Hundred Flowers Campaign

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Hundred Flowers Campaign
Simplified Chinese百花齐放
Traditional Chinese百花齊放

The Hundred Flowers Campaign, also termed the Hundred Flowers Movement (Chinese: 百花齐放), was a period from 1956 to 1957 in the People's Republic of China during which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) encouraged citizens to openly express their opinions of the Communist Party.[1][2]

During the campaign, differing views and solutions to national policy were encouraged based on the famous expression by Mao Zedong: "The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science."[3] The movement was in part a response to the demoralization of intellectuals, who felt estranged from the Communist Party.[4] After this brief period of liberalization, the crackdown continued through 1957 and 1959 as an Anti-Rightist Campaign against those who were critical of the regime and its ideology. Citizens were rounded up in waves by the hundreds of thousands, publicly criticized, and condemned to prison camps for re-education through labor, or even execution.[5] The ideological crackdown re-imposed Maoist orthodoxy in public expression, and catalyzed the Anti-Rightist Movement.

The campaign[edit]


The name of the movement originated in a poem:

The slogan was first used by Mao Zedong on May 2nd, 1956, and was later elaborated on by Lu Dingyi on May 26th 1956, with no immediate response. The name was used to arouse the interest of China's intellectuals, referring to the Warring States period when numerous schools of thought competed for ideological, not military, supremacy. Historically, Confucianism, Chinese Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism had gained prominence, and socialism would now face its test. At the time, the movement was opposed by even some of Mao's most devout followers.[6][7]

Launch (late 1956–early 1957)[edit]

The beginning of the Hundred Flowers Movement was marked by a speech titled On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, published on 27 February 1957, in which Mao displayed open support for the campaign. The speech encouraged people to vent their criticisms as long as they were "constructive" (i.e., "among the people") rather than "hateful and destructive" (i.e., "between the enemy and ourselves").[8]

Our society cannot back down, it could only progress...criticism of the bureaucracy is pushing the government towards the better.[8]

In the opening stage of the movement, during March and April, issues discussed were relatively minor and unimportant in the grand scheme. Emphasis was placed on a distinction being drawn between "friend and foe".[6] Intellectuals approached the campaign with suspicion, due to a lack of guidelines on what speech was acceptable; few also had suspicions about whether the campaign was bait, and whether disallowed speech would get them in trouble.[6] Resultantly, the Central Government did not receive much criticism, although there was a significant rise in letters of conservative advice. Premier Zhou Enlai received some of these letters, and once again realized that, although the campaign had gained notable publicity, it was not progressing as had been hoped. Zhou approached Mao about the situation, stating that more encouragement was needed from the central bureaucracy to lead the intellectuals into further discussion. Mao Zedong found the concept interesting and superseded Zhou to take control. Guo Moruo declared that the contending of diverse schools should be guided by the central aim of building a socialist society. [6]

The idea was to have intellectuals discuss the country's problems to promote new forms of arts and new cultural institutions. Mao also saw this as the chance to promote socialism, believing that after discussion it would be apparent that socialist ideology was the dominant ideology over capitalism, even amongst non-communist Chinese, and would thus propel the development and spread of the goals of socialism. To this end, in an attempt to reduce hesitancy, intellectuals were invited to forums in which they were allowed to ask exploratory questions, slowly discovering what was deemed acceptable speech. During this time, criticisms were often indirect and lauded the Hundred Flowers campaign itself. Criticisms became more specific in May, citing the regimentation of education, thought reforms in previous years that were described as "painful", and the lack of employment prospects for those who went to American and British scholars. Additionally, some recanted their self-criticism and confessions from previous years.[6]

In a revised version of the speech, published June 19th, 1957, Mao Zedong clarified the distinction between "beautiful flowers" and "poisonous weeds";

  1. Whether they would help to unite the people of various nationalities.
  2. Whether they were beneficial or harmful to socialism.
  3. Whether they would consolidate or weaken the people’s democratic dictatorship.
  4. Whether they would consolidate democratic centralism.
  5. Whether they would strengthen or weaken the leadership of the Communist Party of China.
  6. Whether they would strengthen our “international socialist solidarity”. Later in this version of the speech, "international socialist solidarity" was defined as “To strengthen our solidarity with the Soviet Union, to strengthen our solidarity with all socialist countries - this is our fundamental policy, herein lies our basic interest.” [9]

Spring (1957)[edit]

By the spring of 1957, Mao had announced that criticism was "preferred" and had begun to mount pressure on those who did not turn in healthy criticism on policy to the Central Government. The reception was immediate with intellectuals, who began voicing concerns without any taboo. In the period from 1 May to 7 June that year, millions of letters were pouring into the Premier's Office and other authorities.

