The Problem of the Intellectual Writer

David Kute

Honors Section


Professor Baum



            From the very beginnings of the Chinese Communist Party, the role of the intellectual writer presented a problem to the party leadership. The intellectual writer, in fact, was the victim of two of the CCP’s great political campaigns in the early history of the People’s Republic of China: the Anti-rightist Campaign of 1957-58, and the Cultural Revolution of 1965-75. Literary Dissent in Communist China by Merle Goldman explores the relationship between the writers and the CCP in the 1940’s and 50’s. The book details the struggle that emerged between the two groups. Goldman starts off the book (MG pg.1), “Throughout the history of China, every ruling group has sought to gain the allegiance of the intellectual class and impose upon it an orthodox doctrine guiding all of its activities.” From this viewpoint, it was inevitable that there would be a conflict between the two groups, and conflict indeed was to occur to varying degrees. It is my contention that the conflict between the CCP and the writers was a result of the CCP’s unwillingness to allow freedom of speech.

            The roots of the conflict between the Party and the writers stemmed from the work of 1930’s writers like Lu Hsun. Many of the writers that would oppose the CCP were close friends and admirers of Lu Hsun. Goldman writes of Lu Hsun’s influence(MG, pg. 9) “Lu Hsun’s vivid condemnation of China’s traditional society and fervent expression of the need for revolutionary change set an example for a whole generation of Chinese writers.” Lu Hsun’s influence on the writers of his generation would mean trouble for the CCP, since he(MG, pg.10) “sought to maintain an independent, nondoctrinaire attitude not only toward Marxism and literature, but also toward the party organization.” Lu Hsun also nominally headed the League of Left Wing Writers, which consisted of most of the Chinese writers of the time. Lu Hsun’s influence with the writers of the 1930’s, and his attitudes toward artistic freedom, were the roots of the struggle between the CCP and the writers.

            This divide between the Party and the writers was symbolized in the antagonism of Chou Yang on one side and the writers on the other. Chou Yang became the head of the League of Left Wing Writers, which was really controlled by the CCP. Soon, he was promoted to head the propaganda apartment. Goldman writes of Chou(MG, pg.10) “Not only was Lu Hsun’s faction out of sympathy with the rigid orthodoxy of Chou Yang and his associates, but they were also angered at having their leadership gradually usurped by Chou Yang’s aggressive administrative power.” Goldman writes that one of Hsun’s faction, Feng Hsueh- Fang, attacked Chou(MG, pg. 13) “Feng directly accused Chou and indirectly the party of suffocating creative and intellectual freedom.” Goldman cites a literary war of words between the two factions in the mid 1930’s to illustrate the growing antagonism between the CCP and the writers.

            The writers who were principally suppressed were Wang Shi-wei, Ting Ling, Hu Feng, Hsiao Chun, Ho Chi- fang, Ai- Ching, and Feng Hsueh- feng. All were colleagues of Lu Hsun, and many were outspoken in their criticisms of the CCP. The first to be attacked was Wang Shi-wei. Goldman writes that he(MG, pg.37) “was used as a public example.” A campaign against the writers began in 1942, and Wang was publicly attacked. He was accused of utilizing the slogan “Politics follows art,” and (MG, pg.39) “Wang’s concept, the party ideologists insisted, was devoid of any consciousness of the class struggle.” The suppression continued over the next few decades. Ting Ling, Feng Hsueh- feng, Ho Chi- fang, Hu Feng and Ai Ching were attacked during the 1950’s, and Hsiao Chun was attacked in the Thought Reform Campaign of 1948.

            The cheng feng movement was an early example of party suppression of the writers. Cheng feng translated means “the rectification of(unorthodox) tendencies.” Goldman writes of the cheng feng movement(MG, pg.18) “a movement began in the early 1940’s to develop a corps of devoted, disciplined cadres and intellectuals convinced of the rightness of the party’s cause. It sought to change basic patterns of behavior and implant the strict party line.” Wang Shi-wei became a target of the cheng feng movement after 1942. Cheng feng, in fact, was a method to attain “strict party discipline.” The self criticisms and other aspects of the cheng feng were a method of thought reform. This movement, or rather it’s methods, were employed by the CCP to suppress the writers.

