The Party's stance towards literature and arts was still quite conciliatory in the first half of the 1950s. Mao Zedong in a speech on May 2, 1956, invited writers and artists to participate in the socialist construction and evoked an image of the schools of thought that had flourished during the Warring States period of antiquity: "Let hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend." (baihua qifang, baijia qiming 百花齐放、百家争鸣). Lu Dingyi 陆定一 (1906-1996), head of the Party's Information and Propaganda Department (Zhonggong zhongyang xuanchuanbu buzhang 中共中央宣传部部长), confirmed that arts and literature were not per se instruments of politics or of class struggle, and that idealism could therefore be accepted, all the more as materialism would later prevail anyway. Assimilating arts, literature and science to politics was even deemed a "leftist error".
In January 1957, Guo Moruo, Head of the Academy of Sciences (Zhongguo kexue yuan yuanzhang 中国科学院院长), stressed the need for the Party to attract more higher intellectuals because of the 100,000 available ones, a substantial part cooperated only hesitatingly because they had been educated with liberal Western ideas and remained suspicious towards Party cadres. The most prestigious artists who had become willing instruments of the communists were the painters Xu Beihong 徐悲鸿 (famous for his horses), Qi Baishi 齐白石 (famous for his crabs) and Fu Baoshi 傅抱石 (a landscape painter) and the actors Mei Lanfang 梅兰芳 (female theatre roles) and Zhou Xinfang 周信芳.
For the education of more intellectuals, a twelve-year plan (1956-1967) was announced. Intellectuals would be integrated into the operations of the government, and available for the construction of socialism just as peasants and workers were. In summer 1956, protests and strikes in Poznań, Poland, and in late 1956 the Hungarian Uprising, shook the communist world. Labour unrest disturbed Shanghai. In this atmosphere, Mao Zedong made his famous speech, on February 27, 1957, on the "Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People" (Guanyu zhengque chuli renmin neibu maodun de wenti 关于正确处理人民内部矛盾的问题).
In this speech Mao held that non-antagonistic contradictions (fei duikangxing maodun 非对抗性矛盾) were arising everywhere, but they could be eliminated by "unity, criticism, and unity" (according to the dialectic pattern), so that initial harmony could be restored. Yet between the classes, non-removable antagonistic contradictions dominated (duikangxing maodun 对抗性矛盾). It was therefore necessary to tell apart fragrant flowers from poisonous weeds among the intellectuals. Long-term coexistence (changqi gongcun 长期共存) and mutual supervision (huxiang jiandu 互相监督) was possible through words and actions, beneficial to socialist construction, the consolidation of the people's democratic dictatorship and democratic centralism, and the strengthening of the leadership of the CPC.
The speech was published on June 18 in abbreviated shape, where less is said about cooperation. In a speech on March 12, Mao stressed the need to educate teachers and professors, to bring intellectuals closer to peasants and workers for the common construction of socialism—intellectuals would have to be turned into proletarians. The Party with its scientific doctrine would not fear criticism but would, by the Hundred Flowers movement, better be able to eliminate subjectivism (zhuguanzhuyi 主观主义), bureaucratism (liaoguanzhuyi 官僚主义), and sectarianism (jiaotiaozhuyi 教条主义).
After this speech, the Party launched a rectification movement (zhengfeng yundong 整风运动) and invited everyone for criticism. The intellectual world at first hesitated, but then inundated the Party with a wave of violent criticism and hatred, with publications in all important state organs, such as Renmin ribao 人民日报, Wenhuibao 文汇报, Guangming ribao 光明日报 or Shenyang ribao 沈阳日报. It reflected the widespread discontent with the regime. Some leaders, particularly those of the liberal junior parties as Zhang Bojun 章伯鈞 (1895-1969), Luo Longji 罗隆基 (1895-1995) or Long Yun 龙云 (1884-1962), demanded independence, participation, fair judgments, a publication of civil and criminal codes, and more intellectual freedom, and even attacked the CPC for their dominance of the political sphere and the illusion of democracy. The poet and journalist Deng Tuo 邓拓 deplored the monotony of the press, the politician Chen Mingshu 陈铭枢 even reproached Mao for his arrogance and choleric character. Students at universities attacked the party and called for rebellion with big-characters posters pinned to "democratic walls".
The leadership immediately organized a counter-attack, the so-called Anti-Rightist Movement (fanyou yundong 反右运动) begun with an article on June 8 in the Renmin ribao (1957.06.08 这是为什么？, the "anonymous letter affair", nimingxin shijian 匿名信事件), warning rightist elements wanting to isolate the Party and eliminate it from the political scene, in order to return to bourgeois dictatorship. Further articles, on July 1, attacked the small parties, and the Democratic League (Zhongguo minzhu tongmeng 中国民主同盟, Minmeng 民盟) in particular. Ministers belonging to the Democratic League were dismissed, and office-holders of Wuhan University, where "Small Hungary" had happened. The Anti-Rightist Movement purged the administration, the press, the Party, and came down upon renowned writers like Ding Ling, Ai Qing, Feng Xuefeng 冯雪峰 (1903-1976), or Jiang Feng 江丰 (1910-1983), head of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Zhou Yang, Vice Leader of the Party's Propaganda Department, drew up an essay called Great Debate on the Literary Front and drew up the new lines in the field of literature and arts. The Movement is said, according to official statistics, to have victimized around 100,000 persons (Guillermaz 1976: 144). It ended in October 1957.