An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

The Socialist Education Movement 1962-1966

Sep 1, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

The Socialist Education Movement (shehui jiaoyu yundong 社会教育运动) was a broad propaganda campaign aimed at practically all social classes, from Party cadres to students, intellectuals, writers, artists, and peasants. It was ideologically based on the writings of Mao Zedong and thus initiated a novel type of general campaign in which altruism, courage, perseverance and confidence in the building of socialism were highlighted. The movement was initiated in 1962 and lasted until the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

The Three Good Old Texts (Lao san pian 老三篇)

The texts used for the movement were older writings of Mao dating from the days in Yan'an. They were known as the "three good old texts" (Lao san pian 老三篇) or "three constantly read old articles" (yongyuan xuexi lao san pian 永远学习老三篇) and comprised the short essays "In memory of Norman Bethune" (Jininan Bo Qiu'en 纪念白求恩, Dec 21, 1939), "Serve the people" (Wei renmin fuwu 为人民服务, Sep 8, 1944), and "The foolish old man who removed the mountains" (Yugong yishan 愚公移山 , Jun 11, 1945). These three texts were to be learnt by heart and pervaded every aspect of daily life for all members of the population. They were quoted at every possible occasion, and step by step, a real cult was created around them.

The PLA as a paradigm of the socialist spirit

Another crucial element of the Socialist Education Movement was the imitation of the army as the paradigm of socialist construction. On Feb 1, 1964, the Renmin ribao published an editorial adhorting the whole country to "learn from the People's Liberation Army" (quanguo xue Remin jiefang jun 全国学人民解放军). The army itself was more and more giving up professionality in favour to indoctrination. Loyalty to the ruling party, and Mao Zedong in particular, was the core of this indoctrination. The army formed a body of troops expressing civic virtue, moral perfection, and ideological rigour. Strength of character and optimism in the face of difficulties were elements found in the army which every citizen had to imitate. Soldiers did not have personal belongings, and accordingly, each and everyone in the people was expected to be free from self-interest. Instead, everyone would dedicate himself to the collective. Among the army, several soldiers were found to be the model everbody should imitate. The most famous paradigm of the new virtue was soldier Lei Feng 雷锋 (1940-1962). Lei left a notebook in which he recorded not just what he had done good to his comrades, but also his true feelings about his mission to serve the army, the country, and the people with all his mind and physical forces.

Such heroes even made film history, as can be seen in the movie "Sentinels under the Neon Lights" (Nihong deng xia de shaobing 霓虹灯下的哨兵) from 1964, where the "good eighth company of Nanking Road" was celebrated. Also in the field of literature, military life was praised as a model for all civilians, for instance, in the novel "Song of Ouyang Hai" (Ouyang Hai zhi ge 欧阳海之歌, 1965) by Jin Jingmai 金敬迈 (b. 1930).

The use of military thought and vocabulary in civil life was not entirely new. It had accompanied the founding of the People's Communes during the Great Leap forward. But now, the army took over the task of ideological tutelage over the people. On May 7, 1966, a directive asked the army to become a great school for political, cultural and military [in this order!] training, and to extend its interests to agriculture and production in general. It can be seen that even before the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, the PLA had taken over administrative and political duties.

"Learn from Dazhai, from Daqing, from the PLA"

The commune of Dazhai 大寨 in northern Shanxi became the model for a production unit making the best of unfavourable conditions. Other communes were exhorted to learn from Dazhai (nongye xue Dazhai 农业学大寨), while in the industry, enterprises were asked to "learn from Daqing" (gongye xue Daqing 工业学大庆), a large oilfield in Heilongjiang.

The Re-Education of Party Cadres

With the re-elevation of the PLA's status as the bearer of revolution, Mao went back to the times of Yan'an, a period in which the revolution was in its beginnings. The same strategy was adopted for the party cadres. Like in the days in the northwest, party cadres were expected to personally work together with the people to demonstrate that the Party was not a distant leader, but cared for the welfare of the masses. With the presence of Party cadres, the workers and peasants would also eventually yield higher production rates. For propagandistic purposes, the media showed pictures from the 1940s, when even members of the Politbureau worked hand in hand with the peasantry, in order to strengthen the relation between the cadres and the masses (gan-qun guanxi 干群关系).

