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Hundred Flowers Movement in Chinese History Essay


What was the historical context of the Hundred Flowers Movement and Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957? What was the historical and political significance of the 1957 episode?

In early 1956, the communist leadership assumed that the country’s transition to socialism was complete (or almost). As such, China’s government started to chart the future of the country’s course of socio-economic development. Mainly, the communist government focused its attention on the problems that the rapid socialization of the society had created but not solved.1 The economic backwardness stood out as one major problem that communist China endured during the early years of the Mao regime. Notably, the modern industrial sector was still small and fragile. On agriculture, the production did not embrace the technological revolution.

According to Mao and Maoists, achieving a modern economy was inseparable from avoiding bureaucratization of the society and state which modern economic development promoted. Notably, the First Five Year Plan had emulated. Soviet approaches led to the rise of the new political and economic elite, which was against the principles and objectives of communism.2 Mainly, these developments were conceivably inherent in the process of industrialization, but they clashed with socialist goals that industrialization was meant to achieve, and the Maoist vision of the proper course of Chinese society.3

Overall, the clash between bureaucratization of the society (as promoted by economic development) and socialist goals (and Maoist vision of proper Chinese society) became what was referred to as the Hundred Flowers campaign. Specifically, the Hundred Flowers campaign was meant to promote anti-bureaucratic objectives within Chinese society.

The new political and economic elite within the communist ranks embraced bureaucracy, something Moa always feared would happen in Chinese society. In this regard, Mao decided to deal with those resisting his radical economic and social policies.4 Consequently, Mao decided to challenge bureaucracy within the party by instructing masses to talk and criticize party officials. Following his speech to the Supreme State Conference on 2 May 1956, Mao slogan became “let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.”5

Specifically, “let a hundred flowers blossom” promoted criticism and thoughts from writers and artists; while, “let a hundred schools of thought contend” advocated for inventions and innovations from scientists. Overall, China’s communist government assured scientists, artists, and writers that it would not interfere or intrude in their works.6 In other words, the Hundred Flowers campaign invited the public to criticize the party and its officials.

Following government invitation, numerous groups, including writers, students, teachers, workers and so forth, took the opportunity to air their criticism towards communist officials. Notably, various writers depicted party leaders such as cadres as apathetic, complacent, self-seeking bureaucrats.7 In a different vein, university students were among the most radical and least inhibited of Hundred Flowers critics.

Students relied on posters, demonstrations, rallies, outdoor meetings and converging in particular university areas as their main channels of criticism.8 Mainly, students complained about the consolidation of power by party committees in the universities and the enormous influence of Soviet Union in the Chinese education system. For instance, “science student ridiculed the contention that all major discoveries like photography, the radio, the airplane, etc. were the work of Russians.”9 Overall, most of the criticisms were against bureaucracy and Soviet influence.

Mao’s advocacy for criticism ended in 1957. In the spring of 1957, the Communist government was unable to tolerate further criticism from the socialist critics and as such, it branded them as “enemies of socialism” and condemned as counterrevolutionaries. Mainly, this 1957 episode tragically ended Hundred Flowers movement that was engineered by anti-rightist campaigners. Historically and political, this event is significant considering that it demonstrates the actual motive of the communist government.

Ironically, individuals who shared similar views with Mao on matters such as the deficiencies of socialist society to Chinese people became his victims.10 In other words, Mao persecuted intellectuals whom he invited to “bloom and contend” and those he shared both political and social criticisms. Besides, the denunciation of strikes that occurred in 1956-1957, was symptomatic of social strains that led to Anti-Rightist crackdown.11

Evidently, Mao shared anti-bureaucratic and egalitarian objectives of the socialist critics, but he did not share their commitment to democracy and freedom. Politically and historically, Mao’s failure to recognize that the building institutions that guaranteed political democracy and intellectual freedom as integral parts enhancing socialism in China proved to be one of the fatal flaws in the Maoist vision.12 Overall, although Mao believed in criticism, as a leader he failed embrace democracy and freedom.

How do we situate the Cultural Revolution in the context of 20th-century Chinese Revolution as a whole? What were the goals of the Cultural Revolution as Mao conceived it, and did the Cultural Revolution accomplish its objectives?

