Policing Chinese Politics: A History [NOOK Book]


Beginning with the bloody communist purges of the Jiangxi era of the late 1920s and early 1930s and moving forward to the wild excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Policing Chinese Politics explores the question of revolutionary violence and the political passion that propels it. “Who are our enemies, who are our friends, that is a question germane to the revolution,” wrote Mao Zedong in 1926. Michael Dutton shows just how powerful this one line was to become. It would establish the binary division of life in ...
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Policing Chinese Politics: A History

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Beginning with the bloody communist purges of the Jiangxi era of the late 1920s and early 1930s and moving forward to the wild excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Policing Chinese Politics explores the question of revolutionary violence and the political passion that propels it. “Who are our enemies, who are our friends, that is a question germane to the revolution,” wrote Mao Zedong in 1926. Michael Dutton shows just how powerful this one line was to become. It would establish the binary division of life in revolutionary China and lead to both passionate commitment and revolutionary excess. The political history of revolutionary China, he argues, is largely framed by the attempts of Mao and the Party to harness these passions.

The economic reform period that followed Mao Zedong’s rule contained a hint as to how the magic spell of political faith and commitment could be broken, but the cost of such disenchantment was considerable. This detailed, empirical tale of Chinese socialist policing is, therefore, more than simply a police story. It is a parable that offers a cogent analysis of Chinese politics generally while radically redrafting our understanding of what politics is all about. Breaking away from the traditional elite modes of political analysis that focus on personalities, factions, and betrayals, and from “rational” accounts of politics and government, Dutton provides a highly original understanding of the far-reaching consequences of acts of faith and commitment in the realm of politics.

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Editorial Reviews

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“Eric Hobsbawm, with some irony and much love for the history profession, once remarked that ‘theoreticians of all kinds circle around the peaceful herds of historians as they graze on their rich pastures of primary sources.’ He endorsed the encircling of those pastures. Michael Dutton is one of those social science theoreticians who graze on the same rich fields, but at the same time he takes Asian studies and history into new and fascinating areas.”—Børge Bakken, author of The Exemplary Society: Human Improvement, Social Control, and the Dangers of Modernity in China

“Michael Dutton’s Policing Chinese Politics is a work of deeply committed political scholarship. It will be of great interest to scholars of Chinese politics and to historians and critics of the socialist movement.”—Piers Beirne, Department of Criminology, University of Southern Maine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822397625
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2012
  • Series: Asia-Pacific
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Michael Dutton is a reader in political science at the University of Melbourne. He also has an appointment as a professor of politics at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the author of Policing and Punishment in China: From Patriarchy to “The People” and The Crisis of Marxism in China and the editor of Streetlife China.

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Read an Excerpt

Policing Chinese Politics

A History

By Michael Dutton

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9762-5


Friends and Enemies


It was Shanghai, at the beginning of the 1920s, that saw the birth of the Communist Party. And it was the Shanghai massacre, at the end of the twenties, that almost signed its death warrant. But this chapter offers no obituary. Instead, it deals with birth; the birth of the political. The "political" would lead to the rebirth of the Communist Party as a rural force in China, and to the birth of Chinese socialist policing as little other than the policing of the political.

All of this would flow from what the Comintern in Moscow would insist was a moment of "clarification" for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At a very general and empirical level, what was clarified was that which was already known. The Nationalists' massacre of communists in Shanghai provided a bloody clarification of the reactionary class nature of the communists' erstwhile ally. The once powerful United Front they had formed together to bring about the unification of China would end in 1927, not with victory, but with the spilling of communist blood. For the Nationalist Party, the Shanghai massacre was meant to be a coup de grace. Through this one blow, the Nationalists hoped to rid China of the scourge of communism. They almost succeeded. After the massacre, only a very small leadership group would remain underground within the divided city of Shanghai. While this leadership remained hidden within the city, the majority of Communist Party members were forced to flee to the isolated rural hinterland. In Shanghai, the leadership was constantly under threat, and only the strictest security measures would ensure its survival. It was under these conditions that the Party first turned its mind to security and protection. It was at this time that the first Chinese communist security organ, the teke, or special branch, came into being–and this is where histories of socialist policing in China all begin. This is not, however, my starting point. Instead, along with the remnants of the CCP fleeing Shanghai and trying to rebuild their lives in the remote Soviet base camps of Jiangxi, I want to begin in a place where the policing of socialism meant more than the protection of the leadership group.

