Teaching Students About the Great Leap Forward Years


The Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) was a significant period in Chinese history, during which the People’s Republic of China underwent rapid industrial and agricultural transformation. It is essential for students to learn about this event as it reflects not only an important phase of China’s economic development but also the human cost associated with such radical changes. This article offers some guidance for teaching students about the Great Leap Forward Years effectively and in a manner that empowers them to analyze and understand its impact.

1. Begin with historical context

To understand the objectives and motivations behind the Great Leap Forward, it is crucial to teach students about the broader historical context. Provide background on events such as the Chinese Civil War and the early years of communist rule in China. Discuss Mao Zedong’s role in these events and his vision of transforming China into a socialist powerhouse.

2. Examine economic policies

The Great Leap Forward was primarily an economic initiative aimed at surpassing major Western economies in a short period. Delve into policies such as agricultural collectivization, steel production, rural industrialization, and education reform. Encourage students to think critically about how these policies contributed to both short-term achievements and long-term consequences.

3. Explore the human cost

A crucial aspect of teaching about this period is highlighting the human cost associated with the implementation of these policies. Discuss estimates on deaths due to famine, forced labor, and political persecution during this time. Use primary sources such as testimonials from survivors or contemporary accounts to offer a comprehensive view of what ordinary people experienced.

4. Evaluate policy decision-making

The Great Leap Forward brought forth several valuable lessons regarding policy design and implementation that can be learned from today. Invite students to evaluate how government officials’ decisions were based on ideology or misinformation, leading to severe consequences. Encourage them to apply these learnings when investigating other historical cases or current events.

5. Discuss long-term consequences

While the Great Leap Forward led to significant setbacks for China, it also had lasting effects on the country’s social and political landscape. Discuss how the period influenced subsequent policies and ultimately contributed to China’s development after Mao’s death. Students should be encouraged to analyze the lasting impact of the Great Leap Forward within the broader context of China’s modernization.

6. Use multimedia resources

Incorporate various multimedia resources such as documentaries, historical speeches, and primary sources to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of this period. Visual aids will help them better grasp the content and form their analysis.


Teaching students about the Great Leap Forward Years should encompass a multifaceted approach that stresses historical context, policy evaluation, and human cost. Encourage students to analyze this event critically and draw lessons from its successes and failures to apply to contemporary issues. Through informative sessions and engaging multimedia content, your students will gain deeper insight into this pivotal moment in Chinese history.

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