Great Leap Forward

DEFINITION of 'Great Leap Forward'

An economic and social campaign that intended to change China from an agrarian economy into a modern society. The Great Leap Forward was an effort made by the Communist Party of China (CPC) under the leadership of Mao Zedong (also known as Mao Tse-tung) to transform China into a society capable of competing with other industrialized nations, within a short, five-year time period. In January 1958, the Great Leap Forward, the second Five-Year Plan, was launched, and between 1958 and 1960, millions of Chinese citizens were moved to communes to work on farms or in manufacturing. Private farming was prohibited.

BREAKING DOWN 'Great Leap Forward'

The Great Leap Forward, intended to be a five-year effort, was halted in 1960 after three brutal years. The initiative is said to have cost an estimated 20 to 48 million lives as a result of catastrophic economic policy, compounded by adverse weather conditions including a flood that killed 2 million people and the subsequent crop failures that led to starvation. In addition to the fatalities, the Great Leap Forward had negative environmental impacts as communes were encouraged to set up "backyard" production plants for needed supplies such as steel, timber and cement. In 1960, an extensive drought further added to the country's troubles. Mao Zedong was forced to resign from his position as Head of State, although he was able to remain in a powerful party position.