42. The Great Famine

For the Chinese people the bombardment of Quemoy was of little significance. They remained absorbed in the Great Leap Forward and the creation of people's communes. Because of the enthusiasm and the faith in mass mobilization and because the 1958 growing season was favorable throughout China, commune cadres reported record crop prospects.

The top Communist leadership had invested great hopes in the success of the communes and exerted heavy pressure to report dramatic production breakthroughs. Therefore, it was incumbent upon the loyal Red cadres to justify their leaders' faith. To demonstrate failure would show defeatism and lack of confidence.

With the government statistical service and independent local monitoring effectively dismantled by the enormous disruptions brought on by the Great Leap and the communes, officials in Beijing took the radiantly optimistic figures of local political cadres on faith and added them up. They were mesmerized by the glowing reports coming from the communes. They raised few doubts that perhaps local cadres were reporting what they wanted to believe rather than what they could verify. By December, 1958, the CCP central committee reported grain output in 1958 at 375 million metric tons, twice the 1957 level of 185 million tons.1

It was an unbelievably high figure. Yet the Chinese leadership as a whole did believe it. The leaders, wanting the communes to accomplish the transformation predicted by Mao Zedong, allowed themselves and the Chinese nation to be cruelly deceived. The enormous record crop figures were totally unrealistic but the optimistic reports throughout the 1958 crop season led to devastating decisions.

The projections nourished the belief that the problem of adequate food supplies for the urban population had been solved. The state therefore could allow the nonagricultural population to grow rapidly and could increase the rate of investment in industry. The inflated crop figures also could permit communes to reduce the area of land sown to food grains and plant more industrial crops, like cotton.2

Another factor that aroused enthusiasm was that many major industrial projects of the first five-year-plan came into operation in 1958, producing impressive growth in industrial output. Beijing accordingly raised industrial-production targets repeatedly through the year. For example, the state had initially set a figure of 6.2 million metric tons of steel for 1958 (19 per cent over the 1957 figure) but by August Mao Zedong had persuaded the Politburo to raise the target to 8.5 million tons. The state likewise more than doubled industrial capital-investment figures, resulting in an unprecedented growth in the urban work force, almost 21 million persons in a single year (85 per cent over 1957).3

The vast expansion in the urban population produced an equally vast demand for grain and other food products. As a consequence, the state imposed extraordinary demands on the new communes for delivery of grain to the cities.

Unknown to the Communist leadership because of the enormous amount of false reporting by lower-level cadres, actual grain production fell in 1958 by 25 million metric tons. Real production reached only 160 million tons. Regimented work teams of the communes were utterly inferior to individual peasants working for their own benefit. In the face of inexorable needs of the swollen urban population, the state actually took 28 per cent of total farm production (compared with 17 per cent in 1957). The makings of a famine were already present.

This was only the first of a series of stupendous mistakes of the Communist leadership. Believing great stocks of grain lay stored in commune larders, the leaders ordered cutbacks in 1959 of 13 per cent in the area of grain sown (while allocating a higher share to cotton, oilseeds and other nongrain crops) and permitted the agricultural labor force to shrink drastically to fill new factory jobs and small industries within the communes. Between 1957 and 1960 the peasant population fell 10 per cent.4

The Chinese leadership was slow to recognize what was happening. A typical attitude was reflected by a buoyant report by the Politburo on August 29, 1958, which declared: "It seems that attainment of Communism in China is no longer a remote future event." However, Khrushchev opposed the communes and the Great Leap concept and privately tried to dissuade Beijing from committing itself so deeply. Moscow studiously avoided any public reference to the communes throughout the fall of 1958. Speaking to U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey, however, Khrushchev dismissed them as "reactionary," and said "you can't get production without incentive." Publication of Khrushchev's comments deeply angered Chinese officials and added to the growing tension between the two Communist powers.5

Among the top Chinese leaders, only Zhou Enlai, Chen Yun and Peng Dehuai, the minister of defense, opposed the communes and the Great Leap. Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and most other top leaders supported them wholeheartedly. Peng Dehuai dissented because the program called on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to participate in civilian work and train the citizen militia.

