Quotations: Agrarian reform and Great Leap Forward

This page contains a collection of Chinese Revolution quotations about agrarian reform and the Great Leap Forward, made by prominent leaders, figures, observers and historians. These quotations have been selected and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest a quotation for these pages, please contact Alpha History.

“The essential content of agrarian reform is the confiscation of the land of the landlord class for distribution to the landless peasants. Thus the landlords as a class are abolished and the exploitative feudal land ownership system is transformed… This is the greatest and most thorough reform in thousands of years of Chinese history.”
Liu Shaoqi, 1950

“Landlords in general will only be deprived of their land and abolished as a social class, but they will not be physically eliminated… Therefore it is a stipulation that after their lands have been confiscated, the landlords will still be given shares of land… That way they can make a living by their own labour, reform themselves through labour and become new men.”
Liu Shaoqi, 1950

“When the Third Five Year Plan is completed in 1967, the yields for grain and many other agricultural products should be double or triple the highest yields before the People’s Republic was founded [in 1949].”
Mao Zedong, 1955

“More than 60 million peasant households in various parts of the country have already joined the cooperatives. It is as if a raging tidal wave has swept away all the demons and ghosts.”
Mao Zedong on farm collectivisation, 1955

“China has two advantages. One is emptiness, the other is blankness, with no encumbrances of any kind. The United States in George Washington’s era was blank, so it could develop very rapidly. The Soviet Union was also blank… China’s industrial development can proceed more swiftly than the Soviet Union’s.”
Mao Zedong, 1956

“I had less land and worse land than other men but was told that after the grain tax was paid we would all share the harvest alike. In that way, no one would lose anything but all would gain. I thought that sounded alright.”
A Chinese peasant reflects on farming cooperatives

“For two years I stayed on my own. It was difficult. I had to see to everything myself. I sweated my guts out. None of my brothers would help me. In the third year, I did not manage to finish my ploughing. Then the farmers’ cooperative people came along. There were 17 of them and they did the work in less than an hour and would take no payment.”
Peasant farmer Li Hai Yuan on cooperative farming

“The People’s Commune represents a much higher degree of socialist development and collectivisation… Its massive scale of production requires more efficient organisation with great labour flexibility, as well as women’s’ production participation. So people are setting up more and more community canteens, nurseries, sewing groups…”
The People’s Daily, 1958

“I suggest that we bestow upon the scientist or scientists who invented this great slogan ‘Leap Forward’ the title of First Doctor of Philosophy!”
Mao Zedong, 1957

“Wage a bitter struggle for three years and transform the look of a greater part of the country… The industrial output of local industries should exceed local agricultural output in five to ten years.”
Mao Zedong, 1958

“With 11 million tons of steel next year and 17 million tons the year after, the world will be shaken. If we can reach 40 million tons in five years, we may possibly catch up with Great Britain in seven years. Add another eight years and we will catch up with the US.”
Mao Zedong, 1958

“The Chairman talks all the time about more, faster, better, and more economical results. That is annoying. What does he want with chanting these liturgies all the time?”
Peng Dehuai, 1958

“It was fun to wipe out the ‘Four Pests’. The whole school went to kill sparrows. We made ladders to knock down their nests and beat gongs in the evenings when they were coming home to roost. It was many years before we knew that sparrows are good birds. At that time, we only thought that they ate grain.”
A Sichuan schoolboy on the Four Pests campaign

“We had to bang on pots until the poor sparrows were exhausted. We did it for several days. There were many fewer sparrows after that. I remember a famous restaurant, the Lugaojian… their speciality was two salted sparrows on a stick… But after the Four Pests campaign, you couldn’t buy them any more.”
A student from Chongqing on the Four Pests campaign

“Later, scientists pointed out that sparrows also eat insects. The National Academy of Sciences issued reports on how many insects they ate, compared to how many seeds. So we stopped killing sparrows. Chairman Mao just said ‘Forget it’. In those days one man’s word counted for everything.”
A Yunnan botanist on the end of the Four Pests campaign

“Great achievements, numerous problems and a bright future.”
Mao Zedong’s assessment of the nation, Lushan Conference, 1959

“The achievements of the Great Leap Forward are obvious… The overall value of industrial and agricultural production rose by 48.8 per cent in 1958… Such a rate of growth is unknown anywhere in the world. [But] there was too much haste. We tried to do too much, we wasted part of our investments, we deferred certain essential tasks, and that is a mistake.”
Peng Dehuai, 1959

“We must learn a lesson, not just complain or find fault. Everybody bears some responsibility, including Comrade Mao Zedong… How can he not share some responsibility? He criticised himself at the Shanghai Conference, admitting that he had been somewhat hotheaded… What is great about the Chairman is that he can figure out problems in time and make a quick adjustment.”
Peng Dehuai, 1959

“When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”
Mao Zedong, 1959

“Even if there’s a collapse [in China’s food production] it’ll be alright. The worst that will happen is that the whole world will get a big laugh out of it.”
Mao Zedong, 1959

“Before [the Great Leap Forward] this was all virgin forest, with pines a foot thick. It was so dense that I was afraid to go in there at night. The brush and branches we gathered were enough for all our firewood, we never had to cut the trees… I was only 10 or 11 during the Leap. We collected scrap metal and pots while the grownups cut the trees. The result was a big mess of melted metal. We turned it over to the local steel factories to process further. This was supposed to be the first step. But the temperature was too low. Wood can never burn hot enough to make steel.”
A peasant from Lei Da Shi, Sichuan province

