History - Agriculture & Industry, 1949-65 (Theme 2)


Agricultural & Communist Ideology

Why did improving agriculture matter to Mao and the CCP?

  • To abolish private property
  • To feed urban workers
  • To increase control in the countryside
  • To increase peasant support for revolution
  • To fund industrialisation through grain sales
  • To transform China into a superpower
  • To create a more communistic way of living
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Agrarian Reform Law

The Agrarian Reform Law of June 1950 introduced land reform across the nation

The aim was to replace exploitative landlords with 'a system of peasant land ownership'                  -->  ("land to the tiller")

However, problems included:

  • Land ownership varied by region. Peasant land ownership was already common in the north but not in the former Guomingdang south
  • Land was often organised by family clans, to whom the idea of 'class struggle' made little sense

A problem the communist might have faced when enforing the reform law in the north would be the peasants would not want to give up their land to 'share' with other peasants (possibility

Also in the south the head of the family would technically be landowner so the question would be 'are they peasant or are they landowner?'

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Attacks on landlords

Work teams of Party cadres or hastily trained young people from the cities were sent to the countryside to organise land reform

They organised peasants into Poor Peasant Associations to determine the class of members of the village

Landlords were subjected to struggle meetings and often sentenced to death

These campaigns helped spread class-consciousness among the peasantry; many scores were settled

At times Mao expressed caution against extreme violence or 'ultra-left deviations'

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The Impact of Land Reform

By the summer opf 1952, the 'land to the tiller' movement had been largely completed

An estimated 88% of households had taken part

43% of the land had been redistributed to 60% of the population

During 1950-2, agriculotural output increased by 15% per annum

An estimated 1 to 2 million landlords had been executed

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Peasant Land Ownership (1950-1)

The poorer peasants thought they had achieved their dream of owning their own land

However, the CCP wanted to create a socialistic communal agriculture which would aid industry

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Mutual Aid Teams (MATs) (1952-3)

Volutnary teams in which peasants pooled resources such as tools and animals

It involved 10 households or fewer, excluding richest peasants

By 1952, 40% of peasant households belonged to a MAT

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Voluntary Agricultural Producers Co-Operatives (19

Now land would be shared too! Peasants were less keen to share land so land was reorganised as a single unit and peasants compensated using points systems

They involved 30 to 50 households --> 3 to 5 MATs

Only 14% of peasants joined the new units

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Forced Agricultural Producers Cooperatives (APCs)

This marked the full-scale collectivisation of agriculture!

1953-4: agriculture output had risen by less han 2%

In July 1955 Mao demanded an increased pace of collectivisation

Local Party cadres enthusiastically carried out collectivisation

Higher level APCs contained 200-300 households

By the end of 1956: 96% of peasants in APCs; 88% in higher APCs

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The Leaders

The gradualists:

  • Liu Shaoqui
  • Zhou Enlai

believed that China was not yet ready for large-scale faming, due to a lack of mechinisation and fertiliser. They felt that APCs were premature

The radicals:

  • Mao Zedong
  • Chen Boda

believed that mass mobilisation and willpower could overcome technical deficiencies in agroiculture and called for full speed ahead

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Problems, Solutions & Outcomes

Lack of industrial workers to build communism in China:

  • Would build communist in the countryside first ~ 'the socialisation of agriculture'

--> Communal eating took place in mess halls; communal creches and schools were set up

Disappointing agricultural output ~ grain production had risen only 1% in 1957:

  • Peasants would work together in 'brigades' and production units of 'platoons'

--> An esti9mated 90% of women laboured in agriculture, 1958-9, but output didn't rise enough

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Problems. Solutions & Outcomes (2)

Unpopularity of forced requisitions, as 70% of the CCP came from rural backgrounds:

  • It was believed that MATs and APCs had shown peasant enthusiasm for full communism

--> Force had to be used via commune malitias, to disipline those who did not follow commune rules

Slow pace of industrial growth and output:

  • Factories would be developed within the communes, amking them self-sufficient

--> Much of the industiral output proved of poor quality during the Great Leap Forwards, 1958-62

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Lysenkoism (1958-)

  • Aim: To improve agricultural output by follwoing pseudo-scientist's belief that production modifications could be inherited by the crops
  • Method: Pseuo-science and ideology --> Plant more seeds in one area and more grain will grow
  • Outcome: Time was wasted and output failed to increase significantly
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Four Pests Campaign (1958)