From May to June 1957, newspapers published a huge range of critical articles.[10] The majority of these critiques argued that the Party had become less revolutionary and more bureaucratic.[10] Nonetheless, most of the commentary was premised on complete acceptance of socialism and the legitimacy of the Communist Party and focused on making the existing socialist system work better.[10]

People spoke out by putting up posters around campuses, rallying in the streets, holding meetings for CPC members, and publishing magazine articles. For example, students at Peking University created a "Democratic Wall" on which they criticized the CPC with posters and letters.[11]

They protested CPC control over intellectuals, the harshness of previous mass campaigns such as that against counter-revolutionaries, the slavish following of Soviet models, the low standards of living in China, the proscription of foreign literature, economic corruption among party cadres, and the fact that 'Party members [enjoyed] many privileges which make them a race apart'.[11]

Effects of the campaign[edit]

In July 1957, Mao ordered a halt to the campaign. Unexpected demands for power sharing led to the abrupt change of policy.[12] By that time, Mao had witnessed Nikita Khrushchev denouncing Joseph Stalin and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, events which he felt were threatening. Mao's earlier speech, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, was significantly changed and appeared later on as an Anti-Rightist piece in itself.[citation needed]

The campaign made a lasting impact on Mao's ideological perception. Mao, who is known historically to be more ideological and theoretical, less pragmatic and practical, continued to attempt to solidify socialist ideals in future movements, and in the case of the Cultural Revolution, employed more violent means. Another consequence of the Hundred Flowers Campaign was that it discouraged dissent and made intellectuals reluctant to criticize Mao and his party in the future. The Anti-Rightist Movement that shortly followed, and was possibly caused by the Hundred Flowers Campaign, resulted in the persecution of intellectuals, officials, students, artists, and dissidents labeled "rightists."[13] The campaign led to a loss of individual rights, especially for any Chinese intellectuals educated in Western centers of learning.

The Hundred Flowers Movement was the first of its kind in the history of the People's Republic of China in that the government opened up to ideological criticisms from the general public. Although its true nature has always been questioned by historians, it can be generally concluded that the events that took place alarmed the central communist leadership. The movement also represented a pattern that has emerged from Chinese history wherein free thought is promoted by the government, and then suppressed by it. A similar surge in ideological thought would not occur again until the late 1980s, leading up to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The latter surge, however, did not receive the same amount of government backing and encouragement.

Another important issue of the campaign was the tension that surfaced between the political center and national minorities. With criticism allowed, some of the minorities' activists made public their protest against "Han chauvinism" which they saw the informal approach of party officials toward the local specifics.[14]

Debated intention of the campaign[edit]

Historians debate whether Mao's motivations for launching the campaign were genuine. Some find it possible that Mao originally had pure intentions, but later decided to utilize the opportunity to destroy criticism. Historian Jonathan Spence suggests that the campaign was the culmination of a muddled and convoluted dispute within the Party regarding how to address dissent.[15]

Authors Clive James and Jung Chang posit that the campaign was, from the start, a ruse intended to expose rightists and counter-revolutionaries, and that Mao Zedong persecuted those whose views were different from those of the Party. The first part of the phrase from which the campaign takes its name is often remembered as "let a hundred flowers bloom." This is used to refer to an orchestrated campaign to flush out dissidents by encouraging them to show themselves as critical of the regime, and then subsequently imprison them, according to Chang and James.

In Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Chang asserts that "Mao was setting a trap, and...was inviting people to speak out so that he could use what they said as an excuse to victimise them."[16] Prominent critic Harry Wu, who as a teenager was a victim, later wrote that he "could only assume that Mao never meant what he said, that he was setting a trap for millions."[17]

Mao's personal physician, Li Zhisui, suggested that:[18]

[The campaign was] a gamble, based on a calculation that genuine counterrevolutionaries were few, that rebels like Hu Feng had been permanently intimidated into silence, and that other intellectuals would follow Mao's lead, speaking out only against the people and practices Mao himself most wanted to subject to reform.

