Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Yin Shusheng: “Great Leap Forward” in Public Security Work

 (Written by Yin Shushegn, Former Executive Deputy Director of Public Security Bureau, 

Anhui Province, also worked in Public Security Bureau, Qinghai Province)


Translated by Jianglin Li
Edited by Matthew Akester

*All notes and square brackets added by translator*


This author was born with the luck to be caught up in all the political movements that followed Liberation, and thus experienced the changing tides of the past half century, and acquired a lot of knowledge and understanding. Having been hit by many dangerous waves in those political movements, I was lucky enough to navigate through them and land in safety each time. Compared with many of my devastated and innocent contemporaries, I was indeed very fortunate.

In the summer vacation of 1952, I was just a junior high student. As one of the student representatives, I participated in the ideological reform movement of middle school teachers held in Wuhu City, Anhui Province. Our task was to help teachers confess their political and historical issues over a period of three months. Since my political consciousness was too low to understand anything, I was respectful to the teachers, and sometimes even blushed when I spoke, never mind being able to help the teachers.  Therefore, I became a voluntary odd-job boy, taking over the indoor and outdoor cleaning work. However, when the critical struggle meetings were held, all student representatives had to participate. It was upsetting to watch the teachers I respected being humiliated and scolded, with people pointing fingers at their noses. I felt sympathetic and helpless, and feared that something might happen.

Bringing more than one thousand “questionable” teachers from all parts of the province and congregating them on the site of today’s Anhui Normal University, for ideological remolding, was a major event in education circles after the Liberation. The campus was around Zhushan Mountain with spectacular scenery. Standing on the mountain top, one could see the Yangtze river flowing beneath. Whenever we had time, like the children we practically were, we would go to the mountain to have fun, but a few of the teachers who were unable to cross the threshold[1] during the ideological remolding hanged themselves in the woods.  After that, we never dared to go up the mountain again.

After the ideological remolding movement ended, some teachers mysteriously disappeared. Later, I heard that they were counter-revolutionaries and were arrested.

In the internal Purging Counter-revolutionary Movements of 1955 and 1956, of the best Chinese, mathematics and history teachers at my school, Shucheng Middle School, two committed suicide, and one was arrested, sentenced and died in the reform-through-labor farm (rehabilitated after 1978). I was shocked once again. Before getting over the lingering fear, I was admitted into Beijing College of Political Science and Law (today’s China University of Political Science and Law) only to get caught up in the Anti-Rightist Struggle. Shortly after joining the college, one day I witnessed Qian Duansheng, the dean, being struggled after returning from India. The school took him straight from the airport into the auditorium to be struggled. In the early days of the Rectification Movement, he raised a few opinions to the college party committee. Those opinions were not sharp at all, but he was classified as a Rightist after he left the country for an official visit. Shortly after the Rectification Movement started, the Central Committee sent him to visit foreign countries to represent Chinese jurists. He could not have dreamed of such an ending. In 1954, when the Constitution of the People's Republic of China was being worked on, Mao Zedong personally wrote a letter to him and appointed him as the General Counsel of the Constitution [drafting team]. Mao's letter was displayed as part of school history, indicating that he enjoyed a very high position in the legal profession. The fact that Qian Duansheng and many teachers and classmates in the school were labeled as Rightists made me deeply aware that" disaster proceeds from careless talk". From then on, I was very cautious, did not dare to talk freely, and thus safely got through one political movement after another.

In 1958, the Great Leap Forward campaign was vigorously launched in the country, proposing to overtake England and catch up with the United States in production of major industrial products in a short period of time, and transit to communism within a dozen years, even a couple of years. To achieve this goal, the Great Leap Forward, the Communization and Backyard Furnace Movements were in full swing. Our school also built more than a dozen small furnaces, using wood and coal to make iron. I actively participated as well and worked for a few months, but not even one piece of quality iron was produced.

In the spring of 1959, food shortage gradually spread throughout the country. By 1960, due to hunger and malnutrition, I suffered from hepatitis and edema. For more than three months, I was not able to attend classes, and had to be hospitalized. (At that time, due to overcrowding, I could not get admitted to a hospital. The school vacated a dozen rooms to house the patients, and the hospital regularly sent doctors to check on us). The so-called treatment was to stop taking classes (at that time, gymnastic classes in all Beijing schools were canceled, some schools only opened for half the day), rest in bed to avoid burning calories, and a little extra nutrition. In three months, I was given 1 kg of eggs and 0.5 kg of pork as nutritional supplement. By the end of the year, tens of millions of people had died of starvation, including two of my uncles and my brother-in-law living in the countryside. However, in the year 1958, the newspapers were taken over by reports about thousands, tens of thousands or even more kilograms of grain yield per mu,[2] and the national leaders were worrying about having too much grain to consume!

