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Source: CCTV.com

01-09-2009 08:49

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The year known as Gengzi on the Chinese lunar calendar began on January the 28th, 1960.

The Association of Chinese Artists held an exhibition of New Year pictures just before Spring Festival. Most of the Chinese folk paintings eulogized the “Great Leap Forward” and the “People’s Communes”.

Around the same time as the exhibition, the film “Five Golden Flowers” was being screened in Beijing and Shanghai. Ah Peng, the hero in the film, falls in love with a girl called Golden Flower during a visit to the city of Dali. They promise to meet again the following year. On his way to the appointment, Ah Peng meets several other girls also named Golden Flower. One of them is a tractor driver, one is a livestock farmer, one is a model worker and one is a technician at a rural steelworks. As for the Golden Flower Ah Peng is planning to meet, she is the head of a people’s commune. 4. The film sparked a movement across China to emulate Golden Flower. The new Golden Flowers became symbols of honour and virtue. The city of Dali in Yunnan Province launched a production emulation campaign aimed at producing thousands of Golden Flowers.

After the celebration of New Year’s Day, the Central Newsreels and Documentary Film Studio produced the documentary “Good Start”. Part of the narration went: “Guided by the brilliant General Line, China has fulfilled all the quotas set in the economic plan of 1959 and completed the main quotas set for the second Five-Year Plan period three years ahead of schedule. All trades and professions have made a good start on the first day of 1960. This is a great victory for the General Line and the Great Leap Forward Movement.

Every celebratory message revealed a determination to make a good start, achieve victories day after day, and meet the targets set for safe production and output. 6. The January the 1st edition of “People’s Daily” had carried an editorial under the title “Prospects for the 1960s”. In it, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party announced that agriculture in China was in the midst of an exceptionally severe natural disaster, the like of which had not been seen for several decades. After the New Year’s Day holiday was over the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party adopted a plan for the national economy, which set the annual output of steel at 18.4 million tons and the annual output of grain at 300 million tons.

Gu Zhun, a research fellow with the Economics Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, had been working at a state farm in Shangcheng County, Henan Province for two years. He spent 15 or 16 hours a day in the fields, ploughing, weeding, applying fertilizer and gathering in the crops. He wrote in his diary: “My hands have become so rough I dare not caress my wife and children. They are calloused and cracked. The thumb and middle finger of the right hand are in the worst condition. All the fingernails are damaged. But through the manual work, I have succeeded in thoroughly ridding myself of the vanity of an intellectual and bureaucrat.” 8. Gu Zhun’s diary was later published as a book, under the title, “Diary Written in Shangcheng”. He included in the book everything he had experienced and heard before, during and after the year of 1960. 9. “On December the 17th, 1959, the Xu family ran out of food. On January the 5th, 1960, people from the state farm went to buy vegetables in the village and came back with the news that the villagers had eaten all the potatoes. This must be true. On January the 9th, Liu Yinzhi’s father died of oedema. On January the 12th, Tailor Zhang’s brother and sister-in-law died simultaneously, also of oedema.”

China was suffering from unprecedented difficulties in agriculture. In the previous year, agricultural production had begun a decline. About 60 million hectares of farmland were affected by disasters. In 1960, agricultural output saw an even sharper fall. Large stretches of farmland yielded no harvest at all.

Jin Chongji, Vice Director of the Research Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China Archive, wrote in his book, “The Rise of China in the 20th Century”, that: “The most serious problem in the nationwide crisis was the grain shortage in the rural areas. The state continued to impose high grain purchase quotas, even though grain production was significantly reduced. The excessive compulsory purchase of grain included both food and seeds. As a result, malnutrition and oedema were commonplace.”

Yang Gui, who was 31 years old at the time, had been Communist Party Secretary of Linxian County in Henan Province for six years. In mid January, the County Party Committee sent more than 60,000 people to the Taihang Mountains to build an aqueduct for diverting water from the Zhanghe River to Linxian County.

Linxian County lies in the Taihang Mountains, at the point where the three provinces of Shanxi, Hebei and Henan, meet. Here, just a thin layer of soil covers solid rock. Water is extremely hard to come by. At the start of the Great Leap Forward two years earlier, the county government had reported to the Xinxiang Prefecture government that the per-hectare grain output in Linxian was scarcely more than 900 kilograms. Yang Gui would later explain that in those years, the higher the yield the local government reported, the more grain it would be ordered to sell to the state.

If too much grain was requisitioned, there would not be enough left to feed the local population. Thanks to the pragmatism of the county government in under-reporting its grain yield, Linxian could build up a stock of 1.5 million tons of grain. 14. This 1.5 million ton grain reserve was worth nearly 3 million yuan. By selling it, the Linxian County government was able to finance the building of the Red Flag Canal. However, the farmers working on the canal received only 300 grams of coarse grain a day. The Taihang Mountains are formed of igneous rock. Among the people at the construction site, there were no technical personnel, so the farmers had to work by trial and error. The project was originally scheduled for completion within one or two years. In the event, the canal took ten years to complete. The Red Flag Canal was praised as a demonstration of a pioneering spirit at a difficult time in China’s modern history.