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The Origins of Rectification: Inner–Party Purges and Education before Liberation

  • Frederick C. Teiwes


Rectification as an approach to inner–Party discipline emphasizes persuasive methods and education, but it does not eschew coercive measures including the purge. As students of Chinese politics are well aware, this form of coercive persuasion was comprehensively developed in the early 1940s as Mao Tse–tung consolidated his leadership, rectification theories were expounded, and the first rectification campaign of 1942–44 was carried out. Official histories and much scholarly analysis identify rectification with Mao while asserting that other leaders advocated sharply contrasting approaches. Thus CCP leaders before 1935 purportedly pushed coercive disciplinary methods – dubbed “ruthless struggles and merciless blows “ – while Mao attempted to foster systematic education. Mao's undoubted contributions to rectifi cation notwithstanding, the following analysis argues that this view both overstates actual differences and overlooks the developing nature of Mao's position.



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* This article is based upon a portion of Chap. 1 of Rectification Campaigns and Purges in China, 1950–1965, which I am currently completing. I wish to acknowledge the helpful comments of Gordon Bennett, David Denny, Michel Oksenberg and Mark Selden on an earlier draft.

1. “Purge” is strictly defined as expulsion from the Party and/or from the ranks of cadres. It is but one of many measures on a persuasive–coercive continuum used during rectification campaigns. At the persuasive end of the continuum are such measures as criticism and self–criticism, warnings and demerits; a “middle ground” is occupied by various sanctions including demotions, milder forms of struggle, and dismissal from posts; while the coercive end encompasses severe forms of struggle, the purge, and various criminal punishments including the death penalty. Each rectification campaign, as well as pre–rectification approaches to Party discipline, can be assigned a position on the persuasive–coercive continuum according to the nature, scope and intensity of the measures employed.

2. The hypothesis does not assume any necessary relationship between the degree of leadership unity and a threatening or secure external environment. If both factors favour either persuasive or coercive control methods, then the likelihood of such methods is considerably enhanced. If the two factors operate in contrary directions, then a more complex pattern will result as in the 1947–48 case discussed below. Furthermore, the hypothesis excludes revolutionary regimes in power not simply because it is inapplicable to at least one major case – that of Stalin – but because the very fact of state power provides a qualitatively higher degree of security than that which could be attained during revolutionary struggle. How this higher degree of security both affected the impact of changes in the external environment on control techniques and influenced the relationship between Party unity and control techniques after 1949 is a problem examined in Rectification Campaigns and Purges.

3. Mao's version of the policies at issue is given in “Resolution on certain questions in the history of our Party” (20 April 1945) in Selected Works of Mao Tse–tung (SW) (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1965), Vol. III, pp. 177225. For a discussion suggesting that Mao's actual position was less at variance with that of the returned students than he later claimed, see Harrison, James P., The Long March to Power: A History of the Chinese Communist Party, 1921–72 (New York: Praeger, 1972), pp. 212–13.

4. “Resolution on questions in history,” pp. 208–209.

5. Otto Braun, a Comintern military adviser to the CCP in this period, claimed that the returned student leadership compromised with Mao and even gave in on important questions. See “Kak Mao Tse–dun shel k vlasti” (“How Mao Tse–tung came to power”), Literaturnaya Gazeta, 5 December 1973, p. 13. I am indebted to Robert F. Miller for calling my attention to this article and providing a translation.

6. Harrison, The Long March, p. 217, concludes that “many thousands were purged…in the early 1930s, including some senior leaders…”

7. See Rue, John E., Mao Tse–tung in Opposition 1927–1935 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), pp. 171–88. The versions of the resolution published during the 1942 rectification campaign, and subsequently, underwent substantial alterations.

8. See Harrison, The Long March, pp. 212–17.

9. Wen–ko feng–yün (Cultural Revolution Storm), No. 4 (1967), in Selections from China Mainland Magazines (SCMM), No. 635, p. 12.

10. Ibid.

11. This may still overstate Mao's position in 1935–36 when a returned student, Chang Wen–t'ien, the newly appointed general secretary, was perhaps Mao's equal.

12. “Collection of Ch'en I's speeches” (Red Guard pamphlet), in SCMM, No. 636, p. 24.

