Mao and the introduction of the Five Year Plan

The Five Year Plan

In 1949 when the Communists came into power the Chinese economy was in a terrible mess. Decades of fighting meant that there had been a lack of investment in new technologies and China was lagging way behind other countries. Mao wanted to address this as quickly as possible through a Five Year Plan. The plan was inspired by the Soviet model which introduced a target based system over a 5 year period. The essential needs of the country were identified and individual factories and industrial sites told exactly what their minimum contribution to production needed to be.

The First Five Year Plan
1952 output 1957 target 1957 actual
Oil 0.4 million tonnes 2 million tonnes 1.4 million tonnes
Coal 63 million tonnes 113 million tonnes 124 million tonnes
Pig Iron 1.9 million tonnes 4.7 million tonnes 5.8 million tonnes
Steel 1.3 million tonnes 4.1 million tonnes 5.2 million tonnes
Fertiliser 0.2 million tonnes 0.6 million tonnes 0.7 million tonnes

The Five Year Plans succeeded in raising output and in many areas exceeded targets. Mao and other leaders though were unhappy at the disparity in terms of progress between Agriculture and Industry. This led to a change in policy during the 2nd Five Year Plan where the Great Leap Forward was introduced and improvements across the board encouraged.

Work on collectivisation as part of the Great Leap Forward set out in the 2nd Five Year Plan


Source: Talk on the 3rd Five Year Plan, Mao, 1964

In the past, the method of planning was essentially learned from the Soviet Union and comparatively easy to do. First you determine how much steel is needed, then on this basis estimate how much coal, electricity, transport force, and so on are needed; and then based on these assumptions estimate the expected increase in urban population and the livelihood benefits. This is the method of using the calculator. Once the output of steel is reduced, all other items are correspondingly reduced. This kind of method is impractical and unworkable. This type of calculation cannot take into account what the Lord in Heaven will do to the plan. Suppose a natural disaster comes and you just won’t have such a quantity of foodgrains, support to the urban population cannot increase to the extent desired and then everything else comes to naught. Besides you cannot figure in what war will do. We are not the chief of staff of the U.S., so we don’t know when they will strike against us. Furthermore, revolutions in various countries cannot be figured into the plan. Suppose in some countries the people’s revolutions have succeeded and they need our economic assistance. How can this be foretold?

It is necessary to change the method of planning. This is a revolution. After we learned the Soviet method, it has become a force of habit with us and it seems hard to change.

In the last few years we have been groping our way and found some other method. Our policy is to take agriculture as the foundation and industry as the leading factor. Pursuant to this policy, when we map out a plan we first see what quantity of foodgrains can be produced, then estimate how much fertilizer, pesticides, machinery, iron and steel, and so on are needed.

How do we plan for an annual harvest? It will be determined by the assumption that in 5 years there will be 1 year of good harvest, 2 years of ordinary harvest, and 2 years of poor harvest. This is more practical and dependable. It should first be ascertained what quantity of foodgrains, cotton and other economic crops can be produced under such conditions and then how much industry can be planned for on this foundation. If the harvest of the year is better, so much the better.

Source: “How China Proceeds with the Task of Industrialization” Ji Yun, 1953

The five-year construction plan, to which we have long looked forward, has now
commenced. Its basic object is the gradual realization of the industrialization of our state.
Industrialization has been the goal sought by the Chinese people during the past one
hundred years. From the last days of the Manchu dynasty to the early years of the republic,
some people had undertaken the establishment of a few factories in the country. But industry as
a whole has never been developed in China. … It was just as Stalin said: “Because China did not
have its own heavy industry and its own war industry, it was being trampled upon by all the
reckless and unruly elements. …”


Mao Zedong: China 1930-1976

Wikipedia – entries relating to each of the Five Year Plans.

History Learning Site – good account with statistical analysis.

Country Studies – detailed article about the Five Year Plans.

China Facts – accounts of the 5 year plans.

China Posters – account and propaganda images from the period of the first 5 year plans.

The History of china through Propaganda Posters.

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