From struggle sessions to public dressing-downs: China’s continuity of psychological control

Typical admonitory dressing-down speech or “xunhua” in front of a Sichuan restaurant in Beijing, 2011

There is an unforgettable scene in a harrowing autobiography of a man living through the worst of modern Chinese history. In an Anti-Rightist Campaign struggle session, the crowd suddenly grows hysterical in their denunciations of Peter Liu and takes away the normally allowed concession of smoking. Fearing they are about to become violent and might beat him to death, Liu asks the commander if he may briefly go relieve himself in the WC outside the hall. Permitted to do so, he exits the hall, gets on his bicycle, and rides home. The stunned interrogators are none too pleased when confronting him about it the next day, but that’s not why he is sent off to over twenty years of hard labor in the Chinese gulag. Though the reason for his persecution was withheld from him until decades later, his fate was already sealed years before when the Revolutionary Army discovered in the back of his family’s property a firearm haphazardly discarded in a junk pile by the retreating Japanese army. Continue reading