In the autumn of 1961, I graduated from college. On the form where you enter your career choices, I put “teacher” for all three. However, the Ministry of Public Security came to the school to pick new graduates, and I just had to have the luck to be picked. I had no choice but to go to the ministry. In this way, the three of us recent graduates from Beijing College of Political Science and Law went straight to the Ministry of Public Security. After reporting for the job, I learned that the Central Committee had transferred Wang Zhao,[3] the Deputy Minister of Public Security, to Qinghai Province as the second provincial party secretary and governor of the province, to correct the mistakes committed by the Leftist line.

After Wang Zhao got there, he found that the public security, prosecutorial and legal organs had been deeply involved in breaking law and discipline during the "Great Leap Forward" movement and needed to be thoroughly rectified. They needed to strengthen the cadre force.  For this purpose, he went to the Ministry of Public Security and asked for more cadres. We three new recruits and dozens of other cadres already working there were transferred to Qinghai Province to strengthen the political and legal departments, mainly the public security departments. I went to the Qinghai Provincial Public Security Department, and was assigned the task of receiving the masses’ appeals to the authorities for help, handling appeal cases, cooperating with the provincial Party committee’s case-review office to investigate and work on major unjust and false cases. This gave me the opportunity to learn that the public security organs had launched their own “great leap forward” in line with the national Great Leap Forward movement, using instruments of dictatorship[4] to suppress the masses, and had created a huge human tragedy.

How did "great leap forward" movement in public security work happen?

On January 1st, 1958, after Mao Zedong’s personal review and revision, the People’s Daily published its New Year’s Day editorial entitled “Ride the Wind and Waves,” and put forward the slogan of “Develop the Power and Strive for the Upstream”, demanding “in about 15 years, catch up with or overtake the United Kingdom in the output of steel and other major industrial products... to strive for a great leap forward and a great harvest in agricultural production in 1958."

The Ministry of Public Security took immediate action and summoned some provincial and municipal bureau directors on January 22 for a briefing meeting to discuss how to carry out the "great leap forward" in public security circles. At that meeting, the "Main Points in 1958 Public Security Work" was formulated to define the direction and goals for public security work.  The "Main Points" clearly required the national public security organs to "strive to achieve ‘four no-s’” in agricultural production cooperatives, i.e., no theft cases involving more than 15 yuan, no fire causing losses of more than 10 yuan, no relatively large-scale superstitious activities; and institutions, enterprises and schools with no accidents causing serious damage, no theft cases involving more than 100 yuan, no fires causing losses of more than10 yuan."

The main points of this plan were personally reviewed and approved by Mao Zedong to be forwarded to lower levels. Like the “Great Leap Forward” in economic construction, this is a dream plan that was simply impossible to achieve. At the same time, the "Main Points" did not propose a specific and effective way to achieve the objectives of this plan, but generally required the public security organs at all levels to "resolutely arrest those who should be arrested according to law, and resolutely control those who should be put under control. The department should assist relevant departments to find out bad elements inside the enterprises and resolutely remove the majority of them. Put the hats[5] back on all the landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, and bad elements whose hats have been taken off but who violated the law again."

What is "should be arrested"? What is "should be put under control"? "According to the law", according to what law? There were no operational guidelines, each person had his own explanation, and whatever explanation was given made sense. This provided a policy basis for those who abused the penal law.  In addition, this paragraph clearly and unambiguously told public security organs at all levels that their instruments of dictatorship were meant to be utilized to defend and promote the completion of the political task of the "Great Leap Forward" movement.

