The Chinese “100 Flowers” or “rectification” episode— heralded as an Asian “thaw” when it was first announced in early 1957 —ended this winter with the fourth of the great purges which the Communist regime has conducted since coming to power less than a decade ago. We chronicle it here as a case study in the problems and contradictions of a totalitarian society.
When the “rectification” was first planned in the months after the Hungarian revolution, it was aimed at the Communist Party itself. Or rather, it was part of that peculiar kind of “self-criticism” by which a Communist party, without doing any harm to its general position, tries to free itself from the incumbrance of past “errors” and brutalities. But by February and March 1957 Mao and his associates had decided that it was necessary to involve the masses in this ritual: “self-criticism” was to be supplemented by friendly criticism from the people themselves, encouraged and patronized by the party. “Rectification” thus developed into what seemed to some people a genuine effort at a limited “liberalization from above”—though it was an effort forced up...
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