The Beijing Chronicle

October 10, 1960

Peng Dehuai’s Letter to the Chairman: Fact or Fiction?

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As I sit here today, less than one year after I penned an article declaring the unilateral success of the Great Leap Forward, I sit in utter confusion and on the edge of despair. I have recently obtained a copy of Peng Dehuai’s letter, which he sent personally to Chairman Mao but which was then circulated freely at the Lushan Conference last month. In this letter, Peng addresses some of the issues that have been noticed by many, including myself, over the past few months, most notably the extensive deaths among peasants across China despite widespread reports of record crop harvests. The question that arises from Peng’s comments is simple: Do we believe the Party line that lack of rainfall has caused these deaths (and that the number of deaths is greatly exaggerated) or Peng’s assertion that the policies of the Great Leap Forward are incredibly ineffective and that a culture has arisen where crop yields are exaggerated and fabricated on an enormous scale?

            Peng’s letter is fairly straightforward in the way in which it outlines the problems currently facing China and their probable causes. First and foremost, an overestimation of grain output has “created a false impression that the food problem had been solved and that we could therefore go all out in industry.” Furthermore, the subsequent effort to increase iron and steel production “was affected with such extreme one-sided thinking that no serious study was conducted” as to the efficacy of production techniques and the problems that arise when attempting to dramatically raise capacity. Thus Peng asserts that the combination of these policies, which together constitute the Great Leap Forward, has caused extravagance and waste that has led to the beginnings of a nationwide famine that has already taken the lives of thousands of Chinese. Undoubtedly these problems have been compounded by the drought that hit China last year, but I find it hard to believe that the drought, not the policies of the Great Leap Forward, is solely to blame for the deaths of Chinese peasants. In fact, by the CCP putting the blame for the famine on the drought, the party is essentially admitting to lying about harvest numbers. How would it be possible for record harvests to occur during a period of drought that is causing death by starvation of the very farmers producing world record rice harvests? It is questions like this that cause me to deeply regret my article praising the policies of the Great Leap Forward last year.

            Mao and the CCP are yet to give an adequate response to the aforementioned revelations. It is my hope that in the coming months more of our questions will be answered and that effective policy actions will be taken in order to protect the lives of the Chinese people. I am inclined to believe Peng’s assertion that Party policies have led to the terrible famine we are currently facing, but more information is certainly needed. I will attempt to contact Peng in the coming months and conduct an interview to ascertain more information about China’s greatest problems. Until then, we must continue to have faith in Chairman Mao and hope that he can come up with more revolutionary policies that can reinvigorate progress in the welfare of all Chinese people.

Zhou Zhijiang – August 1, 1959


Source: 11.10


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