Thought reform is arguably China’s most controversial social policy. If reeducation’s critics and defenders agree on little else, they share the conviction that ideological remolding is inseparable from its Mao-era roots. This is the first major English-language study to explore one of the most important aspects of those origins, the essential relationship between thought reform and the “dangerous classes”—the prostitutes, beggars, petty criminals, and other “lumpenproletarians” that Communists saw as a threat to...
Thought reform is arguably China’s most controversial social policy. If reeducation’s critics and defenders agree on little else, they share the conviction that ideological remolding is inseparable from its Mao-era roots. This is the first major English-language study to explore one of the most important aspects of those origins, the essential relationship between thought reform and the “dangerous classes”—the prostitutes, beggars, petty criminals, and other “lumpenproletarians” that Communists saw as a threat to society and the revolution. Through formerly unavailable classified documents, as well as diaries, oral histories, and memoirs, Aminda Smith takes readers inside the early-PRC reformatories where the new state endeavored to transform socially marginalized “vagrants” into socially integrated members of the laboring masses. As sites where “the people” were literally created, these centers became testing grounds for rapidly changing discourses about the praxis of thought reform as well as the subjects it aimed to produce. Her book explores reformatories as institutions dedicated to molding new socialist citizens and as symbolic spaces through which internees, cadres, and the ordinary masses made sense of what it meant to be a member of the people in the People’s Republic of China. She offers convincing new answers to much-debated questions about the nature of the crucial decade of the 1950s, especially with respect to the development and future of PRC political culture.
This is a highly original book on an important topic. Using material that was top-secret until recently, Aminda Smith presents a series of fascinating case histories of individuals subjected to thought reform and demonstrates how thought reform was central to the drive by the Communists to remake the social structure in their own image and to extend their authority into society. She provides a new and imaginative reading of the consolidation of Communist power and what the revolution meant for those on the margins of society.
Aminda Smith is at the forefront of a new generation of scholars writing the history of the People’s Republic of China. Her book explores how the Chinese Communist Party’s ideal vision for society clashed with the complicated lives of people on the margins during the 1950s. Rich with compelling human voices, Smith’s work combines impressive archival discoveries with sophisticated analysis. It not only tells us new things about the 1950s, it also helps to explain why the Communist Party has continued to use reeducation-through-labor in recent years.
The American Historical Review
Aminda M. Smith faithfully and in many ways imaginatively addresses a lacuna in our understanding of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) attitudes toward the social underclass, first during the revolution that brought the party to power, and later after the party assumed control in the 1950s. This monograph sheds new light on the origins of the CCP’s extrajudicial ways of dealing with a wide range of social types it deemed not fully supportive of the revolution, and with alleged offenders against the old and new social orders. . . . Smith’s scholarship is rich in details and statistics. . . . This book’s strength is in depicting changes in how the Chinese revolutionaries saw the 'dangerous classes' and the social forces that motivated them, and sometimes how those 'classes' viewed their own reformation.
Chapter 1: Finding a Place for the Lumpenproletariat: Vacillators and Rural Revolution
Chapter 2: The People versus Their Enemies: Urban Reeducation and the Old Society
Chapter 3: The Curriculum of Consciousness Raising: Low Consciousness and Mass Reeducation
Chapter 4: The Laboring Masses: Voluntarism and the People
Chapter 5: The People Stand Up: Resistance and Reform