The Guizhou Provincial Public Security Department actively responded [to the “Main Points”]. In February 1958, it took the lead in proposing a “seven no-s” campaign in the province, meaning “no fire, no accumulated cases, no bandits, no theft, no riots, no opium, no gambling activities”. The Ministry of Public Security immediately issued a document to promote the adoption of Guizhou Province’s practices by public security organs throughout the country, and public security organs at all levels in the country responded right away. On the basis of the "seven no-s", some provinces launched "ten no-s", "dozens of no-s" and "hundred no-s" movements. Some localities felt that all these "no-s" were still not sufficient to reflect the reality of the "great leap forward" in public security work, and the idea of "glass plate" and "crystal stone" was put forward. This meant making the whole society as clean and bright as glass plates and crystal stones, without a trace of dust. Not only would there be no crime, even arguments between husbands and wives, and quarrels between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law would not come up. That wording was praised by the central government leaders in charge of political and legal work at that time.

Now that the slogans and goals for “great leap forward” in public security work had been put in place, how to achieve them? The solution was to use the instruments of dictatorship to arrest all those considered to be, or to have the potential to be, bad people, and those who were likely or had the potential to commit crimes, and lock them up in roundhouses, detention centers, investigatory asylums, training teams and prisons, so they had no way to engage in sabotage activities. On April 9, 1958, Qinghai Provincial Party Secretary Gao Feng had this to say at the public security work forum: "Some people may not have engaged in current sabotage activities, but they may be dangerous elements. Secret arrests can be made to round them up. [Arrests] should be done in a skillful way so no one can find out; a variety of methods can be utilized, such as getting them into fights, [encouraging them to] report on each other, grabbing and sending them in [to the authorities], etc.. Knock out all the dangerous elements and social problems will be reduced.” "Who told them to make trouble at this time (during the Great Leap Forward)?, grab all of them and don’t let a single one out [of jail]. Should they die, let them die in prison.”

Accordingly, arrest plans were formulated at every level from central to local [party committees], and arrest quotas were assigned. That’s a Great Leap Forward, isn’t it!  Arrest quotas were added at each local level, making the numbers bigger and bigger with each addition. Therefore, from 1958 to 1960, in many places the number of arrests exceeded the grand total of the years from 1949 to 1957. In Anhui Province, more than 8,000 suspects were arrested in 1957, and the arrest quota issued by the central government in 1958 was 45,000. Anhui Province overfulfilled its task and ended up making more than 101,000 arrests. By 1960, more than 173,000 arrests were made in three years. Most of the arrested were innocent working-class people who had verbally expressed their discontent with the Great Leap Forward, the people's commune, the backyard furnace movement, the public canteen and free sharing of private materials and human resources. Some of them stole and ate unripe grain from the field for survival; some stole or made unauthorized distribution of food belonging to production teams; some looted the production teams’ grain warehouses rather than starve to death; some were arrested as fugitives after fleeing in hope of survival elsewhere. About one-third of the arrested died in custody, a staggering loss. In Anhui Province, more than 50,000 prisoners and uncharged criminal suspects and reeducation-through-labor personnel died in Labor Reform farms and detention centers in three years, accounting for 31% of the total number of these personnel. In the Reform-Through-Labor and labor camp system administered by Qinghai Province, 49,304 people (labeled “three-types” -reform camp prisoners, former prisoners reemployed after serving full term, and reform-through-labor prisoners) perished, accounting for 30% of the total number of 160,000.

 In the Great Leap Forward campaign, the secretary of the Anhui Provincial Party Committee, Zeng Xisheng, took the law in his own hands and gave blind and reckless orders that deviated from reality. As a result, the province was devastated by starvation and misery, with the homeless roaming the country and the corpses of starved people lying by the roadside. Four million people starved to death. Even at such a time, when people were filled with anger, they dared not speak out, for any slight sign of resistance would land them in prison or persecution to death. Under such unbearable circumstances, one person who could endure it no longer did something to vent his resentment. In the spring of 1959, a large poster was found in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui Province, with the slogan “Down with fatty Zeng and kill Evil Yu” (Yu was the surname of Zeng Xisheng’s wife). Zeng ordered the public security organs to crack the case within a limited time, forcing all the cadres (including those in the provincial Party committee) to have their handwriting analyzed. A total of 18,000 people were investigated, 3,000 had their handwriting examined, and 4,000 were secretly searched. Some of the key targets were followed, stalked, had their mail checked and bugs installed in their homes. Among the cadres under investigation, 6 were directors of department in the provincial government. Among the “criminal suspects”, one was arrested, one detained and one suspended from work. In the end, after carrying on like this for half a year, spending considerable human, material and financial resources and the suicides of two “criminal suspects”, this so-called "counter-revolutionary slogan case" remained unsolved. Zeng Xisheng was furious. He summoned the detectives several times, reprimanded them and yelled at them to "get out!" saying "I would be better off feeding a dog than feeding you." The public security organ was turned into Zeng’s private detective agency. In those days, if the leaders (including grassroots, commune, and brigade leaders) did not like someone, all they needed to do was write a note, and the person would be put into jail. This was how they understood “people who should be arrested”.

