Week 11

This week, we learned about the Great Leap Forward and its resulting famine. The Great Leap Forward followed Mao’s campaign against Rightists. According to the documentary Mao’s Great Famine, between 500,000 and 1 million “Rightists” who opposed Mao were sent to forced labor camps where many of them starved to death. By 1958, Mao could implement his plans with little resistance because his government had destroyed most of the opposition. The Chinese government wanted to increase China’s agricultural and industrial production, and Mao’s goal was for China to exceed the UK’s steel production in the next 15 years (Mao’s Great Famine). Peasants were grouped into People’s Communes where there was no private property. The Communes were taxed based on artificially high grain production numbers, leaving little food for peasants to eat, and the focus on steel production took away resources that could have been used for crops (Dillon 317). It is hard to get an exact number, but we know that tens of millions of people died of starvation during the Great Leap Forward.

I read about the life of Lei Feng, a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army. There are excerpts from his diary in the reading. It is debated whether Lei Feng actually wrote a diary or if it was written by other members of the to promote a model communist man who was always happy to work for his country. He was used as a role model during Cultural Revolution campaigns. Lei Feng saved all of his money and reused or fixed things in his house so he would not have to replace them. He did not even take a second military uniform when it was offered to all the soldiers because he wanted to give back to the state (Chen 442). 

When another man asked Lei Feng why he lived such a frugal life when he had no family, he said, “There are hundreds of millions of people in my family— the big family of the motherland. Chairman Mao has called on every one of us to go all out and struggle hard to change our country’s poverty and backwardness” (Chen 442). Lei’s story connects to the Great Leap Forward because Mao’s government was encouraging an attitude of self-sacrifice for the greater good. Millions of people were starving, but the message was that everyone should keep their morale up and try to get by with as little as possible. A model citizen would put their own needs aside and struggle in order to help their whole country move forward. 

A smiling girl in a field picks vegetables.

The above propaganda poster is from 1959, and it was titled “The vegetables are green, the cucumbers plumb, the yield is abundant.”


Dillon, Michael. China: A Modern History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2010.

“Life and Death of Lei Feng, and Admirable ‘Fool’.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Mio, Arturo, Dérives (Firm), and Radio-Télévision belge de la communauté culturelle française. Mao’s Great Famine. Filmakers Library, 2012.






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