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Mao and the Writers

By the 1930s the intolerable quality of life and the inefficiency, corruption, and conservatism of the Kuomintang had driven nearly every serious creative writer in China to the Left. Most turned toward some form of Marxism, which not only offered the most convincing explanation of the appalling international and internal situation of China but also seemed to provide the best way of escape from it. But a common hostility to the Government and a common desire to build a new, strong, and just China did not impose any unity on the left-wing literary scene.

During the last thirty years radical writers in China have fought continuous literary battles on such issues as whether to use traditional forms or to import new ones; whether foreign models should come from the West or the Soviet Union; whether fictional characters should be morally clearcut or ambiguous. Whether books should try to elevate popular taste or whether authors should write for the people; whether revolutionary art can be completely utilitarian, or whether a writer under the direct control of the Communist Party can also be creative. Since the 1930s numerous complexities have been added to these and other controversies, and yet the issues and even the personalities involved have recurred with surprising regularity.

During the last few years several books touching on this topic have appeared in America. For Mr. Hsia Tsi-an, “Leftist” writers could hardly have been more antipathetic. When he was at the university in the 1930s, whenever other students went on strike in protest against Kuomintang oppression or Japanese aggression he would spend the day watching traditional opera. In the draft of his introduction—the book was compiled after his tragic death—he stated that he knew none of his radical contemporaries. At several points he gave the impression that for him a “Communist” was some sort of creature from outer space. While admitting that he approached some of the Communist writers of the 1930s from the outside, Mr. Hsia tried hard to understand them. However his sympathy was further hampered by his conviction that with two or three exceptions, notably the works of the great short story writer and critic Lu Hsun, the literary value of most Marxist writing in the period was nil. For instance, he described one young writer of immense popularity and wide political influence as “a back who had yet to prove that he could write a single good sentence.”1 Mr. Hsia loved complexity, subtlety, and paradox, all qualities strikingly absent in the writers he described. The only times when he could identify with them were their moments of pessimism or doubt.

* * *

Much the most interesting section of the book is on Lu Hsun and the League of Leftist Writers. The League was founded in 1930 as a cultural adjunct to the Communist Party, and it remained one of the leading radical organizations in Shanghai, until 1936, throughout the intense Nationalist persecution and the bitter internecine fighting of the Communist Party. A major reason for its survival was the patronage of Lu Hsun. Despite his Marxism, his savage social criticism, and his violent attacks on the Government, Lu Hsun, the greatest writer in modern Chinese, was far too important a cultural figure and far too well known internationally to be suppressed by the Kuomintang. Although he was not formally in control of the League still, when other radical intellectuals were arrested, executed, or forced to leave Shanghai, Lu Hsun remained a pillar of strength. At the same time, as his closest friends in the Communist Party were eliminated or fled to join the guerrillas in the Kiangsi Soviet, Lu Hsun, who had never become a member, drifted away from the Party. He turned increasingly to other non-party Marxists, notably his “first disciple,” a young writer called Hu Feng.

In the winter of 1935 the Communist Party in Shanghai called for an end to the civil war and a new United Front with the Kuomintang to fight the Japanese. Early in the following year, Chou Yang, a minor writer and critic who was becoming the Party authority on literature, disbanded the League of Leftist Writers and set up a new cultural organization open to all patriots and bearing the slogan, “Literature for National Defense.” Lu and his disciples believed this to be a betrayal of the revolution, and together with other left-wing writers they established an independent group, using the more radical slogan, “Mass literature for the revolutionary war.” Bitter polemics were exchanged between the two groups until Lu Hsun’s death from tuberculosis in October 1936.

* * *

In 1938 and 1939 there was a new flare-up, this time between Chou Yang, who was now with Mao Tse-tung in Yenan, and Lu’s disciples, many of whom stayed in “white zones.” The issues dividing the two sides were extremely complicated. Mr. Hsia and Merle Goldman, who describes the same struggle in the first chapter of her book, both emphasize the objections of Lu Hsun and Hu Feng to Chou Yang’s dictatorial methods and their insistence that the revolutionary writer can only be creative if he is given freedom. In the later stages of the literary battle a new issue emerged. Chou Yang and the official group argued that new writing should borrow from Chinese tradition so that the masses who were familiar with the old forms could easily understand it. Hu Feng and his colleagues, clearly following Lu Hsun’s thinking on the subject, maintained that as all Chinese traditions were vitiated by feudalism, progress was impossible unless the traditions were completely destroyed. Therefore they argued that an entirely new revolutionary literature should be created which should use only modern and foreign literary forms.