In the 20th century, “the China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was widely admired as one of the greatest and most important events” of the time.13 Notably, many individuals considered Cultural Revolution as a movement that proudly announced itself as a mass war against social inequalities and bureaucratic privileges, having raised numerous crucial issues not only to the modern Cultural Revolution but also to the history of all socialism and revolutions. Mainly, The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s generated world attention and excitement following its political radicalization and collectivism of individuals who disrupted dominant political structures in China.14 In particular, Cultural Revolution provided a way in which people could advance their revolutionary course following political and social changes.

Cultural Revolution was Mao’s last desperate attempt to revive a revolution that he believed was dying.15 In the 1960s, the socialist vision started to fade quickly at the expense of social inequality, where people turned to private pursuits and familial obligations. There were revivals of private markets, social customs, and tradition religious beliefs.16 Again, there were concerns about economic development, technological expertise, and high bureaucratization of the party. Thus, Mao started Cultural Revolution to initiate a permanent revolution. The Cultural Revolution movement stood against oppression and bureaucratic privilege.

One of the primary goals of Cultural Revolution was to address “class” and ‘class struggle” during Mao’s era. According to Wu, “Mao’s project of continuous revolution an attempt to tackle the problem of the bureaucratic institutionalization of the Chinese Revolution and above all to forestall the rise of a new socialist ruling elite.”17 Notably, before the launch of Cultural Revolution, Chinese people were labeled based on the status of the male family head based on his position at the nomenclature of Chinese Communist Party (CCP).18

Notably, there were more than 60 classes. In rural areas, some classes included workers, poor peasants, rich peasants, and landlords.19 In urban areas, common classes were urban poor, worker, or capitalist.

According to Bridgham, another role of Cultural Revolution campaign was to extricate Mao from the responsibility of Great Leap Forward debacle.20 Notably, domestic crises like those noted during Great Leap Forward constituted a deliberate sabotage of class enemies and by unwitting distortion of correct party policies. Thus, Cultural Revolution was designed to show that Mao and party central committee had always made the right decisions, however, the rural cadres made wrong and confusing decisions.21

Cultural Revolution was one of greatest tragedies of Mao’s revolutionary career. According to Meisner, Cultural Revolution was based on unsustainable principles and ideals, and uncontrollable social and political forces.22 Despite Mao’s desire to reduce the formation of “class” and “class struggles” through Cultural Revolution, many nomenclatures continued to exist during and after the launch of Cultural Revolution.23

Mainly, class codification within the CCP was eminent in its control, social mobilization, and political campaign. For instance, government institutions favored proletarians and discriminated bourgeoisie. In schools, academic fields were categorized into highly restricted (top secret), restricted (secret) and open (nonrestricted).24 Notably, the family background of a student determined his/her eligibility.

Again, Cultural Revolution turned out to be a source of violence and killing of many Chinese people. According to Su, “students of Cultural Revolution are familiar with its violence, including ubiquitous beating and torture of teachers, intellectuals, and government officials [as well as] casualties during street battles among warring mass factions.”25 Notably, there were mass killings where a significant number of unarmed civilians were massacred in a systematic fashion. In one report, 325 members of “class enemy” were executed in Beijing in 1966. Again, 4,950 people were killed in Daoxian County (Hunan Province) in 1967.26 The cases of death are widely spread in other provinces such as Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia.

Discuss the origins, processes, and consequences of the Great Leap Forward

The Mao regime launched Great Leap Forward in 1958 to attain a developmental breakthrough. Mainly, Great Leap Forward was Mao’s effort to establish an independent developmental and ideological path away from the Soviet model.27 In this regard, the origin of Great Leap Forward is associated with Mao’s desire to innovate. Mao’s strategy of development was based on the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses and in particular the peasants. Mainly, Mao launched the Great Leap Forward to combat unemployment in the cities and underemployment in the countryside following the failure of the Fist Five Year Plan.28 Besides, Mao wanted to exploit its principal resource – the human labor. Further, China wanted to master modern technology and science without fostering the development of privileged technological intelligentsia.29

The Great Leap Forward campaign started towards the end of 1957 and increased in the early months of 1958. The primary objectives of the campaign were to increase industrial and agricultural productivity.30 Notably, the slogan of the campaign was to produce “more, faster, better and cheaper.”31 Mainly, the government emphasized on gradual transformation of agriculture and small industries into large-scale agricultural production and substantial industrial sector by raising target consistently. The Chinese government partially dismantled the centralized bureaucratic economic apparatus by giving localities and primary production units some autonomy and decision-making authority.

