Chinese Premier Reveals His Family Was Persecuted Under Mao’s Rule
Posted by Author on November 3, 2011
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, has revealed how his family were “constantly persecuted” during the darkest years of Chairman Mao’s rule, in a speech that may be a warning to the hardline faction within the Communist party not to repeat the mistakes of history.
The speech, delivered in front of students at Mr Wen’s alma mater, the Nankai high school in Tianjin, recalled the paranoia and fear of life in China at the end of the 1950s as a deeply divided Communist party hunted down its opponents.
“I was born into an intellectual family in Yixing, north Tianjin in 1942. My grandfather ran a school in the village. It was the first primary school to admit girls, against pressure from the local landlords. Many of the teachers were university graduates and some became professors after 1949,” said Mr Wen, delving into his past for the first time publicly.
According to a transcript published in China’s official state media, Mr Wen said he had carried his grandfather’s body to hospital. “He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1960. The school he taught at had kept his files, filled with one self-criticism after another, written in small neat characters,” he said.
At the time, the Communist party had forced intellectuals, many of whom had been educated abroad or had worked for the previous government, to “revise their thinking” through self-criticism until they became ideologically sound.
After inviting them to speak out about China’s problems, Chairman Mao performed a u-turn and attacked those who were bold enough to voice their opinions publicly.
“After I went to high school and university, my family suffered constant attacks in the successive political campaigns,” added Mr Wen.
“In 1960, my father was also investigated for so-called ‘historical problems’. He could no longer teach and was sent to work on a farm on the outskirts of the city tending pigs. My father was an honest man, hardworking and diligent throughout his life.”
China’s top leaders rarely, if ever, discuss their personal history or family lives. And the attacks by Chairman Mao on 550,000 intellectuals at the end of the 1950s remain a deeply sensitive, and strictly-censored, topic.
However, analysts said Mr Wen was sounding a warning to hardliners within the Communist party about the perils of maintaining an iron grip and refusing to reform the country.
The attacks on Mr Wen’s family came at a time when the Communist party under Mao was split internally over how to set a path for the country, with liberal and hardline factions taking opposing views. In the end, liberal forces lost out, much to China’s subsequent woe.
“My childhood was spent in war and hardship. The poverty, turmoil and famine left an indelible imprint on my young soul [ …] I realised only science, truth-seeking, democracy and hard work can save China,” said Mr Wen.
As the 69-year-old gets ready to step down next year and hand power over to a new generation of Chinese leaders he has made a flurry of speeches calling for “urgent” political reform and the loosening of the party’s iron grip on the state.
However, there is little sign that reform is forthcoming. Some have suggested that Mr Wen is merely trying to paint himself on the right side of history, while others have noted that he lacks a broad enough power base within the party to effect any change.
Liu Shanying, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Mr Wen’s speech might be read as an attempt to warn China’s future leaders not to repeat the mistakes of history.
“As far as I recall, this is the first time that Wen Jiabao has discussed the political persecution of his family. He had not mentioned it even in his memoirs. Of course politicians are different from normal people and every word they say has a meaning,” he said.
“When he talks about his childhood suffering, I think he means that he does not want to see China return to that era. He, and many other Chinese are victims of that era, and he is expressing the desire for peace and stability to calm down some of the other elements in the party,” he said.
“It also shows his discontent with the recent sixth plenum, about how to restructure China’s culture and the continuing need for control over public opinion,” he added. Mr Wen’s speech was also read by some as a pledge that he would continue to push his reform agenda even in retirement.
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This entry was posted on November 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm and is filed under China, East China, history, Life, News, Official, People, Politics, Social, Wen Jiabao, World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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