I have been reading The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy by Minqi Li. The author reads like a fan of Mao and is succeeding in convincing me I need to dig deeper in to the story of Mao's rise in China. Li is a world-systems-analyst type thinker who constantly returns to data and comparative charts of China's progress in those years. On page 33 he states:
Table 2.2 reports the levels and changes of life expectancy at birth in China and in and selected countries and country groups. Between 1960 and 1980, China's life expectancy at birth rose by 30.5 years. This was an improvement greater than the world average, every country group, and every selected country. The rate of improvement tripled the average rate of improvement for low-income countries. By 1980, China's life expectancy had risen to 67 years, fully 13 years ahead of India and better than the middle-income average (even though China had among the lowest per capita GDP in the world, which, it should be emphasized, did not result from the Maoist revolution but from China's long-term peripheralization in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century). The success of China's socialism in advancing its general population's health conditions is indisputable.
The table he refers to takes its data from the World Bank, World Development Indicators Online http://devdata.worldbank.org/
This seems like a reasonable source to me, but I find it hard to believe I have never heard about this in the previous discussions of China and Mao I've heard. Is this guy a hack? If not, how do I continue to study the Maoist period in a way that focuses on the grass roots changes being made in China's societal structure that led to these breakthroughs? How do I get a sense of the average Chinese farmer's sense of life spans prior to Mao? Was there a native theory or awareness among the mass of Chinese prior to Maoism which was seeing how much older people become in neighboring countries or the West? Did Mao offer life span extension as an explicit goal of his changes? To what extent did the revolution occur because people were aware that the way the free market was allocating resources was killing them and to what extent was Maoism a coaching of the people to this conclusion? What were particular changes in their society's structure that had immediate helpful results that people were hungry for before hand? How much of the change was agricultural vs. medical vs. industrial?