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50 Years On, Deaths of Anti-Rightist Era Still Taboo in China

Posted by Author on June 20, 2007

Radio free Asia, 2007.06.19-

HONG KONG—The infamous Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957, in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals were killed, jailed, or persecuted, still lingers as a shadow hanging over China’s development, despite calls from its targets for the Communist Party to admit its mistakes, campaigners said.

Chen Fengxiao was a student at prestigious Beijing University when the campaign, which came soon after the “Hundred Flowers” movement in which party chairman Mao Zedong invited intellectuals to set forth a profusion of dissident views, was initiated 50 years ago this month.

“I was sentenced to 15 years. After that, my sentence was extended by seven years. In total I did 22 years of reform through labor,” he told RFA’s Mandarin service. “I was subjected to all manner of punishments. You can say that I was a rightist, fine, but I don’t accept that I committed any crime. Because everything we did was within the Constitution, within the law.

I didn’t break the law and yet I was tortured, tied up to a bench, hung up, scorched with fire, and forced to watch executions.”

The 50th anniversary has sparked calls for the government to make a public announcement accepting that the movement, in which 550,000 people were “struggled”—often dying from beatings or summary executions or serving lengthy terms in labor camp—was a mistake.

Party says initial struggle ‘justified’

The stigma of the rightist label often meant their relatives also suffered severe social disadvantages.

Until now, the official line has been that the initial, narrow version of Anti-Rightist Campaign was necessary to stamp out a threat to Communist Party rule, but that its expansion was a mistake.

In an open letter to China’s leadership, 55 former “rightists” called on the government to admit the campaign had been “a gross violation of the constitution of our country and a mistaken political movement,” calling the official line on the subject “ludicrous self-deception.”

It also called for compensation for the victims, and for the ending of restrictions on freedom of speech, and for Chinese citizens to be allowed to tell their own history of the movement openly.

According to unofficial minutes leaked earlier this year from a key meeting of the Party’s Central Propaganda Department, the media and publishing have been warned off any material touching on the history of the Anti-Rightist Campaign.

“This year is the 50th anniversary of the Anti-Rightist Campaign,” the notes, taken by an official who attended the meeting and widely circulated on the Internet, said.

No books allowed

It warned that many people, including top academics, who were dissatisfied with the Party would use the anniversary to “smear the Communist Party.”

“For this reason, no memoirs or books dealing with the period of history around the Anti-Rightist Campaign are allowed to be published, and no articles regarding the movement may be printed,” ran the notes, which claimed to be taken from a verbal announcement made at the meeting.

While RFA has no way to verify this account, it accords with information about the Propaganda Department from media and publishing sources across the country.

In an essay written for the anniversary, former top Communist Party official Bao Tong, under house arrest in Beijing since ending a jail term in the wake of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, described the fate of the 550,000 people who were designated “rightists.”

“Their collective crime was to have criticized the Party’s policies and work style. The fate of those 550,000 was as follows: some died right there during the struggle sessions; many died later in prison or labor camp, or as a result of kangaroo courts and summary executions. A small number survived to see their relatives suffer discrimination and oppression,” said Bao, a former aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang.

Bao’s essay, titled “On the illegality of the anti-rightist struggle,” lashed out at late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, who spearheaded the campaign.

Critics acted legally

“What sort of a crime is denying the leadership of the Party or reversing the direction of socialism?” Bao wrote.

“Citizens have a right to express agreement or disagreement with the Party’s leadership or with the direction of socialism. This is a legal act. The State and the law have a responsibility to protect it, not the right to punish it.”

“Didn’t ‘we’ allow tens of millions of people to starve to death through the ‘progress’ achieved through the Party’s leadership and socialism, and persecute 200 million more?” Bao wrote, in a reference to the subsequent Great Leap Forward (1959) and Cultural Revolution (1966-76). (…… more details from Radio free Asia report)

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