Peng and other PLA leaders wanted a modern, professional army modeled on the Soviet Army with motorized equipment and offensive weapons. This would require huge Soviet imports and continued development of heavy industry along the lines Joseph Stalin had carried out.

Mao Zedong had a different view, an army that hearkened back to the lightly armed forces that had infiltrated behind the Japanese lines during World War II and which had won the war with the Nationalists. Mao envisioned a defensive role for the army, believing that China could fight an invader best by semiguerrilla war.6

Although inspection trips by some leaders in the fall of 1958 provided proof of peasant stories of food shortages and of cases where crops had not been properly harvested because too many workers had been shifted to industrial jobs, there was not a dramatic reassessment of the Great Leap. However, at a Zhengzhou conference in February, 1959, Mao Zedong demanded that some errors within the communes be corrected to prevent the Great Leap from becoming a disaster. He wanted more ownership rights to be vested below the commune level to allow actual producers to have more input into production decisions.

Nevertheless, local cadres, who had gained great power and influence during the Great Leap, were reluctant to admit to any major problems and sentiment to go all-out appeared strong at provincial and commune levels. Even visits to rural areas in the early spring of 1959 by Peng Dehuai and Chen Yun brought about no radical reassessment, although Peng, journeying into Hunan, found conditions grave and concluded that production figures had been inflated. Chen, traveling into Henan, found provincial cadres out of touch with conditions in the villages and decided they had been deluded by inflated reports from the communes.7

Peng's and Chen's reports showed that the strategy of the Great Leap was flawed and that the communes had not raised agricultural output even with favorable weather conditions. Mao Zedong exhibited considerable concern but a dramatic revolt in Tibet in March distracted him and other leaders. Consequently, the Beijing leadership allowed decisions to reduce crop acreage and to concentrate on industrialization to stand.

* * * * * * * * * *

China and India had been moving toward a clash over delineation of the frontier since 1958, when China announced it had completed a highway from Xinjiang into western Tibet. The road ran directly through the Aksai Chin plateau, a 100-by-100-mile region north of the Karakoram range and northeast of the Ladakh region of Indian-occupied Kashmir. India claimed this high, barren and virtually uninhabited territory (with peaks well over 20,000 feet), basing its claim on the fact that a British survey team had tracked across the plateau in 1865 and later drew a map including the Aksai Chin as part of Kashmir.8

The region, however, was north of the main Himalayan crests and strategically far more important to China than India.9 This was primarily because Khamba tribesmen in eastern Tibet were disaffected with Beijing for allowing large numbers of Han Chinese to migrate into their region. The Khambas were in a position to block the tenuous communication links of Tibet with China proper. Therefore, the Chinese road from Xinjiang through the Aksai Chin guaranteed Chinese access to Tibet, whatever the Khambas did.

Meanwhile China began to drive some Khambas out of their homelands astride direct roads to China proper. Many of the displaced Khambas relocated south of Lhasa within easy reach of the Indian frontier. By the summer of 1958 Beijing was anxious about support the Khambas were getting from the Indian city of Kalimpong, near Darjeeling. Beijing protested that the American CIA and Nationalist Chinese were operating out of Kalimpong to encourage and provide arms for revolt in Tibet.10

China and India also were heading toward a collision in northeastern India in what became Arunach Pradesh (the former North East Frontier Agency). Two contested lines delineated this disputed region. India claimed and moved its troops up to the British-drawn McMahon line, running generally northeastward from the northeast corner of Bhutan to the northern tip of Burma. China claimed a line some hundred miles to the south, running northeastward from the southeast corner of Bhutan.

In January, 1959, Zhou Enlai informed Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian prime minister, that the highway through the Aksai Chin was in Chinese territory. He proposed, as a compromise, that both sides should observe the McMahon line in the northeast, although asserting the line was illegal from China's point of view. This was an extremely reasonable proposal, because the North East Agency, though mountainous, was much lower (1,500 to 6,000 feet) than Aksai Chin and offered far more economic potential. Nehru, however, demanded that China abandon both the Aksai Chin and the North East Agency.

