Although it may be difficult for Western people to understand the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, these events are not random or chaotic. They are largely influenced by the general historical context in China during that period. The paper explains the events of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution from a broader context as well as examines the willingness of Chinese people to advocate confronting views and ideas. In general, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were the products of the social and economic system in China during the 1950s-1970s.
The Great Leap Forward refers to the Chinese social and economic strategy realized throughout 1958-1961 (Yang, Xu, and Tao 865). The ultimate goal of this strategy was to transform the Chinese economy from the traditional agrarian one into a developed socialist one. The major aspects of such an economy included the rapid industrialization and collectivization. However, the means of attaining the described goals were based on force and violence. Rural people were deprived of their rights and had to follow the government’s regulations even though they were against their will. As a result, one of the strongest famines in the human history occurred (Yang, Xu, and Tao 864). The levels of agricultural production were very low and could not cover even the basic people’s needs. The concept of forced labor proved to be highly unproductive.
Yang, Xu, and Tao (2014) suggest that the Great Leap Forward was possible only because a large number of provincial leaders supported Mao. They were mostly oriented to making their political career under the existing political regime. Therefore, they demonstrated their loyalty to Mao and continued the implementation of the strategy even when it was evident that the ultimate outcomes would be very different from the declared objectives.
The Cultural Revolution occurred in China during 1966-1976. It stressed that the country should get rid of all characteristics of capitalist and traditional economies and create the true socialism (Wang 28). The Maoist perspective of social and economic issues was taken as a basis for implementing further reforms to eliminate the possibility of potential misunderstandings among various socialist theorists. The bourgeoisie or its elements were considered as being the major source of all social and economic problems in China. Thus, it was declared that the class struggle should be intensified. It led to the spreading of violence within the country as well as the large-scale destructions of the valuable historical artifacts.
Sheng (2015) stresses that the advocates of Cultural Revolution paid much attention to children’s literature. The government’s officials recognized that children’s views could be easily influenced through the set of corresponding literature influences. The major focus was on stressing that only socialist views were correct, and all Chinese people should follow them precisely. It would result in substantial positive outcomes both for individuals and the entire country. In general, the strategy pursued by the Chinese government was relatively effective. It allowed implementing the policies of the Cultural Revolution for around 10 years, despite the growing level of repressions.
Wang (2014) states that not all Chinese artists agreed to adjust their views and works according to the requirements of the central government. The author states that apolitical and private art also developed during that period as a form of artists’ rebellion to the ideas imposed by the politicians (Wang 27). Although it was highly problematic to receive proper recognition for those artists who devoted their energy to developing alternative approaches, the current trends in subjectivity reflect the contributions made by the Chinese artists of that period. In particular, they were successful in focusing on people’s internal world and beliefs.
In general, it is evident that despite the fact that the actions and policies undertaken during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were highly untypical for other countries, they were not arbitrary but reflected the spirit and economic views of that period in China. However, as all attempts to modernize the economy or improve the national culture were based on violence and force, the ultimate social results were highly negative. The production levels slumped to extremely low levels, such that even the basic physiological needs could not be addressed. In the cultural sphere, the consistent implementation of the socialist views led to the destruction of valuable historical artifacts that are important not only for China but the entire world.
However, it is evident that many Chinese supported the alternative ways of running the economy. In general, they often hold other opinions. It allowed them reconsider the ultimate effects of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, China began implementing different economic and cultural policies in the 1970s. It also helped achieve the desired progress and the radical improvements of standards of living for ordinary people.
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To summarize, the proper analysis should be based on the following two elements. The first one is considering the broad historical context contributing to the development of specific views and policies. As China was under the influence of Maoist socialistic ideology, it implemented corresponding reforms. The second one is assessing alternative views even if they were expressed in a hidden form. For example, many Chinese artists presented the alternative reality of Chinese people’s lives. They focused on the lives of ordinary citizens who suffered material and psychological problems due to the growing government’s interventions. In such a way, the objective picture may be understood, and the correct conclusions can be made.
Lin’s and Wu’s Views on China’s Development
The questions of China’s economic development are very complicated. The reason is that they reflect both the general patterns of economic growth (that are universal for all countries) and the country’s unique cultural elements. Therefore, it is necessary to consider a variety of relevant factors and make the plausible conclusions. In general, the market reforms contributed to China’s economic development only because they were consistent with people’s beliefs and worldviews.