For a Party of the proletariat, removal to the remote rural border regions of Jiangxi must have felt like banishment. Its members desperately desired a return to the cities, but their strategies of return would all end in failure. In the end, there was but one way to survive, namely, to "rustify" their own class questions. Class questions for the Chinese communists, therefore, would become little more than questions of peasants and property. Class struggle would obtain an almost single-minded concentration upon land and the landlord-gentry problem. That narrowing of perspective not only focused the mind of the communists but also provided the platform for their future political revival. It did not look that way at the time.

Even in the inhospitable, remote sanctuaries to which they fled, the communists never found complete safety. Surrounded by and under siege from Nationalist armies, they lived under the constant threat of death. Far from making them hide their politics, however, such pressure made them live it to the full. If anything, this constant threat of death would lead the Party to push the logic of class struggle to extremes. Only class struggle could save the Party, for only class struggle could liberate the peasant masses materially and spiritually and, only then, would they join with the Party and "make revolution." To survive, therefore, involved fighting on two fronts. On the porous borders of the small Soviet base camps, the communists' newly formed Red Army would fight the ever larger troop concentrations that Jiang Jieshi's (Chiang Kai-shek) Nationalist government would throw at them. On the home front, within the base camps, they would begin a land revolution against landlords and gentry in order to garner peasant support. The wealth and property generated by these attacks on the class enemies of the revolution would be redistributed to the newly liberated poor peasant "friends" of the CCP. The poor peasants would, therefore, gain a material investment in the revolution and become its backbone and foot soldiers. It was for this reason that peasants joined the Red Army, swelling its numbers and stabilizing the battlefront. For nigh on seven years, the Red Army successfully repelled the far superior Nationalist armies and, through its many victories, would demoralize the enemy and recruit a great many of its troops. Paradoxically, it was this type of success that would also point to the reasons for its ultimate failure.

The possibility of infiltration made for an ever-present fear brought back to the base camps by each Nationalist defection. This fear had a name, betrayal, and one of its constant "forms" was the defecting Nationalist soldier. When such fears of betrayal became wed to a populist exuberance released in the course of an ongoing, violent, and intense class struggle, a potent combination was released into the base camps, one that would fuel the ebullience of revolution, but would also transform each betrayal into a reason for zealous expressions of excess. In relying upon exuberance, commitment politics, by definition, go beyond the pragmatic and the rational. In order to attract hearts and minds, such politics of commitment employs a language and logic that speaks to both but which, in fact, provide only a means by which the pragmatic begins to fade into the poetic.

For the Communist Party, the war and the land revolution were but two facets of a single question. This was the question Mao had posed back in 1926, the question of friend and enemy. When posing this question empirically, reason appears to prevail and to limit any possibility of excess. After all, whether on the battlefront or in the expropriation of rich peasant land, the question of the enemy could always be "objectively" addressed. On the battlefield, one could objectively determine enemy soldiers by their uniform, just as one could objectively identify rich peasants by their property holdings. One's attitude toward the war and toward property relations were, therefore, by extension, the defining questions of the revolution. They would, therefore, become the twin poles around which political commitment was to be judged. Yet when judgments have to be made about attitude, consciousness, or commitment, things become different. Here, no uniform or landholding marks out the enemy. These questions, therefore, can never be addressed objectively, for they all concern internal, subjective thoughts. While the battlefield defines the uniformed soldier and land the propertied class, what existential marker defines attitude and commitment? Under these subjective circumstances, one looks instead for telltale signs of difference. But what stops difference from being read as deviation? What stops deviation, then, from being read as betrayal? In a political climate like Jiangxi, in which, in fact, betrayal was sometimes expressed in telltale signs of difference, the answer was clearly "nothing."

Like a semiotic Midas, everything the Communist Party touched seemed to be transformed into a sign of an "enemy within." The examples are legion: Whistling or hitting bamboo on rocks would connote secret communications with the enemy; brotherhood and sisterhood societies were deemed fronts for counterrevolutionary superstitious organizations; and morally suspect or even apolitical research organs, such as the love research unit or the food-tasting association, were interpreted as examples of reactionary conspiracies (Outline of Public Security 1997, 53; Gao Hua 2000, 43). In such a climate, what chance did the defecting Nationalist army soldier have? What place was left for pragmatism? In this way and with unerring regularity, advantages became transformed into suspicions, and suspicions into paranoia. On this unsteady ground, the basis of survival also laid the grounds for excess. Once purges began, they built upon their own momentum. Through torture and forced confession, others became drawn into the folds of this question of the enemy. Before too long, a climate of fear and paranoid suspicion prevailed.

