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Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries

The Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries (Chinese: 镇压反革命; pinyin: zhènyā fǎn gémìng; literally: "suppressing counterrevolutionaries" or abbreviated as Chinese: 鎮反; pinyin: zhènfǎn) was the first political campaign launched by the People's Republic of China designed to eradicate opposition elements, especially former Kuomintang (KMT) functionaries accused of trying undermine the new Communist government.[1] It began on March 1950 when the Chinese Communist central committee issued the Directive on elimination of bandits and establishment of revolutionary new order (Chinese: 關於嚴厲鎮壓反革命分子活動的指示).

The campaign was implemented as a response to the rebellions that were commonplace in the early years of the People's Republic of China. Those targeted during the campaign in were thereafter labeled as "counterrevolutionaries", and were publicly denounced in mass trials. Significant numbers of "counterrevolutionaries" were arrested and executed and even more sentenced to "labor reform" (Chinese: 勞動改造; pinyin: láodòng gǎizào).[2]


  • Background 1
  • Initial campaign 2
  • Further implementation 3
  • Consequences 4
    • Deaths 4.1
    • Sufan movement 4.2
  • See also 5
  • Sources 6
  • External links 7


Professor Yang Kuisong noted the strong resistance against the Communist government during the early days of the People's Republic of China, mostly from remnants of the KMT.[1] According to Chinese state media, after the victory of the CCP in the Chinese Civil War, remnants of the Kuomintang continued to gather intelligence, conduct sabotage, destroy transportation links, loot supplies, and entice armed rebellion through bandits and secret agents.[3]

According to Chinese historians, between January and October 1950, there were over 800 counter-revolutionary riots nationwide, and that more than 40,000 political activists and masses of cadres were killed as a result. The government alleged that in Guangxi Province alone, counter-revolutionaries burned and destroyed more than 25,000 buildings and robbed over 200,000 head of cattle.[1][4]

In March 1950, the CCP Central Committee issued "Counter-Revolutionary Activities and instructions for Repression." Starting from December 1950, the large-scale suppression of the counter-revolutionary movement was carried out. The official focus of the campaign were bandits (such as Guan Fei), as well as counter-revolutionary underground bands.

Initial campaign

1950 propaganda poster

In March 1950, Liu Shaoqi, who was then in charge of the Central Committee, had issued a "Directive on elimination of bandits and establishment of revolutionary new order", ordering the Public Security Department (公安局) to list all the Kuomintang members, and stressed that whoever was opposing the rule of CPC must be heavily suppressed and punished.[1] As a result, numerous former KMT members were forced to register and identify themselves, and were promised leniency as a result.

However, this initiative was criticized for being too lenient by many government officials, who called for harsher measures. In particular, Peng Zhen argued that KMT agents took advantage of the policy to stage further attacks. "Having corrected a tendency of wanton beating and killing, our lenient policies in many places have deviated towards another mistake of lenience without bounds, lenience to an extent that has demoralized ourselves and emboldened the bandits and enemy agents ... that has swollen the enemy’s arrogance and alienated the people."[1]

Yang noted that while Mao did not initially respond to the calls, his attitude changed following the outbreak of the Korean War. On October 10, 1950, Mao issued a new "Directive on suppression of counterrevolutionary activities", also known as the "Double-ten Directive", initiating a large scale suppression of counterrevolutionaries, and personally oversaw the operations.

Yang noted that the timeframe of the Korean War and the land reform campaign provided a short opportunity to initiate the campaign successfully, provided that it was implemented with care. Mao's decision to initiate the campaign was highlighted in a conversation with Luo Ruiqing, then Minister of public security, "[We] must not miss this opportunity. Probably this is our only operation for suppressing counterrevolutionaries. This will not happen again in the future and therefore is a golden opportunity. Full advantage of this asset must be taken. The purpose is not just to kill several counterrevolutionaries. More importantly, this [campaign] is for mass mobilization."[1][5]

Yang also noted Liu Shaoqi's explanation on why the war in Korea facilitated the suppression of counterrevolutionaries, "Once the gongs and drums of resisting the United States and assisting Korea begin to make a deafening sound, the gongs and drums of the land reform and suppression of counter-revolutionaries become barely audible, and the latter becomes much easier to implement. Without the loud gongs and drums of resisting the United States and assisting Korea, those of the land reform (and zhenfan) would make unbearable noise. Here a landlord is killed and there another is beaten; there would be fuss everywhere. Things would then become difficult."[1] Yang argued that the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries was initiated in parallel with the Chinese entrance to the Korean War as a means of establishing its political authority amongst the Chinese populace via promoting patriotism and suppressing opposition elements.