This instrument was also not new. During the Anti-Rightist Campaign, cadres had been sent to the countryside for physical labour (xiafang 下放), not just to show the people how much the Party cared, but also to remind cadres that they were responsible for the good of the people. In case of intellectuals and students, such "exilations" were called shangshan xiaxiang yundong 上山下乡运动 "up the hills and down to the villages". In factories, it was common for administrative personnel to work alongside the labourers for about two half-days a week. In the countryside, manual labour for cadres lasted several months. Officers of the PLA also sometimes took part in agricultural work. It was expected from Party cadres to work as much and in the same way as a normal worker or peasant (according to a method called sanding yiding 三定一頂 "three fix, one substition": cadres would work the same time, in the same place, and do the same tasks as everyone, so they would be able to replace any normal worker), but in some cases, cadres preferred particularly difficult or humiliating work. Such achievements would raise their status as "worker for the people".

Cadres and Students to the Countryside

In the autumn of 1964, there were 270,000 students and middle school pupils from Beijing and Shanghai, as well as 1,000 researchers from the Academy of Sciences, working in the villages (Guillermaz: 347) and shared food, lodging and work with the peasants (santong 三同 "three commons"). In the eyes of the Party, it was of particular interest to bring intellectuals close to the working people because the former were believed to be still part of a class of bourgeois character.

In 1964, a system of "half-work, half-study" (bangong banxue 半工半学) was introduced which had been developed as early as 1958. The project, revived by Liu Shaoqi, aimed at creating new humans of the intellectuals, by erasing the difference between mental and physical labour. The government created special schools for this new type of education, but the whole project was carried out hastily, remained underfunded, and critically disturbed the normal school system. The basic intention behind the new model was to link urban schooling with rural schools by sending urban personnel to the countryside, without forcing peasants to leave their home villages and give up their work. With the closing down of schools in the first years of the Cultural Revolution, the project was aborted.

The measure of sending cadres to the countryside was revived under Bo Xilai 薄熙来 (b. 1949), then Party Secretary of Chongqing (2007-2012), and member of the left or Neo-Maoist wing of the Party. In Bo's case the movement was called "three enter and three together" (sanjing santong 三进三同), meaning that Party cadres would have to enter the base of society, the villages, and the peasant households, and to eat, live, and work with the peasants. This obligation was valid for one week per year.

In 1962, after the Tenth Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee (Sep 24-27, 1962), the Party was looking for new means to smoothen the bureaucracy, ameliorate the supply of food to the cities (also by sending part of the urban population to the countryside), and to demonstrate the Party's solicitude for the peasantry, which had much suffered during the Great Leap. Behind such discussions, ideological differences between different wings of the Party became manifest, but still remained under the surface. High Party cadres touring the countryside brooded about ways to solve the crisis.

Reinvigoration of the socialist spirit in the countryside

The crisis was most evident in the countryside which had suffered the famine in 1960 and 1961, and where – as a consequence – the confidence in the Party was down. Apart from the peasants, many small cadres were disappointed because the leadership had first demanded to raise output figures (even if figures were invented), and later blamed the "small fry" for the disastrous outcome of the Great Leap. Local cadres were trapped between the indifference of the masses towards new political campaigns and new directives from above. As an ad-hoc solution in the communes, the situation was frozen in 1962, and revolutionary dynamism halted or even turned back by the downsizing of People's Communes or their devolution to normal collectives. In the eyes of the leadership, the lower levels of the Party had transformed into an instrument of management or administration, instead of an instrument of revolution.

The Socialist Education Movement therefore tried to reinvigorate the revolutionary spirit among the peasants and the local cadres, and to continue the progress of collectivization. Poor and middle peasant associations (pinnong, xiazhongnong xiehui 贫农、下中农协会) were urged to stimulate and control local cadres and to oppose individualistic tendencies in farming.

The propaganda machine supported the activities on the spot, and brought examples of peasants delivering more than the required quota, of individuals handing over private plots to the collective, and of the well-received replacement of work points by a monthly salary. The latter point was of great importance for the peasants, as the issue had never been correctly solved by the managers of the brigades and communes.

