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China's Great Leap: Forward or Backward? Anatomy of a Central Planning Disaster


  • An, Mark Yuying
  • Li, Wei
  • Yang, Dennis Tao


The Great Leap Forward (GLF) disaster, characterized by a collapse of grain output, and the associated famine in China between 1959 and 1961, can be attributed to a systemic failure in central planning. Encouraged by unrealistic expectations for agricultural productivity gains from collectivization, the government switched to an accelerated and infeasible timetable for industrialization. Consequently, it diverted massive amounts of agricultural resources to industry and imposed excessive grain procurement burdens on peasants, leaving them with insufficient food to sustain labour productivity. Grain output fell sharply at the onset of these policies and started to recover gradually when the policies were reversed. Official data and our supplementary survey data support the theoretical prediction regarding the dynamic progression of the disaster. They also show that over 80% of the decline in grain output is attributable to the policies of excessive procurement and resource diversion.

Suggested Citation

  • An, Mark Yuying & Li, Wei & Yang, Dennis Tao, 2001. "China's Great Leap: Forward or Backward? Anatomy of a Central Planning Disaster," CEPR Discussion Papers 2824, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:2824

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Chen, Yuyu & Zhou, Li-An, 2007. "The long-term health and economic consequences of the 1959-1961 famine in China," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 659-681, July.

    More about this item


    Agricultural Crisis; Central Planning; China; Grain Procurement; Industrialization; Resource Diversion; Work Capacity;

    JEL classification:

    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy


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