  • Aim: To improve agricultual output by destroying sparrows, rats flies and mosquitoes
  • Method: Mass mobilisation of cleaning
  • Outcome: Killing sparrows simply helped a different pest, caterpillars!
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"Walking on Two Legs" - 1958

Mao: The Party guided the move towards communism in the countryside                                          - (The Four Pests Campaign)

Communes:                                                                                                                                         - (Lysenkoism)

  • 99% of peasants
  • 5.500 households
  • Communal eating 
  • Communal creches
  • Communal scools

Production: Production teams or 'platoons'                                                                                         - (Enforcing productivity)

Discipline: Commune Malitia                                                                                                               - (Enforcing discipline)

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The First Five-Year Plan (1952-6)

The Soviets provided 11,000 industrial experts to China

The anual growth rate averaged around 16%

Workers were organised into Danwies (work units)

The Soviets also provided a loan of $300 million over the five years (with heavy interest)

The new steel centre at Anshan attracted 35,000 new workers

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Major Economic Reforms, 1962-5

Liu Shaoqi & Deng Xiaping

  • Communes scaled back; peasants allowed to grow more on private plots
  • Peasants allowed to trade what they wanted on the free market
  • Experts and intellectuals promoted, replacing low-level cadres
  • Peasants allowed to trade what they wanted on the free market

The reforms of Liu and Deng led to light industry growing by 27% per year and heavy industry by 17% per year.

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Why did Mao launch the Great Leap Forward?

  • Mao wanted to catch up with the West. Mao stressed that China must overtake the USA within 15 years
  • Mao was over-optimistic because of the industrial successes of he First-Five Year Plan but also because of communist success generally. The Sputnik satellite had been launched by the USSR in 1957, creating this optimism
  • At a speech in Moscow in 1957, Mao demonstrated his confidence about Communist successes when he declared that the East wind is prevailing over the West wind
  • Mao wanted the economy to achieve 'Walking on Two legs'; to do this, he declared that the economy was under the control of General Steel and General Grain
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Successes and failures of the Great Leap Forward (

  • One of the few successes of the Great Leap Forward was irrigation terracing
  • Mao was over-confident and too sure that mobilisation of the massess could overcome all obstacles. When the steel production target was raised from 6 million tons to 9 million, Mao said 'Why dilly-dally? Let's make it 11 million tons
  • The Anti-Rightest Campaign had purged intellectuals and economic experts, meaning that there was no-one left to offer rational advice
  • Mao encouraged people to set up back-yard steel furnaces in order to increase the pace of industrial production
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Outputs of the Great Leap Forward (precise statist

  • During 1957-61 the total grain output in China fell by around 20%
  • During the years of 1958-61, the number of pigs in China fell from 138 million to 75 million
  • Coal production fell from 270 million tons in 1958 to 220 million tons in 1962
  • In 1956, industrial output had stood at 121 billion yuan but by 1962 it had fallen to 94 bliion yuan
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The Great Famine, 1958-62: key facts

  • Rural party cadres did not want to be labelled as 'rightists' and therefore exaggerated their production reports. This led the Party to demand even higher results because of a Wind of exaggeration
  • Before the famine the rural death rate was 11 per 1000 inhabitants. This increased to 28 per 1000 inhabitants by 1960
  • During the famine, peasants relied on tree bark and leaves to make 'porridge' and frind to make 'flour'
  • Approcimately 30-50 million people died in China during the Great Famine of 1958-62
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The Great Famine, 1958-62: causes

  • The main cause of the famine was the over-optimism of Mao and the CCP about what could be achieved through mass mobalisation. The Party boss in Sichuan province said which dynasty has not witnessed death by starvation?
  • The famine was made worse by typhoons and droughts which hit China during the Great Leap Forward. Drought reduced the flow of the Yellow River by two-thirds
  • Worsening relations with the USSR led Khrushchev to withdraw all Soviet advisors during the Great Leap Forward. This was done in 1960
  • More aid was not sent to the famine-stricken areas due to local officials concealing the truth
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The Lushan Conference, 1959, and beyond

  • Peng Duhuai, was the Minister of Defence at the time of the Lushan Conference who, in a private letter to Mao, criticised the exaggerated reporting of the Great Leap Forward
  • Mao took this criticism personally and badly, resulting in Peng being forced to live in a bad area of Beijing
  • Mao threatened to return to guerilla war if the criticism of him became too great as a consequence of the failings of the Great Leap Forward
  • Once the Great Leap Forward ended in 1962, Mao retired from day-to-day politics for several years
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