The Former Ten Points (Qian shi tiao 前十条)

On May 20, 1963, the Central Committee issued the "Decision on Questions Relating to Present Work in the Countryside (Draft)" (Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu muqian nongcun gongzuo zhong ruogan wenti de jiejue, cao'an 中共中央关于目前农村工作中若干问题的决定,草案). The draft included ten points which later came to be known as the "Former ten points" (Qian shi tiao 前十条). The aim was to arouse the peasant masses mobilized around the poor and middle peasant associations. The centre of work was the "fourfold cleaning up" (Art. 8, siqing 四清) of the accounting system (qingli zhangmu 清理账目) and that of work points (qingli gongfen 清理共分). Inventories of the storehouses (qingli cangku 清理仓库) were to be made in the communes, and audits of the management to be carried out (qingli caiwu 清理财务). Cadres were held to participate in manual labour (Art. 9, ganbu canjia jiti shengchan laodong 干部参加集体生产劳动). Such Marxist, "scientific" measures (kexue fangfa 科学方法) would enable the Party to regain control over the countryside without disturbing the production and without falling back into revisionism or counter-revolution. This point was important because it was, according to the Decision, evident that there were increasing class contradictions among the peasant population (Art. 3).

The Later Ten Points (Hou shi tiao 后十条)

The "Former Ten Points" were supplemented by a set of "Later Ten Points" (Hou shi tiao 后十条) compiled under the supervision of Liu Shaoqi and issued in September 1964, as "Some concrete political rules for the socialist education in the countryside (Draft)" (Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu nongcun shehuizhuyi jiaoyu zhong de yi xie juti zhengce de guiding, cao'an 中共中央关于农村社会主义教育中的一些具体政策的规定(草案)). The assumption of imminent class struggle was described more in detail, and suggestions made to give the Party greater authority over the purging and mobilization of peasants.

The Twenty-Three Articles (Ershisan tiao 二十三条)

On January 14, 1965, a national work conference by the Politbureau issued a document called "Present Problems Arising from the Socialist Education Movement in the Countryside" (Nongcun shehuizhuyi jiaoyu yundong zhong muqian de yi xie wenti 农村社会主义教育运动中目前提出的一些问题), also known as "Twenty-Three Articles" (Ershisan tiao 二十三条), likewise laid stress on the continuation of class struggle in the countryside and attacked "party authorities" to neglect such contradictions and to "take the capitalist road". The class struggle was reflected within the Party, and the purges were therefore not to be limited to the villages and communes, but to be extended to the Party. This Document gave the whole movement a new name, namely "Four Clean-ups Movement" (siqing yundong 四清运动), and advocated clean-ups in politics (qing zhengzhi 清政治), the economy (qing jingji 清经济), organization (qing zuzhi 清组织), and ideology (qing sixiang 清思想). Party cadres, the masses, and work groups (gongzuodui 工作队) were called to create "leading cells" (Art. 5, lingdao hexin 领导核心) or to seize power (Art. 9-10). After six or seven years China would be totally cleaned of remaining class struggles in any field.

Yet general resistance among the peasantry against such measures perhaps caused Mao Zedong and his supporters to shift the focus of his attacks gradually from the countryside to the cultural sphere.

Socialist Education Movement and Culture: The rise of Jiang Qing

The new wave of ideological indoctrination made itself felt from summer 1964, when Jiang Ching 江青, the fourth wife of Mao Zedong, took over the direction of the Festival of the Peking Opera (Jingju xiandaixi guanmo yanchu dahui 京剧现代戏观摩演出大会). Until that date, the field of opera had been relatively free of interference by the Party, and remained a genre of art enjoyed by a highly educated public, with bourgeois background. Jiang Qing and her collaborator Kang Sheng 康生, aimed at transforming all types of performances into instruments of propaganda. Traditional subjects like history and stories, and protagonists like emperors and bachelors were replaced by themes from the anti-Japanese war or the revolutionary war, with guerilla fighters and peasants fighting against oppression and exploitation.

Plots of these new art works were simple, stories were naïve, and protagonists were depicted in black-and-white patterns, and according to the method of the "threefold emphasizing" (san tuchu 三突出), in which the audience would immediately learn who was the most outstanding hero fighting for the people.

"The Red Lantern" (Hongdengji 红灯记, 1964), for instance, played during the Resistance War, and the "Surprise Attack on the White Tiger Regiment" (Qixi baihutuan 奇袭白虎团, 1964) during the Korea War. The whole stage was also modernized, and the traditionally blank background was filled with more realistic requisite, as trees or interior. Yet two features remained unchanged: the musical shape with dialogues and arias sung in falsetto, and the difference between Peking Opera, Kun Opera, and other local variants. The "modern type of opera" (xiandaixi 现代戏) was quickly accepted by the public, partially because tickets were cheap, and partially because theatre was generally an immensely popular entertainment. Quite a few of the new operas served as model operas (yangban xi 样板戏) for the coming decade. Older masters in the theatre scene like Zhou Yang 周扬 or Lin Mohan or actors like Zhou Xinfang 周信芳 (1895-1975), and writers like Tian Han 田汉 (1898-1968) or Meng Chao 孟超 (1902-1976) were pushed aside or politically attacked. The famous Mei Lanfang 梅兰芳 (1894-1961) did not see this change of the Peking Opera.

