Hundred Flowers Campaign

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History of the
People's Republic of China
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    1949–1976, The Mao Era
        Korean War
        Hundred Flowers Campaign
        Anti-Rightist Movement
        Great Leap Forward
            Three Years of Natural Disasters
        Cultural Revolution
            Lin Biao
            Gang of Four
            Tiananmen Incident
    1976–1989, Era of Reconstruction
        Economic reform
        Tiananmen protests
    1989–2002, A Rising Power
        One Country, Two Systems
            Hong Kong
        Chinese reunification
    2002–present, China Today

   See also:
        History of China
        History of Beijing
        History of Shanghai

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The Hundred Flowers Campaign, also termed the Hundred Flowers Movement (Simplified Chinese: 百花运动; pinyin: bǎihuā yùndòng) and the “Double Hundred Campaign," refers to a brief period in the history of the People's Republic of China, from 1956 to mid-1957, during which the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) encouraged intellectuals and non-party members to criticize the government and offer advice. The launch of the First Five-Year Plan (1953-1957) to collectivize agriculture and nationalize industry required the support of the educated classes in order to succeed. In order to secure their participation in the government, Zhou Enlai and other prominent Central Government officials encouraged them to speak out about government policies and the existing problems. Mao Zedong promoted this campaign, naming the movement from a poem: Simplified Chinese: 百花齐放,百家争鸣; Traditional Chinese: 百花齊放,百家爭鳴; pinyin: bǎi huā qífàng, bǎi jiā zhēngmíng; English translation: "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend."

When millions of letters poured in to the government, Mao perceived the Hundred Flowers Campaign as a threat to his leadership and halted it in July, 1957. He then began an “Anti-Rightist Campaign” which identified and labeled 300,000 intellectuals as “rightists” and effectively silenced any opposition to the excesses of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.


After the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, land reforms dominated the agenda of the new communist government. In the early 1950s, the three-anti/five-anti campaigns, targeting capitalists, business owners and political opponents, effectively brought an end to private ownership of land, and purged many people deemed to be “bourgeoisie” by the Chinese Communist Party. The campaigns also created immense psychological pressure which discouraged anyone from speaking out about anything, or taking any initiative which might be misinterpreted as an attempt at personal gain. Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong re-interpreted Marxism-Leninism into the radical guiding ideology of the early 1950s.

China needed revenue to pay for Russian aid and to finance the expansion of heavy industry. In order to increase agricultural and industrial production, the Chinese Communist Party launched the First Five-Year Plan (1953 – 1957) to collectivize agriculture and nationalize industry. These activities required large numbers of trained and capable personnel, and it became clear that the support of the educated classes would be necessary for the strategy to succeed. In order to secure this cooperation, both restraints and inducements were introduced. What later came to be known as the “Hundred Flowers Movement” began as a small campaign by Premier Zhou Enlai and other prominent Central Government officials to stimulate the participation of local non-communist-affiliated intellectuals in government, by encouraging them to speak out about the policies and the existing problems within the central government in a manner previously considered illegal. However, very few spoke out openly and the campaign was ineffective.

Hundred Flowers

During a Politburo meeting in 1956, Zhou Enlai emphasized the need for a bigger campaign, aimed this time at mobilizing the sea of Chinese intellectuals to offer suggestions about government policies, in theory to allow better, more balanced governance. "The government needs criticism from its people," Zhou said in one of his 1956 speeches, "Without this criticism the government will not be able to function as the 'People's Democratic Dictatorship'. Thus the basis of a healthy government lost… We must learn from old mistakes, take all forms of healthy criticism, and do what we can to answer these criticisms." [1]

Mao had observed the Khruschev-led attack on Stalin’s severely restrictive policies in the Soviet Union, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the Soviets, and feared that a similar political backlash might occur in China against the restrictive policies of the Communist government. Mao superseded Zhou and took control of the campaign to encourage criticism of the government. The idea was to have intellectuals discuss the country's problems in order to promote new forms of art and new cultural institutions. Mao also saw this as a chance to promote socialism, and believed that, after discussion, it would be apparent that socialist ideology was superior to capitalism, even among non-communist Chinese.

