Third Front Railroads and Industrial Modernity in Late Maoist China

In the late 1960s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) became concerned that the United States or the Soviet Union might invade. To protect national sovereignty, the Party carried out a massive campaign to industrialize China's West called the Third Front. This article focuses on Third Front railway building. It shows that, although Third Front railroads initially had problems, they eventually integrated large parts of western China into nationwide industrial networks, which accelerated and standardized regional transportation. To build railroads, the CCP compensated for the country's shortage of industrial capital with massive inputs of labor. This industrialization strategy placed a heavy burden on rural men. To boost morale, the CCP organized thought campaigns that praised hard work as a revolutionary contribution to China's industrialization and defense. This collective narrative of national security and industrial progress never entirely silenced discontent, but it did provide workers with a way to think about hardship.