The revolt of the Khamba people now spread to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. On March 10 a mass demonstration attempted to dissuade the Dalai Lama from fleeing to India. He was under pressure from some elements wanting him to support the rebels and from others urging that he work through the Chinese. The Dalai Lama was the head of the dominant Yellow Hat order of Buddhists and was both spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet. On March 12, 1959, the Tibetan cabinet denounced its 1951 treaty with China and declared Tibet independent. On March 17 the Dalai Lama decided to flee Lhasa after Chinese troops opened fire on demonstrators. A guard of Khambas escorted the Dalai Lama into India. From the safety of India the Dalai Lama condemned Chinese conduct in Tibet, claiming that thousands of Tibetans had been slain. Beijing accused India of interfering with China's internal affairs, especially because CIA and Nationalist agents continued to support the rebels in Tibet. On June 28 Beijing dissolved the Tibetan government, setting up a new puppet regime. PLA forces attempted to close off the vast, high frontier with Nepal and India, with some success, and began construction in the Aksai Chin of a second military road south of the first.11

* * * * * * * * * *

Although the Chinese Communist leaders were preoccupied with the Indian dispute, the growing crisis in the Chinese countryside began to dominate thinking. Some leaders felt Mao's ideas were dangerously out of date and prepared to confront him. The issue came to a head in July, 1959, in one of the most fateful conferences in the history of the People's Republic. It occurred in the mountain resort of Lu Shan in Jiangxi a few miles south of Jiujiang.12

Chen Yun led off the attack on Mao's policies. He argued for a return from communes to cooperatives, a more balanced and less pell-mell rush into industrialization, limited cooperation with the Soviets and greater emphasis on technical expertise (and less on ideological purity). Although Chen's proposals offended the Maoists, the dispute that developed at Lu Shan focused around the blunt Marshal Peng Dehuai, minister of defense.

The old soldier Peng and Mao had experienced stormy relations throughout their long association from the early days of the Communist movement. Although Mao and Peng had often disagreed about strategy, they always resolved their differences in private and no one had ever questioned Peng's loyalty to the party and to the revolution. Peng had served with Mao in the original bastion in the Jinggang mountains along the Hunan-Jiangxi border in 1928-29, was a major figure in the Long March 1934-36, was a brilliant leader during the civil war and commanded Chinese forces in Korea during the Korean War.

In mid-June, 1959, Peng returned after a three-week visit to the Soviet Union and several East-bloc states. Peng already had shown his concern about the effects of the Great Leap on crop production and his hopes for a modern Chinese army. Peng may have been anxious about his job because another well-known military leader, Lin Biao, a close ally and uncritical supporter of Mao Zedong, stood in line to replace Peng, particularly since Mao did not share Peng's ideas for an expensive modern army.

Also Peng may have been concerned about his future prospects because Liu Shaoqi had succeeded Mao Zedong in December, 1958, as chairman of the People's Republic. This supported Liu's claim to become Mao's successor. Mao had stepped into the "second rank" to devote himself more to theoretical issues and less to day-to-day operations. However, the Great Leap and the Indian dispute kept Mao in the center of Chinese affairs. But Liu's picture began to be given equal status with Mao's in public displays, thus heightening the implicit dispute over the succession.13

During his visit to Europe Peng met with Khrushchev and apparently got on well with him, despite the fact that Khrushchev's undisguised opposition to the Great Leap, his great emphasis on reaching a rapprochement with the U.S. and his failure to back China strongly in the conflict with India were marking the Soviet leader as distinctly unfriendly to Chinese interests.

The Sino-Soviet disagreement erupted just after Peng's return when Khrushchev unexpectedly informed Beijing on June 20, 1959, that Russia was reversing its October, 1957, decision to assist China in developing atomic weapons.14 The Chinese leaders were convinced Khrushchev made the decision in order to curry favor with Washington. This was bad enough, but Khrushchev also launched a public attack on the Chinese communes in a speech in eastern Europe on July 18.

