How Do We Know China? Let Us Count the Ways (Worksheet)

"When the dining hall is well-run, the production spirit will increase" CREDIT: Hu Yuelong

Rather than relying on state-run media and tours, Miriam and Ivan London investigated the conditions in China from 1965-1975 by interviewing refugees who made the dangerous escape to Hong Kong by swimming through shark-infested waters. The worksheet found on the top right sidebar includes quotes from peasants from different provinces of China (although, all relatively close to Hong Kong) who commented on the functionality of the commune system. The quotes are contrasted with a report from the Chinese Foreign Ministry that was published in the New York Times. Also, included are questions for students to think about land productivity and the validity of Chinese state reports at the time. 

The worksheet is in .doc form for easy modifications. In its current format, it will print on legal size paper. For the full article, please click here.

BACKGROUND: Almost a decade after the Communist Revolution, Mao Zedong decided that China was not progressing fast enough toward the ideal Communist state, where all property would be held in common. So he launched the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958-61), which included confiscating all private land and organizing the peasants into farming communes, in which large groups of peasants worked together on farms and were paid with work points. Everything was shared, from farm animals to equipment. Even private cooking was banned and families ate together in large communal dining rooms. Mismanagement of this utopian program contributed to the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-1961, but problems did not stop there. Inefficiencies on farms and starvation continued until reforms began under Deng Xiaoping in 1978. The state tried to quiet the news of farming failures by publishing false or inflated numbers.

This worksheet works well in a global history, world history, or comparative government class.