How accurate is it to say that Mao Zedongs agricultural policies from 1949 were the foremost reason for the famine of 1959-1962?
The Chinese famine lasting between 1959 and 1962 was one of the largest in recorded human history; the famine followed Mao’s revolutionary Great Leap Forward in which radical new policies were created and implemented. It is hugely likely that the aforementioned reforms were the main cause of the famine itself and whilst it is arguable that other factors such as natural disasters and Zedongs preoccupation with ideology contributed more to the famine than policy the available evidence fully corroborates the notion that policy was the most important of all factors.
One policy that put China on course for famine was the creation of communes and their subsequent failure. Mao wanted a synthesis of military and civilian life and because of this he wanted military training for peasants on the communes, because of this the volume of production of fluctuated rather than remaining at a steady rate ergo targets and requirements were hard fulfil. Furthermore the backyard furnace system which was utilised on the communes also had considerable implications, the time spent acquiring metal to melt down and ensuring that the process was successful wasted time which could have been spent cultivating and harvesting: this meant that often grain which was ready to be harvested was left untouched and often rotted which decreased the yield of communes around China. Secondly as a result of backyard furnaces farming tools which were considered surplus and therefore eligible for melting were destroyed leaving the peasants with fewer tools to use, again hindering commune productivity. Overall whilst the communes in practice were a feasible way to increase production Mao’s choice of how to operate the communes retarded productive capability and therefore helped reduce the availability of grain and therefore contributed to the famine.
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