“‘Where are those 500 million peasants?’ my Soviet colleague wondered. ‘Why are they not in the fields? It’s the spring planting season, isn’t it?’ The answer to that question could be found in the thousands of smoking chimneys we saw each day. And the fires that were visible each night over the horizon. The peasants were carrying out the work of the [Communist] Party, working day and night at the mines and homemade blast furnaces… And we know the results: they did not obtain any more iron than before and there was much less bread and rice to go round.”
Mikhail Klochko, Soviet advisor in China

“Before, the water in the [rice] paddy used to be above the ankle. Now it went above the knee. But deep down the soil is no good, too compact. Only four to five inches on the surface are good. It wasn’t correct but we couldn’t help it, we had orders.”
An unnamed peasant on the practice of ‘deep ploughing’

“All property has to be state-owned, all houses and furniture have been turned into government property. They do what they like. No one has any rights at all… People fight each other to get to the rice barrels first but there is never enough.
A letter from a Guangdong peasant, 1959

“Food became scarce in Beijing and queues built up at the few vegetable stores. Meat was almost non-existent and the cat population rapidly declined. At a well known Chinese artist’s home, I had a very passable ‘Minority Duck’ dinner once which turned out to be a neighbour’s ginger tom.”
Esther Cheo Ying on urban food shortages in the late 1950s

“Ma Waiyou of Maiji commune, Xinmin village. Status: common peasant. He ate Chen Zaxi. Relationship: spouse. He ate his own wife. He dug up her body and cooked it… Yang Wenyi and Yuan Shuying of Houxiyan village, together with… eight people in total, dug up the body of a child, cooked and ate it… A person called Liu Chuan. They killed him and ate him.”
Anhui police report on cannibalism, 1960

“Cannibalism occurred in many places. Among 41 production brigades in ten communes of Linxia City, 588 people ate the remains of 337 others. In Hongtai Commune alone there were 170 people who ate 125 corpses, as well as killing and eating five other people… In some cases, individuals barbarously consumed their own parents, children, spouses and siblings. Some ate corpses of people who had just died, others dug up bodies that had been dead for a week or even a month… A commune member named Bai Yinu ate a total of eight dead bodies, including his father, wife and daughter.”
Li Lei, CCP cadre from Gansu province, writing in 1999

“Among fourteen work units… 3,132 persons are suffering from oedema, which afflicts 25 per cent of the staff in the most seriously affected units… The illness has struck workers more than cadres, those employed in heavy physical labour more than light work, and those eating at communal kitchens more than those taking their meals at home.”
Yumen CCP committee, December 1960

“Since pigs were also starving they were let out and allowed to roam the communal latrines. As the commune members squatted there, swollen with malnutrition and constipated from the grim diet, the pigs would jostle them with their snouts, trying to get at the excrement before it had even fallen from their bodies.”
Yue Daiyun, peasant woman

“Naturally we have defects and mistakes… Like a child playing with fire, without experience, knowing pain only after being burned. In economic construction, like a child without experience, we declared war on the earth, unfamiliar with the strategy or tactics.”
Mao Zedong on the Great Leap Forward

“I am a complete outsider when it comes to economic construction. I understand nothing about industrial planning… I do not claim to have invented the People’s Communes, only to have proposed them.”
Mao Zedong

“The chaos caused was on a grand scale and I take responsibility. Comrades, if you have to shit – shit! If you have to fart – fart! You’ll feel much better for it.”
Mao Zedong on the failures of the Great Leap Forward, 1959

“The harvest had been bad. We have had many natural disasters, a bad drought in the north. There were shortages… Rations differed according to work done. Steelworkers got the most in bulk and grain, but intellectuals got more meat, sugar and fats.”
Han Suyin on food shortages during the Great Leap Forward

“People died in the family and they didn’t bury the person because they could still collect their food rations; they kept the bodies in bed and covered them up and the corpses were eaten by mice. People ate corpses and fought for the bodies. In Gansu they killed outsiders; people told me strangers passed through and they killed and ate them. And they ate their own children. Terrible. Too terrible.”
Yang Jisheng, Chinese writer, on the Great Famine of 1959-61

“Some people don’t give up their convictions until they see the Yellow River and have nowhere to retreat to. I will not give up my convictions, even when I see the Yellow River.”
Mao Zedong to Dr Li Zhisui, 1961

“The peasants do nothing but complain. They say that under Jiang Jieshi they suffered but had plenty to eat. Under Mao, everything is great but they only eat porridge. All we have to do is give the peasants their own land, then everyone will have plenty to eat.”
Chen Yun, CCP politician, 1961

“The thoughts of the Chairman [Mao] are always correct. If we encounter any problems, any difficulty, it is because we have not followed the instructions of the Chairman closely enough, because we have ignored or circumscribed the Chairman’s advice.”
Lin Biao, January 1962

“What a good speech vice-chairman Lin has made. His words are always so clear and direct. They are simply superb. Why can’t other Party leaders be so perceptive?”
Mao Zedong, responding to Lin Biao’s speech (above), January 1962

“Mrs Chang assured me that statements made by foreigners about communes ‘breaking up the home’ are ‘very silly talk’. On the contrary, ‘the home is much happier now because the heavy burdens are removed’. Formerly the young wife in poorer families would have to work in the field and rush home to get the meals on a very slow stove, then stay up half the night to grind the grain… The husband would grumble if the meal wasn’t ready at once when he came home from work… ‘Now all this grumbling is over’, said Mrs Chang.”
Anna Louise Strong, American journalist, 1964

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