In Qinghai Province, 63,064 people were arrested in the three years from 1958 to 1960,  accounting for 2.6% of the province's [then] average population of 2.44 million, which is equivalent to more than 3.3 times the total number of 19,077 arrests made in 1949 -1957. Among them, 40,602 arrests were made in 1958 for the purpose of suppressing opposition and promoting the Great Leap Forward.

With the constant chaotic occurrences during the Great Leap Forward campaign, Mao Zedong held two meetings in Zhengzhou at the end of 1958 and in spring 1959, and took initiatives to correct the Leftist line. Based on Mao Zedong’s directives, the Ministry of Public Security requested the public security organs to implement a “three less" policy, that is, "less executions, less arrests, and also less surveillance than in the past." Because of this, the number of arrests and detentions in 1959 was sharply reduced. The number of arrests in Anhui Province dropped from more than 100,000 in 1958 to 8,115. In Qinghai Province, 4,345 arrests were made in 1959, only one ninth of the 1958 figure. In 1960, in order to implement the spirit of the Lushan Conference to counterattack right opportunism, crack down on concealing grain output and unauthorized distribution,[6] uproot rich peasants and pull out "Little Peng Dehuai-s" on all levels,[7] arrests and detentions were once again made on a large scale. In the whole year [1960], 18,177 arrests were made in Qinghai, and more than 50,000 in Anhui. The drastic swelling and shrinking of arrests and detentions was not determined by the state of public security, but by the leaders’ instructions to serve the purpose of coordinating with political movements. This was a common practice in that era.

When making arrests and detentions, no procedures were followed. Instead, they adopted the practices of the war years and political campaigns to make mass arrests. Many of those arrested and sentenced did not have corpus delicti or any proof of a crime having been committed, and some of them did not even have files. Some detainees died in custody but nobody knew their names; some were sentenced, but never had a chance to appear in court and meet with the judge before being sent to Reform-Through-Labor farms, and became “black prisoners”, i.e., prisoners without files. In just one such institution, the Haomen Farm in Qinghai Province,[8] there were more than 800 fileless prisoners. Nobody knew why those people were sent over to “reform through labor” from southeast coastal areas or to how many years each person had been sentenced. They were all became life imprisonment prisoners. When they died, it was impossible to notify their family members. After Wang Zhao got to Qinghai, more than 3,000 of the "black reform-through-labor prisoners" in the province lucky enough to remain alive were released and sent home.

Let's take a look at some typical examples from several counties in Qinghai Province to demonstrate how the “great leap forward” in public security work operated.

On July 1, 1958, the CCP Huzhu[9] County Committee submitted a report entitled Report on Preventing Rebellion by Pre-empting Enemies to the provincial party committee with the intention of gaining awards. However, no rebellion had ever happened in Huzhu County. The report claimed: "In June 1958, Huzhu County Public Security Bureau organized 52 cadres to form 12 working groups which were sent to all townships. On the night of [June] 24, 1,152 arrests were made, including 1,075 in society at large and 77 in government organizations."

In a small county with a population of less than 100,000, what would this situation look like? It is simply unimaginable. In 1959 and 1960, with a large number of people dead or dying, the county continued to make arrests, arresting not only ordinary people, but also grassroots cadres who showed sympathy to people. In April 1960, Ma Xianzhen was the head of Wozi production team, of the Shilang Brigade of the Honglangzigou Commune in this county. In this team of 150 or so, more than 40 died of starvation. His 70-year-old mother said to him: “Your first task as a production team leader is to save people. Otherwise, the whole team will starve to death, and then who are you going to lead?” Inspired by his mother, Ma secretly took the production team’s 4420 jin [c.2210 kilograms] of grain, together with the 800 jin of vegetables he exchanged for the team’s four sheep, and distributed it to the members, at the risk of being jailed or even executed. Knowing that this amount of grain and vegetable was not enough to solve the problem, he took team members to dig edible herbs in the mountains to pull through the difficult time, and was able to temporarily halt the mass deaths due to starvation. However, his action was soon discovered by brigade cadres and reported to the commune. The Public Security Bureau arrested him, charged him as a “bad element”, and sentenced him to five years in prison.