The next stage came during the spring of 1942. This was a time when the Japanese were pressing on the Communist guerrilla zones in North China with a policy—“burn all, kill all, destroy all”—of almost American ferocity. The Communists in their base area around Yenan also had internal problems and in February 1942 they launched a campaign of “rectification,” in which Party members were criticized and forced to make self-criticisms in order to straighten out their “style of work.” The movement lasted for over a year and spread to all areas under Communist control and even to radical circles beyond.

In the midst of what Merle Goldman calls “this confused atmosphere,” a group of writers published a number of essays and stories in the Party newspaper that were sharply critical of many aspects of Yenan life. Nearly all of these writers had been in Shanghai and several of them, including the famous woman novelist Ting Ling, had been associated with Lu Hsun. The writers, like many other students and intellectuals, had made the dangerous journey to Yenan and had accepted the rugged life there because they saw the Communist capital as the focal point of the struggle against Japan and as the center of new China.

* * *

In spite of their basic loyalty to the new society, and because of their high expectations of it, they felt severe dissatisfaction. Having lived and written under the Kuomintang, they were steeped in a culture of protest. For them, social criticism was a major function of political writing. Ting Ling, for instance, was in many ways like the present members of Women’s Liberation in America. An important reason for her revolt against the old society had been its treatment of women. Now she found that in a lesser way women were still being exploited and despised by the “revolutionaries.” They were expected to marry, have children and look after them, and were then looked down upon for being backward. In general terms she and the other critics attacked the Party cadres for their cynicism, insensitivity, and intolerance toward lower ranks, especially the young. Above all, and Merle Goldman sees this as the essence of all their criticism, they demanded the freedom, which had previously been denied, to write and publish honest descriptions of life as they saw it.

The criticisms began in February 1942 but in April the full blast of the “rectification” campaign was turned onto the critics. Merle Goldman believes that the intensity of this second part of the campaign indicates that the writers had originally been allowed to develop their ideas so that the challenges to Party discipline contained in them could be isolated and dealt with. This picture would seem to be confirmed by Mao’s “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art,” which he made in May 1942. In these he specifically dealt with many of the criticisms put forward earlier. Indeed most of the points raised in the Talks are incomprehensible unless one reads Merle Goldman’s background material.

While frequently referring to and quoting from Lu Hsun, Mao came out clearly against Lu’s attitudes in almost every respect. He opposed Lu Hsun’s school of independent social criticism and his disciples’ desire to describe the unpleasant aspects of the new society. He also took up the arguments previously championed by Chou Yang and attacked the critics’ rejection of all traditional art forms. He laid down the line that was to be followed in China until the 1960s:

Nor do we refuse to utilize the literary and artistic forms of the past, but in our hands these old forms, remolded and infused with new content also become something revolutionary in the service of the people.

“Serve the people” was the key phrase in the Talks. Mao made it absolutely clear that there was to be no art for art’s sake, that art was to be purely utilitarian. He admitted that there were aesthetic criteria of good and bad, but he maintained that these should be subordinated to the nature of the political content. Aesthetic quality or skill increased the effectiveness of the political message. Thus high level work for the bourgeoisie was especially dangerous, while skillful work for the proletariat was good in itself and in its effectiveness in mobilizing the masses. According to Mao, the revolutionary artist should produce good straightforward work for the people, and to do this he should go to the people and become as much like them as possible.

* * *

Merle Goldman sees one of the main aims of the Rectification campaign as an attempt to incorporate the petty bourgeois writers from the cities into the rural mass revolutionary movement. Above all she sees it as a way of bringing writers to heel and of placing them firmly under Party discipline. She underlines this interpretation by describing the mass meetings and public denunciations organized against the critics and their subsequent removal from office and dispersal in the countryside to “reform their thoughts” through labor and contact with the masses.

