The previous articles to this series are as follows –

Part 1 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 1

Part 2 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 2

Part 3 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 3

Part 4 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 4

Part 5 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 5

Mao retires, Shaoqi becomes head of state

As the horrifying (and almost entirely preventable) results of the Great Leap Forward became obvious, leaders began to discuss how to bring relief to those areas hardest hit by famine.

In the midst of this chaos, on 25 March 1959, the expanded Politburo of the CCP met in Shanghai. Though the issue that topped the agenda was the Great Leap Forward, the Tibetan issue came up because the Tibetan revolt has just been crushed and the Dalai Lama had fled to India. Both Deng and Liu Shaoqi were advocating more realistic economic policies. But Deng was a hardliner when it came to dealing with Tibet.

Despite the consensus on Tibet, Mao was still in trouble and the Shanghai meeting endorsed his retirement from his post as the Chairman of the People’s Republic or the head of state. That post was given to Shaoqi. Mao stayed on as Chairman of the Party and continued manipulation.

The well-educated Zhou Enlai had actually been one of the first to initiate a campaign against Mao, as early as 1956. But Zhou, feeling insecurity, undertook ‘self-criticism’ in March 1958, for opposing Mao. He confessed in front of the Party commission: “I take the main responsibility for submitting the report opposing rash advance (of Mao), in effect dashing cold water on the upsurge among the masses…at the time I lacked perception, and it was only later that I gradually came to understand that this was a directional error on the issue of socialist construction.”

With this opportunism, a humiliated Zhou rescued himself from later purges by Mao. He demonstrated opportunism again when the CCP convened a meeting of its Politburo and a plenum of the CC at Lushan, a mountain resort in Jiangxi, in July 1959.

Peng Dehuai’s missive to Mao

After a personal fact-finding trip through many of the regions most affected by the campaign, defence minister Peng Dehuai learned of the severe suffering and widespread starvation. Peng Dehuai, as a veteran of the Long March, hero of the Korean War, and longtime friend of Mao, felt compelled to broach the issue and to prevent any further deterioration of the situation. Peng presented his findings after the Central Committee had confirmed the “success” of the movement during the Lushan Meeting.

The Lushan Conference was a meeting of the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held between July and August 1959. The CCP Politburo met in an “expanded session” between July 2 and August 1, followed by the 8th Plenum of the CCP Eighth Central Committee from August 2 – 16. The major topic of discussion was the Great Leap Forward.

Although many of the more moderate leaders had reservations about the new policy, the only senior leader to speak out openly was Marshal Peng Dehuai. He denounced the excesses of the Great Leap and the economic losses they had caused.

While the Conference was on, Peng wrote a letter to Mao on July 13 and 14, 1959, in which he did not seek to grandstand and went to great lengths to make his comments constructive. He did, however, point out the failures of the movement in a frank and forthright manner, while most of his colleagues chose to remain silent. As a result of Mao Zedong’s failure to address the agricultural mistakes, the country experienced three years of famine, killing over 30 million people.

In the letter, he said that ” there is a growing tendency towards boasting and exaggeration on a fairly extensive scale” and “the exaggeration trend has become so common in various areas and departments that reports of unbelievable miracles have appeared in newspapers and magazines to bring a great loss of prestige to the Party.”

He further said: “Petty-bourgeois fanaticism which makes us vulnerable to “left” errors. In the Great Leap Forward of 1958,1, like many other comrades, was misled by the achievements of the Great Leap Forward and the zeal of the mass movement. As a result, some “Left” tendencies developed in our heads. We were thinking of entering a communist society in one stride, and the idea of trying to be the first to do this gained an upper hand in our minds for a time. So we banished from our minds the mass line and the working style of seeking truth from facts, which had been cultivated by the Party for a long time.”


Peng Dehuai,1934-1935

With Peng’s letter in hand, Mao set out to test the loyalty of each person in attendance at the Lushan Conference. And, to accomplish this, he personally circulated Peng’s letter of opinion to everyone present. By gauging their reactions, he could see who was steadfastly in support of Mao’s leadership, and who was not. Sensing what Mao was up to, Peng urgently requested to have all copies of his letter retrieved, claiming that it was a private missive intended for Mao’s eyes only. The request was denied.

Next, to prevent potential defectors from conspiring behind his back in small group meetings, Mao convened a full plenary session of the Lushan Conference. Speaking to the assembled party leaders on July 23, he addressed head-on the question of rising dissatisfaction with the Great Leap.

To be continued in the next article…………….)

Courtesy – Hamlet in Monsoon

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.