; Lin
Yunhui, Fan Shouxin, Zhang Gong, 1949--1989 Niande Zhongguo, i. Kaige Xingjinde Shiqi (China 1949-1989, i. The period of triumphant advance) (Henan: Henan renmin chubanshe, 1989), ch. 11; Cong Jin,
Quzhe Fazhan, ch. 1; Ceng Yingwang, Zhongguo de Zong Guanjia Zhou Enlai (China's chief steward
Zhou Enlai) (Beijing: zhonggong dangshi chubanshe, 1996), 449--66, and Unpublished Chinese Documents on Opposing Rash Advance and the Great Leap Forward nos. 1--6 (n.p.: c.1992), 1--32.
Bo Yibo, Huigu, i. 408, 485--7, 525.
The actual outputs for grain, cotton, steel, and coal in 1967 were 218m., 2.4m., 10m., and 206m. tons.
Zhongguo Tongji Nianjian (Statistical Yearbook of China) (Beijing: Guojia tontjiju, 1983), 162--3,


Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao

dissatisfied with these optimistic projections. In particular, he was displeased with
the outcome of the 1955 plan. Because capital investment was trimmed halfway
during the year by the planners worried about an overheated economy, there was a
year-end surplus of 1.8bn. yuan and large amounts of leftover raw materials, such
as steel, iron, coal, and cement. The Soviet Union was asked to absorb these
surpluses, but once the contracts were signed, China had to renege because the
campaign for the criticism of `rightist conservatism' had stimulated demands for
inputs, turning surpluses into shortages.7 The Chinese side was embarrassed not
only by the cancelled contracts, but also by China's apparent reliance on the Soviet
Union to solve its problems. Repeated self-criticisms by Premier Zhou Enlai
failed to placate Mao.
In the second half of 1955, Mao also wanted to accelerate collectivization, and
repeatedly criticized those who favoured a slower tempo, such as Deng Zihui, as
`women with bound feet'. Soon, he concluded that the perceived timidness of his
colleagues---`rightist conservatism'---was the main obstacle to economic and socialist
development. In the two prefaces to the book Socialist Upsurge in China's Countryside edited and annotated by him (published in September and December 1955,
respectively), he lashed out at the fanmaojin (opposing rash advance) of 1953 and
1955, blaming those who refused to attempt tasks he thought could be achieved
with some exertion. Hence, Mao decided that the current task was to accelerate and
expand production, and to `endlessly' criticize rightist conservatism (in agriculture,
industry, transportation, science, culture and education, and health). He prophesied
that agricultural production, as well as development in industry and communications, would increase scores of fold in the future. In particular, Mao predicted that
grain production in 1967 would double or triple the record achieved before 1949, to
450 to 500m. tons.8
Mao used the publication of this book to reveal his position not because inner
party channels of communication were blocked, or opposition was insurmountable,
but because he characteristically wanted to bypass the central bureaucratic channels
and appeal directly to and educate the public, and to set up an `opposite'. If the
planners had not read his intentions, he certainly was not going to tell them precisely
what to do. In contrast, Mao had also found that regional and local authorities were
more sensitive to his radical initiatives, so he attempted to exploit what he thought
were `creative tensions' between the two groups to get his way. Snubbing the
planners, he met with provincial party secretaries at Hangzhou and Tianjin in
November and drafted a document called `Seventeen Articles On Agriculture' as a
countermeasure. Subsequently, Mao oversaw its expansion into the National
Programme for Agricultural Development, 1956--1967 (draft) (NPAD, commonly

Bo Yibo, Huigu, i. 523; Mao Zedong, Maozhu Weikan Gao, `Mao Zedong Sixiang Wansui' Beiji Ji
Qita (Unofficial published works of Mao Zedong: Additional volumes of `Long Live Mao Zedong's
Thought' and other secret speeches of Mao) (Oakton, Virginia: Center for Chinese Research Materials,
1990), xiii. 190.
Mao Zedong, Mao Zedong Xuanji (Selected works of Mao Zedong) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe,
1977), v. 218--24, 252; Bo Yibo, Huigu, i. 524--6; Su Donghai and Fang Kongmu, Fengyun Shulu, 383.

Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao


called the Forty Articles) in January 1956. Apart from a few ambitious and controversial items, the NPAD was essentially a checklist of commonsense things to be
accomplished in the next twelve years.9 For instance, Article 1 called for the
acceleration of collectivization by turning 85 per cent of all rural households
into lower agricultural producers' cooperatives (APCs) in 1956 (up from the 60
per cent achieved in 1955). However, the more controversial Article 2 called on the
`more mature' lower APCs to `promote' themselves into advanced APCs in order
not to obstruct the development of the productive forces.10 Areas already with
some advanced APCs were told to complete the transformation of all collectives
into advanced APCs by 1957. This was an ambitious timetable, but eventually
zealous implementation by the lower cadres quickly turned more than 90 per cent of
all rural households into advanced APCs by the end of 1956, exceeding all expectations. Mao felt vindicated, although the hasty amalgamation created many organizational and management problems, which led to widespread peasant demands
for withdrawal and splitting of the APCs.11
Article 6 set projected grain output/mu for 1967 as follows: for the areas north
of the Huang He, Qingling and Bailong Jiang, the goal was 400 jin; for the areas
north of the Huai He, 500 jin; and the areas south of the Huang He, Qinling, and
Bailong Jiang, 800 jin. These targets were often called the `4, 5, and 8' and they
compared with the 1955 output/mu of 150, 208, and 400 jin, respectively. This
projection would see grain and cotton output reaching a cumulative height of 500m.
and 5m. tons, respectively, in 1967, greatly exceeding the State Council's projections. As previously observed, these goals were wildly overambitious, as in reality,
China did not produce 456m. tons of grain until 1993, and 4.63m. tons of cotton until
1983. Even the more conservative State Council figures were off the mark.12
Another ambitious item was the introduction of 6 million double-shared and
double-wheeled ploughs and other agricultural machinery nationwide (Article 11).
The articles on water conservancy, increased fertilizer application, redesign of farm
tools, intensive farming, multiple cropping, reclamation of land, etc., were methods
aimed at raising output. Other articles included the introduction or improvement of
social welfare, animal husbandry, soil quality, reserve grain, agricultural research,
rural transportation, broadcasting and telephone networks, and so on. Less controversial articles dealt with the issues of allowing rich peasants to join the APCs,
the treatment of counter-revolutionaries, the building of reserve grain, establishment
Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Fagui Huibian (A compendium of laws and regulations of the
People's Republic of China) (Beijing: Falu chubanshe, 1981 and 1982) (hereafter FGHB), iii. 1--23.
In the lower APCs, with an average of 20--30 households, the peasants pooled their land, draught
animals, and farm tools, and remuneration was calculated on the basis of their work and the land and
capital they had contributed. Land was still privately owned. However, in the advanced APCs, with an
average of 200--300 households, private owership of land was abolished, and remuneration was calculated
entirely on work contributed.
Liu Guoxin and Liu Xiao, Lishi Changpian, i. 177; Bo Yibo, Huigu, ii. 729.
Xie Chuntao, Dayuejin, 4; Bo's estimates were 532m. and 6m. tons, Huigu, ii. 524. Zhongguo Tongji
Nianjian 1994 (Statistical Yearbook of China 1994) (Beijing: Chinese Statistical Publishing House,
1994), 345--6.


Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao

of HEP stations in each xiang, self-sufficiency in fertilizers by the APCs, soil
improvement, reclamation of land, afforestation, improvement of living conditions,
and the removal of illiteracy. On paper these provisions look innocuous enough as
a long-term agenda for rural development, and the snubbed planners were unwilling
to antagonize the Chairman even more. For instance, Zhou Enlai and Chen Yun
supported the NPAD, and Zhou welcomed it as a spur for agricultural development,
and defended it against concerns that it might place too much burden on the peasants.13 Furthermore, Zhou argued that the NPAD could promote development in
other economic sectors, so that industrialization could be achieved with less than
the three five-year plans previously assumed. He was also mindful of the fact that
the Party Centre had decided in 1943 to give Mao the `final decision power' on
major issues. Although Hu Qiaomu pointed out recently that this final say referred to
the power of the Chairman in dealing with day-to-day affairs in the Secretariat, not
decision in the Politburo,14 this finer point was overlooked at that time. Moreover,
when the Politburo finally passed the NPAD on 23 January 1956, the targets for
1967 (500m. tons of grain and 5m. tons of cotton) were eradicated as a concession.
But when Liao Luyan introduced it two days later at the Supreme State Conference
using Mao's copies, the targets were reinstalled.15 Although little information is
available about this episode, the possibility that this was a ploy used by Mao to trick
the Politburo cannot be ruled out. In any case, once the NPAD was published, it
spurred the release of spontaneous and sometimes irresponsible energies to attempt
everything at once in a hurry, inspiring copycats in other sectors such as industry and
transport. Many other ministries began to revise their plans and to raise their
targets.16 In this way the NPAD was the catalyst that sparked off the 1956 Leap,
affecting not just the agricultural sector.
Bowing to Mao's initiative, the planners coined the slogan of duohao kuaisheng
(more, better, faster, and more economical). At a briefing conference by the
industrial ministries, Zhou and Bo said that industrial work must follow the principle
of `more, faster, and better', and Li Fuchun concurred by adding the words `more
economical'. Mao was pleased with this adage, so the words duohao kuaisheng
became a formal slogan when it was introduced in an RMRB editorial on New
Year 1956.
The NPAD, the slogans of duohao kuaisheng and of `accomplishing the 1FYP
ahead of schedule', the criticism of rightist conservatism, and the grain target of
500m. tons for 1967, touched off the first `leap forward'. Many units began to set up

