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The Great Leap Forward (1958-1961): Historical events and causes of one of the biggest tragedies in People’s Republic of China’s history


  • Adriana Palese

Summary, in English

The aim of this work is to analyze the Chinese Great Leap Forward (大跃进Dayuejin) (1958-1961) and the reasons why its economic and social policies caused such a big imbalance and deficit in the Chinese economy.
The thesis is divided in four chapters:
The first chapter focuses on the Leap’s antecedent period; it begins with a very brief introduction to the key events after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo中华人民共和国) that seeks to provide the reader the general internal and external context of the first years of PRC. In particularly I will focus on the First Five-Year-Plan (1953-1957) and on the international relations between China and the Soviet Union.
The second section reports on the Leap’s policies, ideologies and goals. Starting with the “Sixty articles on working methods” (21st of January 1958) that launched the Great Leap Forward, I will then explain other contents of the Second Five-Year-Plan (e.g. the steel campaign, the water conservancy campaign and the four pests campaign).
At the end of this section, I will talk about the People’s Communes, seeking to explain their inception and evolution to the formation of the system of “seven guarantees” or “ten guarantees”.
The third chapter addresses the period after the launch of the Leap’s policies. In that term the Government admitted some of his target mistakes and tried to modify the Leap’s utopian and ambitious purposes. However, the end of this process coincided with the Lushan Conference (2nd July-16th August 1959). “Thanks to the correction of the mistakes [of the Great Leap’s Forward policies] during the first half of the year 1959, if the Lushan Conference didn’t take place, in the second half of the year 1959, the disorders created during 1958 could have been eliminated and the great famine could have ended within the year 1959.”
This section concludes with a summary of facts of Sino-Soviet relations, focusing on the interruption of the connections between the two parties. A specific analysis of how did the Leap’s policies were partially influential.
The central point of the thesis is the last and fourth part. “In a planned economy system, the market cannot decide how to use the resources. To guarantee that a society keeps on producing profits, entirely depends on the leaders of the macroeconomics department, that have to carry out an overall balance.” Within this chapter I will explain the reasons why the Leap failed, I will seek to demonstrate that the aforementioned “overall balance” was missing and why did ultimately failed.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • History and Archaeology


  • China
  • Great Leap Forward
  • Mao Zedong
  • Communism


  • Michael Schoenhals