'The Unauthorized History of Socialism': Mao's 'Great Leap Forward' kills millions in China

Ed. Note: This article is adapted from Fox Nation's six-part series "The Unauthorized History of Socialism," hosted by Bret Baier)

In early 1958, Mao Zedong, the leader of Communist China, announced a new economic experiment meant to catapult his country ahead of the West in both agriculture and industry.

By the time the Great Leap Forward ended four years later, millions were dead and the Chinese economy was in tatters.

At the core of the Great Leap Forward were more than 23,000 people's communes housing more than 500 million people. Mao, who had taken control of China in 1949, believed that by mobilizing that vast labor pool, he could remake his agrarian country into a fully communist society.

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"He [Mao] became disillusioned with the Soviet model and he thought he could improve upon it and bring communism overnight," says historian Merle Goldman. "He was truly a utopian thinker."

But Mao's frenzied commitment to the Great Leap Forward led only to impossibly high production quotas and inferior products.

"One way he thought of speeding up the agriculture growth was to plant [crops] more densely," says Barnard College political science professor Xiaobo Lü. "And that’s scientifically irrational, that did not really increase the production. Very soon in 1959, there was also some drought [and] floods. So natural disaster plus this human policy and that became a killer combo."

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In one program – the government tried to boost steel production by encouraging peasants to build backyard steel mills on communes across China. The peasants donated iron goods from their own homes, including woks and cooking utensils, to use as raw materials. But the steel produced was worthless.

"The peasants were forced to work long hours every day," says Goldman. "They were totally exhausted by this. They weren’t getting enough food to eat, they were literally in some areas starving. And it is estimated that this utopian idea led to the death of 30 to 40 million Chinese peasants."

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