Zhonggong Zhongyang Wenxian Yanjiushi, Zhou Enlai Jingji Wenxuan (Selected works on economics by Zhou Enlai) (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1993), 244; Bo Yibo, Huigu, i. 530--1;
Zong Guanjia, 452; Li Rui, Dayuejin Qinliji (A record of my personal experience of the GLF) (Shanghai:
Shanghai yuandong chubanshe, 1996), 204. Dangde Wenxian, 1988, no. 2: 9--10.
Li Haiwen (ed.), Zhou Enlai Yanjiu Shuping (Discourse on research on Zhou Enlai) (Beijing:
Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1997), 420--1; Hu Qiaomu, Hu Qiaomu Huiyi Mao Zedong (Hu Qiaomu's
reminiscences of Mao Zedong) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1994), 273.
Zhou Enlai Zhuan, iii. 1218 n. 1; Unpublished Chinese Documents, 5.
Peng Gangzi and Wu Jinming, Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Nongye Fanzhen Shi (A history of
agricultural development in the PRC) (Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe, 1998), 74.

Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao


equally overambitious targets and expand their scales of production accordingly.
The hands of the planners were forced. Hence, in drafting the 1956 plan, they were
obliged to raise the gross value of industrial and agricultural output by 15.9 per cent,
so that production of steel, grain, and cotton was to be 61, 9.25, and 18.3 per cent
higher than 1955. On 14 January, the SPC revised the major targets for 1962, the last
year of the 2FYP, by basically substituting them with targets originally set for 1967,
so that grain output would be 320m. tons, cotton 3.5m. tons, steel 12m. tons. For
1967, the grain target was raised to 500m. tons, cotton 5m. tons, coal 330m. tons,
and steel 24m. tons. Mao was finally satisfied with these projections, but wanted
even more steel---15m. tons for 1962 and 30m. tons for 1967. These hikes required
the retroactive addition of hundreds of construction projects, and similar proportionate increases were set for the second and third FYPs. Furthermore, a Party
Centre directive of 4 October 1955, urged all ministries and localities to surpass the
control figures set up by the SPC as much as possible.17 Consequently, many units
pledged to fulfil the 15-year Strategic Plan and the NPAD in five or even three years.
To honour these pledges, the provinces and ministries in turn demanded a total
capital investment of 15.3 and even 20bn. yuan in 1956, although the originally
planned figure was only 11.27bn. yuan, and revenue was projected to be 9.29bn.
yuan. The planners were alarmed, but in contrast, Mao was so pleased with this
stampede that he bragged that China's speed of development could exceed that of
the Soviet Union.18
Such a large scale of construction required funds and raw materials that were
unavailable, creating all sorts of bottlenecks and work stoppages. For instance,
excessive loans to agriculture, handicraft, and other enterprises and efforts to alleviate the tight money supply required dipping into the reserves and printing more
money, which aggravated inflationary pressures.19 Wages for the 1.4 million extra
work force recruited was another financial burden. Furthermore, the NPAD called
for the manufacture of 6 million double-wheeled and double-shared ploughs in 3-5 years, as it was hoped that a massive injection of these ploughs would lay the
foundation toward agricultural mechanization. Yet these ploughs were too heavy
and cumbersome for the draught animals and especially unsuitable for terraced or
paddy fields in south China. Subsequently, huge unsold stockpiles and returns forced
Mao to admit (in October 1957) that the 6 million target was `subjectivism', and
mention of the ploughs was dropped from the revised draft of the NPAD.20
Meanwhile, the burden of damage control fell on the shoulders of the planners,
particularly Zhou and Chen. Zhou called for the quelling of maojin (rash advance),
the restoration of planning and comprehensive balance (especially concerning raw
Su Donghai and Fang Kongmu, Fengyun Shulu, 367; Lin Yunhui et al., Kaige Xingjin de Shiqi,
pp. 619 ff.
Bo Yibo, Huigu, i. 526--7, 542; Cong Yingwang, Zong Guanjia, 451--2.
Xie Chuntao, Dayuejin, 5; Lin Yunhui et al., Kaige Xingjin de Shiqi, 621--4.
Mao Zedong, Mao Zedong Sixiang Wansui (Long live Mao Zedong's Thought!) (n.p. 1969), 142;
Zhonggong Zhongyang Wenxian Yanjiushi (ed.), Zhou Enlai Nianpu, 1949--1976 (Chronicles of Zhou
Enlai, 1949--1976) (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1997), i. 601.


Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao

materials), but the planners' chief weapon was the cutting of capital investment for
1956 from 17 to 14.7bn. yuan in February. In June, this was further trimmed to 14bn.
yuan.21 Yet, at a Politburo meeting in April, Mao pushed for the retroactive raising
of capital investment, but few could support the idea. Zhou tried hard to plead his
case, but Mao persisted and promptly adjourned the meeting. Afterwards, Zhou
approached Mao personally, saying that he could not in good conscience support the
retroactive increase. Mao reportedly was greatly offended, and left Beijing a few
days later, leaving everyone in the lurch.22 In any case, the later cut was coordinated
by an RMRB editorial published on 20 June calling for opposition to both conservatism and rashness, citing the abortive campaign to eliminate illiteracy and the
double-wheeled and double-shared ploughs as examples of maojin. When the draft
of this editorial was submitted to Mao for approval, his response was ambiguous; he
inscribed only three words `bukanle' which could mean either disapproval or
approval.23 The fact that his subordinates published it showed that they assumed that
the Chairman did not object to it. Mao was more ambivalent about fanmaojin in
1956; he favoured a leap, but was also willing to let the planners have a say,
admitting the problems it brought on several occasions. Moreover, his attention was
distracted by de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union and the upheavals in Poland and
Hungary. In the summer of 1956 when the planners began to draft the 2FYP in a
spirit of restraint, Mao accepted many of the proposed targets.24
Soviet opinion conveyed in August/September also lent support to the planners'
restraint. All these enabled the enshrinement of the principles of `opposing conservatism and maojin', `steady advance based on comprehensive balance in economic construction' (the planners' mantras) at the Eighth Party Congress (12--27
September). The critique of maojin was mentioned in reports made by Liu, Zhou,
and Bo, and in the Resolution on the Political Report. On the draft for the 2FYP,
Zhou struck out the words duohao kuaisheng, and the slogan disappeared officially
for more than a year.25 Then the planners applied the other weapon, the lowering of
the targets for grain, cotton, and steel for the 2FYP originally submitted by the SPC.
All this could not have been done without the implicit or explicit approval of Mao,
and the leaders understood that there was a consensus on the subject.

Bo Yibo, Huigu, i. 535; Dangde Wenxian, 1988, no. 2, 6--8; 1990, no. 2, 6.
Zhou Enlai Zhuan, iii. 1227; Li Ping, Kaiguo Zongli, 356; Xie Chuntao, Dayuejin, 10; Unpublished
Chinese Documents, 10--11; Li Haiwen, Zhou Enlai Yanjiu Shuping, 422; Yin Jiamin, Gongheguo
Fengyun zhong de Mao Zedong yu Zhou Enlai (Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in the stormy years of
the Republic) (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang dangxiao chubanshe, 1999), 206--7.
In 1958, Mao made clear his hostility to this editorial, but in June 1956, he was more ambivalent or
undecided, as these words can convey different meanings ranging from approval (`It's fine. There's no
need for me to read it'.) to rejection, and even boycott (`I won't read it'). It would be wrong to accept at
face value Mao's later comments.
See the speeches delivered by the top leaders at the Eighth Party Congress (September 1956), many
of them were critical of the problem of maojin. Mao personally read and approved these speeches. See
Renmin Shouce (People's Handbook), 1957, 15, 25, 39, 74--5; Mao Zedong, Jianguo Yilai Mao Zedong
Wengao (The manuscripts of Mao Zedong after the founding of the state) (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian
chubanshe, 1987 to 1998), vi. 136--200, passim. For more details, see Zhou Enlai Zhuan, iii. 1234--9.
RMSC (1957), 15, 25, 39, 74--5; Lin Yunhui et al., Kaige Xingjin de Shiqi, 632.

Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao


Yet after the Congress, when the 1957 plan was on the drawing board, planners
again had to wrestle with the tide unleashed by the Leap impulses, as the projected
capital investment submitted by the ministries and provinces for 1957 totalled up to
24.3bn. yuan, far exceeding the 14bn. yuan invested in 1956. Furthermore, despite
the planners' efforts, 1956 ended with 2 to 3bn. yuan in the red.
At the Second Plenum (November 1956), Mao seemed to have come around to the
viewpoints of the planners by admitting the inappropriate use of 2--3bn. yuan in
1956, the need to compress the 1957 plan, and the recognition of contraints of funds
and raw materials.26 Thus emboldened, Zhou spoke arrogantly and matter-offactedly about the `laughable' mistakes associated with maojin. According to him,
things should be cooled down on all fronts, lest the tension and waste generated
should disrupt the economy and create social unrest on the scale of that which had
happened in Eastern Europe. Grain production and farm acreage should only be
increased slowly, and the desire for 30m. tons of steel for the 3FYP was unrealistic.
Unworkable targets made during the Eighth Party Congress and contained in the
NPAD should be trimmed. For instance, the NPAD specified that more than 10m.
mu of land be reclaimed every year for 12 years, but the 500m. yuan per annum
required was clearly out of the question. Zhou would never have attacked these pet
projects of Mao in such abandon if Mao had not signalled his approval, if only
temporarily. Mao probably realized the need to slow things down for 1957, although
he was much easier on the mistakes of maojin than Zhou and cautioned that the
enthusiasm of the cadres and the masses should not be dampened. In 1958, his
retroactive hostility toward the decisions of this Plenum as the most concentrated
expression of fanmaojin did not erase the fact that he was much more conciliatory at
the time.27 Anyhow, before Zhou left for a visit to Pakistan in January 1957, he
instructed Chen to slash the budget within 10bn. yuan. When Chen telephoned Bo,
Bo misheard the figure to be 11bn. yuan, so that figure stuck.28
By January 1957, however, Mao's position had hardened, blaming fanmaojin
for the encouragement of `rightist' tendencies.29 Now that Mao's position was made
clear, Zhou had to backtrack. His report to the Fourth Session of the First National
People's Congress (June/July 1957) was tight-lipped about the mistakes caused by
maojin. To cover himself, Zhou about-faced and rebuffed the view that in 1956 there
was an `all-round maojin'. Instead, he claimed that the adoption of the yuejin (leap
forward) method in 1956 had enabled a surge in the economic performance. This
first ever use of the words yuejin won Mao's praise.30
Mao Wengao, vi 244--6. See also Mao Xuanji, v. 313--18; Mao Weikan, xiA. 112--14; Mao Zedong,
Mao Zedong Wenji (Collected works of Mao Zedong) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1999), vii. 159--61.
Zhou Enlai Jingji Wenxuan, 338--45; cf. Shi Zhongquan, Zhou Enlai de Zhuoyue Fengxian (Zhou
Enlai's outstanding contributions) (Beijing: Zhonggong Zhongyang dangxiao chubanshe, 1993), 324--5,
334; Li Rui, Li Rui Wenji, ii. Mao Zedong de Wannian Beiju (Collected Works of Li Rui, ii. The tragedy of
Mao Zedong's last years) (Haikou: Nanfang chubanshe, 1999), 84--5.
See n. 22; Bo Yibo, Huigu, i. 554--5; Li Ping, Kaiguo Zongli, 359; Ceng Yingwang, Zong Guanjia,
Mao Weikan, xiA. 118--25.
Cong Jin, Quzhe Fazhan, 101 n. 1, 108; Mao Wengao, vii. 254.


Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao

In the second half of 1957, once the disturbances in Eastern Europe had been
settled and the Anti-Rightist campaign concluded, Mao's full attention was drawn
back to the economy.31 Although the 1957 plan was completed with some successes---the budget was balanced with a small surplus, and the total value of
industrial and agricultural product was up 10 per cent---Mao concluded that 1957 was
not as good as 1956. Industrial production was up only 10 per cent from the year
before, far from the 30 per cent increase achieved in 1956. The agricultural plan had
not reached the targeted increase of 4.9 per cent and grain production rose marginally to 185m. tons, or 2.5 per cent over that of 1956, barely sufficient to match the
population increase. This was a slump, and fanmaojin was chiefly responsible as it
had dampened the enthusiasm of the masses, he concluded. Furthermore, the
rightists' criticism of his `delusion of grandeur' (haoda xigong) seemed to have
echoed those who found maojin distasteful. Privately, Mao was also toying with the
possibility of developing the economy faster and better than the Soviet Union.32

