The Common Program of the People's Republic of China 1949-1954

Article 46 of the Common Program

The unity of theory and practice is a basic concept of the Marxist theory. All science is a response to the requirements of man’s practical life, especially with labour. By knowing the practice, man is able to change the world and improve the conditions of society with material and technical progress. Traditionally, the intelligentsia did not engage in any kind of manual labor. In 1934 Mao Zedong claimed "Where lies the general policy of the (Chinese) soviet cultural education? It aims at educating the broad toiling masses with the spirit of communism, at causing culture and education to serve the revolutionary war, and the class struggle, at combining education and labor, and at turning the broad Chinese masses into a people who enjoy civilization and happiness." In his "On practice" in July 1937 Mao Zedong concludes "Discover the truth through practice. and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and the objective world. Practice. knowledge. again practice, and again knowledge. This form repeats itself in endless cycles, and with each cycle the content of practice and knowledge rises to a higher level. Such is the whole of the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge, and such is the dialectical-materialist theory of the unity of knowing and doing."


In May 1950, Qian Junrui argued "The basic principle for altering the curriculum for higher education is the combination of theory and practice. For higher educational institutions to correctly serve productive construction the various curricula of the institutions of higher education (such as science, industry, agriculture, finance, economies, etc.) all must be based on the practical needs of economic construction. Basic knowledge must be combined with specialized knowledge, the principles of theoretical learning must be combined with practice of production all of which will lead to a gradual improvement in conditions."

In 1939 Mao Zedong stated “… We must protect revolutionary intellectuals, and not repeat past mistakes. Without revolutionary intellectuals, the revolution cannot be victorious. The Guomindang is competing with us for young people, and the army should definitely take in large numbers of revolutionary intellectuals. Worker and peasant cadres should be persuaded to swallow them and not to be afraid of them. Without the help of revolutionary intellectuals, workers and peasants cannot improve themselves. Without intellectuals, the work of managing the country, the Party, and the army cannot be done. The government, the Party bureaus, and the mass movements should also attract revolutionary intellectuals.” In 1939, Liu Shaoqiu called for remoulding party members “Also, we come across many Party members of non-proletarian origin who differ in their development owing to their differing attitudes towards the relation between Marxist-Leninist study and ideological self-cultivation. Generally speaking, when they join the revolution such people do not have a firm and clear-cut proletarian stand, are not very correct or pure in their ideology, and to a greater of lesser extent carry over various non-proletarian ideas from the old society. Obviously these ideas come into direct conflict with the principles of Marxism-Leninism, and since the people take different attitudes, the results of the conflict differ. In studying Marxism-Leninism, some people correctly combine theoretical study with their ideological self-cultivation, using Marxist-Leninist principles to fight and overcome whatever is backward in their thinking. In this way they achieve a more truly proletarian stand and a more undiluted proletarian ideology, and learn how to apply Marxist-Leninist principles to the solution of practical problems. We have many such Party members. Others, however, go the opposite way; they have a lot of old junk accumulated in their heads and many stubborn habits, prejudices and selfish desires, but the lack of determination to remould themselves.” The central idea of thought remoulding is that every not pro-communist intellectual can become a new person through study and self-criticism. It is also a manner to investigate and classify the intellectuals.

Fig. 46.1 CCP membership 1921 -1954

During the last years of the civil war, the total membership of the CCP has grown significantly (see figure 46.1), many of whom were weak in ideology, whereas many veteran Party members had become arrogant and prone to authoritarianism. A small number of them had even become corrupt and degenerate and violated the law and rules of discipline. Deng Xiaoping states "The entire Party membership were required to carry out a rectification movement in close conjunction with various other tasks, by adopting the following methods: studying selected documents, summing up work results, analysing the situation and conducting criticisms and self-criticisms, in order to rectify the Party membership's work style, in general, and that of the leading cadres, in particular." The movement took place in the summer, autumn, winter of 1950. The character of the movement was lenient and tightly controlled. “its practical orientation reflecting a high priority attached to the efficient performance of governmental functions. Great emphasis was placed on integrating rectification and regular work; documents under study included detailed policy decisions on current tasks as well as theoretical tracts on self-criticism.” To guide and assist the mass study movement, the Party publishes two magazines Xue Xi (study) and Xue XI Chu Jiban (Study Primer). The former is edited for the use of the intellectual and educated class; the latter mainly for people of lower educational level. Its emphasis is more restricted on the policies of the government and the Party rather than on theories of Marxism-Leninism.