The Double-ten Directive stressed on the "educational" effects of the campaign, and cases of execution were publicized by the newspapers to inform the masses.[1] However, following the implementation of the campaign, Liu Shaoqi became concerned that the campaign could become too excessive. He stated, "If every execution is to appear on the newspapers, then there would be too much of the news on execution. I am afraid there would be side effects, like someone might begin to show suspicion on us being 'kill too many' or 'overreact'", arguing that the campaign should be moderated to avoid creating a negative image of the CCP.[1]

Yang noted that initially, Mao agreed with Liu's suggestions, criticizing the "tactless" and "indiscriminate" purges in various provinces, which created an "excessively nervous atmosphere". Furthermore Mao argued that "If our cadres do not have a clear idea about this and stick strictly to it, opportunities will be created for counterrevolutionaries, democratic personages will become discontent, and the people will not support us. Then our Party may fall into a difficult situation."[1] As a result, many provinces ceased the executions in accordance.

Further implementation

However, by January 1951, while the Chinese won major battles in the Korean War and public support at home began to rise, Mao became dissatisfied by the progress of the campaign. He argued that the power base of the former landlords and KMT officials had not been broken as a result of leniency, and that further executions are a necessary step. Mao stated, "If we are irresolute and tolerant to this evil, we will ... alienate the people", proposing that further executions should be carried out in areas with large concentration of bandits, "As long as we do not kill the wrong people".[1] On 21 January 1951, Mao sent a telegram to party members in Shanghai: "In a big city like Shanghai, probably it will take one to two thousand executions during this year to solve the problem. In the spring, three to five hundred executions will be needed to suppress the enemy’s arrogance and enhance the people’s morale. In Nanjing, the East China Bureau should direct the party’s municipality committee ... and strive to execute one to two hundred of the most important reactionaries in the spring."[1] A day later, 22 January 1951, Mao told the communists in Guangdong: "It is very good that you have already killed more than 3,700. Another three to four thousand should be killed ... the target for this year’s executions may be eight or nine thousand."[1]

Yang noted that Mao implemented a quota for the executions in accordance with local populations. Mao argued that hardline counterrevolutionaries counted for less than 1 percent of the population in all regions, and that roughly 0.1 per cent of the population would have to be executed in order to get rid of the worst counterrevolutionary elements, while avoiding killing innocents.[1] However, in reality, many provinces did not have enough counterrevolutionaries to meet the quota, and lacked the facilities to implement the mass arrests. As a result, many people were arrested recklessly based on assumptions, and many cases were decided without thorough examination.

On February 21, 1951, the "Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on punishment of counterrevolutionaries" was issued, which sets out the various "counterrevolutionary" crimes, including "collaborating with imperialism", "bribing government officials", "participating in armed rebellion", "participating in spying or espionage", and "looting and sabotage". Death penalties or life imprisonment would be given depending on the seriousness of the crime.[1] Later on, the charges of "local tyrants", and "historical counterrevolutionaries" who had incurred "blood debts", were added.

However, the charges were known for their vagueness and lack of concrete criteria, and many people were executed simply because of accusations or association with the former KMT government. In despite of this, by March 1951, many large cities implemented the campaign upon the urgings of Mao. Mao argued that as long as the campaign targeted despised figures of society, the mass populace would be incited to support the campaign. Though he initially wanted to avoid inviting people outside the party, Mao's predictions was correct. Much of the trials of accused counterrevolutionaries had popular turnout, being heavily advertised on radio, and many of the invited civilians participated in the trials themselves.[1] Jung Chang noted that in Beijing alone there were some 30,000 rallies attended by over 3 million people,[6] and in one such rally, 200 people were paraded and executed with their blood splattering out on bystanders, and trucks carrying blood-stained corpses drove through the streets.[6]

By late 1951, the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries was briefly superseded by the Three-anti/five-anti campaigns, but continued until August 1952.


