Infrastructure as Labor Intensive Development
At Liberation, China’s transportation, water management, and power infrastructures were both fragmentary and fragmented, yet the new state was capital poor facing massive repairs and unmet needs. The socialist solution was a two-track construction program, with major railways and dams/reservoirs/power stations directed and funded from Beijing, while thousands of middling to small projects were tasked to counties and towns through provincial authorities. Initially, People’s Liberation Army troops worked on repairing and extending railroads, but in time, 20 million peasants spent off-season months moving billions of cubic meters of local earth and stone to keep back floods and assure adequate roadways for getting crops to railheads. Focusing on ground-level actors, the chapter revisits “big project” work processes, county-level experiments and the shortcomings that both exhibited when urgency trumped attention to detail in construction. With the Great Leap’s collapse, “small and local” schemes to provide electricity, building materials, and chemical fertilizer gained traction, initially-clumsy efforts that proved valuable as first steps toward rural industrialization and as capital-saving investments.