By 1949 and the establishment of the Peoples Republic, most of the former critics had returned to positions of influence. They became officials in the Writers Union, professors in universities and institutes, and editors of literary journals. Within a few years they were joined by Hu Feng and other members of Lu Hsun’s school who had previously stayed behind Kuomintang and Japanese lines as critics of reactionary society. In the early 1950s, in spite of their acceptance into the new structure and some attempts to adapt themselves, Hu Feng and his colleagues maintained an independent stand. They continued to argue for the introduction of Soviet and Western forms to create a new revolutionary literature. They wanted a new socialist realism that would describe all aspects of the post-revolutionary society, not only its favorable ones. Hu Feng emphasized the importance of subjective vision and his belief that Party control over creative writers would stifle new literature. In particular, he attacked the bureaucratic power of his old enemy Chou Yang, who had become Vice-Minister of Culture.

* * *

In spite of his deviations from the official line and the criticisms he and his friends received from more orthodox writers in the early 1950s, Hu considered himself a Marxist-Leninist and a loyal supporter of the Chinese Revolution. So much so in fact that in 1953 and 1954 he and his colleagues began a campaign to change the Party’s literary policy. In July 1954 he presented a report to the Party Central Committee calling for the implementation of his ideas on artistic freedom and the removal from power of Chou Yang and his “small ruling clique of literary bureaucrats.” After a few months’ delay, Hu’s enemies, backed by the authorities, launched a strong campaign against him and his supporters. Hu resisted for a time, but then buckled.

In the summer of 1955, while China was in ferment over the extremely rapid collectivization of agriculture, the campaign against Hu and his friends spread beyond literary circles into other areas of cultural and educational life. They were accused of a crescendo of crimes, from promoting art for art’s sake—which they did not—to insulting China’s traditional culture, promoting a bourgeois sense of realism, attacking Mao’s literary policy, and eventually to the absurd charge of being counter-revolutionaries and supporters of the Kuomintang. By the autumn Hu seems to have been driven insane. It is probable that he committed suicide. His colleagues recanted and were dismissed from their posts. Many of them seem to have been sent to “remold their thoughts” in prison camps or the countryside.

By the end of 1955 the wide scope and the intensity of the anti-Hu Feng campaign seems to have demoralized a large number of the intellectuals. Merle Goldman and Dr. Fokkema both see 1956 as a year in which the Party leadership tried to repair the damage done, by offering extra incentives and rewards to them. In May Mao gave wide publicity to the slogan:

Let a hundred flowers bloom,
Let a hundred schools of thought contend.

Dr. Fokkema, whose thesis is the close relationship between Soviet and Chinese literary trends, believes that this new mood was influenced by the Russian thaw and Khrushchev’s revelations on Stalin at the Soviet 20th Congress. In China the situation of the intellectuals was relatively relaxed during 1956, and several short stories and essays were published implicitly criticizing the Party’s control of literature. However, the full implementation of the “hundred flowers” did not come until after Mao’s speech, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People,” in February 1957. As no text of the speech was published before June that year, by which time the political situation had completely altered, it is impossible to discover its original contents. Nevertheless it is clear that Mao stressed his belief that many contradictions, including those between the leaders and the masses, could persist in post-revolutionary societies. Although he saw these contradictions as “non-antagonistic,” that is to say, as ones that would not destroy or seriously damage society, he pointed to the danger that if they were not handled correctly, they would become “antagonistic” and harmful.

* * *

In April 1957 a new “rectification” campaign was launched. Intellectuals and others from outside the Party were invited to criticize the Party’s “style of work.” Some Western writers have argued that the Leadership did this to lure the Party’s enemies into the open. But both Merle Goldman and Dr. Fokkema maintain that Mao had over-estimated the intellectuals’ support for the regime and that the Central Committee was surprised by the flood of criticism that was released. Whatever their preconceptions the Party leaders, together with Chou Yang and the literary establishment, reacted very harshly against the critics in the late summer of 1957. However slight their criticisms during May and June, and however much they had been encouraged to make them, writers like Ting Ling and the survivors of Lu Hsun’s group were “struggled against” in mass meetings, dismissed from their offices, and in many cases sent to do manual labor in distant parts of China.

