China’s intellectuals, scholars and bloggers were outraged on Tuesday after Li Shenming, a vice director at the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), claimed that “not a single person" was persecuted during the infamous Anti-Rightist Movement launched by Mao Zedong in 1957.
The remark appeared in an article titled “Appropriately evaluating the periods before and after China’s reform and opening-up”. It was published in the Party theory journal Seeking Truth. In a lengthy essay, the former secretary to Wang Zhen, one of China's revolutionary commanders who was well-known for his hard-line political views before his death in 1993, enthusiastically defended Mao Zedong’s leadership and economic and political “accomplishments”.
Li also blasted the "unbalanced media reporting" on Mao's movement. He wrote, “In the 1957 Anti-Rightist Movement, 550,000 were labelled as rightists, but not a single person was persecuted. However, the [movement] was described as a bloody one by media controlled by international capital.”
The remark was greeted by thousands of angry comments from both scholars and grass-roots bloggers.
The Anti-Rightist Movement, which lasted from 1957 to 1959, consisted of campaigns to purge alleged rightists within the Communist Party both in China and abroad. The term "rightists" was largely used to refer to intellectuals accused of favouring capitalism over collectivisation.
Although controversy surrounds the actual number, many believe hundreds of thousands were persecuted or tortured to death during the movement.
“There are two kinds of people in CASS, those who pretend to be stupid and those who are,” wrote a blogger.
"Stop lying," wrote many others. "What do you receive for spreading such lies?"
Frank Dikotter, Chair Professor of Humanities at Hong Kong University, told the South China Morning Post that in his forthcoming book, The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957, he estimates the number of people persecuted during the Anti-Rightist Movement to be at least 550,000 and possibly more than 650,000.