Yenan Literary Opposition

After the famous Long March of 1934-35 Mao and his retreating Red Army settled in Yenan, northern China.

The regime established there did not conform to the egalitarian claims of Chinese Communist propaganda - the leadership enjoyed superior food and clothing and other privileges according to a strict system of hierarchy. In 1942 Mao used a tactic to deal with criticism he would repeat in later years; firstly encouraging an free airing of opinion and criticism of the "cadres" and the bureaucratic regime they administered, then denouncing as reactionary those who responded with criticism. In practice this was a flushing out of dissidents so as to neutralise them.

In the spring of 1942 several articles were published at Yenan criticising the hierarchical privileges of the Party leadership. (The Party leadership were predominantly of middle and upper class backgrounds, so they were only reproducing the social relations of the wider society within their own 'communist' bureaucracy.) The critics were denounced as reactionaries and most were successfully pressured to renounce their criticisms and to fall back in line. But Wang Shi-wei, a Marxist intellectual who had travelled to the Soviet Union, defended himself eloquently. He was imprisoned and eventually murdered by the Communists. Others, such as Ding Ling, who had recanted and fell back into Party line, still suffered regular persecution and periodic imprisonment for decades afterwards.