Many officials in administrative offices were “demoted” and sent to participate in manual labor in factories and farms in the name of simple administration. According to Meisner, “ideological exhortations and moral appeals replaced material rewards as the incentive for workers and peasants to work harder and longer, accompanied by the promise that “three years of struggle” would be followed by “a thousand years of communist happiness.”32

Consequently, the social mobilization of the masses for labor instead of the bureaucratic direction of laborers emerged as the central organizational feature of a campaign which acquired an increasingly militaristic character. Mainly, disasters of Great Leap Forward, the masses lost their taste for the radical social action, and the mood of an impoverished population favored order and stability.33 As such, the Chinese socialist party approach shifted towards bureaucracy, whereby cadres and local units lost their autonomy in decision-making.

Great Leap Forward brought significant problems to China and Mao’s regime. One major problem was starvation. Due to the lack of experience among many people and their failure to understand the inherent problems, a significant number of them produced false reports and exaggerations. As a result, the government made procurements based on the reported production, an aspect that brought rations among the peasants. Notably, in three years, the amount of grain that was left for peasants after its procurements declined to 100 million tons in 1959 and 1960, while in 1961, it fell further to 92.95 million tons.34 Further, the famine that occurred between 1959 and 1961 led to a severe shortage of food.35 Statistics shows that per capita urban and rural grain ration declined from 203 kg in 1957 to 163.5 kg in 1960.

Due to food shortages, many people from different localities lost their lives. For instance, the national death rate increased from 10.8 per 1,000 people in 1957 to 25.4 1,000 people in 1960.36 In one crude calculation based on China’s then population of 650 million, about 9 million more died in 1960 alone compared to those who died in 1957. In another crude calculation, about 15 million more people died between 1958 and 1962 compared to the number of individuals who died in 1957. In short, many families were torn apart following the deaths of relatives. Famine-related deaths were notable in certain provinces such as Gansu, Shandong, Anhui, and Hunan.37

Notably, in Anhui, the mortality rate was 68 per 1,000 people in 1960. Overall, between 15 million and 40 million people died due to starvation following the famine during the Great Leap Forward period. The Great Leap Forward “catastrophe was 70 percent man-made and 30 percent caused by nature.”38 In short, Great Leap Forward crisis was due to statistical inflation of production and famine.

Bibliography

Bernstein, Thomas P. “Stalinism, Famine, and Chinese Peasants: Grain Procurements during the Great Leap Forward.” Theory and Society 13, no. 3 (1984): 339-337.

Bridgham, Philip. “Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”: Origin and Development.” The China Quarterly, no. 29 (1967): 1-35.

Chan, Sylvia. “The Image of a “Capitalist Roader” – Some Dissident Short Stories in the Hundred Flowers Period.” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, no. 2 (1979): 77-102.

Goldman, Rene. “The Rectification Campaign at Peking University: May-June 1957.” The China Quarterly no. 12 (1962): 138-153.

Meisner, Maurice. “Economics of the Great Leap Forward.” In Mao’s China and After, 204-213. 1986. Reprint. New York, NY: The Free Press.

—. “The Bureaucratic Restoration.” In Mao’s China and After, 245-260. 1986. Reprint. New York, NY: The Free Press.

—. “The Concept of Cultural Revolution.” In Mao’s China and After, 292-311. 1986. Reprint. New York, NY: The Free Press.

—. “The Hundred Flowers: Socialism, Bureaucracy, and Freedom.” In Mao’s China and After, 155-190. 1986. Reprint. New York, NY: The Free Press.

—. “The People’s Communes and the “Transition to Communism”.” In Mao’s China and After, 214-242. 1986. Reprint. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Perry, Elizabeth J. “Shanghai’s Strike Wave of 1957.” The China Quarterly, no. 137 (1994): 1-27.

