Segments in this Video

Introduction: Documenting Mao's Great Leap Forward Failure (03:32)


In 1958 Mao Zedong launched The Great Leap Forward. The dream became a nightmare with a death toll around 45 million. Despite 50 years of silence, Historian Zhu Sun travels the countryside to collect testimony from the few survivors willing to talk. (Credits)

Soviet Model Origins (04:54)

Industrializing China, Joseph Stalin provided Mao support that came with a large debt. The Chinese Communists’ agriculture reform included land redistribution that encouraged class violence, endearing the peasants to Mao. Mao used the Soviet caucus model to dilute their strength.

Hundred Flowers Campaign (02:57)

Upon the death and criticism of Stalin, Mao became unpopular. His campaign to flush out critics resulted in 500,000 to 1 million people, mostly teachers, labeled as dissidents and deported to labor camps.

Communes of Workers (04:15)

By silencing his enemies, Mao was able to recruit peasants into steel production and create collectivizing campaigns. Cadres dedicated to Mao worked those in the communes from dawn to dark.

Work Credits Replace Families (04:08)

With communes, all private property was abolished, nurseries and schools were compulsory, and the family unit disappeared. Canteens created a dependency on the state for the provision of all food. Money was replaced with work credits and a merit system.

Food Shortages (09:14)

The peasants were compulsorily trained for national defense. Communes were pitted against each other to repay Mao's debts, resulting in falsified figures and a spiral of propaganda. While the cadres abused their power and ate well, the people were starved.

Many Sacrificed for Few (03:53)

Mao's demand for steel ravaged the nation. Officially, the country produced tons of steel while in reality, the metal was unusable. According to Mao's plan, the countryside was sacrificed as a means to support the lavish lifestyles of his supporters in cities and political centers.

Starvation Deaths (05:37)

At a leaders' conference, defense minister Peng Dehuai wrote a letter expressing how Mao's policies were destructive to the people. Mao forced him to resign, crushing further defiance. Starvation increased across the countryside, despite full granaries.

Beyond Atrocity (05:15)

Mao ignored warnings not to repeat the excesses of Stalinist collectivization. Nikita Khrushchev suspended cooperation with China. Elected president Liu Shaoqi ordered investigations into the famine; reports reveal bodies were used as fertilizer and thousands of cases of cannibalism.

Mao Deposes President Shaoqi (04:36)

Shaoqi took action to stop the Great Leap Forward. Mao led the Chinese youth in a cultural revolution against the party bureaucrats; Shaoqi was imprisoned. From then on, no one spoke of the Great Famine or Mao's responsibility and it was hidden from the Western World.

Mao's Culpability (03:12)

Mao and the Communist Part of China are blamed for the mass murder of millions and the current culture of silence surrounding the famine. Mao died in 1976. The edifice in Henan Province, erected by a peasant, is the only monument to victims.

Credits: Mao’s Great Famine (00:47)

Credits: Mao’s Great Famine

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Mao’s Great Famine

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Between 1958 and 1962, China lived through tragedy on an epic scale. The “Great Leap Forward” – conceived by Mao so that China could drive industrial output ahead of Great Britain and achieve autonomy from the might of the neighbouring USSR – led to a catastrophic famine resulting in the death of between 36 and 55 million people. “Three years of natural disasters”: it is in these terms that the Chinese Communist Party today justifies this terrible outcome. But the tragedy was masked by an official lie, because while China was starving to death, the grain stores were full. Based on previously unheard testimony by survivors, rare archive footage, secret documents and interviews with the leading historians on this catastrophe, this film provides, for the first time, an insight into the folly of the “Great Leap Forward”. It examines the mechanisms and political decisions that led to famine, stripping away the incredible secrecy surrounding the campaign, and exposing the lie which continues even today as to who was responsible, and the true human cost.

Length: 53 minutes

Item#: BVL239533

ISBN: 978-1-63722-395-6

Copyright date: ©2011

Closed Captioned

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