This article examines how Mao’s grand strategy for Cold War competition inflicted a catastrophic agricultural failure in China and victimized tens of millions of Chinese peasants. It argues that Khrushchev’s 1957 boast about the Soviet Union surpassing the United States in key economic areas inspired Mao to launch an industrialization program that would push the People’s Republic past Great Britain in some production categories within fifteen years. Beginning in 1958 Mao imposed unrealistic targets on Chinese grain production to extract funds from agriculture for rapid industrial growth. Maoists placed relentless pressure on communist cadres for ruthless implementation of the Great Leap Forward. Contrary to Maoist plans, China’s grain output in 1959-1960 declined sharply from 1957 levels and rural per capita grain retention decreased dramatically. Throughout China, party cadres’ mismanagement of agricultural production was responsible for the decline in grain output, and the communist state’s excessive requisition of grain caused food shortages for the peasants. But the key factor determining the famine’s uneven impact on the peasantry in the provinces was the degree to which provincial leaders genuinely and energetically embraced Maoist programs. This is illustrated by a close examination of the Great Leap famine in Anhui Province.

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