Mao travelled the length and breadth of China during the 1950’s. The massive amount of support that he got where ever he went convinced him that he was in touch with the people. He took this opportunity to give some greater freedom of expression to his people and he encouraged constructive criticism of how he and his party were transforming china into a proletarian state. He also gave intellectuals a greater say in debate which was unusual as Mao hated them.
It was quite possible that Mao was affected by the attack on Stalin by Khrushchev who publicly said that Stalin was evil and wrong; Mao did not want this backlash himself . erhaps the hundred flowers campaign closed the gap between his people and him, the people would not make a comparison of him and Stalin and it would make him seem that he really cared what the people thought. In early 1957 the party and Mao prepared themselves for criticism which let ordinary every day people be able to say where the CCP had gone wrong. After the initial thoughts of people being classed as anti party were dismissed people flocked in their hundreds to criticise the party top government officials and even as far as Mao himself on the grounds of corruption, inefficiency and not being realistic.
After this Mao changes direction and stops the hundred flowers campaign and everything goes backwards it was not a time of expression but a time of great oppression and was replaced altogether with the anti-rightist movement. Those people who had spoken out the most about the regime were forced to retract there statement and many University staff, writers, school teachers and economists some of the finest minds in china were forced to retract there statements and were humiliated in front of their peers and were forced to enter re-education classes where they were broken down and re built with the information about the CCP.
Even high ranking government officials were not safe as Zhou Enlai found out when he was forced to say that he had been too slow in putting Mao’s industrial plans into action which was not true, this sent out a message to everyone else saying that no one is safe and forcing everyone to conform. Some people say that it was a trick from the start and the speed in which he retracted the campaign and replaced it with the other one shows that it was a trap from the beginning, they also say that it was a deliberate measure to bring his critics out in to the public and catch them.
He could use what they said against them most of the people who did this were intellectuals and the educated who were the most likely to speak up these people also happened to be the two sets of people that Mao didn’t like. It was a movement towards a controlled society in which all expression of opinion had to fit within the government’s criteria. However. People say that Mao was genuinely seeking criticism in which he would turn the peasants against the other classes.
By giving scientists and engineers the freedom to express their idea’s’ Mao sought to prevent party bureaucrats from interfering with technical decisions. He wanted intellectuals to expose and attack corruption and bureaucracy. He also wanted peasants, students and workers to speak out and even demonstrate to prevent government bureaucrats from running roughshod over their rights. Another theory is that Mao did it on a whim and he did not set out with an agenda and was the quick thinking of CCP party main officials.
In the event Mao’s motives may or may not have been, it was the scale of the criticism that it unleashed that took him aback, he had not realized the size of the problems that his ever so perfect regime had. Whether or not he had set out flush out opponents it had the same outcome, he had discovered the extent of the opposition. He crushed those who he thought were opposed to him. So yes I think that the hundred flowers campaign was a trick used by Mao to flush out opponents. the ruthlessness the he showed can only mean that he set out to do it in the first place.
Courtney from Study Moose
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