Anti-Rightist Campaign

The Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957)


When my mother's level [in the Party hierarchy] was told about Mao's speech soliciting criticism of officials, they were not informed about some other remarks he had made around the same time [1957], enticing snakes of their lairs--to uncover anyone who dared to oppose him or his regime. (WS,212) ... Mao said that "rightists" had gone on a rampage attacking the Communist Party and China's socialist system. He said these rightists made up between 1 percent and 10 percent of all intellectuals ... and that 5 percent ... had to be caught. To meet it [the quota] my mother was expected to find over a hundred rightists in the organizations under her. (214)


So, who were these "rightists," these enemies of the state and the society? They were not among the peasants and the workers to be sure. Some might be labeled as rightists or "counter-revolutionaries" because of old Nationalist (GMD) family connections, which in turn meant that the entire extended family, really a clan, would be guilty by association as well as the children and later their children. Some ideologically at least might have believed that some degree of market socialism made sense for China's continued economic development. Some were identified only because of some Party officials personal animosities. 


But the quota had to be filled, and if Party officials of whatever rank lacked enough initiative in finding rightists, then they themselves could be labeled as such, sent to the countryside among the masses, or to hard labor under terrible conditions. Jung Chang's mother ran this risk. She could not understand why Mao was now looking to persecute the very people he had solicited in the first place to make China better. She found herself in an agonizingly difficult ethical quandary.


If she was labeled a rightist, she would either have to renounce her children or ruin their future. My father would probably be forced to divorce here, or he too would be blacklisted and under permanent suspicion. Even if my mother sacrificed herself and divorced him, the whole family would still be marked as suspects, forever. But the cost of saving herself and her family was the well-being of more than a hundred innocent people and their families. (WS, 216)


In the end, 550,000 "rightists," including teachers, students, writers, artists scientists and other professionals were removed from their jobs and sent to do hard labor or just farm labor. It was clear in Mao's eyes and many devoted Party officials, including Jung Chang's father, that the revolution would not succeed without 100% party discipline and loyalty. The absence of any criticism whatsoever, or self-censorship by fear, made Jung Chang's mother wonder about the way the Communists were going about meeting their goals.


One of these goals, of course, was to maintain Party control. in 1956, just prior to the "100 Flowers Movement" and the witch hunt that followed, the Soviet Union had crushed a popular, democratic uprising to overthrow the Communist regime in Hungary. Mao and other Party leaders had become somewhat unnerved about the potential for dissidents to organize and threaten the CCP's hold on power in China, or at least propose changes that might liberalize Party policies. 


A comparison can be made with how the Party leadership today under Hu Jintao has responded to the popular uprisings in the Arab world, especially in Tunisia and Egypt where dictatorial leaders have fallen. Calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" in China have prompted a swift police crackdown with many intellectuals being taken into custody, including most recently the world-renowned artist, Ai Weiwei. 


In a recent speech, President Hu noted three important points: 


one, we need to greatly strengthen control of information on the Internet; two, we need to regulate the "virtual society" that it has given rise to; and three, we need to guide public opinion in this new virtual society in "healthy directions." (As quoted in Perry Link, "How China Fears the Middle East Revolutions," NYReview of Books, 3/24/11, 21) 


Perhaps the concern is warranted. After all, it was the imprisoned, democratic activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, who referred to the Internet as "God's gift to China." And as China scholar, Perry Link, observes about the significance of the "world wide web" for Chinese "Web-citizens," it is the "psychological liberation made possible by online anonymity" that matters. (Ibid, 22)


And yet, in a recent analysis in the New York Times, entitled "Jasmine Means Tea, Not a Revolt," journalist Andrew Jacobs argues for a number of reasons---increasing economic prosperity for most Chinese chief among them---that China is assuredly not Egypt and that political liberalization will not be happening anytime soon. This YouTube clip from EuroNews would suggest that Jacobs is right: