Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s

By Jack Gray | Go to book overview

15
THE GREAT LEAP FORWARD

Economic Problems, 1956-1958

Free criticism during the Hundred Flowers period had culminated in demands for the fulfilment of the democratic rights offered in the 1954 constitution, but no Chinese leader was willing to interpret these rights as offering anything analogous to Western Democracy. Mao went further in this direction in 1957 in permitting criticism, approving protest, emphasizing the distinction between Party and State, and defending the right to strike even though the constitution did not legalize strikes. Yet even Mao made a distinction between democratic rights within a system of one-party control and 'bourgeois democracy'. The published version of 'On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People' laid down six criteria as the limits of legitimate opposition. They meant that no challenge to the supreme authority of the Party could be permitted.

Nevertheless, criticisms had shown how widespread was opposition to the authoritarian State-Party bureaucracy built up since 1949. Mao and some other members of the Chinese Communist Party were as sympathetic to this hostility towards authoritarian bureaucracy as they were opposed to a Western democratic cure for it. The Stalinist type of bureaucracy -- based on ministerial chains of command with highly specialized functions, was quite at variance with Chinese tradition. Chinese bureaucracy had been based on general moral control of a largely self-governing population. It was also at variance with the experience of the Chinese Communist Party in guerrilla conditions in which mass mobilization had been more appropriate than administrative fiat. As a consequence, when the Party came to consider the other, economic, aspect of past experience of centralized control, it was against this political background of the manifest unpopularity of centralized bureaucracy.

There was agreement that the rate of central accumulation and investment had been too high; that heavy industry had been given too great a priority; and that planning had been over-centralized. There was another perplexing problem: the population census of 1953, the first modern census which any Chinese government had undertaken, had shown that the population of mainland China, so far from numbering 450 million as widely accepted estimates had suggested, was actually 582 million; it was therefore obvious that some simple means, requiring a minimum of capital, must urgently be

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