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(CHINA from MAO to DENG – continued)

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CHINA from MAO to DENG (2 of 11)

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A Great Leap

Mao Zedong was an egalitarian. He had little respect for intellectuals and the educated. He had called intellectuals the most ignorant of people and had described China's common folk as the fountain of wisdom and the hope of the future. He wanted no elite in China – no elite outside of the Communist Party – and he was not enthusiastic about an elite within the Party. Party people, he believed, should learn from the masses.

Mao saw what he believed to be arrogant Party cadres lording it over people. He responded by supporting a new freedom of expression, a campaign in 1956 with a slogan that referred to ideas as flowers: "Let a Hundred Flowers bloom!" The Party launched the campaign believing that the Party and sufficient respect among the masses. But by mid-1957 it withdrew the "hundred flowers" campaign. Criticism had been too harsh. In its place a new campaign was begun, advocating class struggle against "Rightists." Discipline was to be maintained in the dissemination of ideas. Mao did not want bad ideas to spread and demoralize the masses in which he had placed his hopes.

Mao remained concerned about the rise of an educated elite of technology specialists, and he remained concerned about a bureaucratic elite that included Party members. He wanted China to avoid what he saw happening in other less-developed countries. He was concerned about the drift of people from the countryside into the cities. He believed China cold do better if the economy were turned over to the spontaneity of the masses. To jump-start this spontaneity Mao developed a new program, and he called it the "Great Leap Forward."

The Great Leap Forward was advertised as a technological revolution – as the proletarianization of the economy preceding mechanization of the economy. Developing agriculture was to have priority. In place of creating heavy industry, light industry was to be dispersed across the land. Relying on the masses, the government dismissed its economists and its centralized economic planning. The government would continue to collect taxes and requisition grain, but the masses would mobilize themselves and run things spontaneously at the local level.

Mao was trying to move faster in the direction of the communism of which Marx had spoken, with an abolition of differences between rich and poor and abolition of divisions in labor. Mao wanted everyone to become an economic and managerial expert. He looked forward to a new generation of cultured laborers and people who had acquired skills in a variety of trades.

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