1.09  The Socialist Education Movement (1963 – 1966)

6 March 2018

The Four Cleanups and the Five Antis (1963)


Hence, as of 1962 Mao saw the Chinese socialist revolution threatened by adverse forces at both the apex and the base of the political system. At the apex, his colleagues wanted to continue policies that Mao felt would simply strengthen the hands of the anti-Communist forces in the society. At the base, the Chairman recognized that the damage that the GLF had done to basic-level Party units, especially in the countryside, had been enormous.[1] Many small cadres, for example, were disappointed because the leadership had first demanded to raise output figures but later blamed the "small fry" for the disastrous outcome of the Great Leap. Moreover, local cadres were trapped between the indifference of the masses towards new political campaigns and new directives from above.[2]


To remedy both problems, Mao again resorted to rectification campaigns which would involve mobilization of the masses to help uproot revisionist behaviours, attitudes, and thought within the Party.


Following the Tenth Plenum (八届十中全会) in September 1962 at Beidaihe, where Mao highlighted the need for Party rectification and made the impassioned plea “Never forget class struggle!”, experiments were carried out in selected spots in the rural areas. The results of those experiments became the basis for the Socialist Education Movement (SEM社会主义教育运动, 又称“四清运动”) launched in 1963. The campaign was aimed specifically at correcting a number of unorthodox political, ideological and economic tendencies that had arisen in the rural communes in the aftermath of the disastrous Great Leap Forward.[3] They include (i) a general tendency on the part of rural cadres and peasants to pay insufficient attention to the potentially adverse political implications of the regime's newly-liberalized policies concerning the cultivation of private agricultural plots and the operation of rural free markets; (ii) the rampant growth of corrupt practices among basic-level rural cadres, including extortion of grain and money from local peasants, concealment of surplus grain from state purchasing agencies and misappropriation of collective funds, grain and properties for personal use (the so-called "four uncleans"); and (iii) the widespread demoralization of rural cadres and peasants which had arisen in the wake of severe economic dislocations and privations suffered during the "Three Years of Natural Calamities" of 1960-62.[4]


At the early stage of the SEM, the focus was on the four "cleanups" (小四清) which referred to the tasks of checking up on the account books (清账目) and work-point allocations (清工分) of basic-level cadres and investigating the disposition of collectively-owned grain (清仓库) and properties (清财物).[5]


During this period, major emphasis was placed upon the educational and indoctrinational goals of the movement. In accordance with Mao’s injunction to conduct the campaign "like a light breeze and gentle rain," socialist education work in this initial period was didactic in nature and positive in content. Rural cadres who were discovered to have committed various "four unclean" acts of corruption and/or mismanagement were given a chance to redeem themselves by confessing their mistakes to the masses, participating in physical productive labour and undergoing intensive ideological re-education. Peasants who had engaged in such illegal practices as grain speculation and black-marketeering, or who had exceeded legal limits in the reclamation and cultivation of private plots, were subjected to intensive propaganda and persuaded "voluntarily" to reform their "spontaneous capitalist tendencies."


By March 1963, the SEM was expanded to the cities with the Five Antis Campaign (五反: 反贪污盗窃、反投机倒把、反铺张浪费、反分散主义、反官僚主义).[6]


The Former, Later, and Revised Later Ten Points


Meanwhile, Mao personally began looking into the problems of socialist education in the rural areas at central work conferences. In May 1963, the Central Committee issued the draft on "Decision on Questions Relating to Present Work in the Countryside" (中共中央关于目前农村工作中若干问题的决). The draft included ten points which later came to be known as the “Former Ten Points” (前十条 also known as “First Ten Points”). It called into being "poor and lower middle peasants' associations" (贫农下中农协会) to serve as a vehicle for exercising supervision over the erring basic level cadres. The problem with Mao’s approach, however, was that poor and lower middle peasants had also suffered badly during the GLF, and many of them were either disillusioned or corrupt by 1963.


As this became evident during the course of the year, new measures known later as the Later Ten Points (后十条) were drafted by Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen and promulgated in September 1963. It worked on the assumption that the "poor and lower middle peasants' associations" were by nature unable to adequately supervise the commune and brigade committees. It therefore called for the formation of urban-based work teams to carry out this rectification campaign. In effect, this shifted the rectification to a purely internal Party matter, leaving the peasants' associations essentially without a significant task to perform. In June 1964, Mao indicated his concern that the implementation of the Socialist Education Movement was not involving sufficient mobilization of the poor and lower middle peasants.


Meanwhile, during the first half of 1964, high-level cadres went down to the basic levels to carry out investigations of the conditions there. Liu Shaoqi, for example, spent 18 days in Henan province and ascertained that corruption was widespread and that many basic-level cadres as well as a large percentage of the peasants opposed the Party. He concluded that counterrevolution had a grip on a large portion of rural China and that draconian measures would be necessary to rescue the situation. In September 1964, Liu drafted the Revised Later Ten Points which called for large work teams to go to selected communes and virtually take over the commune and shake it to the foundations in order to put it into shape. A work team would stay in one locale for approximately six months. While in the communes, these work teams would also carry out a new class categorization in the countryside - the first such effort since land reform at the beginning of the 1950s. Those basic-level rural cadres and so-called “five category elements”[7] who were found guilty of various illegal or unethical actions were now severely criticized, “struggled” against, fined or even sentenced to varying periods of “labour reform”. The whole SEM would, according to the calendar of the Revised Later Ten Points, take five to six years to carry out throughout the country.[8]


Mao’s Complaints about Liu’s Revised Later Ten Points


Mao had three complaints about the implementation of Liu’s Revised Later Ten Points. First, they narrowed the target of attack from revisionism to corruption. Second, they imposed penalties that were too harsh on the cadres. And third, they involved the imposition of massive work teams on the communes rather than mobilizing the masses themselves to carry out the campaign. In short, to Mao, the SEM had been twisted around to the point where it had become an effort to re-impose discipline in the rural Party organs rather than serving as a vehicle for propagating his ideas about tackling revisionism.[9]


Moreover, by the end of 1964 it had become apparent the more intensive purges of the previous years had produced the opposite effects from that desired. Basic-level cadres had become visibly demoralized by the growing tendency toward excessive, and in many cases indiscriminate, "class struggle". The work teams, for example, had sown the seeds of animosity between local cadres and the peasantry. Cadres consequently felt, not without justification, that they were unable to perform their official duties for fear of peasants’ criticisms. In the end, the demoralization of the rural cadres was apparently having an adverse effect upon productivity and labour discipline in the villages.[10] Mao soon came to the view that the movement had been mishandled and its “leftism” had generated too much local hostility. The disciplining of basic-level cadres had not brought much new vitality to the countryside. The fault, therefore, must lie with more senior members of the Party who had failed to provide the conditions for the peasant associations to play a more constructive role.[11]


Mao Regaining the Initiative with his Three “Learn From…” Campaigns (1964)


To regain the initiative, Mao and his supporters launched three “Learn from…” campaigns in 1964, each accompanied by a wave of rhetoric and propaganda. These campaigns promoted Mao’s socialist agenda and values through the tales of successful people and places. Chinese people were urged to study these examples and replicate these figures in their own work, their life and their attitude to the party.


On Feb 1, 1964, for example, the People’s Daily published an editorial exhorting the whole country to "Learn from the People's Liberation Army" (全国学人民解放军). To bring his version of politics more directly to bear, Mao ordered the formation of political departments in government and Party organs starting in 1964. The army itself was more and more giving up its professionalism in favour of indoctrination. Loyalty to the ruling party, to Mao Zedong in particular, was the core of this indoctrination. The army formed a body of troops expressing civic virtue, moral perfection, and ideological rigour. Strength of character and optimism in the face of difficulties were elements which every citizen had to imitate. Soldiers did not have personal belongings, and accordingly, the people were expected to be free from self-interest. Instead, everyone would dedicate himself to the collective.


Besides upholding the PLA as the model for socialist construction, Mao also promoted the commune of Dazhai in northern Shanxi as the model for agricultural production (农业学大寨) and the oilfield in Daqing in Heilongjiang as the model for industrial production (工业学大庆). 