The Party's best-trained military tacticians would suffer because of this situation. Trained alongside senior Nationalist army officers in the days of the United Front, key military figures of the CCP increasingly fell under clouds of suspicion, and, as a consequence, military tactics were transformed into moments of political tension and signs of betrayal. Every action, every word, every person now fell subject to the same unremitting question–who is an enemy? Beyond the battlefield, it was this question that would begin to define life just as it would determine death. If the battlefield produced a military version of the question, it was the land revolution that produced one for the peasant and the Party.

Violent and extreme, the land revolution became both a motor of excess and a litmus test of loyalty. Few leaders within the Communist Party dared oppose its excess, though few would fail to note its deleterious effects. The silence of Party leaders was as deafening as it was understandable. Like military tacticians, they had become tainted by association and could easily fall victim to charges of treachery should they oppose the land revolution. Quite apart from past associations with the nationalists, most CCP leaders themselves hailed from "impure" class backgrounds. They were therefore open to the charge of defending their own class interests should they call for moderation. Yet even those who, because of class background, were in a position to fight extremism and excess were forced to remain silent. Poor local peasants, for example, would be left "speechless" by the fact that few were entirely able to extricate themselves from the accusation that intimate and finely woven kinship, lineage, and friendship relations tied them back to a class enemy. In a time when the air itself seemed divided and the possibilities of betrayal palpable, both leaders and the led were left with little room to maneuver. An extreme stance was but an extreme indication of one's commitment to the Party. It proved that nothing would override class commitment.

As questions of commitment took center stage, the Chinese communists' world became dominated by signs and symbols of reactionary politics. Under these circumstances, political passions become intense. That was what happened in the communist base camps of Jiangxi in the 1930s, and that is why this time and place constitutes a paradigmatic example of the power of the political divide separating friend from enemy. Jiangxi became the concrete empirical articulation of that theoretical divide and, as such, it may serve as the perfect site to scrutinize the effects of a pure, unmediated friend/enemy dyad upon a program of political action. Jiangxi offers a moment by which to illustrate the effects of the spread of this political dyad across a social landscape. Working on political intensities, the Communist Party was propelled forward but also propelled into excess. Here in Jiangxi, passions were not just harnessed; they were also made electric, and signs of betrayal formed the key alchemic ingredient that transformed intensity into excessive political action. The revolution was, quite literally, being defined by its enemy. While the battlefield established the geographic contours of this early socialist state's domain, it was the ideas of an enemy within that defined the nature of the revolution taking place within the boundaries of each camp. It is for this reason that the focus of this chapter is on the campaign to purge counterrevolutionaries from communist ranks.

Most accounts of this period, indeed most accounts of Chinese political history, tell this tale of the political differently. They narrate the story of communism in disarray. They speak of excess, but principally in terms of localism, factional disputation, and personal bids for power (Zheng Xuejia 1976). Such an approach reminds us of the complexity of politics at a concrete, empirical level but, in tying everything back to reason and utility, these kinds of studies fail to adequately register the enormous power and perverse effects of political intensities. Without an appreciation of the power of passion, excess is read as an immoral move designed to secure advantage within some localized power play. I would argue the reverse of this position: passionate or intense political actions are not immoral, but exemplify the moral in action. Violent excessive political acts are invariably built upon a deep sense of commitment. The willingness of a collectivity to go beyond its social moral code and become excessive, violent, and extreme constitutes, in fact, an empirical sign of the depth of their commitment to the higher moral calling of the Communist Party. It is this higher moral calling that enables them to go beyond ordinary morality, and, in so doing, to go beyond themselves. It is the same code that leads one to kill without hate in the name of God, queen, or country and still live with oneself in good faith. That is to say, it leads one to kill without the opprobrium or psychological weight that the charge of murder would bring. It is, in other words, the most extreme moment of politics, for it is the most extreme example of one's willingness to kill without (individual or personal) hate and live without guilt. To read these struggles as mere personal power struggles, therefore, elides this particular power of the political, a power that turns precisely upon that unique ability politics has to lead one to go beyond oneself. To speak only of the pragmatic downgrades manifestations of this political dyad to mere backdrops or smoke screens disguising the real (realpolitik) nature of struggle. While never denying the fact of leadership contests or personal investments and pathologies in the play of politics, it is to this larger existential question of the political that I will turn.