In a speech made by Mao at the Eleventh Session of the Supreme State Conference in February, 1957, titled On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People, Mao displayed open support for the campaign, saying "Our society cannot back down, it could only progress… criticism of the bureaucracy is pushing the government towards the better." The speech, marking the beginning of the Hundred Flowers Movement, encouraged people to vent their criticisms as long as they were "constructive" ("among the people") rather than "hateful and destructive" ("between the enemy and ourselves").

The name of the movement originated in a poem: Simplified Chinese: 百花齐放,百家争鸣; Traditional Chinese: 百花齊放,百家爭鳴; pinyin: bǎi huā qífàng, bǎi jiā zhēngmíng; English translation: "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend." It was an allusion to the Hundred Schools of Thought of the Warring States period, when numerous schools of thought competed for ideological supremacy. The name implied that Mao wanted Chinese intellectuals espousing different and competing ideologies to voice their opinions about the issues of the day. Truth would emerge from its struggle with falsehood, and good people would develop themselves by struggling with bad people. Just as Confucianism had gained prominence in the past, socialism would now emerge as the strongest ideology. For Mao, the “hundred flowers” represented the arts, and the “hundred schools of thought” represented the development of science.

Early Stages

The campaign began publicly late in 1956. In the opening stages of the movement, the issues discussed were relatively minor and unimportant. The Central Government did not receive much criticism, although there was a significant increase in the number of letters offering conservative advice. Premier Zhou Enlai received some of these letters, and once again realized that, although the campaign had gained notable publicity, it was not progressing as had been hoped. Zhou approached Mao and suggested that the central bureaucracy must create a state of euphoria in order to lead Chinese intellectuals into further discussion.

By the spring of 1957, Mao had announced that criticism was "preferred" and had begun to mount pressure on those who did not turn in healthy criticism on policy to the Central Government. Many perceived this as a desperate measure to get the campaign going. The response among intellectuals was immediate, and they began voicing concerns without restraint.

Criticism of Government

Chinese who had been educated in Europe and America were the first to come forward. Teachers demanded more academic freedom. Lawyers complained that the National Peoples Congress was too slow in passing and enacting the laws that had already been drafted, and that unqualified Party cadres were interfering with legal institutions and placing themselves above the law. Scientists criticized the unqualified Party cadres who were directing their research, and complained that political meetings took them away from their work. [2] People spoke out by putting up posters on university campuses, rallying in the streets, holding meetings for CCP members, and publishing magazine articles. For example, students at Peking University created a "Democratic Wall" on which they criticized the CCP with posters[3]. "They protested CCP control over intellectuals, the harshness of previous mass campaigns such as that against counterrevolutionaries, the slavish following of Soviet models, the low standards of living in China, the proscription of foreign literature, economic corruption among party cadres, and the fact that 'Party members [enjoyed] many privileges which make them a race apart'"[4].

During the period from June 1 to July 17, 1957, millions of letters poured in to the Premier's Office and other authorities, and the situation began to get out of control. In Mao's opinion, many of these letters violated the boundaries of "healthy criticism" and the criticism had reached a "harmful and uncontrollable" level. The letters advised the government to "govern democratically" and "open up," and generally attacked the government's political state. Initially, Premier Zhou Enlai explored some of these criticisms and considered them in a moderate way. Mao, however, seems to have refused to do so himself. The campaign raised the old apprehension that those who criticize the government threaten the legitimacy of their leadership. By early July 1957, the campaign had become impossible to control. Mao viewed many of the letters of criticism as absurd. Intellectuals and others were suggesting radical ideas such as: "the CCP should give up power," "intellectuals are virtually being tortured while living in a communist society," "there is a total lack of freedom if the CCP is to continue on ruling the country," "the country should separate, with each Political Party controlling a zone of its own" and "Each political party in China should rule in transitional governments, each with a four year term." [5]

Hundred Flowers as Entrapment

In July 1957, Mao ordered a halt to the campaign. Mao now began to utilize his Hundred Flower campaign to "(entice) snakes out of their lairs,"[6] and identify and eliminate his political enemies. Those who had voiced their criticisms now came under suspicion, and were rounded up in the Anti-Rightist Campaign. The text of Mao's earlier speech, "On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People," was altered and appeared in the Peoples Daily as an anti-rightist piece.