Until the late 1950s, Dazhai was a struggling community of 80 or so peasant families in remote Shanxi province where agricultural yield was low because its land was hilly and rocky and was difficult to access and farm. That changed in the late 1950s when the peasants collectivised and formed their own commune. With assistance from party cadres they obtained more arable land by constructing terraces and clearing mountainous forests. As a result, the people of Dazhai not only survived the Great Famine but also increased production of maize to a reported 9,000 kilograms per hectare. The production figures coming out of Dazhai caught the attention of the CCP hierarchy which then promoted the Dazhai as a shining success story of the Great Leap Forward.

Daqing, on the other hand, was a cold and barren wasteland in Heilongjiang province, in China’s remote north-east. In 1959, a group of drillers battled the hostile conditions and struck oil in Daqing. It became one of China’s most prolific and lucrative oil fields, and by the end of 1963 was producing five million tonnes of oil a year. The discovery of Daqing’s vast reserves allowed China to become self-sufficient in oil, ending its reliance on foreign imports.


Notably, each of these models had a hero from whom the Chinese people were urged to study and emulate in their own work, their life and their attitude towards the Party. In the case of the PLA, that hero was Lei Feng (雷锋), a 21-year-old soldier who was killed when a telegraph pole fell on him in August 1962.[12] According to CCP propaganda, Lei Feng’s diaries showed a young man of outstanding character and commitment to the revolution. Even though his family suffered at the hands of greedy landlords, the treacherous Nationalists and bloodthirsty Japanese invaders, Lei grew up to become a diligent worker and demonstrated unflinching loyalty to Chairman Mao, the CCP, his community and his comrades. In addition to being a good soldier, Lei was always eager to help others, sewing for his fellow soldiers, sharing his food with those who were hungry and donating part of his wages to needy peasants. The ‘Learn from Lei Feng’ (学习雷锋) campaign thus promoted him as both a martyr and a symbol of the new China. His selflessness and devotion to socialism were held up as a shining example for all Chinese people. In particular, Lei’s story was used to embarrass and condemn suspected Rightists and ‘capitalist roaders’ who, by comparison, were said to lack his character.


As for Dazhai and Daqing, the heroes were Cheng Yonggui (程永贵)[13] and ‘Iron Man’ Wang Jinxi (铁人王进喜).[14] Cheng was Dazhai’s commune foreman. For his achievements, he was even moved to Beijing where he was given a seat on the CCP Politburo and served as one of the vice premiers. Wang, on the other hand, was the legendary foreman of the drill team that found the first significant oil deposits in Daqing.


Mao’s Twenty-Three Articles (1965)


In addition to the ‘Learn from…’ campaigns, Mao also worked on his own new program document for the SEM to undergo a further orientational change. In December 1964, Mao put forward the concept of a “bureaucratic class” (官僚主义者階級) and “leaders taking the capitalist road” (走資本主义道路的领导人). To tackle the problems, Mao issued what came to be known as the Twenty-three Articles (二十三条) in January 1965. The program stressed on the continuation of class struggle and attacked "party authorities" for neglecting such contradictions and for taking the capitalist road.[15] Mao thus advocated also Four Cleanups which he now defined as the cleaning up of politics (清政治), the economy (清经济), organization (清组织), and ideology (清思想). Because of these Four Clean-ups (大四清 aka “big Four Cleanups” to differentiate from the earlier “small Four Cleanups”小四清), the SEM is also known as the "Four Cleanups Movement" (四清运动). The Four Cleanups were now officially redefined in such a way as to shift the focus of the campaign away from the essentially purgative task of "cleaning up" petty economic corruption in the villages towards a broader, more diffuse and positive stress on "basic construction" (基本建设) of rural Party organs in the political, economic, ideological and organizational fields. In addition to the inauguration of a major drive to "revolutionize" Party committees at the county (县) level, there was also an intensive nationwide mass movement to study and apply the thought of Mao Zedong.


The major focus of socialist education work in this final pre-Cultural Revolution stage of the campaign was the widely-observed "contradiction" between political imperatives (e.g. "rely on the poor and lower-middle peasants") and economic exigencies (e.g. the necessity to provide material incentives to "activate" the more productive middle peasants). There was a serious challenge from the "pure production viewpoint" (that so long as production work is done well, politics is good) to Maoist agrarian orthodox policies (that politics must be in command of all economic and productive tasks) in the countryside. The “Maoist agrarian orthodoxy” and the “pure production viewpoint” represented the “struggle between two roads” in agricultural policy.[16]


Moreover, opposition to Mao-study was indeed relatively widespread among high-level Party officials at the Central Committee, Regional Bureau and provincial levels.[17] Throughout the autumn and winter of 1965-66 the national and provincial Party media consistently stressed the need for rural cadres and peasants to place "politics in command" of all economic and productive tasks. Hence, by this point, both the Party-oriented revolution and the mass-oriented Mao-study movement were directed specifically at the resolution of the contradiction between politics and production.


