Rectification Suppresses Enlightenment

Ruoshui Wang


With the advent of the 21st century, we find that the goals of the May Fourth movement remain yet  to be achieved. Why? Were they overwhelmed by "national salvation," or by "revolution," as some scholars have claimed?

In the late 1930s, inspired by the cause of the Anti-Japanese War andthe democratization of China, thousands upon thousands of students and intellectuals rushed toYan'an, the capital of the Red Area in China, where they were confronted with the RectificationMovement.

A Rectification Movement had long been propagandized as an emancipationmovement of the mind. Indeed, as long as it aimed at the dogmatism of the Comintern, this is in fact what it was.  But Maoextended his target to all intellectuals and to book learning. According to Mao, intellectualscarried a great deal of the muck of the exploiting classes in their heads;  hence it wasessential to launch an ideological struggle. This struggle resulted in  terrorism and masspersecution, of which Wang Shiwei was a well-known victim.

Our analyses show that Mao's real target was the spirit of enlightenment and the tradition of critical thinking that had been embraced by intellectuals. While he was contending withWang Ming, Mao needed to borrow some enlightenment principles as an weapon; but whenthe  intellectuals expressed theirown enlightened ideas, Mao condemned them and forbade them inthe name ofthe "workers-peasants-soldiers."  In Mao's eyes, the  intelligentsiawas an inferiorstratum, and they would need to humiliate themselves for along period of time before they could become trueproletarian revolutionaries.