Great Leap Forward
As a toddler, I have too little memory of China’s Great Leap Forward campaign (1958-1960), an extraordinarily creative intervention in China’s economic growth under the new "General Line for Socialist Construction". It was aimed at accomplishing the economic and technical development of the country at a vastly faster pace and with greater results by taking two forms: a mass steel campaign plus the formation of the People’s Communes, a new socioeconomic and political system created in the countryside and in a few urban areas. China’s vast countryside became the setting for Mao’s disastrous campaign, and tens of millions of farmers were exhorted to answer Mao’s call to help the country industrialize quickly by operating backyard blast furnaces to produce steel.
The campaign was not merely a bold economic project. It was also intended to show the Soviet Union that the Chinese approach to economic development was more vibrant, and ultimately would be more successful than the Soviet model that had been followed studiously until then. The Chinese people were to go all out in concerted efforts to surpass England in 15 (or even less) years. Mao even attempted to modernize China’s economy so that by 1988, China would have an economy that rivaled America.
This "fever in the brain" held China in its sway, while the more radical officials continued to proclaim imaginary victories in production. By early 1959, it became clear that things were running out of hand. As a result of the massive production drives in steel and agriculture, both production and transport sectors had become severely dislocated. The reality corresponded less and less with the picture painted in the reports to the leadership, as wildly exaggerated figures about food production provided officials at all levels untoward political gains and manipulating economic numbers was a norm to "save face". It was then the public security sectors established a household registration system, hukou, which specifically designated where a person might live and work to stop migrants from leaving their home areas.
However, the campaign turned out to be a crash industrialization program that led to widespread famine.