The Hubris of Power: Mao Zedong, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution


Program Description:

During the consolidation of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, Mao Zedong cooperated with the other major Chinese party elites such as Premier Zhou Enlai and President Liu Shaoqi in pacifying, stabilizing, and “growing” the Chinese economy, which had suffered for decades from foreign invasion, underdevelopment, and civil war. However, by the mid 1950s, the Great Helmsmen disagreed his Yan’an roundtable colleagues over China’s economic development strategies, and promoted a more autarchic strategy that relied on the virtues of “communist man” to inspire development. Not only would this disagreement divide the elite for the next two decades, but would lead to two of the greatest human disasters in history…the death of 30-40 million Chinese people during the Great Leap forward in the late 1950s, and the utter chaos of the Cultural Revolution in the mid- to late 1960s. Not until the 1980s would Chinese leaders shake off the Maoist vision and join the other East Asian economies in outwardly-oriented development.


Lawrence Reardon

Lawrence Reardon, Ph.D., Columbia U., is an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. His research interests include Chinese foreign economic policy, the politics and economy of China, politics of religion in China, and Asian and international politics.

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