Lushan Conference

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Peng Dehuai , who at the Lushan Conference held Mao Zedong responsible for the failure of the great leap forward

The Lushan Conference (廬山 會議, 庐山 会议) was a meeting of the leading communist cadres in July 1959 in the Lushan Resort in Jiangxi Province , People's Republic of China . It became famous because of two interrelated events: the removal of Peng Dehuai as defense minister and the reaffirmation of the strategy of the great leap forward, which was actually recognized as wrong .


Preparations for the great leap forward began in the winter of 1957/58, when some cooperatives, which had been the predominant form of organization in agriculture until then, were merged into larger units. In the course of 1958 the 740,000 cooperatives and collectives were dissolved in 26,000 municipalities. As early as autumn 1958 the first serious difficulties arose in the country, which among other things led to the fact that individual municipalities were dismantling parts of their structures or abandoning the absolute centrality of municipal ideas and allowing private land management and private supply and care again.

On the political level, the leadership of the CCP held a meeting in Wuhan in November 1958 , the minutes of which indirectly indicate that they were aware of undesirable developments in the Great Leap Forward. The documents contain information on how to counteract the negative effects and how to steer the movement in economically viable paths. Mistakes were also admitted by Mao Zedong , who was a major concern of the Great Jump. One result of this meeting was Mao's resignation from the post of party chairman. This position would be taken over by Liu Shaoqi , who took office in the spring of 1959. A substantial correction of the big jump did not take place, however, despite the tentative attempts at limitation in November 1958.

Peng Dehuai's trip to the countryside

At the beginning of 1959, Peng Dehuai, the then defense minister, like other politicians during the Great Leap, made a trip overland. It became clear that the movement was by no means producing the great results that were reported to Beijing . Peng was able to convince himself that the backyard steel production led to rejects and that the harvests were just normal. Due to the shift in economic orientation, the real task of the farmers, arable and livestock farming, received less attention, and sometimes even considerable neglect. Spurred on by reports of the alleged food surplus, food consumption was also fueled, which in early 1959 led to regional food shortages and problems with the basic supply of material goods.

Peng Dehuai saw this, among other things, in his home village, where the elderly and children in particular suffered from the supply situation and the peasants silently but bitterly endured the living conditions dictated by the movement, such as canteens, the abandonment of private family life and the militarization of everyday life . They also revealed the forced exaggeration in reporting production results, as too low a number could result in stigmatization as a legal deviator. Peng also visited Mao Zedong's home village of Shaoshan , which was doing significantly better and where there had actually been an increase in production. However, this was mainly due to massive government support through loans.

For Peng Dehuai, additional indicators that the Great Leap was getting out of hand could be found directly with the People's Liberation Army , of which he was de facto leader as Defense Minister. On the one hand, there were aid deliveries to hunger-affected areas, which were carried out by the VBA, on the other hand, rumors spread in the army, whose recruits were mainly peasant sons, who received news about the problematic situation at home.

The conference

The conference began on July 2, 1959 with informal talks and working groups to discuss all aspects of the big leap. Peng Dehuai initially wanted to cancel his participation as he had just returned from a six-week trip through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but was urged by Mao Zedong to attend. In the discussions of his working group, Peng commented on his experiences at the beginning of the year, on the conclusions he had drawn from it and on a conversation with Mao Zedong on this topic. Among other things, it became clear how differently Mao and Peng assessed the situation in Shaoshan. While Mao wrote an eulogy for the big leap with historical echoes after a visit to his home village, Peng made it clear in his working group that it was not difficult to find out that there had been an increase in production, but that it was well below what it was was specified for the village. The actual increase of 16% was only due to subsidies and loans.

