“Leftists,” “Moderates,” and “Rightists”: Classification of Party Loyalty among College Students in the Anti-rightist Campaign, 1957

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 9:10 AM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Yidi Wu, Saint Mary’s College
In June 1957, Mao Zedong reversed his earlier policy of “let a hundred flowers bloom, and let a hundred school of thoughts contend” and launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign, in which many democratic party members and intellectuals were labeled “rightists.” Such classification was not only restricted to “rightists,” but it also included the categories of “leftists” and “moderates,” the last of which were further categorized into “left-leaning,” “right-leaning” and “average” groups. This paper explores how Mao generated the categories of “leftists,” “centrists,” and “rightists,” how university authorities categorized students, and how students complied with or resisted the process of classification.

Using archival sources and oral history interviews, my paper investigates the mechanisms behind and the manipulation of the classification of students’ Party loyalty, and lived experiences behind the statistics of categorization. In order to present a full spectrum of political participation, my paper traces narratives from “leftists,” “moderates,” and “rightists” among college students, and seeks to understand their mentality in this political campaign. I argue that the Anti-Rightist Campaign was not simply a campaign against “rightists,” but a classification of everyone into “leftists,” “centrists” and “rightists” as a label of one’s Party loyalty rather than one’s political orientation or ideology. The criteria of classification were ambiguous and unstable, creating difficulties for local cadres to execute the classification and insecurities for everyone involved in the campaign. In the end, enforced classification as experienced during this historical juncture had a lasting effect on people’s careers and lives.