Chi Yuanfa, head of Hongshan production team, Danma Brigade, Danma Commune, saw that 51 out of the 117 members had died of starvation. He felt that if he did not take action, the whole team would perish. However, the team had no grain left. One night, he took seven team members who were still able to move, and stole a few hundred jin of barley from the brigade. They did not grind the barley into flour, just cooked it and sent it door to door to all the team members. Before daybreak, brigade cadres discovered [what had happened] and reported it to Public Security Bureau. When the police came to arrest him, team members who were still alive but barely able to move came out to see him off. A 60-year-old peasant said to the policemen “Our production team had more than 100 people before, now there are only about 50 left. We would all have starved to death without the food Chi gave us. Comrade Policeman, we only beg you please do not abuse him, please do not kill him, we are waiting for him to come back to save us.” The Public Security Bureau charged him as a “bad element”, and sent him to the training team in the county seat for three months. He died one month later. As for the production team, only 18 survived. 

Minhe County is the eastern gate of Qinghai Province with relatively favorable natural conditions, and is suitable for growing wheat, barley, potatoes and various fruits. The  Huangshui River (Huang Shui) flows through the county and enters the Yellow River through Lanzhou. The scenery on both sides is beautiful. It is the granary and major fruit producing county of Qinghai Province. After Wang Zhao went to Qinghai, he sent a provincial-level working group (I was fortunate enough to participate) to conduct an in-depth investigation, and discovered that due to man-made rather than natural disasters, 20,984 people starved to death from 1958 to 1960, and 5,721 people fled and died elsewhere. 7,925 people were unaccounted for (actually died outside the county), and the county suffered a net population loss of 25%. Lijiashan Production Brigade, Gushan Commune, suffered the largest number of deaths. Of the original population of 1,318, 601, or 46%, starved to death. 492 households had no survivors left with 1,623 deaths in these families. 867 orphans were housed by the government. It is in this county that 33 cases of cannibalism took place and 46 people were eaten. Among them, 38 were corpses cooked and eaten; 8 people either killed and ate their own or someone else’s children, 5 children were victims. Even under such circumstances, when people’s lives were in a life-or-death situation, leaders of this county totally disregarded the reality, and continued to carry out the Great Leap Forward, “counter rightist opportunism”, “cracking down on concealing and unauthorized distribution of grain output”, and used dictatorship methods to deal cruelly with the masses who dared to express the slightest complaint. In those three years, 2,680 people were arrested, 1,091 were put under surveillance, 1,915 were sent to Reform-Through-Labor farms or collective training teams, and 2,966 [of the above] were given prison sentences.

A large number of detainees died of torture, extortion to make them confess, or starvation, but those in power paid no attention. In three years, 729 detainees died in the county detention center. In August 1960, Xie Fuzhi, who had succeeded Luo Ruiqing as the Minister of Public Security for a year, visited the county Public Security Bureau and witnessed police officers carrying a corpse from the detention center. Upon inquiry, he learned that deaths had occurred every day.  He said to the police chief: "Deaths took place every day and you don’t take measures to stop it. Aren’t you afraid that ghosts might come to you at night?!" Xie Fuzhi, who had done his best to implement the Leftist policies in public security work, suddenly discovered his conscience - this alone indicated how serious the situation was! He said to the public security director Yang Shufang who accompanied him on the inspection tour, “This year, arrests to be made in Qinghai Province should be roughly the same as last year (1959). Do not exceed this [quota].”  He then continued to Xinjiang on his inspection tour. On his return trip to Beijing via Lanzhou, he summoned Yang Shufang again and instructed him to make sure that the arrest quota in Qinghai Province that year must be limited to the 5,000 issued by the central government. If the quota had to be exceeded, it must be reported to the [CCP] central committee for approval. Yang immediately transferred Xie Fuzhi’s instructions to Gao Feng, secretary of the CCP Qinghai Provincial Committee. Gao chaired a provincial Party Committee standing committee meeting to discuss this issue, and had this to say: “This year is a crucial year for defending the Great Leap Forward and resolutely counter-attacking the right-deviationist reversal-of-verdicts trend. The number of arrests cannot be reduced.” The provincial committee submitted a report to the Central Committee with an arrest quota of 15,000. Both the Central Committee and Xie Fuzhi made no comments about it, which was tantamount to approval. In the end, more than 18,000 arrests were made that year.  

