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Special Exhibit
Communism in China

Thought Control

Throughout its history, the CCP has had a core tradition of suppressing free thought. A half century ago, for example, on May 8, 1958, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong delivered a rambling dogmatic speech against the worthiness of age and the value of education to the second session of the Eighth Party Congress. In an unsettling display, Chairman Mao mocked an elderly historian for not praising China’s first Emperor Qin (Ch'in Shih Huang) in a tract he had written. The transcript records that someone . . .

“. . . interrupts: ‘Ch’in-shih-huang burned the books and buried the scholars alive’. Chairman Mao: What did he amount to? He only buried alive 460 scholars, while we buried 46,000. In our suppression of the counter-revolutionaries, did we not kill some counter-revolutionary intellectuals? I once debated with the democratic people: You accuse us of acting like Ch’in -shih-huang, but you are wrong; we surpass him 100 times. You berate us for imitating Ch’in-shih-huang in enforcing dictatorship. We admit them all. What is regrettable is that you did not say enough. We have had to say it for you. (Laughter.)” 5

By that time, Mao’s Communists had ruled China for less than nine years -- just nine years into a reign of terror, famine, brutality and murder that would mark the Chinese Communist Party’s next twenty years of rule and would intimidate its population – with the exception of the May-June 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations –to this day.

The first three decades of communist rule in China (1949-1978) were years of terror and totalitarian oppression, sufficient to educate the Chinese people on the unhealthiness of opposing the Party-state. But the Party had matured considerably by the end of 1978, when it reversed its course from Mao's collectivist dogmatism to move toward market-guided economic reforms – the "Reform and Opening" movement led by Mao's eventual successor, Deng Xiaoping.

The economic reforms of the 1980s persuaded the CCP to relax strictures on political, religious, labor, artistic and intellectual activities – despite profound concerns that old-line Party members had about "spiritual pollution." As the decade of the 80s progressed, younger Party members sympathized with student demands for freedoms of expression that tracked with better ties with the United States, Japan and Europe, and with China's integration into the global trade networks.

Even the titular heads of the Party and state – General Secretary Hu Yaobang (no relation to current General Secretary Hu Jintao) and Premier Zhao Ziyang urged easing of propaganda and censorship. But old habits die hard, and in early 1987 Party elders (including the architect of the reforms, Deng Xiaoping himself) became alarmed at Hu Yaobang's reformist tendencies and removed him from the Party's top leadership. Nonetheless, the demoted Hu had an enthusiastic following among youth and academics, and Deng compromised by replacing him as Party Chief with the equally relaxed Zhao Ziyang.