Merle Goldman and Dr. Fokkema end their books rather inconclusively in the early 1960s, in a period of what they saw as total Party control of literature. Modern and Western styles were discouraged and traditional forms were promoted. During the Great Leap Forward this was linked to the mass writing of folk songs and poetry, when districts and provinces competed with each other to produce poems in bulk.

Merle Goldman sees the period covered by her book as one of continuous struggle of creative artists, forced by their nature to promote the ideals of liberal humanism and the honest portrayal of reality, fighting bureaucrats intent on keeping their power and tight Party control over the arts. Again and again, when given the slightest opportunity by the authorities, writers were compelled by their consciences to rebel; but each time they were suppressed with increasing severity. Dr. Fokkema, in the shorter period with which he is concerned, sees very much the same pattern and he stresses parallel Soviet relaxations and repressions.

The Cultural Revolution, which broke out after Dr. Fokkema’s book had been published and when Merle Goldman had substantially completed her work, provides fascinating new information on the subject. In the arts the most startling event was the dismissal of Chou Yang and his supporters in June 1966. Merle Goldman takes this into account in her final chapter, and she has written an extremely interesting essay on it in China Quarterly. In these pieces she takes the view that though factional fighting was involved, the ideological reason for Chou’s fall was that he was a scapegoat for the Party’s failure to control literature. In spite of all his efforts during the previous thirty years, in 1966 there were still defiant writers. She also maintains that although Chou Yang had been the scourge of creative writing, even he was too cultured to be tolerated by the Cultural Revolutionaries.

* * *

There is no doubt that Chou Yang and, of course, Liu Shao-ch’i himself have been extremely convenient whipping boys. They are used to explain the political “backwardness” of Chinese intellectuals twenty years after the Revolution. However, it is clear that other fundamental issues were involved. Just as Chou fell, Lu Hsun was proclaimed a “pioneer of the Cultural Revolution.” In contradiction to the facts and earlier Party historiography, it was now said that it was Chou Yang, not Lu Hsun, who had been incorrect in 1935 and 1936. Lu Hsun was now cited as a militant who had rightly rebelled against reactionary authority. In her China Quarterly article written in the summer of 1966, Merle Goldman estimated that the reason for the resurrection of Lu Hsun was only to attack Chou Yang. She maintained that the Cultural Revolutionaries had no sympathy with Lu Hsun’s political and cultural position, and still less with those of his disciples. She backed this contention by citing attacks made during 1966 on Hu Feng, Ting Ling, and other literary rebels. She also predicted that the promotion of Lu Hsun would be “fleeting.”

Here she has been wrong. Though referred to less often than in 1966, he is still very highly praised. An editorial of the Peoples Daily on May 4th this year called “Lu Hsun…the greatest and most courageous standard bearer of this new cultural force”—that of “the proletariat and the Communist Party.”

The Cultural Revolution is now recognized as having been an attack by Mao and the Cultural Revolutionaries on the hierarchy and structure of the Chinese Communist Party. As such it does not fit neatly into the conventional axes used in the political analysis of China, left and right, hawk and dove, or red and expert. As I have written before,2 it seems to me that the least confusing way to look at the Cultural Revolution is to see it as a struggle between “protestant” and “catholic.” I believe that this analogy is particularly useful precisely because it is absurd, and therefore does not have the dangers of reification inherent in other metaphors. The Cultural Revolutionary “protestants” maintain that all men are equal before Mao, and that the Revolution cannot survive, let alone succeed, unless the masses are filled with enthusiasm and are not fettered by orders from above. The “catholics” in the Party hierarchy are no less left-wing. They are equally devoted to Mao and the Revolution, but they believe that organization and discipline are what distinguish Leninists from petty bourgeois anarchists, and that they are essential if any progress is to be made.

* * *

The extraordinary and profound nature of the Cultural Revolution makes it necessary to look again at many other aspects of Chinese Communist history. The resurrection of Lu Hsun, which appears to fit very well with other trends in the Cultural Revolution, makes it especially important to reassess the literary and intellectual conflicts described by Merle Goldman and other writers. It now seems to me that in understanding these struggles the analogy of “protestant” and “catholic” may be more helpful than that of liberal humanism and doctrinaire communism.

