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China – The Second Sino-Japanese War and Maoist China, 1937-76

5. The Great Leap Forward, 1958-62

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the ‘Great Leap Forward’, focusing in particular on: (i) the influence of the success of the First Five-Year Plan on Mao and the leadership of the CCP; (ii) the extent to which the aims of the Great Leap Forward were reasonable; (iii) the importance of steel and the approaches taken to increase production; (iv) the extent to which these approaches were successful; (v) the impact of agriculture collectivization; (vi) the extent to which local officials falsified production numbers, the reasons they did this, and the impact of such practices; (vi) the scepticism among some members of the CCP leadership, including Deng Xiaoping, Liu Shaoqi and Peng Dehaui; (vii) the extent to which the mistakes of Great Leap Forward were compounded by a series of natural disasters that took place at the same time; (viii) the estimated death toll of the Great Leap Forward; and (ix) the political impact of the Great Leap Forward, including the damage to Mao’s political standing, and his decision to launch the Cultural Revolution.


In this course, Professor Yang-Wen Zheng (University of Manchester) explores the history of China from the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. In the first module, we think about what China was like on the eve of the Japanese invasion of 1937. After that, in the second module, we think about why the Communists won the Chinese Civil War, before turning in the third module to consider the challenges faced by the Communists when they came to power in 1949. In the fourth, fifth and sixth modules, we focus on three distinct periods in the Mao era – (i) the First Five-Year Plan (1953-7); (ii) the Great Leap Forward (1958-62); and (iii) the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) – before turning in the seventh and final module to consider whether life in China was better in 1936 or 1976.

Note on names:

Chinese cities are referred to by their modern names, even if another name was used in the period being discussed, e.g. ‘Guangzhou’ instead of ‘Canton’.

Individual figures are referred to by their most familiar name, e.g. ‘Chiang Kai-shek’ instead of ‘Chiang Chung-cheng’, ‘Chiang Chieh-shih’ or ‘Jiang Jieshi’. Where no familiar form exists, we have followed the usage of Jonathan Fenby’s ‘Penguin History of Modern China’ (2008).


Yangwen Zheng is Professor of Chinese History at the University of Manchester. Born and raised in China, she was educated at Oberlin College and the University of Cambridge, before working at the University of Pennsylvania (2002-04) and the National University of Singapore (2004-06). Trained as an economic historian with a focus on Ming-Qing maritime trade and patterns/cultures of consumption, she has been fascinated with the foreign goods/things that went into China and the ways in which they became Chinese or indigenised. She is the editor (with Richard Madsen of UC San Diego) of the "Alternative Sinology" series published by Manchester University Press and an editorial board member for Modern Asian Studies and for the Journal of Social and Economic History of the Orient. Her recent publications include Ten Lessons in Modern Chinese History (2018).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Zheng, Y. (2020, November 23). China – The Second Sino-Japanese War and Maoist China, 1937-76 - The Great Leap Forward, 1958-62 [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Zheng, Y. "China – The Second Sino-Japanese War and Maoist China, 1937-76 – The Great Leap Forward, 1958-62." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Nov 2020,