In Jiangxi, it was the concept of class struggle that would become the vehicle through which this abstract political question of friend and enemy was transformed into a series of specific, empirical, and existential targets and, through these, was made electric. For Chinese communists then, Mao's political question was never theoretical. It was a visceral, existential, and lived question of intensity. The communists therefore responded to it from the heart, not from the mind. It was a passion imported from Shanghai and from the spilling of communist blood in an act of betrayal. But if betrayal in Shanghai filled the communists' hearts with hatred, it was the concrete fear of internal betrayal in Jiangxi that established the existential targets. To appreciate why particular targets that became the points of intensity in Jiangxi were chosen, however, requires a brief detour via the Soviet Union.

From Russia with Love: The Campaign to Eliminate Counter-Revolutionaries

In the late twenties, a series of political revelations about an enemy within would rock the Soviet Union. Reactionary Shakhtyite wreckers, Kulak hoarders, and right-wing deviationists from within the Soviet Communist Party all played a part in the production of a political intensity that would quickly lead to excess. These anthropomorphic categories became the new enemies for whom the expression class war meant physical extermination (Medvedev 1971, 71-109). Of all these reactionary acts, it was the issue of political betrayal that would focus and harden the hearts of Russian communists most and, simultaneously, make them single-minded in their determination to exterminate their enemy within. This extremist position would soon find voice in other communist parties.

Four times the Comintern would write to their Chinese comrades stressing the need for them to combat such "right deviations" (Outline of Public Security 1997, 45). Ultimately, in four different sites of excess (the Ganxi-nan, Minxi, Xiang-E'xi, and E-Yu-Wan base camps), their Chinese comrades would take up this clarion call. So it came to pass that in the isolated backwaters of rural China, where the Communist Party clung to power in tiny base camps by a thread, equivalents to Russian class enemies became the oCCAsion and the obsession around which they, too, would launch themselves into excess.

Under the rubric of a "Campaign to Eliminate Counter-Revolutionaries" (sufan), grain-hoarding Kulaks found worthy equivalents in landlord and gentry resistance to the Chinese communists' land revolution, while Shakhtyite wreckers and Soviet Party deviationists dovetailed into the intense concerns the Communist Party felt about internal betrayal. At exactly the same time as the leadership in the Soviet Union was declaring class war, shooting Shakhtyite wreckers, eliminating an entire class of people (the Kulaks), and uncovering obscure counterrevolutionary groups within their own ranks, the Chinese communists, in their own diminutive way, instituted a Soviet-style elimination campaign of their own. Built on a foundation of forced confessions, the brick and mortar of a collective paranoia about an enemy within became the oCCAsion for the first communist political policing campaign and–the first example of collective party excess. As the sufan campaign blurred into a Party purge, the major threat to internal security was increasingly perceived to come not from visible and objective class enemies such as bandits, the gentry, landlords, or merchants, but from those who stood in their shadows. Moreover, as this fear of these shadowy figures grew, it appeared as though these figures stood behind every act of sabotage. Despite the extreme factionalism within party ranks at this time, all seemed to have shared the view that just about every calamity that befell their Party and base camp was the result of, or was coordinated by, that most dangerous of enemies, the enemy within (Zhang Xibo and Han Yan-long 1987,1:316). This translated into a paranoia about organized penetration of the Communist Party and, because of this, the violence would focus upon Party members and the covert organizations that recruited and organized them into counterrevolutionary activities.


Excerpted from Policing Chinese Politics by Michael Dutton. Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents Preface 000 Introduction: A Theoretical Explanation 000 1. Friends and Enemies: The War Within 000 2. From Class to Nation: Limiting the Excess in Yan_an 000 3. The Government of Struggle: Institutions of the Binary 000 4. The Years That Burned 000 5. The End of the (Mass) Line? Chinese Policing in the Era of the Contract 000 Concluding Reflections 000 Glossary 000 Notes 000 References 000 Index 000
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