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Great Leap Forward (GLF) | Meaning, Components and Effects

Last Updated : 05 Sep, 2023
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What is Great Leap Forward (GLF)?

The Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong, in 1958, launched a five-year economic strategy named Great Leap Forward (GLF) to modernise the agriculture sector and promote industrialisation. The main focus of this five-year plan was: Agriculture and Industries. However, the plan was discarded in 1961 due to its massive failure. Unplanned techniques and practices led to starvation, great famine, and deaths, leading to the overall failure of the plan. Numbers say the death toll was around 55 million individuals.

Key Takeaways from Great Leap Forward (GLF):

  • The five-year plan was initially set up for five years but was discarded after three years due to its massive failure.
  • The five-year plan focused mainly on agriculture and industries. Goals to modernise the agriculture sector and help the industry to expand the production of steel were laid down.

Components of Great Leap Forward (GLF)

1. Agriculture

For the betterment of the agriculture sector, The Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong together set up some basic things that all the people engaged in agriculture must follow. Large irrigation projects with trained engineers were initiated. Private land farming was banned and farmers were forced to promote collective farming. Farmers were made to work on collective farms where all the major decisions were taken by the communist party. Decisions like resource allocation, production decisions, techniques for production, etc., were taken by the communist party all over the country. Farmers who tried to escape the collective farming were killed along with their families. Farmers faced mob lynching, being buried alive, public torture, and many other cruel practices. Unproven agriculture techniques were introduced. Too much effort to promote modernisation and new techniques in the field of agriculture led to less production of crops, because of the failure of techniques and experiments. Mao Zedong believed that the sparrows were pests on crops and forced to vanish the sparrow species. In the absence of sparrows (natural predators), a mass number of locust swarms survived on crops, leading to the destruction of the same. Famine took place so quickly around the country due to the negligible production of crops. Millions of people died due to famine, forced labour, and being vulnerable to new unproven technologies. The public turned to eating bark trees and even cannibalism to satisfy their hunger.

2. Industrialisation

To modernise the industrial area, various technological-intensive, as well as labour-intensive methods, were set up to expand the production of steel mainly. Large-scale projects were set up to overcome the steel production of Britain. The production of steel was targeted to be doubled in the first year of the Great Leap Forward. Household tools, existing tools, and metals were confiscated to increase the production of new steel. Increased production of steel affected the quality and led to very poor quality of it. Farmers, mostly men were forced to leave the agriculture sector to work in industries. The transfer of people caused the breaking up of families, leading to emotional torture. Increased population in urban areas due to more industrialisation demanded food and crops, putting on additional pressure on agriculture. Urban consumption remained unfulfilled, which was one of the main reasons for low efficiency and effectiveness. High investment and reallocation of resources in industries along with lower manufacturing levels led to overall imbalances in the economy.

Effects of Great Leap Forward (GLF)

1. Starvation: Tons of people were forced to consume bark trees and even practice cannibalism due to starvation caused by negligible production of grains and crops. Industrialisation leads to more urban consumption and puts additional pressure on agriculture. Agriculture faced other issues as well, like the implementation of failed techniques and locust swarms making the sector unable to perform and satisfy the needs of the country.

2. Deaths: Million people died due to starvation, overwork, forced labour, mob lynching, etc. People faced separation from their families due to the reallocation of labour from agriculture to industries, making them vulnerable to emotional torture and thus, degradation of physical health. Numbers say the death toll was around 55 million individuals.

3. Demolition: Thirty to forty percent of the households were confiscated to get the raw materials for mass production. Household tools, existing tools, and metals were confiscated to increase the production of new steel.

The Anti-Rightist Campaign

The Anti-Rightist Campaign under the Great Leap Forward (GLF) was a political movement in the People’s Republic of China launched by the Chinese Communist Party, in 1957. It was aimed at suppressing perceived “rightist” elements within the party and society. During the Great Leap Forward, which began in 1958, there were significant economic and social disruptions, including the rapid collectivisation and industrialisation efforts. These policies led to widespread famine and economic hardships. The Anti-Rightist Campaign was initiated to target intellectuals, writers, and party members who expressed criticism and doubts about the policies of the Chinese Communist Party. Many of those who were labelled as ‘rightists’ were subjected to prosecution, public humiliation, forced labour, and other forms of punishment. This campaign plays a significant role in silencing dissent and consolidating the Chinese Communist Party’s control over the intellectual and political landscape. It had a profound impact on Chinese society and politics, contributing to the climate of fear and conformity that characterised the Maoist era in China.


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