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Mao and the Writers

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:

  1. 2

    New York Review, October 26, 1967.

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