In the 1950’s Mao Zedong’s ‘Hundred Flower Movement’ came far from achieving its goal of improving Chinese Society, by having intellectuals criticise the government and its policies. In order to prove that the Hundred Flower Movement was unsuccessful, this essay will exhibit why Mao believed it would work, as well as how he carried it out and the resulting affect that spread across China afterwards. The Hundred Flower Movement was a campaign spanning from 1956-1957 in which the Chinese Communist Party became expectant of a variety of views on issues regarding national politics.
The name of the campaign originated from a poem “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”, and was launched under the slogan “Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land. ” It began as a small campaign, aimed at intellectuals and local bureaucracies with non-communist-associated officials who were refused the right to speak out against any policies and problems within the government.
The Hundred Flower Movement began under the leadership of Premier Zhou Enlai. The first attempts, however, were unsuccessful as nobody grew courageous enough to speak out openly. It was not until Zhou Enlai emphasized the need for a larger campaign in 1956, that Mao Zedong superseded Enlai to take control of the campaign. Mao supported the idea at first, saying “The government needs criticism from its people. Without this criticism the government will not be able to function as the ‘People’s Democratic Dictatorship’.
Thus the basis of a healthy government lost… We must learn from old mistakes, take all forms of healthy criticism, and do what we can to answer these criticisms. ” Enlai’s idea was to promote new forms of arts and cultural institutions after criticism on the government and China’s national issues were given, however Mao saw this as an opportunity to promote socialism. He was extremely interested in the idea that socialist ideology was the prevailing ideology over capitalism, even in non-communist China.
In a speech made in 1957, Mao said “Our society cannot back down, it could only progress… Criticism of the bureaucracy is pushing the government towards the better. ” The speech encouraged people to vent all criticisms of a “constructive” nature, and not those of a “hateful and destructive” nature. The campaign publicly began late 1956. In the opening stages, the issues addressed by intellectuals were unimportant in comparison to those which were available for debate. The central government received few criticisms, but plenty of letters containing unadventurous advice.
Zhou Enlai received some of the letters, and realised that the campaign was not progressing as he had hoped. He spoke to Mao about needing more encouragement to lead intellectuals into discussion, leading Mao to announce that criticism was “preferred” and he began to mount pressure on people who did not give it constructively. This is where some say the campaign truly began, with students from Peking University creating a “democratic wall” in which they put up posters and letters criticising the Chinese Communist Party. They protested CCP control over intellectuals, the harshness of previous mass campaigns such as that against counterrevolutionaries, the slavish following of Soviet models, the low standards of living in China, the proscription of foreign literature, economic corruption among part cadres, and the fact that the ‘Party members [enjoyed] many privileges which make them a race apart’” . Enlai initially took in some of the criticism, while Mao thought the letters violated the “constructive” level and that they were “harmful and uncontrollable” and refused.
In early 1957, it was decided the campaign was becoming too difficult to control. Some ideas suggested by intellectuals were “the Chinese Communist Party should give up power,” “intellectuals are virtually being tortured while living in a communist society,” “there is a total lack of freedom if the Chinese Communist Party is to continue on ruling the country,” “the country should separate with each political party controlling a zone of its own” and “each political party in China should rule in transitional governments, each with a 4 year term. Of course, Mao thought these ideas absurd, and in July 1957 he ordered a halt on the campaign. It is unclear if Mao intended on the campaign being a trap for those with anti-Chinese-Communist-Party thoughts or if he was genuinely curious as to the opinions of the nation and merely shocked with the results. Resulting from the Hundred Flower Movement were the persecutions of intellectuals, officials, students, artists and dissidents labelled “rightists” during the Anti-Rightist Movement following – during which over 550,000 ‘rightists’ were imprisoned, demoted or fired, sent to labour or re-education camps, tortured or killed).
The Hundred Flower Movement also made an impact on Mao’s ideological perception. It discouraged dissent, and made intellectuals incredibly disinclined to voice their opinions in the future. The Hundred Flower Movement was the first of its kind in the People’s Republic of China in that the government asked the opinions of the general public and took criticism.
Although thought to be helpful to Chinese leadership, the campaign was unsuccessful and it led to a huge loss of individual rights. Even though its true nature has been questioned, it can be generally concluded that the events shocked the central communist leadership and will remain a lesson to future leadership parties. Notes: 1. Spence, Jonathan D. The Search For Modern China. 2nd edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990 (pp. 539-43)