Was Chairman Mao Really Necessary?
Chapter 7: Mao and Agriculture in China’s Industrialization: Three Antitheses in a 50-year Perspective
* INTRODUCTION Fifty years ago, in July 1955, Chairman Mao delivered his speech ‘On the question of agricultural co-operativization’ (Maoxuan, 1977, pp. 168–91). The speech, which was addressed to Party secretaries from all the provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, immediately triggered a ‘Socialist High Tide that during 1955–56 engulfed the entire Chinese countryside in a radical upheaval and a shift of agricultural organization towards collectivization’ (Walker, 1966). The High Tide did not completely recede until the full cycle of Chinese agricultural collectivization was completed following Mao’s death in 1976. From the vantage point of postMao reforms, the basic questions that arise are clearly, ﬁrst, why the ‘Socialist High Tide’ in the ﬁrst place? And secondly, was the three-decadelong collectivization really worthwhile? To many Western scholars and analysts, and indeed to many of their Chinese counterparts, the conclusions are as follows: collectivization impaired peasant incentives; rural bureaucratic control and non-market methods distorted the allocation of resources and inhibited productivity growth; the drive for grain self-suﬃciency, especially during the Cultural Revolution, retarded rural specialization and intraregional exchange; and, above all, agriculture was consistently undervalued in the national scale of investment priorities. Taken together, agricultural collectivization/communization is thus seen to have been responsible for the slow growth or stagnation of Chinese agriculture, and hence of depressed peasant income, widespread poverty and even prolonged malnutrition for many. Above all, the Great Leap Forward phase was deemed to have cost China ‘almost a decade of economic growth’, and to have made Mao and...
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