I'm currently reading the book "Mao's Great Famine" by Frank Dikötter. It's a very harrowing book covering the unimaginable waste and destruction of resources, environment and life that occurred during the Great Leap Forward. The outright callousness, even stupidity of some the decisions from the top levels boggles the mind (I'm thinking of exporting grain while people were starving and the steel drive).

Perhaps I'm being naive, wanting to see a silver lining however slim it may be, but for all this waste, were there any positive outcomes at any level for the Chinese people attributable to the Great Leap Forward?

Are there any reliable resources detailing these outcomes?

  • 2
    Who defines "good"? Good is a squishy term, and the definition depends on the values in question.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 15:32
  • 4
    True Story: I had a roommate who ate only cabbage for a few years during the GLF. So if I didn't want him to eat my food, I'd buy cabbage because he refused to eat it. It was nice that I could buy as much cabbage as I wanted and no worry about it disappearing. My point: does this count as something good for the purposes of your question? Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 16:51
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    In order to learn a lesson from history, one has to know the truth. All my parent's generation still firmly believe that the great famine was caused by natural disaster combined with soviet debt. Can you learn a historical lesson from a useful lie? Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 23:17
  • @MarkC.Wallace and axsvl77 I agree with your points, which is why in the body of my question I narrow it a bit by asking about positive outcomes for the Chinese people. Even that is a bit "squishy", but for something so horrible where "good" things are hard to come by, you really do need to define a frame of reference for any answer
    – Bamboo
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 1:05

1 Answer 1


From a Chinese perspective


  1. Deng Xiaoping was given some authority to rebuild the economy.

  2. In the long term, Deng Xiaoping would be a revolutionary, positive leader for the Chinese people, and one of the key people in beginning China's modern economic turnaround.

  3. Split with the Soviet Union, which was key in allowing Western countries to establish positive trade relationships with China, beginning when Nixon went to China in 1972.
  4. Mao accepts responsibility for the disasters and sequesters himself in Shanghai.

On the negatives: (given I'm uncomfortable in talking about the great leap forward in positives without mentioning the negatives.)

  1. Rather than grow the economy and industrial output, both contracted severely.
  2. 30 to 40 million people died.
  3. The economy of the country was in a state of near collapse.
  4. Ultimately Deng Xiaoping was arrested and imprisoned.
  5. Mao would plot his return to power in Shanghai, and he would pursue another disastrous policy of "the Cultural Revolution" to do so

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