Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 February 2009
Between 1964 and 1971 China carried out a massive programme of investment in the remote regions of south-western and western China. This development programme – called “the Third Front” – envisaged the creation of a huge self-sufficient industrial base area to serve as a strategic reserve in the event of China being drawn into war. Reflecting its primarily military orientation, the programme was considered top secret for many years; recent Chinese articles have discussed the huge costs and legacy of problems associated with the programme, but these discussions have been oblique and anecdotal, and no systematic appraisal has ever been published.2 Since Chinese analysts have avoided discussion of the Third Front, western accounts of China's development have also given it inadequate emphasis, and it has not been incorporated into our understanding of China during the 1960s and 1970s. It is common to assume that the “Cultural Revolution decade” was dominated by domestic political conflict, and characterized by an economic system made dysfunctional by excessive politicization, fragmented control, and an emphasis on small-scale locally self-sufficient development. The Third Front, however, was a purposive, large-scale, centrally-directed programme of development carried out in response to a perceived external threat with the broad support of China's national leaders. Moreover, this programme was immensely costly, having a negative impact on China's economic development that was certainly more far-reaching than the disruption of the Cultural Revolution.
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3. Hu Hua (vice-chairman, Department of Party History, People's University), “The Chinese Communist Party in the early 1960s,” public lecture, Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 21 May 1987. Lin's speech has never been published. Professor Hu stated that, in his opinion, Lin was merely conveying Mao's strategic views, and was not presenting an independent point of view.
4. Weizhong, Fang (chief ed.) Zhonghua renmin gongheguo jingji dashiji 1949–1980 (Economic Chronology of the People's Republic of China) (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue, 1984), p. 374.Google Scholar According to Xu Yi, in the original Third Five Year Plan, 70% of investment was to go into coastal areas, 20% to inland regions, and 10% to “intermediate” areas. “On the relation between system and production structure,” reprinted in Renmin daxue fuyin baokan ziliao: guomin jingji yu jihua (People's University Reprints: National Economy and Plan), No. 4 (1981), p. 57.Google Scholar
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44. Jingzhi, Sun (ed.), China's Economic Geography, p. 94.Google Scholar In Sichuan, we have figures for industrial investment by Five-Year Plan periods. Sichuan made up the following percentages of national total (industrial) investment: 1963–65: 7·5% (9·1%); Third Plan: 13·3% (14·6%); Fourth Plan: 7·9% (9·8%), Sichuan tongji nianjian 1983, pp. 188–89.Google Scholar
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49. Including military production capacity. See Blaker, James, “The production of conventional weapons,” in Whitson, William (ed.), The Military and Political Power in China in the 1970s (New York: Praeger, 1973), pp. 219–25.Google Scholar
50. It will be recalled that the Third Front strategy was originally advanced by Lin Biao as a response to a threat to Shanghai. Moreover, the division of the country into “first” and “second” fronts, with these urban areas in the first front, clearly shows the direction from which attack was most feared. This interpretation was confirmed by Hu Hua, loc. cit.
51. On the United States, see Oksenberg, Michel, “The dynamics of the Sino-American relationship,” in Solomon, Richard (ed.), The China Factor (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1981), p. 63Google Scholar; on the Soviet Union, see Segal, Gerald, Defending China (London: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 176–96Google Scholar; Kissinger, Henry, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), pp. 183–85.Google Scholar
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59. This estimate is drawn from the following pieces of information. Between 1969 and 1971 (the high point), 11% of total state investment went for armaments production. Weizhong, Fang, Economic Chronology, p. 507.Google Scholar 22·8% of Sichun industrial investment 1950–81 went to military industry. Sichuan shengqing, p. 251.Google Scholar Over one-fifth of Guizhou's industrial capital stock was in military industries in the 1980s. Guizhou nianjian 1985, p. 492.Google Scholar
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85. This point is made forcefully by Qiu Weigang and Yi Hui “Third Front enterprises.”
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