Peng also said that he had approached Mao Zedong about it, but the latter denied having received any information. In the group, Peng suggested that Mao knew very well how the results in Shaoshan came about. The assumption, which was later often expressed, that Mao could not have known about the effects of the Great Leap because he was only presented with the embellished figures and only saw the prettified facade on his travels, is also contradicted by the rather cautious Maurice Meisner in his Mao 2007 biography: “He was too clever an observer of rural life to not know the difference between a real and a Potemkin village. If he was deceived, it was only because he wanted to be deceived. "

The letter

A few days after the informal talks began, Peng Dehuai wrote a letter in which he presented his thoughts and analyzes on the Great Leap and addressed it to Mao Zedong. He left it at Mao's office on July 13th. In this letter, which was a mixture of praise and criticism for politics and the previous results of the big jump, Peng also addressed the undesirable developments and negative excesses: the big jump was a matter of loss and gain despite the increased production achieved - Peng changed the order of the two terms here. Among other things, there were considerable exaggerations, there were errors in steel production and the specifications made for carrying out the movement were probably inadequate. Also, as it is said in the language of the time, "left-wing deviating misjudgments arose which could be described as petty-bourgeois fanaticism". Although Peng only addressed this letter to Mao personally and asked for the same assessment and evaluation of his views, Mao Zedong had this letter copied and distributed to all participants in the meeting on July 17th. This was initially interpreted as a sign that Peng's views could be a basis for further discussion, so that over the next few days some people present, including Zhang Wentian , Li Xiannian and Chen Yi, will speak up with supportive contributions .

The sentencing of Peng Dehuai

The Politburo meeting

During the official part of the meeting, the Politburo session , Mao gave a speech on July 23, during which everyone present became aware that Peng's views were undesirable. He accused Peng of forming a right-wing opportunist clique, of unprincipled internal party activity and alleged that Peng had provided Khrushchev with data during his recent stay in the Soviet Union that allowed the Soviet head of state to make fun of the communes in a speech. In fact, Peng Dehuai probably addressed this topic not only during his visit to the Soviet Union, but also at other stops on his Eastern European trip. What made the accusation of treason easy for Mao was a Taiwanese agency report spreading the unsupportive words of Khrushchev. Mao also had this report circulated, which was intended to reveal Peng's counter-revolutionary sentiments that worked into the hands of the enemy.

At the same time, Mao acknowledged that mistakes had been made during the Great Leap. State planning had collapsed, the steel production campaign, which led to the catastrophe, was his personal responsibility and the communities were built up too quickly. Although his speech is characterized by historians as erratic and improvised, he combines this admission, which takes up Peng's main points of criticism, with a clever argumentative reference to the theoretical designers of the ideological framework in which the party operates. In the end, Lenin and Marx themselves would have made mistakes, would have been impatient, would have prophesied things that would not have happened and thus were also guilty of petty-bourgeois fanaticism. Even Confucius was not free from mistakes and exaggerated expectations. It is therefore quite possible that the transition to communism, which is aimed at with the great leap forward, would take a little longer and become more strenuous than initially assumed. Nevertheless, Peng's letter was an error with regard to the political line. Mao compares Peng's “mistake” with those of Li Lisan , who no longer played a significant role in the party after 1930, Wang Ming , who went into exile in the Soviet Union in 1956, and Gao Gang, who committed suicide in 1954 because of Liu Shaoqi's ambitions for the post committed, and thus makes a clear classification of Peng's letter.

Mao insisted that the basics of the Great Leap were going in the right direction, and gave the congregation the choice of either standing up for the Great Leap and therefore for it, or wavering and joining Peng Dehuai. Should those present choose the latter, he, Mao, would go to the mountains, mobilize the peasants again and wage a guerrilla war against the government. This threat from the now 65-year-old may have been escalating dramatically, but it conveyed the clear message - he or I and without me the collapse threatens.

The plenary session of the Central Committee

The actual conference ended on July 30th, the next day the specially convened plenum of the Central Committee began , which was able to resolve on the recall of Peng. Peng and his supporters had no chance of preventing their elimination from the political scene. The accusations raised weighed heavily and there was almost no one whose political weight was great enough not to immediately risk their existence if a critical thought was expressed. Only Zhu De , one of the three great army leaders from the civil war alongside Mao and Peng, spoke out in favor of moderation, which he had to "make up for" a little later with self-criticism. Peng Dehuai himself underwent what appeared to be very humiliating self-criticism in Lushan for the views expressed in the letter - a move he later regretted.