Late 1951, the movement changed in character and remoulding is no longer limited to party members but to all intellectuals. (intellectuals in all fields of literature and art, science and technology, religion, business, education , Minzhu Dangpai, and governmental organs). For example, the CDNCA started to organize thought reform under its representatives of businessmen and industrialists in December 1951. Most of the intellectuals have a bourgeois background and can, in the eyes of the CCP leaders, not be trusted.
This feeling of untrust is widespread, not only in the CCP but also within the intelligentsia. Moreover, both the conventional scholars and the radical intellectual circles exhibited varying degrees of condescension toward the "peasants in uniform." These individuals in uniform were referred to as "Worker-Peasant Cadres",implying that they were amateurs in the realms of science, technology, and education. Simultaneously, the established scholars saw themselves as bona fide intellectuals, having completed formal education spanning from primary school to university and having pursued intellectual professions for years. They regarded the radical intellectual circles as merely "minor intellectuals",largely due to the fact that many of them hadn't attended university and had made limited contributions to scientific and academic research.
The CCP considered for example teachers to be politically problematic for three main reasons. Firstly, in terms of their class background, the majority of teachers in middle schools and colleges were descendants of the "exploiting classes," particularly from the categories of "landlord" or "rich peasant," or other undesirable strata in the pre-revolutionary society. This resulted naturally from the class bias in access to educational opportunities before 1949.
Secondly, teachers were viewed with suspicion regarding their personal political "histories" or questionable "social connections" because many of them had either joined or supported the Guomindang (Kuomintang) during the Civil War period. An official source in early 1952, for instance, asserted that only a minority of teachers had actively supported the revolutionary movement before 1949, another minority had taken an active counterrevolutionary stance, and the majority had been passive, timid, and demoralized.
Thirdly, teachers were seen as ideologically problematic, serving as persistent carriers of "feudal" social ideas, notably the traditional concept of the scholar gentry, and being susceptible to harmful "bourgeois" (i.e., liberal) educational ideas and practices imported from the United States and Western Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. The CCP demands that the intellectuals admit their personal and political shortcomings and subject themselves to criticism and self-criticism. The first group who have to correct their faults are members of the Minzhu Dangpai. They were required to critique their past actions and abandon any inclination towards independence, division within the family (factionalism). Those who did not actively participate in the rectification process faced accusations of "spectatorism," prolonging the political remolding process even further.
Other bad habits, which are to be changed are: (1) "feudal" mentality reflecting incorrect attitudes of intellectuals toward labor; (2) absence of social consciousness or cooperative spirit ; (3) individualism which opposed group consciousness and socialism; (4) heroism or the demand for personal glory; (5) hedonism; (6) idealism, which opposed Marxist materialism (7) corruption and low morals.
Out of fear for the consequences, most of them ‘voluntary’ participated in the remoulding. Chu Anping, a member of Jiu San party expressed it as follows "We love our motherland with all our heart and enthusiastically hope that she will become prosperous. But because we have not had the right education, we still unavoidably remain at the stage of bourgeois nationalism both ideologically and emotionally. Because we don’t know well enough the CCP’s policies and circumstances, we haven’t really felt close to the Party..."
This remoulding practice can be traced back to 1942 and before. The Yan'an rectification campaign in 1942-43 is the best known. In 1949, the rectification measures are also applied to war captives, war criminals, and prisoners. One method of remoulding involves assigning intellectuals to rural areas to engage in land reform. Within the framework of land reform, the term "intellectual" encompassed any educated individual participating in the campaigns as a member of a work team. This category naturally encompassed many individuals involved in education, ranging from elderly academics to young students. Journalists, editors, doctors, lawyers, members of "democratic parties," writers, filmmakers, and other educated members of work teams were all classified by the CCP as "intellectuals."
In fact, everybody who can write and read has to write a kind of self-criticism. In 1951, a handbook “How to Write: Autobiography, Diary, Letter, Summary, Report, Common Writings, Study Notes” was published to give a framework to write self-criticism. Its foreword explains: "In new China […] everyone has to hand in an autobiography […] Why? The governance of new China belongs to the people [renmin 人民]. We work and join the revolution to serve the people. As we step into a new [historical] stage, we have to give account of our past history; we have to do a general self-criticism (jiantao). Only then can we start the new life. […] Everyone knows the importance of criticism (piping 批评) and self-criticism (ziwo piping 自我批评). Autobiography is one of the most appropriate occasions to use the weapon of criticism and self-criticism."8 Self-criticism emerges as the overrunning principle in the handbook.