Peng's recent friendly exchanges with Khrushchev may have aroused some suspicions in Mao's mind. Nothing might have come of these, however, except for the fact that Peng gave Mao a letter during the Lu Shan conference which criticized the Great Leap directly and Mao by implication.15 The coincidence of Peng's attack (though couched as a private message to Mao) with his recent talks with Khrushchev and the Soviet leader's public criticism of the communes may have suggested to Mao that Peng and Khrushchev had colluded to discredit him and possibly upset the succession to Liu Shaoqi.

Mao unexpectedly had Peng's letter printed and distributed at the conference. On July 23 Mao launched a severe attack on Peng for his "right-opportunist" remarks and charged they had been planned with a deliberate purpose. Mao accused Peng of forming a "military club" or anti-party clique, which Peng vehemently denied.16 No other leaders dared to come to Peng's defense. Mao may have struck at Peng to head off others in the party opposed to the Great Leap and perhaps to Mao's continued leadership.17 Mao drew a line between permissible criticism and Peng's remarks, charging Peng sought to attack Mao rather than simply to give helpful advice. Mao declared that Peng and his "clique" would have to undergo rectification.

One result of the Lu Shan confrontation was that Peng Dehuai lost his position as minister of defense, with Lin Biao taking over. This gave Mao control of the military, with important implications for the future.18 The Politburo told Peng he had to engage in study for several years. This was tantamount to house arrest.19 Four vice-ministers, allegedly part of his "anti-party clique," were dismissed.20

Another result of Lu Shan was that top Communist colleagues of Mao no longer could voice their opinions freely. Mao now labeled criticisms as "unprincipled factional activity" and promised punishment to all who attempted it. A third result was that a thoroughgoing attack on "opportunism" swept China in the fall of 1959. Authorities removed all those who expressed doubts about the Great Leap and ended all efforts to eliminate the worst deficiencies of the communes. By early 1960 a new Great Leap was under way.

* * * * * * * * * *

Perhaps one reason why the Chinese leaders failed so signally to address the domestic crisis building because of the Great Leap was that, after Lu Shan, foreign affairs increasingly distracted them. Mao and the other top leaders were particularly disturbed by Khrushchev's decision to deny China the A-bomb and to sacrifice Chinese interests to work out a settlement with the United States.

The Chinese believed the decision on atomic aid was a deliberate sop to Washington in advance of Khrushchev's scheduled visit to the U.S. (September 15-28, 1959). During Khrushchev's celebrated tour of the United States, he appealed for peaceful coexistence, spoke darkly of the danger of nuclear war and paid high tribute to President Eisenhower for his efforts to improve relations with the Soviet Union. Khrushchev's behavior aroused intense anger in Beijing which privately complained of his "tactless eulogy of Eisenhower and other imperialists."

Meanwhile China sought control of high Himalayan passes between Tibet and India to prevent movement back and forth of Tibetan rebels. On August 25, 1959, PLA efforts to halt this flow resulted in a clash with Indian patrols at Longju on the McMahon line in which an Indian soldier was killed. On September 8 Zhou Enlai repeated his offer to settle border differences through negotiation but meanwhile to observe the status quo, meaning Chinese occupation of Aksai Chin and Indian control of the North East Agency.

The Soviet Union studiously refused to support China in the conflict with India and, though it publicly took a neutral stand, signed an agreement on September 12 to extend 375 million dollars (U.S.) for India's third five-year plan, doubling previous Soviet aid to India. The timing could not have been more provocative and signaled that Moscow preferred India to China in the dispute. Perhaps Moscow's support emboldened Prime Minister Nehru to reject Zhou's offer of compromise. He informed Beijing that no discussions could be fruitful until China withdrew from all territory claimed by India.21

Immediately after returning from the U.S., Khrushchev and Andrei Gromyko, foreign minister, flew to Beijing to take part in the People's Republic's tenth-anniversary celebrations.22 Khrushchev proposed to Mao Zedong that Chinese interests would best be served by accepting a "two-Chinas" formula, which meant giving up claim to Taiwan. This wholly unacceptable proposal, coupled with Khrushchev's reneging on assisting in building an A-bomb, broke the last ties between China and the Soviet Union. Although the two countries continued to present a façade of unity, an irretrievable break had occurred.23

From this point on, Mao Zedong was determined to "go it alone," another reason why he pressed for continuance of the Great Leap Forward as a way to achieve modern industrial economy without relying upon the Soviet Union.

