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

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

There is an unforgettable scene in the harrowing autobiography of a man living through the worst of modern Chinese history. In an Anti-Rightist Campaign “struggle session” in 1957, 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 by his brazen exit, but that’s not why he is soon sent off to over twenty years of hard labor in the Chinese gulag, followed by another ten years of confined “employment.” In fact, his fate was already sealed years before when the Revolutionary Army discovered a firearm haphazardly discarded in a junk pile by the retreating Japanese army in the back of his family’s property.

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