Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The Lushan Meeting of July 1959
and the Assertion of Total Absolute Control
of China by Mao Zedong

In the late 1950's Mao Zedong had undertaken a radical course for China. He called for placing the peasants and the agriculture under the control of the Communist Party by taking away from the peasants the land that had been distributed in the early 1950's and organizing them into giant communes. This was even more extreme that the collectivization of agriculture carried out by Stalin in the Soviet Union in the early 1930's. The collective farms of Stalin were on the order of a hundred families; the communes of Mao had on the order of a hundred thousand families. In Mao's communes the family structure was to be broken down by requiring everyone to eat in communal dining halls rather than in family groups. Mao's purpose in the communization of Chinese agriculture was to carryout industrialization. The first step in this direction was for the peasants to set up small-scale blast furnaces for melting down scrap metal to make tools and utensils.

The so-called backyard blast furnaces were a disaster in several ways:

The communes were put under extreme pressure to report successes when in fact they were experiencing failures. Grain production figures were faked but the central government took grain from the communes based upon the false figures leaving the peasants with too little food to survive on. Famine occured throughout the country side. People were starving to death. Over the period of the Great Leap Forward an estimated 30 million people in China died. This is a number that is comparable to the deaths during World War II not only in China but around the world. Thus one wrong idea in the head of a foolish man with power, Mao Zedong, destroyed as many lives than all the violent intent of the armies around the world.

When Mao proposed the Great Leap Forward program his principal lieutenants, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, were not enthusiastic but they did not counter Mao. The disaster was hidden from the top leadership by the false reporting that the Central Government encouraged. Even when the Beijing leadership toured the countryside the true state affairs was hidden from them. For example, when Mao toured communes he was shown at each commune irrigation pumps that were used to water the crops. Irrigation pumps were an element of modern technology that were evidence of modernization in the communes. Only later was it found out that the pumps that Mao saw at each commune were the very same pumps. When he left one commune the pumps would be dismantled and rushed to his next stop to be reassembled and shown to him.

But word of the privation and starvation in the communes were leaking out and the rumors were filtering up to the leadership in Beijing. Mao eventually visited his home town in order to get to the truth of the matter. But even in his home town he was misled as to the true state of the peasants. One top official was not misled. He was Peng Dehuai the minister of defense and head of the People's Liberation Army. Peng had been a general since the days of the Long March and commanded the Chinese army in the Korean War. He had a close relationship to Mao. Peng knew of the famine of the countryside and decided to take responsibility for making Mao aware of what a disaster the Great Leap really was.

Mao called for a meeting at the famous mountain resort of Lushan to deal with the qualms he perceived among the leadership about the Great Leap Forward program. Peng came to the meeting and communicated his concern and knowledge of the disaster to Mao in a personal letter. Unfortunately for Peng his criticism coincided with Soviet criticisms of the program and Mao suspected collusion if not conspiracy. Mao chose to make Peng's personal letter to him public and had Peng effectively put on trial.

Both Mao and Peng make some limited attempts at reconciliation but neither could accept the terms of the other. Peng was denounced at Lushan as a careerist, conspirator, hypocrite and disloyal to Mao. Peng made the self-criticism that he had been a spokesman for the bourgeois in the Party.

Peng was declared an enemy of the revolution and removed as head of the army. The notorious syncophant Lin Biao replace Peng as head of the military. All those such as Mao's youngest sectretary Li Rui who had supported Peng in his honest attempt to loyally inform Mao of what was happening to the peasants were punished severely. The lesson was that it was not enough to loyally support Mao; Mao was not to be questioned or criticized constructively even if he were wrong. After Lushan there was no pretense of any democracy within the top leadership of the Communist Party. That had been the last bastion of where people could express their own opinions. The comradarie of the Long March was gone. Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, who had been banned from public political activity came to Lushan and assumed a political role that she did not relinquish.

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