Lu Hsun and Hu Feng clearly believed themselves to be to the left of Chou Yang on almost every issue. Unlike Chou and the Party, they demanded the complete eradication of traditional culture. They also took a more rigid position on fictional characters, wanting them to be representatives of social classes, whereas Chou thought that they could be individuals. Most important of all, they opposed the Party’s compromises with bourgeois writers. This “leftism” can be partly explained by the fact that in 1935 the Chinese Communist Party and the world Communist movement were, as so often in their histories, to the right and not to the left of the radical political spectrum.

However Lu and Hu’s criticisms were also on the plane of discipline. They demanded the freedom to create for all true revolutionary artists regardless of their position in the Communist Party. They included in their group such men as Pa Chin, the enormously influential anarchist writer, whose life and novels, though not his literary controversies, are described in Olga Lang’s fascinating biography.

Lu Hsun’s positions as they were developed by Hu Feng in the 1950s were just the mixture of fervor and encouragement for the individual revolutionary to seek the truth as he sees it, regardless of Party instructions, that I think useful to describe as “protestant.” Similarly, in 1942, although some of the critics wanted to promote humanism, that is, a love for humanity that transcends class, on nearly all issues Ting Ling and her colleagues were more militant than the Party authorities. Most of their attacks were against the lack of spirit and conventional rigidity of the cadres. They were particularly insistent on the liberation of young revolutionaries from the shackles imposed by the middle-aged. They continued the cult of youth started in China in the May 4th Movement before 1919. As one of the critics in Yenan wrote:

Youth are precious because they are simple, sensitive, enthusiastic, courageous and full of the new strength of life. The evils that others have not perceived they perceive first.

At this point it should be noted that in China “youth” has connotations of class as well as of age. The word covers young men and women with leisure, if not with education. In China, as in many places elsewhere, most people go straight from infancy to work. The cult of youth is, of course, linked to the composition of the critical movements. In the rectification campaigns, as well as in the Cultural Revolution, most of the leading critics came from schools and universities.

* * *

The appeal to youthful enthusiasm in the midst of a rectification campaign leads to a problem that has puzzled many Western writers. Why did the Communist leadership allow even short periods of free criticism? Merle Goldman appears to believe that these were tolerated so that the authorities could retain the support of the intellectuals on whose expertise they depended. She and Dr. Fokkema recognize that the periods of freedom or “hundred flowers” coincided with rectification campaigns, but they do not seem to see any intrinsic relationship between the two. It is now clear, however, that the initial liberation and later chastisement of the intellectuals was only one element among others.

The major element in rectification campaigns has been the attempt by Mao and certain sections of the top leadership to release youthful enthusiasm and attack ossified Party and government bureaucracy. The critics were not merely tolerated: they were positively encouraged to assault local officials. The later backlash against the critics was savage in its effects on individuals. It may also be seen as a counter-balancing action considered necessary to restrain extremism and to re-establish Party discipline, an action that was made more vicious by the revenge of lower officials who had been threatened and hurt by the criticisms.

* * *

Here it should be emphasized that the overwhelming majority of the critics thought of themselves as loyal supporters of the Chinese Revolution. After the “hundred flowers” of 1957, the injured authorities wanting to prove the “rightist” nature of the critics scoured the mass of critical material for evidence of bourgeois or counter-revolutionary thought. This process was continued by Western experts looking for fellow spirits in “the Chinese Hungary.” However, in Roderick MacFarquhar’s excellent compilation of materials, most of the quotations given from the Hundred Flowers period are attacks on bureaucracy, privilege, and the abuse of power. Very few are opposed to communism or Mao. The political criticisms were largely from the left:

The old ruling class has been overthrown but a new class has arisen. The evolution of this will lead to an amalgamation with Taiwan….

There was also an emphasis on voluntarism and a refusal to accept the belief in the constraints of objective conditions so often held by the hierarchy. “Youths, let us unite and do things ourselves.”

A group of “Rightists” in the provinces were later accused of having said “society is in a mess” and “another revolution is necessary.” They were reported to have advanced the view that “social development is not governed by objective laws but is determined by man.”