Not only was the opera revolutionized. A new genre of performing art was produced, with the ballet "The Red Detachment of Women" (Hongse niangzi jun 红色娘子军), which was also brought to the screen. The spoken theatre was also ordered to change its topics to the problems of class struggle, the contradictions between the old and the new society, the fight for higher production outputs, and the education in the ways of revolution. Writers produced plays like "Lei Feng", "Li Shuangshuang" 李双双, "After the Harvest", "Never Forget", "Red at Every Generation", and other plays. Just a few among these new-style products show hints of poetry. Examples of some literary achievement are "The Snow Greets the Spring", or "The Countryside is Studded with Flowers". The general problem was that famous products of the scene like the plays of Cao Yu did not conform with the new requirements. Meng Chao, a writer of the old school, provoked in Spring 1965 harsh criticism against his historical play Li Huiniang 李慧娘 (1960). This incident foreshadowed the case of Wu Han's Hai Rui ba guan, which opened the Cultural Revolution.

Also problematic: early 60s. Film with relative freedom, but low revolutionary content Spring in February (Rou Shi/). Lin Family Shop (Mao Dun/Xia Yan) The Song of Youth Town Without Night Beleaguered City Hai Rui ba guan by Wu Han Evening Chats at Yanshan

Many operas and theatre plays went on the cinema screen, and earlier ones suffered criticism because of their alleged inclination to humanism, pessimism, pacificism, the description of non-heroic characters or the glorification of foreigners. After 1964 foreign film products were forbidden on the market. The most important denouncement in the field of literature were launched against Hao Ran's 浩然 (1932-2008) "Great Sun in the Sky" (Fengyangtian 艳阳天), Han Shui's "Go Forward Courageously" (XXX), Ouyang Shan's 欧阳山 (1908-2000) suite romanesque "A Distinguished Generation" (Yidai fengliu 一代风流), Ms Luo Binji's 骆宾基 (1917-1994) "Before the Wedding" (Jiehun zhi qian 结婚之前), or writings by Rou Shi 柔石 (1902-1931) – even if he had been killed by the Kuomintang long ago. The books attacked by the cultural "managers" of the Socialist Education Movement were "February" (Eryue 二月), "The Death of Old Times" (Jiu shidai zhi si 旧时代之死), and "The Three Sisters" (San jiemei 三姐妹).

The group around Jiang Qing did not stop in front of social sciences. Scholars in the field of philosophy and the humanities were to apply the scientific methods of Marxism-Leninism. Professors like Feng Ding 冯定 (1902-1983) or Yang Xianzhen 杨献珍 (1896-1992) were attacked for having neglected the principle of historical materialism in favour to subjective idealism.

Last but not least, the visual arts suffered under the transformation to "revolutionary art". Traditional styles were merged with socialist realism.

At the top-level of the cultural circles, the long-serving Minister of Cultural Affairs (wenhuabu buzhang 文化部部長) and writer Mao Dun 茅盾 (1986-1981) was dismissed and replaced by Lu Dingyi, an experienced propaganda man of the Party.

Sources/Further reading:
纪念白求恩 (
Serve the people (
为人民服务 (
愚公移山 (

XX (

Three Constantly Read Articles (
Ouyang Hai (

Wang, Xian (2015). "The Construction of the Image/Myth of a Martyr in the Cultural Revolution: An Interpretation/Demythicization of The Song of Ouyang Hai", Comparative Literature Studies, 52/1: 145-159.
Nikitina, Alexandra (2015). "The Song of Ouyang Hai: The Destruction of an Ideal Hero", Archiv Orientální, 83: 117-214.
Sheridan, Mary (1968). "The Emulation of Heroes", The China Quarterly, 33: 47-72.
Fokkema, D. W. (1976). "Revolutionärer Realismus und revolutionäre Romantik", in Wolfgang Franke, Brunhild Staiger, ed. China: Gesellschaft, Politik, Wirtschaft (: Westdeutscher Verlag), 242-246.
Greene, Maggie (2012). "A Ghostly Bodhisattva and the Price of Vengeance: Meng Chao, 'Li Huiniang', and the Politics of Drama, 1959-1979", Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 24/1: 149-199.