On October 20-21, the second serious Indian-Chinese border clash of 1959 occurred at the Kongka pass in the Aksai Chin. Chinese troops killed nine members of an Indian patrol and captured ten others. Beijing refused to budge from its claimed line in the Aksai Chin but proposed that both sides withdraw twenty kilometers from the McMahon line in the east and for Chinese and Indian representatives to begin talks on a permanent settlement. Indian nationalists refused to accept status quo in the Aksai Chin, even though this would have included Beijing's agreement to the McMahon line. An uneasy truce settled over the Himalayan rampart.

* * * * * * * * * *

In 1960 Chinese authorities increased planted acreage of food crops but the heavy procurement of food for urban workers and the emphasis on developing commune industry and working peasants in gang-like labor persisted. No top leaders dared to criticize communes or Leap and leaders down the line followed obediently. The result was calamity.

By summer 1960 practically all of the reserve stocks of grain had been exhausted. In a capricious addition to the misfortune already present, drought extended over most of China, reducing yields drastically. The 1960 harvest was a disaster: 143.5 million metric tons of grain, 26 per cent below 1957. Oilseed production fell to half the level of 1957. Meat production dropped almost as much and fell even more in 1961. Agricultural output in 1960 was only three-quarters of the dangerously low production of 1958.24

Because the state blindly maintained high grain and other food procurement quotas in 1960 and on into 1961, the cities did not suffer severely. But in the villages food supplies fell to dangerous levels and fell again. Grain consumption in the cities dropped only 2 per cent in 1960. It declined 24 per cent in the rural areas in 1960 and 25 per cent in 1961 (8 per cent in urban areas). The state clamped severe restrictions on news about food shortages and often refused to believe what actually was happening.25

What befell China was the most devastating famine in the twentieth century, not only in China but probably the world. What makes the famine all the more horrible is that the Chinese leadership kept it secret from themselves, to the extent possible, because they refused to admit that they alone had been responsible for its happening.26

Official silence makes accurate figures on the famine impossible to obtain. However, the deaths almost certainly reached 16 million and may have totaled 27 million. There are some official data which hint at the disaster. The mortality rate, which was 11.1 per thousand in 1956-57, rose to 14.6 in 1959 and to 25.4 in 1960! It declined sharply in 1961 to 14.2 per thousand but its great elevation over 1956-57 shows that the effects of the starving time lingered. The birth rate fell from 33 per thousand in 1956-57 to 18 in 1961.

The great famine of 1960-61 was almost solely, as the rare references in published Chinese sources attest, "in the villages," and was concentrated in certain regions. Part of the reason was that local self-sufficiency had become an article of faith in the ideology of the commune and because local political leaders often refused to face destruction of their careers if they asked for food from the center. There are documented cases in which local cadres denied the existence of food shortages because they had previously reported bumper harvests.27 Another evidence of the impact of the famine in rural areas was the astonishing drop in farm animals. Pig numbers fell 48 per cent and 30 per cent of all draft animals either died of starvation or were slaughtered for food. In a country which depended upon animal traction for its agriculture, the massive loss of oxen and buffalo was unimpeachable evidence of catastrophe.28

An ironic aspect of the 1960-61 Chinese famine is that three to five times as many people died as during the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture in 1929-30. This mocked the pride the Communist leadership had taken that the collectivization in China had been accomplished without the destructive consequences that followed the Soviet effort.

In mid-July, 1960, as the reality of drought and starvation was slowly beginning to penetrate official consciousness, Khrushchev finally responded to the rising level of polemics which Beijing had been leveling at Soviet policies. The Soviet leader informed the Chinese leadership that all Soviet technicians would be withdrawn from China by early September, 1960. Beijing later claimed that nearly 1,400 Soviet experts departed, taking with them their blueprints, technical papers and know-how. The experts' withdrawal caused 257 Sino-Soviet scientific and technical projects to end.29 Moscow's decision crystallized Mao's program of self-reliance and virtually wiped away the appearance of cooperation with the Soviet Union.

