Mao's Crusade: Politics and Policy Implementation in China's Great Leap Forward

Mao's Crusade: Politics and Policy Implementation in China's Great Leap Forward

Mao's Crusade: Politics and Policy Implementation in China's Great Leap Forward

Mao's Crusade: Politics and Policy Implementation in China's Great Leap Forward

Synopsis

'China specialists who are interested in policy-making and implementation in 1958 will certainly find this book interesting.' -The China Quarterly'A powerful, first rate study of politics and policy implementation in the Great Leap Forward.' -The China Journal'Chan shows how Mao was able to dominate policymaking and to mobilize lower-rung cadres and ordinary citizens into his own modality of madness, and shows how all this impacted on the polity and society. He does all of this in a splendid manner, providing valuable insights into how recipients of the Great Leap resisted, or attempted to resist, Mao's folly.' -The China JournalThis fascinating study of China's Great Leap Forward documents how Mao Zedong dominated and manipulated the policy process. Through exhaustive research of newly-available materials, the author discusses how the central ministries and the province of Guangdong implemented radical policies such as the backyard furnace campaign and the establishment of the People's Communes. He also demonstrates how these authorities, hard-pressed by impossible assignments and production targets, were compelled to focus on the fantastic rituals of mass mobilization to keep up appearances.

Excerpt

Several childhood memories from growing up in Hong Kong have left deep impressions on me. In the midst of the Great Leap Forward in 1960 I had the opportunity to visit my aunt on my first trip to a ‘foreign’ country—Xinhui County in Guangdong province. I remember the unfamiliar currency, and the fact that my aunt had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to queue up for a roast duck in order to serve her guests a superb dinner. I also remember her telling us that all window frames and even the loose screws in her sewing machine were requisitioned for the iron and steel campaign.

Back home in Hong Kong, my amah often posted parcels (wrapped in hand towels that were sewn together so that they could be reused) of food to the mainland, complaining all the time about the cost of the postage and the custom duty. Cooked rice that had been sun-dried was the staple because it weighed less. She would complain that chickens imported from China were no good, because they were all skin and bone. On the buses to school, the police would board occasionally to check for illegal migrants; several times people were led away, because the way they looked and dressed made them stand out. Indeed, at that time, I had little awareness of the fact that China was in the grip of the worst famine and devastation of the twentieth century during which millions perished.

The Great Leap Forward was a personal crusade of the flamboyant Mao Zedong, who had single-handedly cajoled, pushed, and browbeaten his colleagues, the more cautious planners, into the colossal economic and social experiment. Mao’s irrationality, wishful thinking, and delusion of grandeur soon became infectious. The entire country was embarked on a massive and frenzied drive for industrialization and radical changes. Yet, as the characters in Marcel Pagnol’s novels (an excerpt from the adapted screenplay is quoted below) indicate, extreme voluntarism and the misguided faith in human will-power are not unique to Mao and the Chinese. As political scientists have noted, decision-makers of both the rich and poor countries can be afflicted by the ‘pathology’ of decision-making— cognitive distortions, irrational consistency, ‘groupthink’, goal displacement, and wishful thinking. The difference is a matter of degree. Leaderships in poor countries are particularly susceptible to some kinds of grand ‘transformative’ visions that promise radical and rapid improvement of the livelihood of the population, given the immensity and urgency of the problems of economic backwardness and deprivation, and the need to legitimize the new regime. Yet, while misguided policies in a rich country may create costly white elephants, similar policy mistakes in poor countries may spell calamity for the entire population, because poor countries are much less able to cushion losses and spread risks. The disastrous consequences of the Great Leap Forward are a grave testimony to this fact.

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