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The great northern wilderness : political exiles in the People’s Republic of China Wang, Ning

Abstract

In the spring of 1957, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) encouraged intellectuals and students to speak out against the abuses of Party and government officials, with the avowed intention of improving governance. But when criticisms were directed at a wide range of Party policies, the CCP launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign. Those who had called for intellectual and political freedoms, and for curbing corruption, were accused of political subversion. In a nation-wide crackdown, more than half a million Chinese, including intellectuals, Party cadres and government employees, were punished with labels of "rightists" or "counterrevolutionaries." The CCP sent these people to the countryside or to distant frontier regions to engage in "ideological remolding" through manual labor. This thesis focuses on the life, behavior and psychological experiences of those banished from central organizations to Beidahuang in northeastern Manchuria. Three types of political exiles are examined—the rightists in army farms, the ultra-rightists in labor reeducation camps, and the counterrevolutionaries in labor reform camps. In Beidahuang, the political exiles were deployed as forced labor in agriculture, forestry, construction, and other sectors. Treated as political outcasts, they suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Communist officials. Internecine strife exacerbated their misery. Their banishment coincided with the most serious famine (1959-1962) in modern Chinese history. Food shortages, hard labor, and a lack of sufficient medical care resulted in high death rates. Under political pressure, many exiles acknowledged that they had commited errors or "crimes" and made considerable efforts to show signs of repentance, in order to redeem themselves. The end of their banishment to Beidahuang in the early 1960s did not end their torment, which was followed by long-lasting political discrimination. This study reveals the suffering of a specific population of political exiles, but also engages larger issues such as political persecution, forced migration, and the nature of CCP rule.

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