Yu Hua (2012) recognized the presence of numerous social and economic problems through appealing to his personal experience. He could not be impartial to the pain and sufferings of people in China. He even declared that “China’s pain is mine” (Hua 13). At the same time, he stressed that it is a complicated task to make sense of all drastic changes in China during the last 30 years. The fact is that it is difficult to determine the ultimate causes and effects in such a situation (Hua 14). Thus, it is reasonable to consider the positions advocated by two influential Chinese economists Lin Yifu and Wu Jinglian.
Lin Yifu was the first Chinese to become the PhD student in the US after the Cultural Revolution (Osnos 209). As he was closely associated with the Chicago School of Economics, he became aware of the power of free-market reforms. He obtained the understanding of using the market for solving the most urgent economic problems in China especially dealing with the growing shortages in all spheres of the national economy. The scholar also believed that economic reforms should be supported by the corresponding democratic development of the country’s institutions.
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At the same time, Lin Yifu deviated from a traditional Chicago perspective as he assigned a comparatively substantial role to the national government in generating the sustainable economic growth (Osnos 212). He suggested that the government should identify the key spheres of the economy and encourage corresponding investments. In the long run, it could benefit the entire society.
Osnos (2012) explains that Wu Jinglian advocated different views. The author also recognized that the socialist economy was unproductive and ineffective. At the same time, he suggested that socialism as a political system was consistent with free-market reforms. Therefore, he did not propose initiating the radical democratization of the country but rather suggested concentrating on the timely and needed free-market reforms. Although Lin Yifu and Wu Jinglian advocated different social and political views, they agreed that consistent free-market improvements could lead to the substantial improvements in the standards of living among all Chinese people.
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It seems that Yu Hua realizes the need for transforming the Chinese economic system, although his claims are not very precise as he is not a professional economist. In general, Yu Hua’s views seem to be closer to those of Lin Yifu in a sense that Yu Hua believes that the Chinese political system also contributed to a number of negative consequences. In particular, Yu Hua (2012) states that piracy and imitation continue their spreading as a reaction to the government’s policy. Moreover, fraud also becomes widespread. Thus, pure economic reforms do not generate the desired changes in people’s attitudes towards each other and the broad social realm.
Logically then, Wu Jinglian’s position that it is reasonable to focus on economic transformation without the corresponding democratic changes is highly controversial. People usually want to transform the growing material opportunities emerged due to the rapid economic development into the corresponding social and political rights. If this tendency does not occur, numerous social conflicts may emerge. At the same time, Yu Hua (2012) comprehends that the optimal transition system is gradual because all revolutions, including cultural ones, disturb people’s traditional lifestyles and cause pain both at the individual ad national levels.
Lin Yifu also supports this position, claiming that the gradual transition towards the free-market economic system is necessary. Moreover, the government should also participate in the process through developing infrastructure and establishing proper working conditions for businesses and individuals (Osonos 212). The government can determine the strategically important spheres and stimulate their development with the help of tax reductions and subsidies. Thus, the optimal combination of the government’s and free market’s resources may lead to the achievement of optimal results within the whole country.
At the same time, it is evident that the views of Yu Hua and Lin Yifu are similar but not identical. The former concentrates on the lives and experiences of ordinary people. He is mostly concerned with the material and psychological impacts on Chinese individuals. The latter focuses on the interests of the entire Chinese economy and its comparative positions at the global level. Therefore, they evaluate the ultimate effect and criteria of effectiveness from different perspectives.
It may be concluded that the views expressed by Yu Hua are similar to those presented by Lin Yifu although the differences in the ultimate approaches still exist. Wu Jinglian evaluates economic issues in isolation from the corresponding social and political aspects. It can be stated that his analysis is different from other experts, although the general direction of free-market reforms is determined correctly. The provided analysis also reveals numerous practical difficulties associated with determining the ultimate causes and effects of socio-political changes in China. The fact is that all social and economic changes are interdependent. Moreover, the broad historical context influences the decisions of the government as well as the population’s willingness to participate in the proposed initiatives.