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Hundred Flowers Campaign

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Title: Hundred Flowers Campaign  
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Hundred Flowers Campaign

The Hundred Flowers Campaign, also termed the Hundred Flowers Movement (simplified Chinese: 百花运动; traditional Chinese: 百花運動; pinyin: Bǎihuā yùndòng), was a period in 1956 in the People's Republic of China[1] during which the Communist Party of China (CPC) encouraged its citizens to openly express their opinions of the communist regime. Differing views and solutions to national policy were encouraged based on the famous expression by Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong: "The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science."[2][3] After this brief period of liberalization, Mao abruptly changed course. The crackdown continued through 1957 as an Anti-Rightist Campaign against those who were critical of the regime and its ideology. Those targeted were publicly criticized and condemned to prison labor camps.[4] Mao remarked at the time that he had "enticed the snakes out of their caves."[4][5]

The first part of the phrase is often remembered as "let a hundred flowers bloom". It is used to refer to an orchestrated campaign to flush out dissidents by encouraging them to show themselves as critical of the regime, and then subsequently imprison them. This view is supported by authors Clive James and Jung Chang, who posit that the campaign was, from the start, a ruse intended to expose rightists and counter-revolutionaries, and that Mao Zedong persecuted those whose views were different from the party's.

Mao's personal physician Li Zhisui, suggested that the campaign was "a gamble, based on a calculation that genuine counterrevolutionaries were few, that rebels like Hu Feng had been permanently intimidated into silence, and that other intellectuals would follow Mao's lead, speaking out only against the people and practices Mao himself most wanted to subject to reform."[6] Only when criticisms began shifting toward him personally did Mao move to suppress the Hundred Flowers movement and punish some of its participants.

The ideological crackdown following the campaign's failure re-imposed Maoist orthodoxy in public expression, and catalyzed the Anti-Rightist Movement.


In the summer Mao found the idea interesting, and had superseded Zhou Enlai to take control. The idea was to have intellectuals discuss the country's problems in order to promote new forms of arts and new cultural institutions. Mao, however, also saw this as the chance to promote socialism. He believed that after discussion it would be apparent that socialist ideology was the dominant ideology over capitalism, even amongst non-communist Chinese, and would thus propel the development and spread of the goals of socialism.

The beginning of the Hundred Flowers Movement was marked by a speech titled On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People, in which 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, published on February 27, 1957, 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: bǎihuā qífàng, bǎijiā zhēngmíng ("Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend"). Mao had used this to signal what he had wanted from the intellectuals of the country, for different and competing ideologies to voice their opinions about the issues of the day. He alluded to the Warring States era when numerous schools of thought competed for ideological, not military, supremacy. Historically, Confucianism and Taoism had gained prominence, and socialism would now stand to its test.

Campaign launch

The campaign publicly began in late 1956. In the opening stage of the movement, issues discussed were relatively minor and unimportant in the grand scheme. The Central Government did not receive much criticism, although there was a significant rise in letters of 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 about the situation, stating that more encouragement was needed from the central bureaucracy to lead the 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. The reception with intellectuals was immediate, and they began voicing concerns without any taboo. In the period from May 1 to June 7, 1957, millions of letters were pouring into the Premier's Office and other authorities.

People spoke out by putting up posters around campuses, rallying in the streets, holding meetings for CPC members, and publishing magazine articles. For example, students at Peking University created a "Democratic Wall" on which they criticized the CPC with posters and letters.[7] "They protested CPC 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'".[7]

In Mao's opinion, many of these letters had violated the "healthy criticism" level and had reached a "harmful and uncontrollable" level. These letters had advised the government to "govern democratically" and "open up," and generally pounced on the government's political state. Premier Zhou Enlai had initially explored and moderately took in some of these criticisms. Mao, however, seems to have refused to do so himself. The campaign raised an old apprehension in government that those who criticize harmfully become a threat to the legitimacy of their leadership.

By early July 1957, the campaign had become too difficult to control, and Mao viewed many of the received letters as absurd. Intellectuals and others were suggesting radical ideas such as: "the CPC should give up power," "intellectuals are virtually being tortured while living in a communist society," "there is a total lack of freedom if the CPC 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 4 year term." etc.[8]


In July 1957, Mao ordered a halt to the campaign. By that time Mao had witnessed Nikita Khrushchev denouncing Joseph Stalin and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, events by which he felt threatened. Mao's earlier speech, On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People, was significantly changed and appeared later on as an anti-rightist piece in itself.

The campaign made a lasting impact on Mao's ideological perception. Mao, who is known historically to be more ideological and theoretical, less pragmatic and practical, continued to attempt to solidify socialist ideals in future movements, and in the case of the Cultural Revolution, employed more violent means. Another result of the Hundred Flowers Campaign was that it discouraged dissent and made intellectuals reluctant to criticize Mao and his party in the future. The Anti-Rightist Movement, that shortly followed and was possibly caused by the Hundred Flowers Campaign, resulted in the persecution of intellectuals, officials, students, artists and dissidents labeled "rightists".[9] The campaign led to a loss of individual rights, especially for any Chinese intellectuals educated in Western centers of learning.

The Hundred Flowers Movement was the first of its kind in the history of the People's Republic of China in that the government opened up to ideological criticisms from the general public. 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. The movement also represented a pattern that has emerged from Chinese history wherein free thought is promoted by the government, and then suppressed by it. A similar surge in ideological thought would not occur again until the late 1980s, leading up to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The latter surge, however, did not receive the same amount of government backing and encouragement.

Another important issue of the campaign was the tension that surfaced between the political center and national minorities. With criticism allowed, some of the minorities' activists made public their protest against "Han chauvinism" which they saw in formal approach of the party officials toward the local specifics.[10]

Harry Wu, founder of the Laogai Research Foundation, described his experiences during the campaign in his books.

See also


  1. ^ MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Hundred Flowers, 1960, pp. 3
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Spence, Jonathan D. The Search For Modern China. 2nd edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990. (pp. 539–43)
  8. ^ Schramm, Stuart. 1967.
  9. ^ Link, Perry. Legacy of a Maoist Injustice, The Repository, July 23rd, 2007.
  10. ^ Teiwes in MacFarquhar, ed., The Politics of China, 1949-1989, p.53


  • MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Hundred Flowers, Paris: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1960.
  • MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Origins of the Cultural Revolution: Contradictions Among the People, 1956-1957. Columbia University Press, 1973.
  • Zhu Zheng. 1957 nian de xiaji: Cong bai jia zhengming dao liang jia zhengming. Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe, 1998.
  • Meisner, Maurice. Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic. New York: Macmillan, 1986. (pp. 177–80)
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