By the end of 1957, 300,000 people had been labeled as rightists, including the writer Ding Ling. Future premier Zhu Rongji, then working in the State Planning Commission, was purged in 1958. Most of the accused were intellectuals. The penalties included informal criticism, "re-education through labor," and, in some cases, execution.

One casualty of the Anti-Rightist Movement was the independent legal system. Legal professionals were transferred to other jobs, and judicial power was exercised instead by political cadres and the police. The purges extended to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party; at the Lushan Meeting of July 2 –August 16, 1959, General Peng Dehuai was condemned for criticizing the Great Leap Forward and the resulting three-year famine.

Some historians have concluded that Mao had planned this outcome before the campaign had even begun, and that the real purpose of the Hundred Flower Campaign was to identify his critics and silence them. Others believe that Mao had not expected the Hundred Flowers Campaign to escalate as it did, and quickly crushed it when he perceived it as a threat to his leadership.

Effects of the Hundred Flowers Campaign

The Hundred Flowers Campaign, in which the government opened up to ideological criticisms from the general public, was the first, and perhaps the last, of its kind in the history of the People's Republic of China. Although its true nature has always been questioned by historians, it can be generally concluded that the events that took place alarmed the central communist leadership. A similar challenge to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party did not occur again until the late 1980s, leading up to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and not under official encouragement by the government.

The Hundred Flowers Campaign resembled a pattern that had appeared earlier in Chinese history, wherein free thought was promoted by the government and then suppressed by it.

The Hundred Flowers Campaign had a lasting impact on Mao's ideological perception. Mao, known historically to have been more ideological and theoretical than pragmatic, continued to attempt to enforce communist ideals in future movements.

The Anti-Rightist Campaign which followed the Hundred Flowers Campaign effectively silenced all criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, so that there was no one to speak out against the brutality and the excesses of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution which followed. [7]

See also

  • Politicide
  • History of the People's Republic of China
  • Great Leap Forward
  • Anti-Rightist Movement
  • List of CCP Campaigns


  1. Stuart Schramm. Mao Tse-tung. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966. ASIN: B0000CN65B)
  2. Dorothy Perkins. Encyclopedia of China: the essential reference to China, its history and culture. (New York: Facts on File, 1999), 227
  3. Jonathan D. Spence. (New York: Norton, 1999), 541.
  4. Ibid., 540–541.
  5. Schramm
  6. Jung Chang. Wild Swans: three daughters of China. (New York: Simon & Schuster, Anchor Books, 1991)
  7. W. Scott Morton and Charlton M. Lewis. China: its history and culture. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 212

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chang, Jung. 1991. Wild swans: three daughters of China. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671685465
  • Das, Naranarayan. 1979. China's hundred weeds: a study of the anti-rightist campaign in China, 1957-58. Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi.
  • MacFarquhar, Roderick. 1974. Contradictions among the people, 1956-1957. New York: Published for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the East Asian Institute of Columbia University, and the Research Institute on Communist Affairs of Columbia University by Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231038410
  • __________. 1960. The hundred flowers campaign and the Chinese intellectuals. New York: Praeger.
  • Meisner, Maurice J., 1986. Mao's China and after: a history of the People's Republic. The Transformation of modern China series. New York: Free Press. ISBN 002920870X (177–180)
  • Morton, W. Scott, and Charlton M. Lewis. 2005. China: its history and culture. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0071412794
  • Perkins, Dorothy. 1999. Encyclopedia of China: the essential reference to China, its history and culture. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0816026939
  • Schramm, Stuart. Mao Tse-tung. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966. ASIN: B0000CN65B.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. 1990. The search for modern China. New York: Norton. ISBN 0393027082 (539–543)
  • Zhu Zheng. 1998. 1957 nian de xiaji: Cong bai jia zhengming dao liang jia zhengming. Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe.

External links

All links retrieved January 19, 2018.

  • Tony Cliff. China: The Hundred Flowers Wilt. From Socialist Review (Mid-May 1959). Reprinted in A Socialist Review London (1965): 236-241. Transcribed by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


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