In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Late Maoist Economic Policies

  • Introduction
  • The Late Maoist Period
  • Economic Policies: 1955–1976
  • Performance: Growth and Structural Transformation
  • Performance: Distributive Equality and Well-Being
  • Ideational Foundation: Maoism and Chinese Culture
  • World Capitalism and Class Struggle
  • State Institutions: Policymaking and Implementation
  • The Lived Experience and Social Resistance

Chinese Studies Late Maoist Economic Policies
Yin-Wah Chu
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0214


This entry adopts the year 1955 as the beginning of the late Maoist period. The decision is made upon a review of several studies of Maoist China. Having done this, this entry proceeds to discuss the economic policies introduced between 1955 and 1976, highlighting the drive to collectivization and communization, adjustments in the early 1960s subsequent to the Great Leap disaster, reform and reassertion of communization since the mid-1960s, as well as Third Front industrialization introduced around 1964. A few words will also be said in relation to specific topics related to the economic policies. Outcomes in terms of growth, structural transformation, distributive equality, and social well-being are then discussed with an effort to bring out the divergent assessments. To make sense of the formulation and implementation of the policies, this entry goes on to examine the ideational foundation in terms of Maoist thought and Chinese culture, social-structural factors pertaining to world capitalism, China’s position as a developing country, and the class struggles that attended the country’s pursuit of socialism, as well as political institutions, especially Mao’s relations to the civil bureaucracy and the issue of factionalism. The last section of this entry will highlight the lived experience of the Chinese during the late Maoist era and the people’s resistance, if any.

The Late Maoist Period

Mao Zedong had exerted pivotal, albeit not uncontested, influence over the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since the late 1930s, and this remained true until his death in 1976. Scholars differed in their periodization of China’s politico-economic development as well as Mao’s influence. China’s CCP scholars like Liu Suinian and Wu Qungan (see Liu and Wu 1986) and other official sources, such as NBS 1999 and SETC 2000, normally conceded that Mao had pursued socialism throughout, though changing social and material conditions dictated policy adjustments. Despite the critical evaluation of Mao’s achievements in Walder 2015, he shared this view of ideological and policy continuity (see also Eckstein 1977, Meisner 1999). At the same time, other scholars differentiated Mao’s policies into distinct periods. Just as Selden 1988 and Selden and Lippit 1982 used the term “mobilizational collectivism” to designate Mao’s policies between 1955 and 1976, Riskin 1987 and, to some extent, Perkins 2022 considered the year 1958 to mark the turning point. Bramall 2009, however, designated 1963–1978 as the late Maoist era and contended that the period was marked by policy coherence and continuity. Yet others employed a more refined periodization. Wemheuer 2019, for instance, differentiated among the years of the Great Leap Forward (1958–1961); the post-Leap retrenchment period (1962–1965) that involved local experiments with the rural household responsibility system, great downsizing of the urban workforce, Socialist Education Campaign, and limited revival of the United Front; and the “decade of disturbance” or Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) that Wemheuer examined in two stages: 1966–1968 and 1969–1976. It is in full cognizance of these divergences that this entry will adopt 1955 as the demarcating line of the “late Maoist” period. That year saw the deepening of collectivization and, later, launch of the Great Leap Forward or, more generally, Mao’s effort to deepen socialist development without following the Soviet route of central planning. However, as already noted, power contentions and salient policy swings continued to incur after the Great Leap Forward, and Mao had sometimes been required to pay heed to Liu Shaoqi, Chen Yun, Deng Xiaoping, and other party leaders who did not see eye to eye with him on the best socialist strategies. To get a handle on the important changes in economic policies during those years, the next three sections of this entry will examine the policies and outcomes in terms of growth, structural change, distributive equality, and social well-being.

  • Bramall, Chris. Chinese Economic Development. London: Routledge, 2009.

    Bramall provided an overview of China’s economic development from 1949 to 2007. The book has five parts. Parts two and three examined in detail China’s transition to socialism, the events leading up to the Great Leap Forward, and Maoist development strategies from 1963–1978, including the revolution in education, collective farming, and the third front and rural industrialization.

  • Eckstein, Alexander. China’s Economic Revolution. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511571732

    Instead of examining China’s economic development through succeeding historical stages, Eckstein organized his study according to different thematic issues. The themes included economic heritage, development strategies and policies, property relations and economic organization, resource allocation system, quest for economic stability (hence fiscal and monetary management), China’s development between 1949 and 1974 (and its evaluation), significance of foreign trade, and the development China model.

  • Liu Suinian and Wu Qungan, eds. China’s Socialist Economy: An Outline History, 1949–1984. Beijing: Beijing Review, 1986.

