Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
peasants were transferred to these local, rural industrial efforts, which
led to a shortage of agricultural labor. The results for Chinese agricul-
ture were catastrophic.
Enthusiasm for the Great Leap Forward and its goals was tremen-
dous throughout China. In the countryside a movement against the
“four pests” (flies, rats, sparrows, and mosquitoes) was launched,
and so many sparrows were killed that the numbers of insects actually
increased because the sparrows, their natural predators, were disap-
pearing. With the boundless enthusiasm prevailing in the countryside
and the completion of agricultural collectivization, elevated agricul-
tural production goals were announced in the summer of 1958, and
bumper crops were expected. Peasants and agricultural leaders
naively believed that these impossibly high goals were actually
achievable. Government propaganda was at its shrillest pitch in the
fall of 1958, and one famous report claimed that peasants at one APC
had successfully planted grain so closely and densely together that
children could stand on top of the planted stocks and not sink down
to the ground.
In industry, the most well-known efforts were the so-called back-
yard furnaces or small-scale steelmaking efforts that had sprung up
all over the countryside by the fall of 1958. Almost 100 million people
were diverted for labor in these efforts, and in their enthusiasm to
achieve elevated production quotas, millions of ordinary Chinese even
donated their pots and other metal tools to be melted down. The
results were catastrophic; the steel produced was of inferior, unusable
quality, and millions of peasants had been distracted from their agri-
cultural work, naively believing that agricultural collectivization
would somehow make up for the absence of their labor.
The autumn harvest of 1958 was disastrously small, but government
propaganda reported that agricultural production had doubled. (The
vast majority of the APCs did not want to disappoint the government
with accurate production reports, so they grossly exaggerated them.)
The government took these inflated production figures at face value
and collected grain tax according to them. As a result, millions of peo-
ple in China starved to death during the winter of 1958-1959 before
the government could get food to them. By early 1959 there was grain
rationing in the cities, and meat all but disappeared from the markets
because farm animals could not be fed what little grain and other
crops had been produced.
Written eyewitness recollections of starvation during the Great Leap
Forward are relatively rare, and living memory of the famine will have
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