Not only do the words of the “Rightists” in 1957 resemble those of the Cultural Revolutionaries, but their actions seem to have been remarkably similar. Their targets were examinations, the Youth League, Party control of students, and the dossiers of “black material” on students held by school administrations. In some instances they attacked police stations and Party offices, either by sieges or sit-ins or by unarmed physical force. They tried to go to the factories to rouse the workers. But this was unsuccessful either because of the machinations of the Party bosses or because of the workers’ general distrust of students. Some descriptions published later sound familiar and ring very true.

One peasant…who happened to pass by (a “Rightist” demonstration) said it takes more than three peasants to support one student and yet you still want to make trouble.

Lin Hsi-ling, by far the most influential “Rightist” leader, was not an elderly bourgeois but a twenty-one-year-old student of impeccable working-class origin, who had joined the People’s Liberation Army at the age of fifteen. In 1957 she was studying at the most politically conscious university in China, the People’s University in Peking, the students of which were all revolutionary veterans and cadres. Most of Lin’s reported speeches were concerned with the evils of bureaucracy and hierarchy. She was particularly hostile to the Chinese Army’s imitation of Soviet ranks and privileges for officers, wanting a return to the egalitarian tradition. She also attacked what she saw as bourgeois in the new society, notably the payment of bonds to the former capitalists. According to a report in the People’s Daily, “She demanded ‘a search for true socialism and advocated using explosive measures to reform the present system.”

Lin Hsi-ling and other “Rightists” saw a clear link between their movement and the radical individualism of Hu Feng. In one of her most famous speeches she said:

Hu Feng’s opinions were basically correct. The “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend” policy which the Party offers us today is essentially the same as Hu Feng’s proposal. True socialism is highly democratic. I call this society socialism sprung from feudalism

It has often been argued that the “hundred flowers” were brought to an end because of the bourgeois criticisms that crossed the bounds of socialism. It would now seem more likely that they were suppressed because of the critics’ effectiveness in pointing out the discrepancies between the Chinese Communist Party’s stated values and its actual behavior. This hypothesis is strengthened by the differences between the punishments received in the anti-Rightist campaign. Although ministers from the vestigial bourgeois parties who had made criticisms were demoted, most of them were restored to their positions within two years. On the other hand, Lin Hsi-ling and many of the radical critics were sent into permanent exile in the extreme North of China.

Even during the backlash in the Summer and Autumn of 1957, some aspects of the rectification of the bureaucracy continued, and this helped to lay the foundations of the Great Leap Forward the following year. Nevertheless, the effect of the campaigns of late 1957 and 1958 was to silence outside critics and to increase the power of the Party. During the optimistic enthusiasm of the Great Leap, the Party gained at the expense of Government. But it was also the Party that led the cautious retrenchment of the early 1960s. The measures carried out during this period may have helped to restore the Chinese economy after three years of harvest failure and the confusion of the Great Leap. On the other hand they greatly widened the gap between the officially propagated vision of the just society and social reality, with its economic differentials and rigid stratification.

* * *

During these same years Mao, Lin Piao, and their sympathizers began their analysis of what they saw as the degeneration of the Soviet Union, which in many ways seemed the trend of events in China taken to its logical conclusion. It was clear to them that the Soviet retrogression had been brought about by a “Revisionist clique in the leadership.” Selfish bourgeois tendencies lurk in every individual, they argued, and these had come to the fore in the Soviet leadership, because it was in a position of privilege and was divorced from the masses. Furthermore it was steeped in bourgeois culture which the Revolution had failed to eradicate. For this latter reason Mao and his colleagues have frequently emphasized the importance of culture as the stalking-horse of counter-revolution.

In Marxist terms they see the capitalist takeover of the socialist economic base in the Soviet Union as having been brought about by elements in the “superstructure” and by the persistence of bourgeois culture in particular. As the late Joseph Levinson pointed out, in Communist countries it had previously been accepted that though culture often lagged behind the rest of society, this problem need not be taken seriously, as it was the economic base that determined the nature of society as a whole. Thus in China, the political line laid down by Mao in the Yenan Talks, and maintained by Chou Yang and the literary hierarchy, was that positive elements of traditional culture should be maintained and used. Now, because of the Soviet example, all pre-revolutionary culture was seen as dangerous. In this way Mao and his friends came round to the position held thirty years before by Lu Hsun and Hu Feng that all feudal culture should be rooted out. In the Cultural Revolution, while refusing to accept Lu and Hu’s call for the introduction of foreign artistic forms, Mao and Lin Piao violently attacked Chinese tradition, hoping to clear the way for a new proletarian art.