    This thirty-chapter book provided a historical overview of socialist China between 1949 and 1984, examining the changing policies, reasons for the change, achievements within the period, or lessons to be learned. The periods included the formation of the “new democratic economy” (1949–1952), the First Five-Year Plan (1953–1958), the Great Leap Forward and readjustment (1958–1965), Ten Years of Turmoil (1966–1976), and the period of socialist modernization (1977–1984).

  • Meisner, Maurice. Mao’s China and After. 3d ed. New York: The Free Press, 1999.

    Meisner examines China’s changes between the social revolution led by Mao and the launch of the Deng era. Though sympathetic to Mao’s cause, Meisner was never blind to his many failures. The book examines the political changes and evaluates whether the economic policies had succeeded in attaining socialist modernity. Parts 3 to 5 of the book are particularly relevant for the present purpose.

  • NBS (National Bureau of Statistics of China, Department of Comprehensive Statistics). Xin Zhongguo wushi nian tongji ziliao huibian (新中国五十年统计资料汇编). Beijing: Zhongguo Tongji Chubanshe, 1999.

    A compilation of national- and local-level statistics for the years 1949 to 1998. The national-level statistics are more detailed, containing data on population, employment, national income, housing and construction, fixed capital investment, government income and expenditure, education, research and development, price indexes, residents’ compensation and consumption, production values of different economic sectors, transportation, banking, hospitals and health workers, etc.

  • Perkins, Dwight H. “China’s Struggle with the Soviet Growth Model, 1949–1978.” In The Cambridge Economic History of China. Vol. 2, 1800 to the Present. Edited by Debin Ma and Richard von Glahn, 565–605. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2022.

    Perkins delineates several periods in China’s implementation of the Soviet growth model: the establishment of the command system by 1956–1957, the Great Leap Forward, the 1961–1964 adjustment years, and 1965–1978, examining the political background and such issues as production target setting, human resource management, challenge of price stability, investment, output, sales, etc. He also evaluates China’s economic performance in terms of GDP, income received, consumption, and distributive equality.

  • Riskin, Carl. China’s Political Economy: The Quest for Development since 1949. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

    The author devotes five of the thirteen substantive chapters to examine the political economy of late-Mao policies (i.e., 1958–1976). He adopts a Marxist economics perspective and considers “late-Maoism” as Mao’s attempt to reject both the capitalist market mechanism and Soviet central planning while dealing with the challenge that confronted all late developing economies, namely the quest to industrialize based on a large and unproductive agricultural sector.

  • Selden, Mark. The Political Economy of Chinese Socialism. New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1988.

    The author reflects on China’s socialist development by drawing upon his own research and secondary sources. He focuses mostly on the agrarian sector, devoting the first few chapters to the process of collectivization and, in a coauthored chapter, examines original accumulation and industrialization both in China and Taiwan. Two of the remaining chapters reflect on the issues of income and intersectoral equality.

  • Selden, Mark, and Victor Lippit, eds. The Transition to Socialism in China. New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1982.

    The volume collects eight substantive chapters contributed by Mark Selden, William Hinton, Victor Lippit, Edward Friedman, Andrew Walder, Kojima Reiitsu, Tang Tsou and coauthors, and Carl Riskin. From the domains of their specialization, they deal with the central issue of how China tackled the transition to socialism and the potential conflicts between the state elites, peasants, and workers with their diverse visions and interests.

  • SETC (State Economic and Trade Commission of the People’s Republic of China), ed. Zhongguo gongye wushi nian: Xin Zhongguo gongye tongjian (中国工业五十年: 新中国工业通鉴). Beijing: Zhongguo jingji chubanshe, 2000.

    A nine-volume publication, with the third, fourth, and fifth volumes examining the periods of the Great Leap Forward, adjustments, and the Cultural Revolution, respectively. Each of these volumes presents information on the “meetings” leading to the policy decisions; “major work reports” such as those on learning from Daqing, Third Front industrialization, price control, and stock-taking, “statistical reports” on income, production, etc. and a “chronology of major events.”

  • Walder, Andrew G. China under Mao: A Revolution Derailed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674286689

    Walder identifies four periods in Mao’s rule over China and deciphers why Mao’s revolutionary endeavors ended up as disasters. Despite his good intentions to deliver China from dire poverty, inequalities, and Soviet-style bureaucratic constraints, the outcomes turned out to be “unexpected,” leaving many deaths and destructions to the economy, society, and polity. Mao’s limited understanding of Marxism-Leninism, experience with mass mobilization, and his personality were all consequential.

  • Wemheuer, Felix. A Social History of Maoist China: Conflict and Change, 1949–1976. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316421826

    The author narrates the history of Maoist China by scrutinizing the experiences of “workers, peasants, local cadres, intellectuals, ‘ethnic minorities,’ members of the old elites, men and women” under CCP rule across three key areas: social change, classification, and conflict. The chapters are organized chronologically, while Wemheuer examines how selected social groups fared in the face of the broad historical and structural changes.

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