Perhaps because of the crisis brought on by the departure of the Soviet technicians, it was not until November, 1960, that a major reevaluation of the Great Leap Forward began. Zhou Enlai drafted an "urgent directive on rural work," approved by the CCP central committee, which shifted decision-making from the commune level down to the intermediate-sized brigade unit.30 This was a start but scarcely a revolutionary improvement.

Zhou Enlai also in late 1960 revived an earlier control agency, "the finance and economics small group," to formulate a recovery strategy. Zhou asked Chen Yun to play an active role in the decisions and thus set up the machinery to move forward. Chen Yun had vanished from the inner circle for over a year because he had incurred Mao Zedong's displeasure for his orthodox, classic, conservative economic views. Now China needed him.

Chen believed in raising prices for desired crops to spur peasants to work, thus producing recovery and sustained growth. He also called for increased agricultural specialization. That is, Chen wanted to encourage comparative advantage or encouragement of areas suited for certain crops, like cotton, tobacco or sugar cane, to grow them and to downplay the previous emphasis on self-sufficiency of communes. Chen urged massive increases in manufacture of fertilizers, which could do more than anything to increase crops per unit of land.

Finally, Chen wanted to reduce investment in heavy industry, especially metallurgy, and to shift resources into consumer goods and selected industrial goods that would support agricultural production increases (tractors, threshers, cotton gins, etc.). Availability of more consumer goods, Chen saw, was necessary to tempt peasants to produce more farm products. The government inaugurated a program that promised peasants rights of purchase in exchange for deliveries of grain. For example, for selling 705 kilograms of grain, peasants could buy fifteen feet of cotton cloth, a pair of rubber shoes, twenty feet of knit goods, 1.5 kilograms of sugar, two cases of cigarettes and four-hundred grams of cotton padding for quilts and jackets.

Despite the disasters of the Great Leap, Mao Zedong continued to have faith in the commune-style heavy mobilization of labor. He clashed with Chen who understood that a far more certain method of encouraging growth was to induce peasants to want to produce more in order to eat more and to buy more goods. Chen also understood that leaders could not effectively supervise or pick out and reward good workers if labor existed only in large mobilized units. This led to poor or lazy workers being paid as much as good workers.

Chen also clashed with Mao because Chen wanted a lower rate of industrial investment, since a higher rate was essentially a form of forced savings imposed mostly on the peasants. Mao, however, appeared to be oblivious to the problems of excessive investment. During the Great Leap investment reached incredibly high levels (43 per cent of total income in 1959), leaving little for individual consumption. In a country in which hard, manual work for the great majority of adults was the norm, the extreme scarcity of consumer amenities gave few opportunities for workers and peasants to forget their fatigue (even candy was almost impossible to buy).

Because of Mao's opposition to reforms, it took Zhou Enlai, Chen Yun and others who shared their views more than two years to implement more rational policies. By 1961, however, they had brought about a drastic shrinkage of investments. This at last halted government deficits, which reached 15 per cent of the budget in 1961.

State investment fell from nearly 39 billion to just over 7 billion yuan between 1960 and 1962. Likewise industrial production dropped dramatically. At the same time Chen Yun engineered a strong program of support for agriculture by expanding the chemical fertilizer industry and making special allocations of materials for small and medium farm implements, hand tools, carts and boats.

In other areas of production the state closed down thousands of construction projects and "unprofitable" manufacturing enterprises which cost more to keep operating then their output was worth. The state forcibly resettled almost 30 million city dwellers into the countryside and in 1961 shut down 25,000 enterprises and eliminated wage incomes for more than 8 million industrial and construction workers. In 1962 the process of retrenchment continued. The labor force in state industrial enterprises fell 45 per cent, the number of construction workers 35 per cent. The state closed most of its money-losing enterprises and stopped operating at a deficit. By 1962 the state had a surplus of almost a billion yuan. But the costs in human terms, dislocations, losses of jobs, forced removal of workers and families from their homes, were enormous.