As the Chinese Communist Party first major political campaign, the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries was ultimately successful in eradicating bands of KMT underground forces. As a result, the various KMT sponsored assassination and sabotage campaigns, which once posed a large threat to CCP authorities, was greatly reduced.[1] Yang noted the suppressions successfully destroyed KMT's hopes of retaking mainland China, as well as achieving the goal of mass mobilization by inciting popular support of party policies.

The campaign highlighted Mao's beliefs of class struggle through the revolutionary class. The ensuing repression and mass executions also paved the way for a subsequent series campaigns against class enemies, such as the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Cultural Revolution that resulted in failure and more tragedies. In particular, it also led to the implementation of quotas in further CCP campaigns, which were assigned to local officials as a means of indicating the results of such campaigns. Yang argued that such measures later proved to be counterproductive and led to excesses.[1]

Yang also noted the large amount of wrongly convicted cases, which he attributed to the vagueness of the regulations, attempts by local officials to please superiors, lack of law enforcement in local government, personal grievances, and irrational crowds.[1] In 1953, Xinhua News Agency investigated the claims, finding that in various provinces, Many of the accused counterrevolutionaries were falsely labelled because of local disputes, and many local officials used the campaign to rid themselves of political rivals. Furthermore, large number of former KMT personnel were targeted. Despite assurances by the CCP during the "basically there were no errors; that group of people should have been killed ... if they had not been killed the people would not have been able to raise their heads." Valentino argued that the biggest concern of the CPC during the campaigns was to urge local cadre to "not fear executing people only to fear mistakenly executing people" and to punish those who were too lenient and practiced "peaceful land reform".[7]


Figures vary on the total number of death as a result of the campaign. Yang Kuisong notes that while the official estimates say 712,000 were executed the actual number is likely much higher,[1] while Li Changyu puts the figure at 2 million[8] Most of the killed were former Kuomintang officials, businessmen, former employees of Western companies and intellectuals whose loyalty was suspect.[9] When the killings of rural landlords that occurred during land reform, which overlapped the counterrevolutionary campaign, are included, the estimates then range from 2 million[10][11] to 5 million[12][13] executions for the years 1949-1953, along with 1.5 million people,[5] to 6 million,[7] being sent to "reform through labour" camps where many perished.[7] Philip Short noted that such estimates exclude the hundreds of thousands driven to suicide during "struggle sessions" of the three-anti/five-anti campaigns, which also occurred around the same time.[14] Daniel Goldhagen estimated that the death toll for the period 1949-1953 could be as high as 10 million.[15]

The large number of deaths did not go unnoticed by local officials. Yang Kuisong noted that by May 1951, many provinces had called for a halt to the mass executions, but the killings had in fact increased due to acceptance of the suppression campaign as a means of settling local grievances. Mao also became concerned with the excessive executions, and suggested for the executions to be reduced to 0.05 percent, with a limit of 0.1 percent, while that the rest of the accused criminals can be sentenced to life imprisonment or hard labor instead.[1] Mao stated, "If we have such people executed, it will not be easily understood by the masses, nor will public figures be sympathetic; furthermore we would be deprived of a large pool of labor, and it would serve little use in dividing the enemy." [8]

According to Jean-louis Margolin, the harshness of the official prison system reached unprecedented levels, and the mortality rate until 1952 was "certainly in excess" of 5 percent per year, and reached 50 percent during six months in Guangxi.[16] In Shanxi, more than 300 people died per day in one mine.[16] Torture was commonplace and the suppression of revolts, which were quite numerous, resulted in "veritable massacres."[16] One Chinese priest died after being interrogated for over 100 hours. Of the 20,000 inmates who worked in the oilfields of Yanchang, several thousand were executed.[16]

By May 1951, the CCP Central Committee had issued a directive calling for a stop to the killings, giving the power of arrest and execution back to the central government. Furthermore, it clarified the procedures of dealing with accused counterrevolutionaries, as well as limiting the execution of death penalties to those with 'blood debts' or to have 'committed serious crimes'. Others who had received death penalties would have their sentences commuted by two years of manual labor, with their performance assessed as to determine whether the sentence would still be necessary.[1] Despite the directive, while mass arrests and executions subsided in some regions, they still continued, albeit with much more secrecy.

