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


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
Qian Junrui (1908-1985) vice minster of Education and economist
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
* After the Shanghai massacre of April 12, 1927 and the Northern Expedition (1926) the CCP lost between 15000 and 25000 members
** After the long March *** Civil war starts again ****Thought remoulding campaign

During the last years of the civil war, the total membership of the CCP has grown significantly (see chart above), 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. "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.
Huang (1991) notices that this feeling of untrust is widespread, not only in the CCP but also within the intelligentsia. "What is more, both the traditional intellectuals and revolutionary intelligentsia, to various extents, looked down on the "peasants in uniform". These peasants in unifom were called "Worker-peasant Cadres"(GONG NONG GAN BU), which meant that they were laymen of science, technology, and education. In the meantime, the traditional intellectuals further thought themselves qualified "real intellectuals" for they had finished formal education from primary school to university, and had been intellectual professionals for years. They considered the revolutionary intelligentsia only "little intellectuals "(XIAO ZHI SHI FEN ZI), because most of them did not go to university, and achieved little in science and academic research." 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 have “…to criticise their actions over previous years. They had to rid themselves of any desires for independence, “dividing the house,” or “causing contention within the family” (factionalism). Failure to involve themselves actively in the rectification process resulted in accusations of “spectatorism” and the political remoulding process was then drawn out even longer.”
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 Yenan 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 remoulding practice is to direct intellectuals to rural areas to participate in land reform. “Within the context of land reform, “intellectual” could refer to any educated person taking part in the campaigns as a work team member. This group naturally included many involved in education, but even here there was a wide range, from elderly academics to young students. Journalists, editors, doctors, lawyers, members of “democratic parties”, writers, filmmakers and other educated work team members were all considered by the CCP to be “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.
Professors of universities in Shanghai questioned the necessity of land reform, they are invited to visit villages near Shanghai to learn the actual conditions of the countryside. “On the basis of the apparent success of these small trial groups, larger numbers of Shanghai’s university professors and students were sent off into the countryside to “participate in” land reform. For example, 650 students and faculty from Fudan University’s Chinese Literature and Foreign Languages departments were sent to northern Anhui Province in October 1951 to participate in land reform and only returned 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 main goal of the campaign is to wipe out the Western orientation of the intellectuals. “Thus, when the CCP called for learning from the Soviet Union, any doubt about the superiority of the Soviet education system over the Anglo-American system (which many Chinese professors had admired before 1949) was regarded as a bourgeois idea.” 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 stage entailed the study of Li Fuchun’s report on economic development and cadre training. The aim was to establish among university and research personnel the idea that their work should serve the needs of economic development and national defense. Specifically, this fourth step aimed to tackle “ideological problems,” or resistance to the new plans introduced in mid-1950 for reorganizing faculties and departments, revising curricula, and reforming 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

Huang (1991) concludes: "the CCP did not launch the Thought Reform Campaign to punish China's old-type intellectuals politically, but on the contrary, to assert control over them ideologically, and to gain political support from them. At that time the CCP was confident that it had the capacity to build up a new China, while in the meantime recognising that without the cooperation of the intellectual an economically strong nation under the flag of socialism was impossible."
Hao (2003) sees the following proble: “…while many intellectuals tried sincerely to reform themselves, the extreme demands led many to find the Communists’ performance far different from the slogans and promises before 1949. “[The Communists’] ruthlessness, totalitarian control, and use of violence have disillusioned millions who were once hopeful about what a change of regime might bring. The Communists have undermined the position and attacked the interests of groups making up a great 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
Feng Youlan 冯友兰 (1895-1990) philosopher, historian, and writer
, 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. "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 (2018) notices: “…the party could remove at will those labeled as “imperialists” and “counterrevolutionaries,” from the faculty especially but also from the student body. However, removing a handful of troublemakers was different from fundamentally changing the ideological orientation of Chinese intellectuals… Intellectuals, particularly those with ties to the Guomindang (GMD) or the United States, seemed insufficiently contrite and lacked enthusiasm about the more radical components of the Chinese Revolution, and, as a result, the Three Antis campaign was employed to buttress the Thought Reform campaign.” and he concludes "Although nominally successful, the Thought Reform campaign was a shallow victory; intellectuals, particularly professors with established careers before Liberation, had mouthed the language of self-criticism and transformation, but the true lesson they learned was not the error of their former ways but that imitation of model political rituals and careful parroting of party slogans were the best means of avoiding punishment."
Stiffler (2003) concludes: "Nach der radikalen Umstrukturierung der Hochschulen im Jahre 1952 verschwand die institutionelle Basis für Widerstand und/oder Verhandlungen weitgehend. Professoren und Universitäten waren in den folgenden vier Jahren weitgehend damit beschäftigt, Gedankenreform zu praktizieren und das sowjetische Hochschulmodell nachzuahmen, das den Bedarf der Nation an Technikern und Ingenieuren während des Ersten Fünfjahrplans (1952-1956) befriedigen sollte." and he continues "Wenn sie es mit einem starken Staat oder gar mit einem Modernisierungsregime wie der Guomindang und den Kommunisten zu tun hatten, galt institutioneller Widerstand als selbstsüchtig und unpatriotisch. Von wenigen Ausnahmen abgesehen, war die Identifikation mit der Nation für die chinesischen Intellektuellen des 20. Jahrhunderts der zentrale, alles andere überragende Wert. Institutioneller Widerstand gegenüber dem Staat bleibt ein Tabuthema, solange es dem Staat gelingt, mit den Interessen der Nation identifiziert zu werden."
Yeager (2021) observes: "During 1952, when the Communist Party moved to assert control over the vast majority of the nation’s schools, top party officials often had to rein in overzealous cadres who sought to punish intellectuals severely or even remove them from their posts." He continues "The central government consistently urged subnational branches to take a lenient approach; the worst an intellectual might face would be having their information forwarded to the local Public Security Bureau and facing increased supervision from party cadres. But—perhaps to the chagrin of local cadres, who grew an increasing distaste for intellectuals—no intellectuals faced any meaningful, officially-sanctioned punishment"

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 [↩]
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]
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. Translation: 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. [↩]
Pieragastini Steven (2018). Reform and Closing Up. Pages 140-141 [↩]
Stiffler (2003). Page 226
Translation: "After the radical restructuring of the universities in 1952, the institutional basis for resistance and/or negotiation largely disappeared. Over the next four years, professors and universities were largely engaged in thought reform and mimicthed the Soviet university model, which was supposed to meet the nation's need for technicians and engineers during the First Five-Year Plan (1952-1956)."" Page 224 and he continues "When they were dealing with a strong state, or even a modernization regime like the Guomindang and the Communists, institutional resistance was considered selfish and unpatriotic. With a few exceptions, identification with the nation was the central, all-but-superior value for the Chinese intellectuals of the 20th century. Institutional resistance to the state remains a taboo subject as long as the state succeeds in being identified with the interests of the nation." [↩] [Cite]
Yeager (2021). Page 5 and Page 131 [↩] [Cite]

Chapter 5 of Common Program