University professors in Shanghai raised doubts about the need for land reform, prompting invitations to visit villages near Shanghai to gain firsthand knowledge of rural conditions. Following the perceived success of these initial visits, larger cohorts of professors and students from Shanghai's universities were dispatched to the countryside to actively engage in land reform efforts. For instance, in October 1951, 650 students and faculty members from Fudan University's Chinese Literature and Foreign Languages departments were sent to northern Anhui Province to participate in land reform, returning only in late January 1952. Most of them are dispatched to south and southwest China.
On September 29, 1951, Zhou Enlai launches a national remoulding campaign. The primary objective of the campaign is to eradicate the Western influence on intellectuals. Consequently, any skepticism regarding the superiority of the Soviet education system over the Anglo-American system, which had been esteemed by many Chinese professors before 1949, was considered a bourgeois notion by the CCP. In addition, they have to stop the disdain for the practical application of scholarship and renounce self-interest, wealth, and prestige. The acceptance of the leadership of the CCP is just as important.
Between September 1951 and October 1952, 200 well-known intellectuals published criticism and self-criticism in the Renmin Ribao and the Guangming Ribao. It starts in colleges and universities in Beijing and Tianjin and is later extended nationwide to all intellectuals in the education field. Violent struggles occur in some universities because hard liners believe that professors can not be trusted because of their bourgeois ideas. The soft-liners make a distinction between anti-CCP ideas and bourgeois ideology. “For them, since most professors were not opposed to the CCP and their expertise was valuable, the party should work with them and let them gradually overcome their bourgeois ideas through their own effort at thought remolding."
In the remoulding campaign, special reports and documents are to be mastered as the foundation of criticism and self-criticism. There are 5 stages every participant has to pass. First, to study Zhou Enlai’s speech of September 29 and other party and governmental directives like Organic Law of the Central People's Government, Common Program and Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party. The second stage is to master Peng Zhen’s report on land reform, Resist America Aid Korea, and Zhenfan. The third stage is learning the history of the CCP and Mao Zedong’s theories. The fourth phase involved studying Li Fuchun's report on economic development and cadre training. The objective was to instill in university and research staff the notion that their work should prioritize serving the requirements of economic development and national defense. Specifically, this fourth stage aimed to address "ideological challenges" or opposition to the new plans introduced in mid-1950 for restructuring faculties and departments, updating curricula, and revamping teaching methods. The fifth stage includes summaries of personal ideological problems, a review of past actions and recounts of past life (childhood, class status, education, and work), self-criticism and criticism from others, introspection, self-criticism and confession. Past actions can comprise “1) Devaluing politics in teaching: some professors suggested increasing teaching hours for science and technology courses at the expense of courses with political content; 2) Bourgeois attitudes in academic research: many professors appeared to be driven by their pursuit of fame and by their own scholarly interests when they were selecting research projects; 3) Neglect of politics: many professors rarely read newspapers, did not participate in parades on May Days, and participated in required political study only with the purpose of gaining knowledge, not making any effort at ideological remolding.
The “struggle study groups” are small, mostly between 6 to 12 members, and they meet regally over an extended period of time. Sometimes daily, sometimes once in a few days. Participation is ‘voluntary’ but pressure makes it compulsory. Confessions are made in public, who can accept or refuse the revelation. An approved confession is kept on file and the basis for a permanent dossier of the person. This stage includes the acceptance of measures to implement reforms in higher education. The campaign ends with the reorganization of higher education. All participants underwent a reassignment of their jobs in the end:promotion or demotion.
Mao Zedong
The Thought Reform Campaign was not initiated by the CCP to merely politically penalize China's traditional intellectuals; rather, its purpose was to establish ideological control over them and garner political support. During this period, the CCP was confident in its ability to construct a new China, yet it acknowledged the indispensable role of intellectuals in achieving economic prosperity under socialism. While many intellectuals earnestly endeavored to adapt, the excessively stringent demands caused disillusionment among them as they found the Communist Party's actions to be inconsistent with the pre-1949 slogans and assurances. The Party's harshness, totalitarian governance, and resort to violence disillusioned countless individuals who had once harbored hope for positive change under the new regime. Consequently, the Party eroded the standing and undermined the interests of numerous segments constituting the majority of the population.
Ng (2008) writes about historians, but in fact his observation applies to all academics. "The thought reform would be even more difficulty for the older and prominent historians who had been too old and set on their ways to made such drastic changes. In addition, it was embarrassing to write such ‘confessions’ and denounced lifelong works that had established one’s academic reputation internationally, including Feng Youlan, the renowned historian of philosophy. He was one of the earliest to make a self- criticism and went on to proclaim that his famous work, History of Chinese Philosophy, was a crime against the people."