In effect, Mao reoriented the campaign so that it would be an educational effort on the evils of revisionism but more importantly, the targets of this effort would be the “capitalist roaders in power within the Party” (“党内那些走资本主义道路的当权派”). The objective of SEM had now evolved from the rectification of basic level to now targeting those in powers. He envisaged that China would be totally cleansed of remaining class struggles in any field after six or seven years.


Notably, although the SEM was specifically aimed at overcoming "spontaneous capitalist tendencies" in the villages, at no time did the movement envisage a wholesale retreat from private plots, free markets and piece-rate wage incentives per se. The "Sixty Articles" on commune management which Mao had a hand in drafting in March 1961 were never repudiated during the movement. What was at issue were the tolerable limits of private farming and material incentives.[18]


On the whole, Mao's efforts to use rectification as a means of forcing his political agenda on the society proved only partially successful. In a rather rare display of candour, a major regional newspaper in October 1966 published, as its lead article, a story which explicitly admitted that the SEM had been relatively ineffective in resolving certain "old, great and difficult problems" in the Chinese countryside. According to the article, the basic reason for this failure was said to be the fact that "the broad masses of cadres and peasants were not armed with the thought of Mao Tse-tung".[19] The major premise of the SEM (i.e. the Maoist claim that “class struggle is instantly effective” (阶级斗争一抓就灵) had apparently proved to be over-optimistic. It thus remained for the Cultural Revolution to reignite the spluttering flame of revolutionary reform and rectification.

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[1] See Cambridge History of China. Vol 14. Pg. 348 - 359

[2] See Ulrich Theobald. (2017). “The Socialist Education Movement 1962-1966.” ChinaKnowledge - An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art. September 1, 2017.

[3] See Richard Baum and Frederick C. Teiwes. (1968). “Ssu-Ch'ing: The Socialist Education Movement of 1962-1966.” Berkeley: University of California Center for Chinese Studies.

[4] See Richard Baum. (1969). “Revolution and Reaction in the Chinese Countryside: The Socialist Education Movement inCultural Revolutionary Perspective.” The China Quarterly, No. 38 (Apr. - Jun., 1969), Pg. 93.

[5] See Ulrich Theobald. (2017).

[6] This Five Antis Campaign should not be confused with the other campaign of the same name that peaked in early 1952.

[7] The term "five category elements" refers to individuals whose family background is that of landlord, rich peasant, counter-revolutionary, "bad element" or unreformed rightist.

[8] See Richard Baum. (1969). “Revolution and Reaction in the Chinese Countryside: The Socialist Education Movement inCultural Revolutionary Perspective.” The China Quarterly, No. 38 (Apr. - Jun., 1969), Pg. 94.

[9] See Roderick MacFarquhar. (1997). “The Politics of China: The Eras of Mao and Deng.” Cambridge University Press. Pg 139.

[10] See Richard Baum. (1969). Pg. 95.

[11] See Bill Brugger & Stephen Reglar. (1994). “Politics, Economy and Society in Contemporary China.”. Stanford University Press. Pg 117.

[12] See “Lei Feng.” Chineseposters.Net

[13] See “Cheng Yonggui”. Chineseposters.Net

[14] See “Wang Jinxi”. Chineseposters.Net

[15] See Ulrich Theobald. (2017).

[16] See Parris H. Chang. (1968). "Struggle Between the Two Roads in China's Countryside." Current Scene (Hong Kong), Vol. VI, No. 3 (15 February 1968).

[17] See Philip Bridgham. (1967). "Mao's 'Cultural Revolution': Origin and Development," The China Quarterly, No. 29 (January-March 1967), pp. 16-19.

[18] See Richard Baum. (1969). Pg 96.

[19] Quoted in Richard Baum. (1969). Pg 98.