* * *

There was another even more important convergence of opinion between Mao and the radical individualists. Given the backsliding of a “small group in authority” in the Soviet Union, why had the lower ranks in the Party and the masses failed to prevent them from establishing a “bourgeois dictatorship”? In Mao’s eyes the answer seems to have been “slavishness” or the blind obedience to orders from superiors. If China was to avoid the Soviet fate, she had to destroy “slavishness” and mobilize the lower ranks of the Party and the “masses” not to accept revisionist orders from above.

Thus each individual—however young or ignorant—with the help of the works of Mao, was to develop his own revolutionary conscience by whose standards he was to judge society around him. If he saw an experienced Party veteran behaving in a way that he believed to be unrevolutionary, he had the duty to denounce the latter and organize the “masses” against him, regardless of the cost to himself or society. This in some ways is similar both to Lu Hsun and Hu Feng’s belief that revolutionary artists should establish their own standards, and also the desire of the critics in 1942 and 1957 to attack individuals and institutions they did not think to be truly socialist. Mao and Lin Piao’s freedom for revolutionaries suffers from the same imprecision: it is impossible to distinguish “revolutionary” criticism and disobedience from the “counter-revolutionary” varieties.

In the Forties and Fifties, Mao and the Party Leadership believed in balancing the “protestant” and “catholic” aspects of Chinese communism. In the Sixties Mao wanted to tip the scales toward enthusiasm. In 1966 many people who could remember the Hundred Flowers were extremely reluctant to attack authority in case they were later branded as “rightists.” But this time Mao wanted to make sure that rectification should be thorough and, that no one in the Leadership—excepting Mao himself—should be spared. Above all, he was determined that the authorities should not be allowed to reestablish themselves as before. In this he has succeeded; in spite of the considerable reversal of the Cultural Revolution this year there is no doubt that it has brought about a qualitative change in the structure of Chinese power.

Some radicals in the West may see this transformation as a glorious victory for the spontaneous and free new Left over a hidebound and in many ways reactionary Communist Party. But in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, young intellectual radicals who insist on Revolutionary integrity and “continuous militance” are quite out of touch with the mass of the people, whose overwhelming preoccupation is with the security and material improvement that have so far only been achieved by organization, coercion, and personal corruption. If we consider the conflict over culture apart from other aspects of modern China, it is easy to choose between Lu Hsun, the attractive, independent, and honest revolutionary, and Chou Yang, the party hack. In China itself, where the Communist Party, in spite of its monstrous faults, has achieved vast benefits for the Chinese people, the question is not so simple.


  1. Here my linguistic limitations and the failure of modern Chinese to develop firm criteria of style make it impossible to challenge him.
  2. New York Review, October 26, 1967.
Martin Bernal was born in London in 1937. He studied at Kings College in Cambridge, and in 1959 attended Peking University. After taking his degree he did graduate work at Cambridge, the University...
Reviewed in This Article

Literary Dissent in Communist China
by Merle Goldman
Harvard East Asian Series, 343 pp.

The Gate of Darkness: Studies on the Leftist Literary Movement in China
by Tsi-an Hsia
University of Washington Press, 266 pp.

Literary Doctrine in China and Soviet Influence 1956-1960
by D.N. Fokkema
Humanities Press, 296 pp.

Pa Chin and His Writings: Chinese Youth Between the Two Revolutions
by Olga Lang
Harvard, 402 pp.

The Hundred Flowers
by Roderick MacFarquhar
Atlantic Books, 324 pp. (The Hundred Flowers was published in America in 1960 by Praeger under the title The Hundred Flower Campaign and the Chinese Intellectuals. It is now out of print)

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This article was first published in the October 23, 1969 issue of the New York Review of Books.