In agriculture the major improvement was a sharp reduction in compulsory delivery of grains to the state. In large measure this cut was made possible by shutting down urban industrial and construction sites and the relocation of the workers back into the countryside. In 1961 state purchases of cereals dropped to 40.5 million metric tons (compared to 67.4 million in 1959). The share of output the peasants retained rose to 82.5 per cent, about the same as during the first five-year plan.

At least as important, the "communist wind" ceased to blow through the countryside. This was the term Red leaders used to describe the tendency which arose in the communes to give everyone absolutely equal income and to transfer without compensation material, financial and manpower resources from lower to higher levels in the communes or to government agencies.31

As early as the fall of 1959 periodic rural markets had been reopened in some locations, thus permitting peasants to buy and sell instead of relying entirely on the communes. In mid-1961 the state once more sanctioned private plots for the peasants (about 5 per cent of arable land). At the same time the Communst leadership authorized families to resume private household subsidiary production. This principally meant revival of family rearing (and either consumption or selling) of pigs, sheep, chickens and ducks and household weaving, sewing, embroidery, handicraft manufacture, foraging for wild plants, fishing, hunting, beekeeping, tea picking and processing and silk production. Peasants could sell most of their surplus products on the rural markets. With personal gain now an incentive, home production rose dramatically.

Another effect of the stilling of the communist wind was the return of decision-making to the lowest level in the communes, the production teams of twenty to thirty households on average. Production teams were comparable in size to "elementary" cooperatives established prior to 1955-56. This decision changed the nature of the commune fundamentally by eliminating the Communist cadres as significant policy makers. Production teams owned the land and now made decisions on how it would be planted and worked. They also decided among team members how income was to be distributed. Performance now became the basic criterion. Team members could closely observe the work habits and results of other members and could judge them far more accurately than headquarters cadres. Suddenly the "socialist" principle became the standard by which teams determined pay: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work."32

The post-Great Leap reforms and retrenchments made possible a dramatic recovery in years leading up to 1965. Agriculture grew the least. It already was pressed close to the limits of its productive capacity.

The quantity of land under irrigation rose substantially but the major gain was a large shift from gravity-flow irrigation from rivers and reservoirs to irrigation by means of mechanized pumps pulling water from deep wells (one-quarter of the total irrigated area in 1965). Pumps provided improved irrigation control, essential to multiple cropping that arrived in the mid-1960s as a result of the development of new short-stalk, short-season rice varieties that were highly productive under nitrogen fertilization (the "green revolution"). Nevertheless, growth in agricultural production was agonizingly slow, especially as China's population growth continued to press hard against the food supply and Mao, much to his discredit, refused to address the issue of China's overpopulation.

In industry, however, new sectors of production arose, especially in petroleum and petrochemicals. Chinese sources of oil expanded rapidly, making China largely self-sufficient in petroleum products. Industry in general recovered rapidly. By 1965, aggregate national income was 51 per cent over the bottoming-out year of 1962.

However quickly the Chinese leadership responded to the effects of the Great Leap, its success should in no way hide the cataclysm this same leadership allowed to be visited upon the rural population of China. Measured by any human standard, the disaster they brought on by their own folly was one of the most inexcusable in all history.

Chapter 43: Clashes on the Frontiers >>

1. Cambridge, vol. 14, chapter 8, "The Chinese Economy Under Stress," by Nicholas R. Lardy, p. 366; chapter 7, "The Great Leap Forward and the Split in the Yenan Leadership," by Kenneth Lieberthal, p. 306. I am indebted to the splendid scholarship of Professors Lardy and Lieberthal for most of the material in this chapter on the failure of the Great Leap Forward.

2. Ibid., pp. 366-7.

3. The "backyard" steel mills in the communes were not a success. In August, 1959, experts pronounced 3 million of the 11 million tons of steel produced in 1958 as unfit for industrial use. See Hsü, p. 657.

4. Cambridge, vol. 14, p. 369.

5. Cambridge, vol. 14, chapter 14, "The Sino-Soviet Split," by Allen S. Whiting, p. 500; Rift, p. 173.

6. Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 308-09; Harrison, pp. 453, 468, 480.

7. Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 310, 379-80.

8. Lach and Wehrle, pp. 192, 194; Power, p. 260; New York Times, December 7, 1958, p. 12.

9. Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 511-4; Keesing, pp. 19-22.

10. Lach and Wehrle, pp. 191-2.

11. Ibid., pp. 192-3; New York Times, March 21, 1959, p. 1; March 22, 1959, p. 1; March 26, 1959, p. 1; March 27, 1959, p. 1; March 28, 1959, p. 1; March 29, 1959, pp. 1, 3, 4, E-1; March 30, 1959, p. 1.

12. I am indebted to Kenneth Lieberthal for his brilliant analysis in Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 311-7, of the Lu Shan conference and its results. See also the excellent account by Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, 2: The Great Leap Forward 1958-1960, London: Oxford: University Press; New York: Columbia University Press, 1983, especially pp. 204-06; Memoirs of a Chinese Marshal, The Autobiographical Notes of Peng Dehuai (1898-1974), Beijing, Foreign Languages Press, 1984, pp. 485-520; Hsü, pp. 693-6; Power, pp. 241-3.

13. Hsü, p. 692.

14. Brzezinski, pp. 377-8.

15. Cambridge, vol. 14, p. 315; MacFarquhar, Origins of the Cultural Revolution, 2, pp. 204-06; Memoirs of a Chinese Marshal, p. 493.

16. Memoirs of a Chinese Marshall, pp. 510-20.

17. Hsü, pp. 695-6.

18. Harrison, p. 480.

19. Peng Dehuai remained under virtual house arrest for most of the remaining sixteen years of his life. He did manual labor and wrote biographical notes in response to demands for "confessions." He died November 29, 1974, under persecution during the Cultural Revolution. The CCP central committee exonerated Peng in 1978 and restored him to his place as one of the great military leaders of the Communist revolution. See end note, Memoirs of a Chinese Marshal.

20. Brzezinski, p. 378.

21. Lach and Wehrle, pp. 194-5.

22. Cambridge, vol. 14, p. 514.

23. Brzezinski, p. 378.

24. Ibid., pp. 318-9, 370-4.

25. Ibid., p. 381.

26. Memoirs of a Chinese Marshal, pp. 487, 490-1.

27. Cambridge, vol. 14, p. 377.

28. As late as the summer of 1961 consumption levels in many villages remained low. CIA reports for July in two Guangdong province communes and August in a Zhejiang commune showed monthly grain rations ranging from 18 to 36 catties (20 to 40 pounds) of unmilled rice per person per month. Soap was unavailable and kerosene available only intermittently in tiny amounts. There was no meat available on the free market, although sweet potatoes and soybean curd could be purchased. Rice also could be bought covertly but at high prices. See CIA information reports, CS-3/489,472, October 11, 1961; CS-3/489,128, October 10, 1961, and CS-3/490,712, October, 1961, in Kennedy Library, NSF, Box 21-23, China, General 1/20/61-3/6/62.

29. Brzezinski, p. 409; Keesing, p. 29; Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 517-8. For an analysis of the rising level of invective between Moscow and Beijing in 1960, see Keesing, pp. 24-29; Brzezinski, pp. 397-408; Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 515-6; Rift, p. 19.

30. The narrative on the retrenchment program after the Great Leap is drawn largely from Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 382-90. See also Hsü, pp. 696-9, Harrison, pp. 482-3.

31. Memoirs of a Chinese Marshal, p. 486.

32. Chu Li and Tien Chieh-yun, Inside a People's Commune, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1975, p. 11. Establishment of the production team as the "basic accounting unit" masked a sweeping reversal of the egalitarian spirit of the commune. It forced upon the teams responsibility for their own survival, without much help from the brigade or commune. For example, in the Qiliying People's Commune in Henan described, ibid., pp. 140-55, the poorest village, "Little Songzhuang," had to pull itself up by its own efforts. The village had thirty households and only 320 mu (53 acres) of arable land. Through the leadership of one villager, the Songzhuang team increased its production of grain from 660 pounds per acre in 1961 to 7,400 pounds per acre in 1973.