'Using the Past to Serve the Present' The “Resumed Criticisms” Campaign of 1958 Section Articles


Dylan K. Wang


On 26 January 1958, the Chinese state-sponsored literary journal Wenyi bao (Literary Gazette) launched its second issue of the year. This special number carried half a dozen polemics under the rubric of “Zai pipan” (“Resumed Criticisms”), each followed by the unexpurgated text of the essay or short story that it targeted. In June, these articles were collected into a slim volume along with the condemned pieces. Among the numerous political campaigns in Mao’s China, this event seems insignificant at first glance and most previous studies refrain from more than mentioning it; but a closer look reveals many extraordinary features about it. To begin with, all the targeted works were originally published in the early 1940s and had already been denounced in the famous Yan’an Rectification Campaign (hence the title): why bother dredging up all these banal works? Besides, recently published eyewitness accounts reveal that the manifesto of the campaign was penned (in part) by none other than the Great Helmsman himself: why would a paramount leader condescend to denunciate a group of hapless writers (one of them already dead)? This short essay seeks to explore this much-forgotten inquisition and explain some of its anomalous qualities. Furthermore, it argues that this campaign exemplifies Mao’s own brand of historical revisionism — 'using the past to serve the present.'