13. See Harrison, The Long March, pp. 320–21, 323 and 326–29; and Selden, Mark, The Yenan Way in Revolutionary China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 191–92. In 1939 the CCP Politburo decided to suspend “storm membership drives” so that emphasis could be placed on educating and disciplining Party members.

14. Ironically, Wang's return seems to have bolstered Mao organizationally since he carried instructions from the Comintern which, while calling for criticism of Mao's “ignorance of Marxism–Leninism,” also affirmed Mao's role as the foremost leader of the Chinese revolution. See Harrison, The Long March, pp. 284–85.

15. See ibid. pp. 281–86 and 288–89; SW, Vol. II, pp. 61–74 and 195–235; Benton, Gregor, “The ‘Second Wang Ming line’ (1935–38),” The China Quarterly (CQ), No. 61 (1975), pp. 6194; and Shum Kui Kwong, “Review of interpretations of the internal politics of the CCP's second united front: Wang Ming vs. Mao,” (Canberra: Far Eastern History seminar paper, The Australian National University, November 1975).

16. Kan-chih, Ho, Chung–kuo hsien–tai ko–ming shih (A History of the Modern Chinese Revolution) (Hong Kong: San–lien shu–tien, 1958), p. 230.

17. Harrison, The Long March, pp. 326 and 329.

18. See Selden, The Yenan Way, pp. 188–90; and Brandt, Conrad, Schwartz, Benjamin and Fairbank, John K., A Documentary History of Chinese Communism (New York: Atheneum, 1966), pp. 353 and 373.

19. Ho Kan-chih, Ko–ming shih, p. 249.

20. Harrison, The Long March, p. 323.

21. Wang Ming himself, however, did not hold any major Party posts after about 1940. See ibid. pp. 324 and 587–88.

22. See ibid. p. 316. For a different interpretation, see Selden, The Yenan Way, p. 177 et seq.

23. Klein, Donald W. and Clark, Anne B., Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism 1921–1965 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), Vol. 1, p. 621.

24. The other form of “subjectivism”to come under attack was “empiricism” (ching–yen chu–i), the tendency to become engrossed in concrete facts without applying the theoretical perspectives of Marxism–Leninism. This was most prevalent among poorly educated local cadres.

25. See Ho Kan-chih, Ko–ming shih, pp. 251–54; Selden, The Yenan Way, p. 206; and Schram, Stuart, Mao Tse–tung (Harmondsworth and Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1966), pp. 220–23.

26. On the development of the movement up to this point, see Han, Chao, T'an–t'an Chung–kuo kung–ch'an–tang ti cheng–feng yün–tung (Talks on the CCP's Rectification Campaigns) (Peking: Chung–kuo ch'ing–nien ch'u–pan she, 1957), pp. 1920; Harrison, The Long March, pp. 321, 325–26, 334 and 337; Selden, The Yenan Way, pp. 192 and 199; and Kyoko, Tanaka, “Mass Mobilisation: The Chinese Communist Party and the Peasants” (Canberra: The Australian National University Ph.D. dissertation, 1972), pp. 125–32.

27. “Lun fa–yang min–chu” (“On the expansion of democracy”) (1944), in Liu Shao–ch'i wen–t'i ts'ai–liao chuan–chi (A Special Collection of Materials on the Liu Shao–ch'i Question) (Taipei: Institute for the Study of Chinese Communist Problems, 1970), pp. 134–42, cited in Lowell Dittmer, “The structural evolution of ‘Criticism and self–criticism,’” CQ, No. 56 (1973), p. 713.

28. See Selden, The Yenan Way, pp. 39–71 and 200–203.

29. See ibid. pp. 207–54 passim.

30. Chao Han, T'an–t'an, p. 21; and Harrison, The Long March, pp. 340–42.

31. SW, Vol. III, p. 118.

32. For yearly figures (excluding 1943), see Lewis, John Wilson, Leadership in Communist China (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1963), p. 110.

33. See Chao Han, T'an–t'an, pp. 21–22; SW, Vol. III, pp. 163–64 and 177–225 passim; and Harrison, The Long March, pp. 324–25 and 343–44.