            The thought reform campaign of 1948 was the next time the CCP would try to limit the writers. Principally, the CCP, and Chou Yang, attacked Hu Feng and Hsiao Chun. Goldman writes that the cause of the thought reform drive was(MG, pg.68) “the party sought to mold a well- disciplined, unified core of administrators that could undertake the task of rehabilitation and handle the increasingly complex problems of social and political control.” The CCP then went on to conduct(MG, pg.68) “a concomitant drive of “rectification” among enclaves of cadres and left wing intellectuals in large party centers.”

            The anti- rightist campaign was the culmination of the earlier events of 1942 and 1948. In the ten years after the campaign of 1948, the CCP had at certain periods suppressed the writers. But nothing could prepare for the strength of the anti- rightist campaign, which was a reaction to the excesses of the Hundred Flowers Movement of 1957. Goldman writes(MG, pg. 203) “the party turned from tolerance and relaxation to persecution and intransigence…the Hundred Flowers movement had developed a momentum of its own…the party had opened the way for demands that constituted a challenge to its own competence.” During the anti- rightist campaign, Ting Ling and Feng Hsueh-feng were attacked.

            The writers that were attacked by the party held many views in common, chief of which was that they should have freedom to write. Goldman says of the writers(MG, pg.8) “Almost all insisted on the right to define communism in their own way.” They also(MG, pg.8) “emphasized equality, democracy, and intellectual freedom.” Goldman, also believes that the writers ahd fallen upon a Chinese tradition of being social critic. (MG, pg.8) Wang Shi-wei believed that (MG, pg.27) “writers and intellectuals were better suited to worry about man’s spirit than statesmen.” Like Lu Hsun, they felt that they should have freedom to write about the political sphere. Lo Feng wrote in 1942 that a darkness was over Yenan. Goldman writes that Lo Feng felt that (MG, pg.24) “comrades ‘were inflicting scars on one another.’ These ‘scars’ were inflicted by cadres who suppressed criticism and restricted the freedom to write.” Indeed, belief in the freedom to write and criticize was the main view the writers held in common.

            Freedom of speech was what got the writers in trouble with the party. As Goldman writes, CCP policy on art was defined very well by Mao in 1942 in his “Talk on Arts and Literature,” (MG, pg. 35) “Mao rejected the contention…that art be independent of politics.” Mao believed, as his speech highlighted, that there was no separation between art and politics, and further, that art couldn’t be separated from class consciousness. Hence, art was a “bourgeoise” phenomenon. And art had to be controlled by the party. Goldman writes of Mao’s antagonism toward the writers in his 1942 speech (MG, pg. 35) “He decried as lacking in class consciousness their demands that literature be motivated by love of mankind, be concerned with universal aspects of human nature, and be created under conditions of freedom.” The CCP would not allow the writers to have unchecked liberty in their criticisms. Every time a writer had overstepped their bounds, as Wang Shi-wei did in 1942, they would be attacked and later even subject to persecution, as Ting Ling was in 1958. Mao and the CCP leadership were opposed to allowing the the writers to have literary freedom, and hence this was the essence of the conflict between the two groups.

            When Mao gave the writers their freedom in the Hundred Flowers Movement, it led to much criticism of the party elite, and thereafter the Party saw it as unfeasible to allow freedom of speech. The Hundred Flowers of 1957 had resulted in much criticism of the CCP and its leadership. Thus, the Anti- rightist movement of 1957-58, the CCP reaction to the Hundred Flowers, was a regression back to the ideas Mao had expressed in his 1942 talk, and the thought reform campaigns that followed it. The experiment of the Hundred Flowers had seemed to justify the earlier policies.

            In the 1940’s and 1950’s a group of Chinese revolutionary writers would come into conflict with the CCP. The struggle between the two groups was chiefly over the idea that art was independent of politics. While Mao and the Party wanted to place controls on what could be written, to ensure that the party line was followed and that art followed politics, many writers wanted to have freedom to express their opinion. Hence, believe that obtaining freedom of expression was the real goal of the writers, and that the conflict between the two groups was a result of Mao and the CCP’s unwillingness to make this concession.



Works Cited


  1. Goldman, Merle. Literary Dissent in Communist China. Harvard East Asian Series, Number 29. Harvard University Press. 1967.