The Third Plenum (20 September--9 October)
By the Third Plenum in the autumn of 1957, Mao was determined to revive the `leap
forward' strategy of development by overturning the more cautious approach pursued by the planners, and therefore the conference became a curtain-raiser for the
process that led inexorably to the GLF. However, Mao did not dominate the conference proceedings as much as he did subsequent events, cooperating with other
top leaders on certain agreed-upon issues, and divergent opinions were still being
expressed. Yet, he was assertive and manipulative, springing surprises which caught
his colleagues off guard.
The Plenum met to consider the two issues of the rectification campaign and rural
problems. It had been expanded according to Mao's wishes to include first secretaries of provincial, district, and county party committees, as Mao could always
count on the regional leaders for support of more radical policies.33 Deng Xiaoping
reported on the rectification campaign, Chen Yun on administrative reform and the
problem of raising agricultural production, and Zhou Enlai on labour wages and
The Plenum was the first to be convened after the Anti-Rightist Campaign. Mao's
thinking had changed in important ways since the summer of 1957. Criticism by the
`rightists' had convinced Mao that conservatism was the major ideological enemy,
and that the CCP should adopt more radical economic policies to draw the line
between itself and the `rightists'. More particularly Mao attributed the stagnation in
agricultural production to rightist inertia. In September/October, the prognosis for

Bo Yibo, Huigu, ii. 635.
Cong Jin, Quzhe Fazhan, 101--2. A more official estimate in Zhongguo Tongji Nianjian (1983) puts the
1957 grain production at 195m. tons, or 1.2 per cent over the 1956 production of 192.75m. tons, see p. 158.
Mao Wengao, vi. 554--5; Bo Yibo, Huigu, ii. 624.
Renmin Ribao (People's Daily), 10 October 1957.

Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao


agricultural production was not good---there were severe shortages in grain and
cotton. Even with the substantial grain increase of 1956, it was necessary to dip into
the grain reserve, and it seemed that 1957 was no exception. Overall, the annual
increases in grain since 1949 (estimated at a yearly rate of between 12 and 15m. tons
by 1957) were too small to support population growth. If this trend was to continue,
per capita consumption might be reduced even further during the 2FYP.35 Therefore,
Mao felt vindicated that he was right in pushing the first Leap of 1956, and that the
retreat in 1957 was wrong or at least ineffectual. In his view, the planners had
botched their chance, so he was ready to revive the Leap strategy of rural mobilization and development.
To legitimize this initiative, Mao first resorted to a wholesale redefinition of
ideology, whatever his real beliefs. The day before the Plenum, he abruptly dropped
a bombshell when talking with central leaders, asserting categorically that the
principal contradiction during the entire transition period was the struggle between
the proletariat and the capitalists, between socialism and capitalism, and by extension, between individualism and collectivism.36 This was a unilateral revision of the
resolution of the Eighth Party Congress which had declared that the contradiction
between the proletariat and capitalists had basically been resolved.37 Many delegates were perplexed, and a heated debate ensued, although many were quick to
jump on Mao's side.38 On 7 October, Mao repeated his new views on contradiction
to the team leaders in his concluding speech to the conference. Once this speech was
transmitted and discussed, no more objections were raised.39 The Plenum acceded to
his wishes, although no formal declaration was made. Mao's notion that the principal contradiction was still the struggle between the proletariat and the capitalists
and between socialism and capitalism was influenced by the events in Eastern
Europe and the Anti-Rightist Campaign. Consequently, if intense struggle was
still the norm, then the solution was more radical policy and accelerated collectivization.40 If capitalism was the chief danger, and if Mao was the defender of
the socialist transition, then struggle would be more uncompromising. After the
Plenum, an additional group of people were retroactively labelled `rightists'.41
Chen Yun, Chen Yun Wenxuan (Selected Works of Chen Yun) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1995)
iii (1956--85), 78, 387, n. 39; Mao Weikan, xiA. 194.
For Mao, all societies are rife with contradictions (some more fundamental and others more secondary) that are interconnected with one another. Once the principal contradiction (or, fundamental
problem) has been identified and resolved, other secondary contradictions will also disappear. Indeed,
Mao's definitions of the principal contradiction varied greatly over time and were seldom consistent; they
could refer to disparate things such as class struggle, rightist opposition, fanmaojin, inadequate quantities
RMSC, 1957, 55.
of steel, and so on.
Ma Qibin, et al. (eds.), Zhongguo Gongchandang Zhizheng Sishinian, 1949--1989 (The CCP's 40
years' rule, 1949--1989) (Beijing: Zhonggong dangshi ziliao chubanshe, 1989; Zhonggong dangshi
chubanshe, rev., enlarged edn. 1991), 132--3.
Bo Yibo, Huigu, ii. 624--9; text is in Wansui(1969), 122--6. See also,Mao Weikan, xiA. 196--9; Cong Jin,
Mao Xuanji, v. 475; Bo Yibo, Huigu, ii. 629.
Quzhe Fazhan, 79--82.
Xing Chongzhi, Jiang Shunxue, Liao Gailong, and Zhao Xuemin (eds.), Mao Zedong Yanjiu Shidian
(A dictionary of events for the research of Mao Zedong) (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chubanshe,
1992), 357.


Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao

In the following months, it became clear that Mao increasingly read ideological and class implications into policy differences. As if this were insufficient,
Mao's discourse on the issue of red and expert claimed that both were necessary,
although politics was primary, and that some cadres were more white, grey, or
pink, than red (ideologically motivated). Only those who were blazing red were
leftists, he said.42 This was another obvious dig at those he regarded as insufficiently committed ideologically, particularly the planners who did not always
toe Mao's line. Mao had not only thrown down the gauntlet, he had won the
first round.
Mao's discourse on ideology inevitably affected the policy choices dealing
with agricultural stagnation. Although all agreed that agriculture development
should be accelerated, there was no consensus regarding how this should be
accomplished. On this issue, Chen Yun was clearly out of joint with the Chairman.
While Mao was advocating the revival of the mobilization strategy of the 1956
Leap to accelerate development, Chen, in his speech of 24 September, was still
promoting gradual improvement by producing more chemical fertilizer and artificial
fibre, by water conservancy, and by the boosting of agricultural investment (from
7 per cent of total capital investment to 12, or even 20 per cent). During the first leap
forward, Chen maintained, the targets were too high, exceeding the country's capability; decisions were made too quickly, and the expectation that duohao kuaisheng
could be achieved all at once was unrealistic.43 On the other hand, Zhou's speech
delivered on 26 October focused on the problems involved with the unplanned
increase in urban population, hikes in the labour wage bill, and cost increases for
insurance, welfare, and subsidies---caused in part by the 1956 leap. He recommended
the creation of employment by sending surplus urban population to the countryside
for rural activities, but did not mention the NPAD.44
Mao's complaint aside, the NPAD had never died completely---a programme
sponsored by the Chairman simply could not be consigned to oblivion and the
leaders continued to pay lip service to it. Liu Shaoqi called it the `long-term plan for
rural construction' in April 1957 while talking to students at Changsha.45 In
February, Liao Luyan told a conference for agricultural labourer models that output/
mu specified in the NPAD would be achieved. At the same conference, Deng Zihui
praised the NPAD,46 and at the NPC in June/July, Bo praised it as well.47 By the
summer of 1957, Mao apparently regarded the revival of the NPAD as the best hope
in combating the agricultural bottleneck, so on 21 August, the Party Centre issued
the revised draft of the NPAD, touting it as a guiding programme of struggle which
would accelerate agricultural production, industrialization and the improvement


Mao Xuanji, v. 471--2.
Chen Yun, Chen Yun Wenxuan. iii. 76--86. Since the view contained in this section of Chen's speech
was inconsistent with that of Mao's, it was not published until recently.
Zhou Enlai Jingji Wenxuan, 374--92; Ceng Yingwang, Zong Guanjia, 394--9.
Liu Shaoqi, Liu Shaoqi Xuanji (Selected Works of Liu Shaoqi) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe,
RMRB, February 19 and 22 1957.
RMSC, 1958, 225.
1985), ii. 286.

Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao



of the standard of living. With Mao's prodding, the Conference duly passed
the revised draft of the NPAD. The revised draft differed only slightly from the
original draft, but the context had changed. For instance, Article 1, the major bone
of contention in 1956 because it called for acceleration of collectivization, had
become obsolete; it was replaced by a non-controversial call to consolidate
advanced APCs during the 2FYP or beyond.49 The 5--7 year time limit specified in
the draft for the elimination of the four pests, illiteracy, and urban unemployment
was extended to 12 years. Article 6 added a paragraph on the promotion of the
chemical fertilizer industry, reflecting Chen Yun's idea that the fastest way to
raise agricultural production was by a rapid increase in chemical fertilizer.50 Chen's
idea that land reclamation was not the way to raise production might have resulted
in cancellation of Article 19 on the subject, so it became just a subsection in
Article 4 of the new version. Other articles were merely a checklist of things to be
done in the next twelve years, such as the development of animal husbandry and
seed selection, soil improvement, and afforestation, as well as protection of women
and children, and development of rural broadcasting, transportation, and commercial networks, etc. At the end of 1957, the NPAD, for the most part, was no longer
the lightning rod as it had been in 1956. The most controversial provision of the
revised draft was the continuance of the `4, 5, 8' targets, which still pledged to
fulfil the grossly unrealistic goals of 532m. tons of grain and 6m. tons of cotton
by 1967.
At one point, Mao warned that those who did not support the NPAD were akin
to `promoters of retrogression', just like the rightists.51 As some localities had
already mapped out plans according to the NPAD, Mao charged everyone else to
make plans accordingly. He also reaffirmed the goal of 20m. tons of steel to be
achieved in 15 years.52 Indicative of Mao's supreme confidence in China's ability to
raise yields was his musing that since some counties had already produced one
thousand jin/mu, intensive cultivation might in the future enable 1 mu (as opposed
to 3 mu) of land to produce enough food for one person. In 1958, this idea would
inform his initiatives on the `three-three system', deep ploughing, close planting,
and the like.53 The revived NPAD, the mobilization approach to development, and
the high targets adopted were a direct rebuke to the planners. Even though the
planners tried to accommodate Mao's advancing targets they were always kept
Zhonggong Zhongyang Wenxian Yanjiushi, Zhou Enlai Nianpu 1949--1976 (Chronicles of Zhou
Enlai) (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1997), ii. 70; Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Jingji
Guanli Dashiji. (A Chronology of major events in the economic management of the PRC) (Beijing:
Zhongguo jingji chubanshe, 1986), 100; Liu Guoxin and Liu Xiao, Lishi Changpian, 197, erroneously
FGHB, vi. 40.
Chen Yun Wenxuan, iii. 80--3.
puts the date as 21 July.
Mao Weikan, xiA. 199; Bo Yibo, Huigu, ii. 636. The edited and polished version in Mao, Xuanji, v.
466, 474--5 omits the figures.
Ibid. 474. See also Renmin Ribao She Guonei Ziliao Zu and Zhongguo Gongye Jingji Xiehui
Tiaoyan Zu (eds.), Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Gongye Dashiji, 1949--1990 (A chronology of major
events in the industrial sector in the PRC, 1949--1990) (Changsha: Hunan chubanshe, 1992), 14.
Mao, Xuanji, v. 469.


Policy Formulation Under a Dominant Mao

However, on the issue of economic decentralization, the first-ever attempt to
reform the country's economic system, Mao and the planners were more in tune with
one another, at least for the time being. Even as early as the 1FYP, many Chinese
had begun to question the rigidity of the highly centralized Soviet model, and many
provinces had complained to Mao in 1955.54 In his Ten Great Relationships speech
of 1956, Mao laid down the need for decentralization and charged the planners to
examine the matter. Chen Yun and the other planners viewed decentralization more
in the context of strengthening planning, coordination, and balance, and ensuring
that changes were not too disruptive. In January 1957, a five-man group led by Chen
Yun was entrusted with the task of reforming the administrative system. It decided
that some powers of enterprise management and finance, and some taxes and
enterprise profit retention should be decentralized to the localities, but that coordination and balancing should be strengthened simultaneously.55 In August, Bo's
recommendations on reform of the planning system, accepted by the five-man
group, stressed `big plan, small freedoms'.56 Chen Yun's speech at the Third Plenum
also underscored the further strengthening of balance and the interests of the whole,
especially after decentralization. Without balance based on the whole, he maintained, the economy was not really a planned one.57 Subsequently, three decrees on
industrial, commercial, and fiscal decentralization, masterminded by Chen Yun,
were issued in November 1957.58
Briefly, these orderly changes designed to encourage the initiative of localities
and enterprises were to be accomplished in the following ways. All the `large-scale
mines, metallurgical enterprises, chemical industrial enterprises, important coal and
coke bases, large hydroelectric networks, hydro-stations, petroleum refineries,
large-scale and precision machineries, electrical and precision machinery factories,
war (military) industries and other industries with sophisticated technology'
remained under the jurisdiction of the central ministries, using the dual rule formula---this meant that ministerial supervision from Beijing was primary, although
local authorities were also urged to apply `leadership and supervision' over those
enterprises located within their geographical jurisdictions. All other enterprises
formerly run directly by the ministries were transferred to local authorities.
In addition, it was stipulated that profits of these xiafang (sent downwards)
enterprises were to be divided between the local authorities and the central ministries at a 2 : 8 ratio, effective for three years, and that profits of the largest enterprises
mentioned above were to be retained by the central ministries alone.59 The power
of local authorities in resource allocation and personnel management was expanded,
and the number of mandatory targets was reduced.60 In turn, enterprises would retain
some of their profits, and the cautious planners also ensured that funds for capital

Bo Yibo, Huigu, ii. 782--3.
Ibid. 791--5; Chen Yun Wenxuan, iii. 75--7.
Bo Yibo, Huigu, ii. 793--4; Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Guomin Jingji he Shehui Fazhan Jihua
Dashi Jiyao, 1949--1985 (A summary of major events in the national economic and social development
planning of the PRC,