Correspondence: Tom Bailey

60 Years On – The Legacy of Mao Zedong

Sixty years ago the Chinese Communist Party came to power, creating the People’s Republic of China, with Mao Zedong proclaiming “The Chinese People have stood up”. The 60 years of rule by the CCP have seen great triumphs and achievements for the people of China, as well as great tragedy and loss; the biggest of which being the Great Leap Forward.

The attempt at the great tasks and goals of the Great Leap nevertheless should be viewed in their historical context. The 1950s had been a decade of many victories for China, with successes in the growth of industry, collectivisation of farms, increased grain yields, and the defeat of US troops in the Korean War. What had seemed impossible had become possible under the new collective system.

Unfortunately the same was not true for the Great Leap Forward, “catching up with Britain” overnight was not possible. However, the impact of the weather in causing the famine and failure of the Great Leap Forward should not be forgotten. For example, in June 1958, a rainstorm with a precipitation of 249mm caused over 20 rivers to overflow and wrecked nearly 70 dams and reservoirs. In June the following year there was also freak weather conditions in some parts of the country as heavy rain caused considerable damage to crops. In July 1960, a hurricane ravaged the whole county ruining nearly much of the harvest.

Although the famine caused an unacceptable number of deaths, and this should not be ignored, the number of deaths should be put in perspective. The crude death rate in China in 1958 was 11.98 deaths per 1000. The famine then caused this rate to rise to 14.59 in 1959 then peaking at 25.43 in 1960, then declining to 14.24 in 1961. The great rise in death rates is surely a stain on the CCP’s record and on Mao’s too; however, it should be noted that in 1936 the crude death rate per 1000 was 28 – a number that not even the worst year of the Great Leap Forward famine reached.

Although in 1936 the Nationalist government was in a civil war with the Communist guerillas, as Minqi Li notes in his The Rise of China, the Nationalist Government, “Probably only surveyed and reported data from areas under its own control, which were comparatively peaceful and better-off”. Even so, in 1960 a normal year in India, a country that won its independence at a similar time as the PRC, yet had not been ravaged by as much war and civil war as China, the crude death rate was 24.6 per 1000, only 0.8 lower.

1 Response to “Correspondence: Tom Bailey”

  1. 5 January 2010 at 1:03 am

    see Graham Stevenson’s blog for good selection of Cp biographies
    Hayes people’s Hisory Blog
    Country Standard Blog

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January 2010

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