Important achievements made during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution
In the process of exploring the road for socialist construction, the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution occurred; however, it should be admitted after an analysis of this period of history that the cause of socialist construction in China still made universally recognized achievements.
The Great Leap Forward caused great destruction and waste to industrial and agricultural production and construction. However, much of the work of industrial construction, scientific research and cutting-edge technology development in national defense, construction of water conservancy, and the mechanization and modernization of agriculture began in those years. According to the documents provided in Seventy Years of the CPC compiled by the Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee, from the founding of New China to 1964, among the large and medium-sized projects newly built in the major sectors of heavy industry, more than two-thirds started in the three years of the Great Leap Forward. Newly added steelmaking capacity during these three years accounted for 36.2 percent of that from the founding of the country in 1949 to 1979; mining capacity accounted for 29.6 percent and cotton spindles 25.9 percent. After readjustment, consolidation, replenishment and improvement, these projects achieved solid results.
Among them, the most outstanding was the development of the petroleum industry, and cutting-edge science and technology for national defense. China had previously been considered to be a country lacking in oil, which it had had to import. But in 1959 a huge oil reserve was discovered in Northeast China's Daqing area. In 1960, when the national economy was suffering its worst difficulties, the CPC Central Committee decided to deploy workers, cadres and technical personnel from various sectors to focus on the exploration and development of the oilfield at Daqing. In just one year, the extent of the oil deposit was ascertained and a trial production was conducted. Within three years China's largest oil base was set up, and its production accounted for two-thirds of the national total. By 1965 China was self-sufficient in oil.
The work on applying advanced science and technology to national defense began in 1958. In 1961 the CPC Central Committee made a great decision on accelerating scientific research and industrial development in national defense with the research and development of the "two bombs" (atomic bomb and guided missile) as the key tasks. On October 16, 1964 China successfully tested its first atomic bomb. The Government Statement of the People's Republic of China released the same day announced, "The Chinese Government has consistently advocated the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons. China is developing nuclear weapons, not because it believes in their omnipotence, nor because it plans to use them. On the contrary, in developing nuclear weapons, China's aim is to break the nuclear monopoly of the nuclear powers and to eliminate nuclear weapons. The Chinese Government hereby solemnly declares that China will never at any time or under any circumstances be the first to use nuclear weapons."
More commendable was that when facing serious economic difficulties the Chinese people showed their heroic spirit of independence and self-reliance. A large number of model personalities emerged in all walks of life. Among them was a county party secretary who had given his all till his heart ceased to beat, an oil worker known as the "Iron Man," who feared no difficulties, the self-reliant peasant party members and masses who did pioneering jobs with arduous efforts, and the PLA soldiers who were selfless and dedicated themselves to serving the people wholeheartedly. The emergence of these role models inspired the masses' enthusiasm for joining the construction of their new country.
On November 1979, when Deng Xiaoping met Frank B. Gibney, vice-chairman of the Compilation Committee of the US Encyclopaedia Britannica Incorporation, and Paul T. K. Lin, director of the Institute of East Asia at Canada's McGill University, he pointed out that if they had come in the 1950s or early 1960s they would have seen that China's social climate was very good. In those difficult times people were very disciplined, subordinating their personal interests to the collective, national and social interests, willingly overcoming difficulties together with the country. That spirit helped to tide the Chinese people over the difficult three years starting in 1959.
So, in reference to the ten-year (1956-1966) construction achievements, including the Great Leap Forward, the "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of the CPC Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China," which was passed in June 1981 by the Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC, pointed out that a large part of the material and technical basis on which they relied for modernization construction was set up during that period; the country's economic and cultural backbone of construction and the related experience were mostly accumulated during that period. That was the dominant aspect of the Party's work during that period.
Referring to the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, in addition to speaking of the Cultural Revolution movement and the mistakes made by Mao Zedong in his later years, the "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of the CPC Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China" also mentioned that although China's national economy had suffered enormous losses, it had still made progress; a correct foreign policy had been implemented and a new prospect had been opened up for external work. This assessment was a realistic one.
Although China suffered a great loss in respect of the national economy during the period of Cultural Revolution, progress was still made through the joint efforts of the cadres and masses. Food production maintained a relatively stable growth, reaching 286.3 billion kilograms in 1976, an increase of more than 91.75 billion kilograms compared to 1965. A number of important achievements were made in industry and transportation, infrastructure, and science and technology. In 1976 crude oil production was equivalent to 6.7 times that of 1965. Some new railways and the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge were completed and opened to traffic. Some large enterprises with advanced technology were put into production. Nuclear technology, satellites, space launch vehicles and other cutting-edge science and technology achievements were made.
The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 15: The People's Republic notes, "If this view of how lower-level economic administrators kept the system running is correct, it may also help explain why Lin Piao's [Biao's]death in 1971 had little discernible impact on economic performance. The output of most industrial products grew through 1972 and 1973, and capital construction investment stayed at a high level, roughly double the level of 1966-69. Even farm income grew slightly despite a severe drought in 1972 that did reduce grain output. There were declines in certain key industrial products in 1974 and 1976, notably in steel and machine tools, but energy output and many other products grew even in those politically disruptive years. Thus, even the turmoil of a year such as 1976, which saw the deaths of Chou En-lai [Zhou Enlai] and Mao Tse-tung [Mao Zedong] plus the T'ang-shan [Tangshan] earthquake, did not have a lasting impact on economic performance comparable to that of 1967-68 and even less to that of the Great Leap Forward."
Even more striking was that during the Cultural Revolution Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, who were good at reading the signs of the times and adapting to the needs of the changing situation, realized that changes were needed in China's diplomatic work. On October 25, 1971 the 26th General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution to restore the PRC's legitimate seat at the United Nations. In February 1972 US President Richard Nixon visited China, met Mao Zedong and had talks with Zhou Enlai. The "Sino-US Joint Communiqué," which was signed in Shanghai on February 28 between the two sides after the talks, marked the beginning of the normalization of bilateral relations. The warming of Sino-US relations directly promoted the improvement of Sino-Japanese relations, and a flurry of diplomatic exchanges occurred between China and many countries in Western Europe. A gradual increase in communication with the outside world created the external conditions for China's reform which began in the late 1970s.
Looking back on 20 years of twists and turns of history, Hu Sheng, a former director of the Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee and former president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out in 1984 that if the previous 35 years was said to be devoid of any merit but merely an accumulation of errors, we could not correctly interpret the history for those 35 years. Of course, the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC was a big turning point, but this turning point came about as a result of the past development of production. So the history since the founding of the country was by no means simply an accumulation of errors. Hu Qiaomu, a long-time secretary to Mao Zedong, also pointed out that during the 20 years of "Left" mistakes, as a whole, the country's economy had still developed. Even during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution there had been achievements in science, technology, and diplomacy.
It was these achievements that enabled the CPC to re-unite the people and get their support after mistakes and setbacks.