258. National Intelligence Estimate0

NIE 13–2–59


The Problem

To assess the significance of the “great leap forward” and the commune programs, and their interrelation with the question of Mao Tse-tung’s leadership, Sino-Soviet relations, and Chinese Communist foreign policy.1

[Page 521]


The Chinese Communist “great leap forward” program has been based largely upon a prodigious expenditure of manpower. Although it is difficult to make precise assessments of Chinese Communist claims, it is our preliminary judgment that remarkable increases in production have actually occurred in 1958. In agriculture the increase was at least 10 and possibly as much as 20 percent. Industrial production in some sectors such as steel, coal, and machine tools may have been nearly double that of 1957, although the quality of some of the added output is probably poor and of limited usefulness. The present year will almost certainly see another substantial increase in total production. The rate of advance will probably not be sustained after 1959, however, as some of the human and economic problems generated in this frenzied period begin to take effect.
Almost the entire countryside has been organized, in varying degrees, into communes. We believe that the recent party directive modifying the commune program, including the postponement of city communes, largely reflects the need for consolidation before pushing forward again. Although there has been considerable adverse popular reaction, there is little evidence of overt resistance. We believe that the regime’s strong system of controls and demonstrated flexibility will enable Peiping to avoid either a repressive blood bath or a forced retreat from the communal experiment.
Mao Tse-tung’s announced intention to resign his position as Chairman of the government has occasioned considerable speculation as to his position in the party. However, we believe his decision was not the result of any party disapproval of his leadership but was motivated, as officially announced, by his desire to concentrate his efforts upon policy problems and Communist theory. As Chairman of the party he will still be number one man in the country.
Although the leap forward and commune programs have caused some new frictions in Sino-Soviet relations, these frictions are highly unlikely to threaten Sino-Soviet solidarity against the Western world.
There is no firm evidence as to the precise interrelation of Communist China’s domestic and foreign adventurousness during 1958. Both appear to be facets of a drive to speed up revolutionary Communist processes. Although Peiping probably estimated that the activation of the crisis in the Taiwan Strait would be useful in rallying the people to the leap forward and commune programs, we do not believe that this was the primary motive in activating the crisis.
The US and GRC response and world reaction during the offshore islands crisis may have had some tempering effect on Peiping’s general foreign policy thinking. Less stress is being given to the alleged [Page 522] weakness of the US and more emphasis placed on the “peaceful” and “reasonable” nature of Chinese aims and policies in Asia. These considerations by no means preclude a forceful Chinese Communist move, especially one in response to some target of opportunity.
There has already been some adverse Asian reaction to the social costs of the leap forward and commune programs. If these programs fail dismally, communism will tend to be discredited in Asia, and Communist China’s ability to influence other Asian governments will be reduced. However, anything short of a major failure in these programs will still leave the regime in the position to exert heavy pressure on its neighbors. If these programs succeed, fear of Communist China will grow in South and Southeast Asia, thus making it more difficult to prevent small neighboring states such as Cambodia and Thailand from accommodating to Chinese Communist demands. Success will significantly augment the confidence of Peiping’s leaders in their ability to press rapidly toward their goals, both domestic and foreign, and will strengthen their belief that basic Communist principles provide the only guide to those goals.


I. Introduction

The dramatic events of the past year in Communist China may have greater long-term significance for China’s domestic and foreign policies and for its role in the Bloc than any other domestic development since the Communist acquisition of power in 1949.
The already rapid pace of economic development was suddenly greatly accelerated in a “great leap forward” program which sought a fuller mobilization of Communist China’s vast, underdeveloped labor potential. This involved important modifications in its established economic pattern, which was originally based on the Soviet model. A far-reaching social revolution was undertaken which in scope and audacity dwarfed previous Communist efforts in China or elsewhere and sought to create the commune as the primary unit of economic, political, and social organization of the state. These vast programs were accompanied by assertive ideological claims, greater manifestation of self-confidence, and a general truculence in foreign policy which included the initiation of the serious crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Later in the year it was announced that Mao Tse-tung, while remaining head of the party, intended to step down from his post as Chairman of the government.
The unrestrained and almost explosive manner in which the leap forward movement and especially the organization of the communes developed came as a surprise to the world. In the years preceding 1958 the regime had achieved considerable success with its various programs. Control over most of the country had been firmly established; the goals [Page 523] of the First Five-Year Plan (1953–1957) had generally been met or exceeded; GNP had been increased at an average rate of about 7 to 8 percent a year; organization into rural collectives and the socialization of industry and trade had been accomplished with speed and relative ease; Peiping’s special status and important role in the Bloc had been recognized and China’s position in Asia had been greatly strengthened. While some economic and political difficulties had emerged in 1956 and 1957, the potential for economic growth appeared favorable and there was no serious threat to the regime’s stability. To men less ambitious than Peiping’s rulers this general record of successful achievement might have dictated a continuation of established and proved policies.
Instead, the past year produced radical innovations. Though moderated somewhat at year’s end, these innovations highlight Chinese Communist leadership’s seriousness with respect to Communist doctrine, the compulsion to push forward in “uninterrupted revolution,” and the establishment of a modern industrial economy. If the leap forward and commune innovations succeed over a period of time, they could transform China into a George Orwellian society and accelerate Communist China’s progress toward becoming a major world power.

[Here follow 10–1/2 pages of source text scheduled for inclusion in the Supplement but not declassified.]

  1. Source: Department of State, INRNIE Files. Secret. A note on the cover sheet reads in part as follows:

    “Submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence. The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and The Joint Staff.

    “Concurred in by the United States Intelligence Board on February 1959.”

  2. [Footnote in the source text (7 lines of 2-column source text) not declassified.]