The politics of investigative research during China's great leap forward, 1958-62

Principal Investigator: Ping-Chun Hsiung

Department: Sociology

Grant Names: SSHRC ; Insight Grant ;

Award Years: 2017 to 2022


China’s Great Leap Forward (GLF, 1958–62) was a dramatic public policy failure that led to steep economic decline and fuelled the Great Famine in which an estimated 33–55 million people died. Policies related to the GLF went through two general stages: an early stage intended to establish a communist utopia, followed by a policy shift that gradually lifted China out of crisis. Behind both stages were the politics and processes of Mao Zedong’s campaign of mass knowledge production through Investigative Research (IR). IR is known in China as a research method with Chinese socialist characteristics and differs from ‘Western’ research approaches in its explicit relationship to nation-building and knowledge production for policymaking.  My research will be among the very first to investigate the process of knowledge production itself. Specifically, I will examine the role of the investigative researchers and how they constructed, contested, and disseminated ‘truth’ during both policy stages of the GLF. I will investigate: How IR was conducted during the GLF (practices, arrangements, data collection processes will reveal how specific investigative work was carried out by researchers at the individual and institutional levels); How research findings were constructed and presented (reports produced by investigators who followed official directives versus those who risked their lives to defy them) and how these differed by gender; and how bureaucrats and members of the Women’s Federation articulated dissent through administrative debates in policymaking as an attempt to navigate the Communist bureaucratic system.