Communism: The Promise and the Reality (1995) PBS

Episode 4: Great Leap (1949-1977)

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Video Description

Great Leap (1949-1977)

China yields to Chairman Mao

"The big bosses in our factory were executed immediately, the less important ones were forced to reform through hard labor. We were asked to keep an eye on them. We hated them so much, we beat them if they didn't work hard enough. That's the way they'd treated us. In the past, they'd been the masters; now, we were."

-- Qi Youyi, factory worker (1954), Beijing

Thirty years after the rise of communism in the USSR, Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army took control of China. Drawing his power from the large peasant population, Mao promised China a Communist society free of inequality, poverty, foreign domination -- and the corruption and revisionism he believed had derailed the Soviet original.

China's peasant farmers were at last granted the land reform they'd wanted for so long. Women were given new rights at work and in marriage. But, in his fervor to harness the energy and idealism of the people, Mao set in motion a series of cataclysmic social experiments in which millions suffered and died as they attempted the "great leap" toward Mao's new society.

Mao's desire to overtake Western industry and food production led to goals of doubling the production of food and steel in a year. Zealous adherence to Mao's assurance that "revolutionary enthusiasm will triumph over all obstacles" led competing communes to make absurd pledges about food production -- contributing to the dangerous fiction that food was plentiful. In 1960, fiction turned to famine: more than twenty million died from starvation.

In 1966, when Mao felt China was veering down "the capitalist road," he unleashed the Cultural Revolution, in which students were encouraged to question authority at all levels, and unspeakable violence against intellectuals and other "subversives" swept the country. Mao's Red Guards attacked the "Four Olds": old habits, ideas, customs, and culture. Books were burned and museums pillaged. Schools and hospitals closed. Offices and factories were in chaos. Infighting within the Guards led to anarchy. China was soon in the grips of perpetual revolution -- until 1976: With Mao's death came the end of the Cultural Revolution, and a re-emergent China's new focus on stability and increasing prosperity.

The people remember: Mao Zedong, the People's Liberation Army, "take-over" of 1949, land reform, Great Leap Forward, denunciation meetings, communes, Cultural Revolution, Red Guards, arrest of Gang of Four, Deng Xiaoping.

Great Leap is produced and directed by Jennifer Clayton. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

John Forsythe narrates.


Documentary Description

Communism: The Promise and the Reality Set

Communism--the extraordinary social experiment promising equality and freedom which swept from Russia around the world. In the early days, hopes were high, but in the end the story of Communism is on of grim realities. Listen as people from behind the Iron Curtain tell how their lives were affected by this new world order--from the storming of the Winter Palace in Tzarist Russia in 1917 to the swift implosion of communist regimes around the world in the 1980's.

* Red Flag (1917-1936) Communism brings hope--and horrors--to Russia's millions. WG474

* Brave New World (1945-1962) A "cold" war embroils the U.S. and the Soviet Union in a contest of ideologies. WG475

* Fallout (1942-1987) Nuclear energy unleashes unprecedented destruction--and the hope for cheap power. WG476

* Great Leap (1949-1977) Chinese citizens zealously follow Chairman Mao's revolutionary dictums. WG477

* Guerrilla Wars (1954-1981) Revolutionaries use the power of guerrilla warfare in Cuba, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. WG478

* People Power (1980-1993) Communist rule crumbles in the Soviet Union as people find the courage to speak out. WG479

Editorial Reviews, by

The six videos in this boxed set provide a solid history of Communism in the 20th century, from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the eventual collapse of the Iron Curtain in the 1980s. Extensive use is made of archival footage as well as interviews with participants in the major events, from the storming of the Winter Palace to the opening of the Berlin Wall. The major figures, including Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Gorbachev, are all seen and heard, as are many ordinary people who lived through great events. The presentation is balanced, with interview subjects recalling how the standard of living was raised as well as the terrors of Stalin's purges and Mao's Cultural Revolution. The interviews can be alternately inspiring and chilling, as the people who speak before the cameras remind us that the great events in history had profound effects in the lives of everyday people. Separate tapes cover the main themes of Communism's rise in Russia, the roots of the cold war, the victory of the Communists in China, and the eventual collapse of European Communism. In addition, one video concentrates on the role of guerrilla warfare during the cold war, while another focuses on the role nuclear power played in creating a fearful standoff between the superpowers. Produced by WGBH Boston, these videos are artfully produced and their entertainment value in no way detracts from the scrupulous history being presented. --Robert J. McNamara

Product Description

Communism - the extraordinary social experiment promising equality and freedom swept from Russia around the world. In the early days hopes were high, but in the end the story of Communism is one of grim realities. Listen as people from behind the Iron Curtain tell how their lives were affected by this new world order, from the storming of the Winter Palace in Tzarist Russia in 1917 to the swift implosion of communist regimes around the world in the 1980s. Includes: Red Flag, Brave New World, Fallout, Great Leap, Guerrilla Wars, and People Power.

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:

By Matthew Brown (New York, NY)

This is more a documentary on the evils of Communism throughout history. I was impressed by the entertainment factor; as the concentration on characters (Lenin, Stalin, i feel asleep... Mao Zedong) was compelling. I was expecting more policy discussion, as denoted by the containing of the phrase "The Promise," in the title, but there was none. I thought it would've been more interesting to go over how Communism changed by each of these characters and, in each carnation, how it failed. But this wasn't the case.

Each episode covers each era; mostly covers the evils of that era and PBS has delivered the information in a slanted and, of course, entertaining way. This series' failures out-weigh its gains... Anything seperate from the history of failures without any look at at the positives or goals of the carnations about what Communism is, was, or was supposed to be is a great failure. Although, this may be a good partner to another documentary, or just research on the goals of Communism and what each carnation of Communism was aimed to achieve, with the simple invest of time expect to be put in by, say the guy everyone hates (above) aka... average Joe, it simply is not a good source of information.

Overall, it was entertaining; but lacked true content. I wouldn't watch it again, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who actually wanted to learn anything about Communism as an ideology. I would even be hesitant to risk recommending it to people to watch that wouldn't do research on the ideology and the goals of each carnation, as that risk of lack of information, causing misinformation, would be too high.

Searching for more info before I downloaded and invested the time to watch this series, I came across a PBS Affiliate selling it under the guise of educational, recommending it for "Grade 7+."* I truly believe that if a teacher were to present this within the constrict of public school education (non-higher level, college {aka university level for all you europeans}) would be a terrible thing; especially since the teacher would have to present this as a core of a unit on Communism simply because of it's length if not the guise of good information. I hope that any teacher would view any information that is a candidate for injection into the brains of our youth with a better set of eyes than my doomsday scenario detailed.


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