34. See the comments of leading and ordinary Communists shortly after the rectification campaign to the American reporter, Belden, Jack, China Shakes the World (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), pp. 6768. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that throughout the 1940s CCP leaders continued to pay careful heed to Soviet views on both Marxist theory and international developments.

35. See Harrison, The Long March, p. 591, for an estimate largely based on Taiwan sources of an 8% dismissal rate of Party and government office holders. This estimate, which is much less than recent Soviet claims, is plausible in view of both anti–subversion efforts and Mao's statement quoted above on p. 28.

36. Ho Kan-chih, Ko–ming shih, p. 255.

37. Red Guard source cited hi Harrison, The Long March, p. 344.

38. Shan–hsi Sui–yüan jih–pao (Shansi–Suiyuan Daily), 27 November 1947 (cited in Harrison, The Long March, pp. 347 and 416).

39. See Tanaka, “Mass Mobilisation,” pp. 129–31.

40. Hinton, William, Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), p. 517.

41. SW, Vol. II, p. 32.

42. Land reform and Party rectification were also conducted in the Shen–Kan–Ning Border Region but there problems required only minor readjustments. See Minoru, Takeuchi, et al. (eds.), Mao Tse–tung chi (Collected Works of Mao Tse–tung) (Tokyo: Hokubosha, 19701972), Vol. 10, p. 125.

43. Ibid.

44. See, e.g., New China News Agency (Peking), 27 July 1968, in Survey of China Mainland Press (SCMP), No. 4230, p. 19. Liu admitted most of his alleged mistakes in his 23 October 1966 “self–criticism”; see Collected Works of Liu Shao–ch'i, 1958–1967 (Hong Kong: Union Research Institute, 1968), p. 360.

45. SW, Vol. IV, p. 121.

46. Tanaka Kyoko, “The civil war and radicalization of Chinese Communist agrarian policy, 1945–1947,” Papers on Far Eastern History, September 1973, pp. 70–114 passim.

47. SW, Vol. IV, p. 116.

48. Tanaka, “The civil war,” pp. 72–108; Harrison, The Long March, pp. 409–13; and Shao-ch'i, Liu, “Report on the question of agrarian reform,” in The Agrarian Reform Law of the People's Republic of China and Other Relevant Documents (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1959), pp. 7374.

49. SW, Vol. IV, pp. 231–32.

50. See Schram, Stuart R., “Introduction: the Cultural Revolution in historical perspective,” in Schram, (ed.), Authority, Participation and Cultural Change in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 35, n.

51. When the Party leadership divided into two groups in early 1947, Mao's group continued to be identified as the Central Committee while Liu's group took the title Working Committee of the Central Committee.

52. SW, Vol. IV, pp. 147–52, 157 and 234; Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 250, 263 and 322; Harrison, The Long March, p. 413; and Isabel, and Crook, David, Revolution in a Chinese Village: Ten Mile Inn (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959), p. 174.

53. Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 222–31 and 248; and Crook, Revolution, pp. 156–57.

54. Hinton, Fanshen, p. 239.

55. Chao Han, T'an–t'an, pp. 23–24; and SW, Vol. IV, pp. 166 and 234.

56. Fanshen, p. 264.

57. Ibid. pp. 490–91.

58. Ibid. p. 279.

59. Ibid. pp. 269–309, 549 and 618; and SW, Vol. IV, pp. 183, 228–29, 232 and 235–36.

60. Fanshen, p. 297. See also ibid. pp. 253 and 265; and SW, Vol. IV, pp. 182–83,197–98 and 232.

61. Chao Han, T'an–t'an, p. 26; Nan–fang jih–pao (Southern Daily) (Nan–fang), 22 December 1960, in SCMP, No. 2431, p. 7; and SW, Vol. IV, pp. 186 and 198.

62. The Long Bow “gate” dealt only with Party members and the movement as a whole focused on Party branches. Non–Party cadres were inevitably drawn into the process, however, as in the final restitution of graft in Long Bow. See Hinton, Fanshen, p. 571.

63. Ibid. pp. 256–58, 311 and 219 ff.; and SW, Vol. IV, p. 186.

64. Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 326–40, 358–64, 375–76, 431, 449–53 and 518–23.