Stiffler (2003) mentions different reasons why intellectuals tried to reform. "Whether out of guilt, sympathy, self-protection or a combination of these motives - most professors claimed that they wanted to learn politically, to make "progress" and to stay up to date." The party possessed the authority to expel individuals marked as "imperialists" and "counterrevolutionaries" from the faculty, primarily, and also from the student body as it saw fit. Nonetheless, the act of removing a few instigators differed from fundamentally altering the ideological stance of Chinese intellectuals. These intellectuals, especially those with affiliations to the GMD or the United States, displayed a lack of sincere remorse and enthusiasm toward the more radical aspects of the Chinese Revolution. Consequently, the Three Antis campaign was employed to reinforce the Thought Reform campaign In conclusion, even though the Thought Reform campaign achieved nominal success, it remained a superficial triumph. Intellectuals, especially professors who had established careers prior to Liberation, voiced the language of self-criticism and transformation. However, their true takeaway wasn't a realization of their past errors, but rather the understanding that mimicking model political rituals and echoing party slogans meticulously were the most effective strategies for evading punishment.
Following the extensive restructuring of universities in 1952, the institutional foundation for resistance or negotiations largely vanished. Over the subsequent four years, professors and universities were primarily engaged in implementing ideological reforms and emulating the Soviet higher education model. This model aimed to address the nation's demand for technicians and engineers during the First Five-Year Plan (1952-1956). When confronted with a powerful state or a modernization regime, such as the Guomindang and the Communists, institutional resistance was deemed self-centered and unpatriotic. With few exceptions, allegiance to the nation stood as the central and prevailing value for Chinese intellectuals in the 20th century. Institutional resistance against the state remains a sensitive topic, as long as the state successfully aligns itself with the interests of the nation.
In the year 1952, as the Communist Party endeavored to establish authority over the majority of the country's educational institutions, high-ranking party officials frequently found themselves needing to restrain overly enthusiastic cadres who were inclined to mete out harsh penalties to intellectuals or even dismiss them from their positions. The central government consistently advised local branches to adopt a lenient approach, implying that the harshest consequence an intellectual might encounter involved their information being relayed to the local Public Security Bureau and facing heightened oversight from party cadres. However, much to the possible dismay of local cadres who were growing increasingly resentful of intellectuals, no intellectuals were subjected to any substantial or officially approved punitive measures.

Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping Volume I note 1240 [↩]
"Despite the relatively low status of kindergarten teachers, they nevertheless also participated in rectification campaigns. Kindergarten teachers participated in “daily one-hour group political study sessions" Tillman (2013). Page 231 [↩] [Cite]
Huang (1991). Page 81. [Cite]
The CCP made a classification of the intellectuals: (1). "Senior Intellectuals" including university professors, research fellows in the Chinese Academy and other institutes, well-known writers, artists and scientists; (2)."Ordinary Intellectuals" covering those people who received a university education(whether they finished it or not); and (3). "Little Intellectuals referring to the men and women who reached the second level of middle school education. Page 95 [↩]
White (2016). remarks "The traditional prestige of learning had not been conferred automatically on teachers. In fact, they were often seen as social failures, people who had aspired to government office through success in the examinations, but whose failure — through lack of talent, money, or connections — had forced them into teaching.24" Page 23 [↩] [Cite]
Groot (1997). Page 195. [Cite]
Stiffler (2003) explains “spectatorism” "Die Professoren wurden von studentischen »Aktivisten« aufgefordert, spezielle Versammlungen zur »Gedankenreform« zu besuchen. Einige leisteten auf altehrwürdige Weise passiven Widerstand, indem sie schlicht nicht erschienen. Andere erschienen zwar, blieben aber schweigend sitzen oder erklärten, dass sie zu diesen Treffen nur gekommen seien, um »zuzuhören« und zu »lernen«.25 Diese Art des Rückzugs aus der politischen Aktivität wird in der chinesischen Gesellschaft eindeutig als Protest gegen die Führung und die Politik verstanden. Mit ihrer Strategie des «passiven« Widerstands und administrativer Untätigkeit konnten die Professoren ihrer Ablehnung der Veränderungen Ausdruck verleihen." Stiffler (2003). Page 209
Translation "The professors were requested by student "activists" to attend special "thought reform" meetings. Some venerably resisted passively by simply not appearing. Others appeared, but remained silent or said that they came to these meetings only to "listen" and "learn." 25 This type of withdrawal from political activity is clearly understood in Chinese society as a protest against the leadership and politics. With their strategy of "passive" resistance and administrative inactivity, the professors were able to express their rejection of the changes. [↩] [Cite]
Hawkins (1967). Page 52 [↩] [Cite]
Hao (2003). Page 76. On October 13, 1949 Mao Zedong answers a letter from Feng Youlan, a philosopher,in which Feng is trying to change his thinking.
