Cleveland Charter High School

Great Chinese Famine

Many people know about the Great Depression, or the Syrian refugee crisis, but not as many people know about the Great Chinese Famine, another tragic event in history.

The famine started with Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward campaign. The four major goals of this campaign was to make China self-sufficient, make China as productive as Western nations, increase steel production, and to increase agricultural yields.

The Great Leap Forward campaign mobilized the population. People set up backyard furnaces to mass produce steel, and burned every type of fuel they could to power these furnaces, ranging from coal to the wood of coffins. Where iron ore was unavailable, people melted any steel object attainable, such as bicycles and pots and pans.

However, the steel they produced was of low quality and cracked easily. Rural people were expected to meet unreachable quotas in agriculture. They were expected to produce enough to sustain China, and create a surplus that could be sold as an export.

In order to achieve this, the Communist Party collectivized agricultural land and encouraged practices such as close cropping (planting seeds clustered together without giving any space or room between to surrounding plants), monoculture (cultivation of a single crop), no crop rotation, and no fallow time (time given to the soil to replenish itself).

Furthermore, in an effort to save the crop from being eaten by insects and animals, the Four Pests Campaign was started. This campaign’s aim was to eliminate flies, rats, mosquitoes, and sparrows. However, this campaign backfired, and as a result of disrupting the biodiversity, locust populations grew with no predator left to hunt them, and turned out to have a more devastating effect on the crops.

As a result of all this, China began to experience widespread famine. As they tried their best to cover it up, China claimed that around 15 million people died during its Great Famine, but experts claim the number is much higher, around 30-45 million.