The human cost of the revolution is noted in a critical article from Time Magazine (March 5, 1956):

Sufan movement

Sufan was another purge campaign. The targets of Sufan directives were the communists, government bureaucrats, and the military personnel, where as Zhen Fan mainly targeted former Kuomintang personnel. Estimates of the number of victims of Sufan range widely; Jean-Louis Margolin writes in The Black Book of Communism that one source indicates 81,000 arrests during the campaign (which he claims is rather modest), while another gives 770,000 deaths. He concludes that there is no way to determine which is accurate.[18]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Yang Kuisong. Reconsidering the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries The China Quarterly, 193, March 2008, pp.102-121. PDF file.
  2. ^ Brown, Jeremy. "Terrible Honeymoon: Struggling with the Problem of Terror in Early 1950s China.". 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Short, Philip (2001). Mao: A Life. Owl Books. p. 436.  
  6. ^ a b Chang, Jung and Halliday, Jon. Mao: The Unknown Story. Jonathan Cape, London, 2005. p 337. ISBN 0-224-07126-2
  7. ^ a b c Benjamin A. Valentino. Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the Twentieth Century Cornell University Press, 2004. pp. 121-122. ISBN 0-8014-3965-5
  8. ^ a b Changyu, Li. "Mao's "Killing Quotas." Human Rights in China (HRIC). 26 September 2005, at Shandong University" (PDF). 
  9. ^ Steven W. Mosher. China Misperceived: American Illusions and Chinese Reality. Basic Books, 1992. ISBN 0-465-09813-4 p. 73
  10. ^ Maurice Meisner. Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic, Third Edition. Free,Press, 1999. ISBN 0-684-85635-2 p. 72: "...the estimate of many relatively impartial observers that there were 2,000,000 people executed during the first three years of the People's Republic is probably as accurate a guess as one can make on the basis of scanty information."
  11. ^ Twitchett, Denis;  
  12. ^ Steven W. Mosher. China Misperceived: American Illusions and Chinese Reality. Basic Books, 1992. ISBN 0-465-09813-4 pg 74: "...a figure that Fairbank has cited as the upper range of "sober" estimates."
  13. ^ Lee Feigon. Mao: A Reinterpretation. Ivan R. Dee, 2002. ISBN 1-56663-522-5 p. 96: "By 1952 they had extended land reform throughout the countryside, but in the process somewhere between two and five million landlords had been killed."
  14. ^ Short, Philip (2001). Mao: A Life. Owl Books. p. 437.  
  15. ^ Daniel Goldhagen. Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity. PublicAffairs, 2009. ISBN 1-58648-769-8 p. 410: "From 1949 to 1953, when the Chinese communists were consolidating power and laying the groundwork for their vast country's social and economic transformation to communism, the regime killed on the order of ten million people, mainly in their camps."
  16. ^ a b c d Stephane Courtois, et al. The Black Book of Communism. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 pp. 481-482
  17. ^ "High Tide of Terror".  
  18. ^ Stephane Courtois, et al. The Black Book of Communism. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 p. 485

External links

  • China's Bloody Century: Chapter 1 Introduction and Overview by R. J. Rummel See also: Estimates, sources and calculations (See lines 1 through 101 for death tolls on the campaigns mentioned in this article)
  • (Chinese) 杨成武谈揭批罗瑞卿实情, ("Yang Chengwu discusses the true facts about the campaign to expose and criticise Luo Ruiqing"), Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine, Beijing, 2005 Vol. 10. General Yang Chengwu, who took part in the campaign against Luo, recalls the events.
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