13-10-1949 Mao Zedong Letter to Feng Youlan [↩] [Cite]
DeMare (2012b). Page 110. Some signed up voluntarily for land reform work in the countryside, for example Feng Youlan (1895-1990 philosopher, historian, and writer) joined a work team in a suburb of Peking from the winter of 1949 to the spring of 1950. Yet a three-month participation in the Land Reform and the self-criticism based on this was insufficient in the eyes of the CCP. [↩] [Cite]
Cited in Licandro (2018). Pages 4-5. Similar handbooks on how to write about life were published in this period. [↩] [Cite]
Pieragastini (2018). Page 148.[Cite]
Liang Shuming visited "...from April to September 1950, Liang, joined by many of his followers, made a detailed inspection tour of rural areas in Henan, Shandong, and the Region known as Pingyuan, as well as many urban and rural areas scattered throughout northeast China." Page 75 " the spring of 1951, namely, because the chairman wanted someone he could trust to observe directly the implementation of land reform. And so it was that Liang Shuming joined a central land reform delegation, consisting of some twenty members and headed by Zhang Naiqi, that was charged with observing land reform in the Southwest.12 Arriving in Sichuan some time in the first half of May, they did not return to Beijing until August 30 for a trip that lasted a full four months." Page 76 [Cite] [↩]
Zhu (2008). Pages 78-79 [↩] [Cite]
Zhu (2008). Page 79 [↩] [Cite]
In 1950, the party named the following books as basic readings on the general ideology of the Communist movement: The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels; The Ideology and Methodology of Marx and Lenin, compiled by the Liberation Press; Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, by Engels; The State and Revolution, by Lenin; Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, by Lenin; Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, by Lenin; Foundation of Leninism, by Stalin; Lenin, and Lenin on China, compiled by the Liberation Press; The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, edited by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; Political Economy, by Leontiev; The History of Social Development, and Lenin and Stalin on the Socialist Economy, compiled by the Liberation Press. Houn (1961). Page 41 [↩] [Cite]
Pepper (1996). Page 170 [↩] [Cite]
Zhu (2008). Pages 78-79 [↩] [Cite]
Barnett (1954). ADB -61 [Cite]
The numbers of listeners largely depended upon academic prestige: the more influential the subject, the larger the audience. Nationally well-known professors and scientists also published their self-criticisms in the press. Huang (1991). Page 113.[Cite]
Fig. 46.2 Thought Reform Articles September 1951-October 1952
RMRB: Renmin Ribao, GMRB: Guangming Ribao
Study: Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought
Source: Huang (1991). Pages 115-116
Most articles are written by the 'old' intellectuals (81%). Huang (1991) also made a table of articles written by the old-type of intellectuals, classified by authors' professions and subjects of the articles and notices
Fig. 46.3 Self-criticism articles
Source: Huang (1991). Page 118
" the early years of the PRC, the main target to win over through criticism and self-criticism was not democratic personages, nor literary writers and artists amongst the old-type intellectuals, but instead, natural and social scientists, whose knowledge and skill were more urgently needed in the course of economic construction." Page 117 The practice of criticism and self-criticism is also used after the release of the movie “The life of Wu Xun” (February 1951). (see Article 45 Chinese movies) Between May and September 1951, 137 articles (of which 40 are self-criticism) were published in the RMRB. Page 185 [↩]
Huang (1991). Page 120 [↩] [Cite]
Hao (2003). Page 79 [↩] [Cite]
Ng (2008). Pages 34-35 [↩] [Cite]
Stiffler (2003). Page 209. Original text: "Ob aus Schuldgefühl, Sympathie, Selbstschutz oder einer Kombination dieser Motive - die meisten Professoren behaupteten, sie hatten den Wunsch, politisch dazu zu lernen, »Fortschritte« zu machen und auf der Höhe der Zeit zu bleiben. [↩]
Pieragastini Steven (2018). Reform and Closing Up. Pages 140-141 [↩]
Stiffler (2003). Page 226 [↩] [Cite]
Yeager (2021). Page 5 and Page 131 [↩] [Cite]

Chapter 5 of Common Program