Professor Lin Chun characterizes as a "conspiracy theory" the depiction of the Hundred Flowers campaign as a calculated trap. In her analysis, this depiction is disputed by empirical research from archival sources and oral histories. She writes that many interpretations of the Hundred Flowers campaign "underestimate the fear on the part of Mao and party leadership over an escalating atmosphere of anticommunism within the communist world in the aftermath of the East European uprisings."[12]

Author Christine Vidal similarly rejects the idea of the campaign as being initially calculated to lure dissidents for later repression, stating that "the repression was not the initial aim of Mao and of his Hundred Flowers policy."[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ MacFarquhar, Roderick. 1960. The Hundred Flowers. pp. 3
  2. ^ "Hundred Flowers Campaign." Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  3. ^ "Definition of Hundred Flowers". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 2012-05-17.[dead link]
  4. ^ "Double-Hundred Policy (1956-1957)". Archived from the original on 2017-02-12. Retrieved 2017-02-11.
  5. ^ Short, Philip (2000). Mao: A Life. Macmillan. pp. 457–471. ISBN 978-0-8050-6638-8.
  6. ^ a b c d e Hsi-chen, Theodore (1981). Chinese Education Since 1949: Academic and Revolutionary Models. New York: Pergamon Press Inc. pp. 44–62. ISBN 0-08-023861-0.
  7. ^ Priestley, K.E. (July 1962). China's Men of Letters. Hong Kong: Dragonfly Books. pp. 73–100.
  8. ^ a b On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People
  9. ^ Roderick MacFarguahar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, vol. 1, Contradictions Among the People, 1956-57 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), pp.261-269
  10. ^ a b c Karl, Rebecca E. (2010). Mao Zedong and China in the twentieth-century world : a concise history. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-8223-4780-4. OCLC 503828045.
  11. ^ a b Spence, Jonathan D. 1990. The Search For Modern China (2nd ed.) New York: W.W. Norton Company. pp. 539–43.
  12. ^ a b Lin, Chun (2006). The transformation of Chinese socialism. Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-8223-3785-0. OCLC 63178961.
  13. ^ Link, Perry. 23 July 2007. "Legacy of a Maoist Injustice Archived 2021-11-09 at the Wayback Machine." The Washington Post. p. A19.
  14. ^ Teiwes, cited in MacFarquhar, ed. The Politics of China, 1949-1989, p. 53.
  15. ^ Spence, Jonathan D. 2013. The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton. ISBN 9780393934519. pp. 508–13.
  16. ^ Jung Chang; Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story. Jonathan Cape. p. 435.
  17. ^ Harry Wu; Hongda Harry Wu; George Vecsey (2002). Troublemaker: One Man's Crusade Against China's Cruelty. NewsMax Media, Inc. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-9704029-9-8. Archived from the original on 2014-07-22. Retrieved 2016-09-20.
  18. ^ Zhisui Li (1996). "1957-1965". The Private Life of Chairman Mao. Chatto & Windus, Ltd. pp. 198–199. ISBN 978-0679764434. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  19. ^ Vidal, Christine (2016-04-25). "The 1957-1958 Anti-Rightist Campaign in China: History and Memory (1978-2014)". CCJ-Occasional-Papers: 6.

Works cited[edit]

  • Hsi-en Chen, Theodore. Chinese Education Since 1949: Academic and Revolutionary Models. Pergamon Policy Studies. Pergamon Press Inc. 1981. Print.
  • MacFarquhar, Roderick. 1960. The Hundred Flowers, Paris: The Congress for Cultural Freedom.
  • Priestley, K. E., and Shou-jung Chʻên. China’s Men of Letters, Yesterday and Today. Hong Kong: Dragonfly Books, 1962. Print.
  • 1973. The Origins of the Cultural Revolution: Contradictions Among the People, 1956-1957. Columbia University Press.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. 2013. The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton. ISBN 9780393934519.
  • Meisner, Maurice. 1986. Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic. New York: Macmillan. pp. 177–80.
  • Zheng, Zhu. 1998. 1957 nian de xiaji: Cong bai jia zhengming dao liang jia zhengming. Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe.

External links[edit]