Heroes of China’s Great Leap Forward: Two Stories, edited by Richard King, presents contrasting narratives of the most ambitious and disastrous mass movement in modern Chinese history. The objective of the Great Leap, when it was launched in the late 1950s, was to catapult China into the ranks of the great military and industrial powers with no assistance from the outside world; it resulted in a famine that killed tens of millions of the nation’s peasants.
Li Zhun’s “A Brief Biography of Li Shuangshuang,” written while the movement was underway, celebrates the Great Leap as it was supposed to be: a time of optimism, dynamism, and shared purpose. In contrast, Zhang Yigong’s short novel The Story of the Criminal Li Tongzhong, written two decades later, was one of the first works published in China to suggest a much darker side to the Great Leap. Although Zhang stopped short of portraying the horrors of famine, his tone of moral outrage provides a rejoinder to the triumphalism of “Li Shuangshuang.”
“The careful, accurate, and lucid rendition of these two stories allows scholars and students to mine the mentalities and conceptual worlds of the cataclysmic Great Leap Forward campaign. Together they provide a very useful window into China’s greatest self-made disaster in the 20th century and the sense made of it at the time and immediately after.” —Timothy Cheek, Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia
December 2009 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3436-4 / $15.00 (PAPER)