65. SW, Vol. IV, pp. 158–59 and 232; and Liu, “Report on agrarian reform,” pp. 74–75.

66. “P'ingshan sets examples in land reform and Party rectification,” Collected Works of Liu Shao–ch'i, 1945–1957 (Hong Kong: Union Research Institute, 1968), pp. 119–22.

67. 10 of the 11 statements appear in SW, Vol. IV, pp. 157–76, 181–89, 193–210 and 219–45. The three available in the original, including one not in the Selected Works, are in Mao Tse–tung chi, Vol. 10, pp. 97–116 and 125–41.

68. For example, Mao's 1929 Kut'ien resolution appeared in greatly modified form in the Selected Works as “On correcting mistaken ideas in the Party,” SW, Vol. I, pp. 105–16. See Rue, Mao in Opposition, p. 173.

69. The changes from the original in the version in the Selected Works were few and not of substance. See Mao Tse–tung chi, pp. 97–116.

70. See especially SW, Vol. IV, p. 164. It is of note that the December 1947 Central Committee resolution on Mao's report called on the Party to “strictly apply in practice this document and, in connection with it, the documents published on October 10, 1947 [namely, ‘Outline land law of China’]…” See ibid. pp. 158–59.

71. Ibid. p. 164.

72. See Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 248–49 and 412.

73. SW, Vol. IV, p. 166.

74. Mao Tse–tung chi, Vol. 10, p. 126.

75. SW, Vol. IV, pp. 186 and 194.

76. Ibid. pp. 193, 195, 230 and 239; Mao Tse–tung chi, Vol. 10, p. 125; and Nan–fang, 22 December 1960, in SCMP, No. 2431, pp. 7–8.

77. Liu, “P'ingshan sets examples,” p. 120; and Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 272–74. The 22 February directive was published in Jen–min jih–pao (People's Daily) (Wu–an edition), 29 February 1948. With regard to the question of whether the Selected Works has subtly altered the historical record, it is interesting that an editorial note in that work (SW, Vol. IV, p. 175) depicts the 22 February directive as somewhat more solicitous of middle–peasant interests than was in fact the case.

78. Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 273–74, 306, 319 and 323.

79. Liu, “P'ingshan sets examples,” p. 120.

80. Ibid. pp. 120–22; and Hinton, Fanshen, p. 332.

81. Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 264 and 272.

82. SW, Vol. IV, pp. 219–20. Mao states, however, that “in recent months” the Party had been mainly fighting leftist deviations.

83. Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 376–77, 400–16 and 488–93.

84. Hinton (ibid. p. 488) confuses matters by pointing to the June 1948 publication of Mao's talk of 1 April 1948 as the time when ordinary cadres became aware of a new Party line. However, Hinton's own account clearly indicates that the April county cadres’ conference had focused almost exclusively on criticism of leftism and made the crucial assessment that land reform had been thorough. Moreover, the change in work–team activities after the April conference (see below) further demonstrates that the conference was the basic turning point for Long Bow although the June developments certainly gave additional impetus to the cause of moderation. See especially, ibid. pp. 377 and 415.

85. For membership figures, see Lewis, Leadership, p. 110.

86. Hinton, Fanshen, pp. 419–25, 430–31, 453, 468–72 and 533–34.

87. Ibid. pp. 376–77, 381–86, 412–14, 496 and 499–500.

88. Ibid. pp. 378–80, 496–97, 500 and 504.

89. Ibid. pp. 501–502.

90. Ibid. pp. 504–507.

91. While the Confucian emphasis on education and attitudinal change has often been noted as a possible source of rectification, Stalin's reliance on terror has led many analysts to overlook the fact that the Leninist tradition which influenced the CCP in its formative years included a reluctance to act against dissenters within the Party leadership.

92. SW, Vol. IV, p. 166.

93. Rectification under close Party direction in 1950–53, the 1957 experiment with bourgeois critics, and Liu's 1964 efforts to reform the relationship of basic–level cadres and peasant masses are discussed in subsequent chapters of Rectifica tion Campaigns and Purges.

94. Party directives pointed out that land reform and rectification could be thoroughly undertaken only when a high degree of security existed. See, e.g., SW, Vol. IV, p. 202.

The Origins of Rectification: Inner–Party Purges and Education before Liberation

  • Frederick C. Teiwes


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