It was decided that Peng Dehuai and Zhang Wentian, who had been to the Soviet Union with Peng, should lose their government offices. However, both retained their membership in the Politburo, which is probably due to the fact that it was difficult for Mao at this point in time to completely destroy such a recognized and deserving man as Peng Dehuai in his social existence.


The removal of Peng Dehuai as defense minister was the externally visible result of this conference. But the ramifications were wider.

Jonathan Spence describes the Lushan Conference as a turning point in the party's history, since it was the first time that criticism within the highest cadre of a strategy or political orientation of the party was interpreted as a personal attack on Mao Zedong's leadership role and was not questioned by anyone. Historians largely agree that a contradiction finally manifested itself as a rule: Mao Zedong was allowed to criticize himself, other people, strategies and political orientations, but such criticism by others had to exist before him or was demonstrated on the one in Lushan Kind of treated.

Furthermore, the chance was wasted to rethink the strategy of the great leap forward and to make changes in direction or to stop the movement. The famine and the severe supply shortages continued until 1961.

Control of the army was now completely back to Mao Zedong, who brought Lin Biao , who was loyal to him at the time, into play as Peng Dehuai's successor. Simultaneously with the assumption of the office of defense minister by Lin, one could observe an increase in the importance of the army as a power and shaping factor in domestic politics, which was to be particularly evident in the years before and the first years of the Cultural Revolution .

Source overview

  • Jung Chang , Jon Haliday: Mao. The life of a man, the fate of a people (“Mao”). 5th ed. Karl Blessing Verlag, Munich 2005, pp. 577-593. ISBN 3-89667-200-2 .
  • June Teufel Dreyer: China's Political System. Modernization and Tradition . 2nd ed. Allyn and Bacon, London 1996, pp. 94-99. ISBN 0-333-66850-2 .
  • Tilemann Grimm : Mao Tse-tung. With images and image documents (Rowohlt's monographs; Vol. 50141). 16th edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2001. ISBN 3-499-50141-4 .
  • Maurice Meisner: Mao Zedong. A Political and Intellectual Portrait (Political Profiles). Polity Press, Cambridge 2007, pp. 151-157. ISBN 978-0-7456-3107-3 .
  • Philip Short: Mao. A life. John Murray London 2004. pp. 493-502. ISBN 0-7195-6676-2 .
  • Jonathan Spence : China's way into modernity (“The search for modern China”). Updated and expanded edition. Dtv, Munich 2001, pp. 681-688. ISBN 3-423-30795-1 .
  • Jonathan Spence: Mao. Claassen, Munich 2003, pp. 189-205, ISBN 3-546-00261-X .

Individual evidence

  1. Spence 2001, p. 683.
  2. Dreyer 1996, p. 98.
  3. Meisner 2007, p. 151.
  4. Short 1999, p. 493.
  5. Short 1999, pp. 494f.
  6. Spence 2003, p. 201.
  7. a b Short 1999, p. 495.
  8. This (p. 141) and other poems can be read in: Grimm 1968.
  9. Chang 2005, pp. 588f., From the minutes of Peng Dehuai's speeches in Lushan
  10. Meisner 2007, p. 156, translation from English by user: Blaue Orchidee . Original quote: “He was too astute an observer of rural life not to know the difference between a real village and a Potemkin village. If he was deceived, it was only because he wished to be. "
  11. ^ Table of contents of the letter and quotations from Spence 2003, pp. 201f.
  12. Short 1999, p. 496.
  13. a b Spence 2001, p. 686.
  14. Chang 2005, pp. 581f.
  15. a b Short 1999, p. 497.
  16. Meisner 2007, p. 153.
  17. Meisner 2007, p. 154.
  18. Short 1999, p. 498.
  19. Short 1999, p. 499.
  20. Short 1999, p. 500.
  21. Meisner 2007, p. 156.