Su, Yang. “Mass Killings in the Cultural Revolution: A Study of Three Provinces.” In The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History, edited by Joseph W. Esherick, Paul G. Pickowicz and Andrew G. Walder, 96-123. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Wemheuer, Felix. “Dealing with Responsibility for the People Leap Famine in the People’s Republic of China.” The China Quarterly no. 201 (2010): 176-194.

Wu, Yiching. “Enemies from the Past: Bureaucracy, Class, and Mao’s Continuous Revolution.” In The Cultural Revolution at the Margins: Chinese Socialism in Crisis, 17-52. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

—. “The Unthinkable Revolution.” In The Cultural Revolution at the Margins: Chinese Socialism in Crisis, 1-16. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. Maurice Meisner, “The Hundred Flowers: Socialism, Bureaucracy, and Freedom,” in Mao’s China and After (1986; repr., New York, NY: The Free Press), 156.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 157.
  4. Ibid., 165.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 175.
  7. Sylvia Chan, “The Image of a “Capitalist Roader” – Some Dissident Short Stories in the Hundred Flowers Period,” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs no. 2 (1979): 80.
  8. Maurice Meisner, “The Hundred Flowers: Socialism, Bureaucracy, and Freedom,” 179.
  9. Rene Goldman, “The Rectification Campaign at Peking University: May-June 1957.” The China Quarterly, no. 12 (1962): 145.
  10. Meisner, “The Hundred Flowers: Socialism, Bureaucracy, and Freedom,” 178.
  11. Elizabeth J. Perry, “Shanghai’s Strike Wave of 1957,” The China Quarterly, no. 137 (1994): 2.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Yiching Wu, “The Unthinkable Revolution,” in The Cultural Revolution at the Margins: Chinese Socialism in Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 1.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Maurice Meisner, “The Concept of Cultural Revolution,” in Mao’s China and After (1986; repr., New York, NY: The Free Press), 292.
  16. Ibid., 301.
  17. Yiching Wu, “Enemies from the Past: Bureaucracy, Class, and Mao’s Continuous Revolution,” in The Cultural Revolution at the Margins: Chinese Socialism in Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 20.
  18. Ibid., 39.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Bridgham, Philip. “Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”: Origin and Development.” The China Quarterly, no. 29 (1967): 5.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Meisner, “The Concept of Cultural Revolution,” 292.
  23. Yiching Wu, “Enemies from the Past: Bureaucracy, Class, and Mao’s Continuous Revolution,” 42.
  24. Ibid., 43.
  25. Yang Su, “Mass Killings in the Cultural Revolution: A Study of Three Provinces,” In The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History, ed.Joseph W. Esherick, Paul G. Pickowicz and Andrew G. Walder (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), 96.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Thomas P. Bernstein, “Stalinism, Famine, and Chinese Peasants: Grain Procurements during the Great Leap Forward,” Theory and Society 13, no. 3 (1984): 341.
  28. Maurice Meisner, “Economics of the Great Leap Forward,” in Mao’s China and After (1986; repr., New York, NY: The Free Press), 205.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Maurice Meisner, “The People’s Communes and the “Transition to Communism”,” in Mao’s China and After (1986; repr., New York, NY: The Free Press), 215.
  31. Ibid., 216.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Maurice Meisner, “The Bureaucratic Restoration,” in Mao’s China and After (1986; repr., New York, NY: The Free Press), 250.
  34. Bernstein, “Stalinism, Famine, and Chinese Peasants: Grain Procurements during the Great Leap Forward,” 342.
  35. Ibid., 343.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid., 344.
  38. Felix Wemheuer, “Dealing with Responsibility for the People Leap Famine in the People’s Republic of China,” The China Quarterly no. 201 (2010): 180.
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IvyPanda. "Hundred Flowers Movement in Chinese History." September 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hundred-flowers-movement-in-chinese-history/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Hundred Flowers Movement in Chinese History." September 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hundred-flowers-movement-in-chinese-history/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Hundred Flowers Movement in Chinese History'. 7 September.

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