Huangzhong County[10] was the largest and most populated agricultural county in Qinghai Province. It was Qinghai’s granary but also the county that suffered the most deaths due to starvation. People there dared not resist because An Youfang, the county head and public security director, was an aggressive follower of  the left-leaning line. He launched a competition in the county, and police stations making the most arrests were praised and awarded red flags; the chiefs of police stations making fewer arrests were criticized, even disciplined, and their stations were given white flags as punishment. In June 1958, following the provincial committee’s directive of "three all-clears”, i.e., "clear all counter-revolutionaries, clear all guns, clear all cases”,  he put forward the slogan of "working hard for three days and nights to make 600 arrests.”  As a result, 841 people were arrested in 6 days. As not enough counter-revolutionaries could be found to fill the quota, 270 people who reportedly had committed adultery were also arrested, accounting for 32% of the total number of arrests.

 In the spring of 1960, [peasants] in Yuanshan production team in the Handong Commune of this county had only 2 liang (16 liang equalled 1 jin)[11] of grain per person per day. Li Zhanxiang, a 14-year-old student in this team, saw 7 members in his family of 11 starving to death. Out of desperation, he went to the teams’ pasture and stole two baby lambs that lasted for five days. In the 6th day, he went to the brigade collective eating house to get his portion. On his way home, he took two sips from the half clay pot of barley soup, feeling it was just like water. Frustrated, he smashed the pot and started to cry. Knowing that the whole family would starve to death in a couple of days, he returned to the pasture with rope and a sickle. Taking advantage of the herder’s absence, he tied up a donkey, cutting off one of its ears and ran back home. When the herder found out, he reported it to the cadres. They traced the blood drops to Li’s home and caught him scraping hair from the donkey ear. They also found the two lambskins. Caught with the stolen objects, brigade cadres tied him up, poked a hole in his ear to hang the donkey ear on, and escorted him to the county Public Security Bureau. They were praised by An Youfang. Li was arrested, charged with the crime of “harming animals” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In July 1961, the provincial party committee working group went down to Huangzhong County to inspect the self-examination and self-correction of the Public Security Bureau, and asked the new director why Li Zhanxiang had not been released. The director replied that Li had been caught red-handed stealing lambs and cutting off a donkey’s ear. The facts were clear and evidence conclusive, we were not sure [whether he should be released], that was why he was not released. Upon hearing the report, Wang Zhao commented: “In Li’s family, seven out of eleven members died of starvation, he had no choice but to do that to stay alive, plus he was a minor and should not be arrested according to law.” It was under these circumstance that Li was released. After returning home, he learned that his entire family had starved to death, and he was the only survivor. He took a few ragged clothes and went to Xinjiang to live with his uncle.

On July 23, 1960, An Youfang went to Shangxinzhuang commune to inspect work and decided to make dozens of arrrests. When the police chief reported to him by reading out cases of "criminal suspects", he dozed off. Nobody dared to wake him up, so the police chief continued to read. When he woke up, the chief asked: “How should those people be dealt with?” He was half-awake, and kept saying "arrest, arrest, arrest". It was in this manner that he made the decision to arrest 37 people in one evening.

On June 22, 1958, Ledu County[12] CCP issued a detailed arrest plan to the townships under its administration. Let us take a look at this plan and see how absurd it was! The following is copied from the original document without changing a single character:

The total number of striking targets covering various types of enemies in the county is 450, including 7 to 9 religious personnel, 80 to 85 landlords and rich peasants, 95 to 100 counter-revolutionaries and evildoers, 70-80 enemy and puppet [government] administrative and military officials,[13] 30 to 35 five-type enemies (author’s note: local tyrants, bandits, spies, key members of counter-revolutionary parties and organizations, enemy and puppet administrative, military and police force personnel), 15 to 20 elements under public surveillance, 40 to 45 offenders released from labor camps and family members of counter-revolutionaries, 26 to 30 elements whose surveillance has been withdrawn, 30 to 36 Yiguandao[14] members and necromancers, and 7 to 10 evildoers from government organs and schools who have been handed over to society for work under public surveillance. To divide [the arrest quota] by townships: 28 to 30 arrests to be made in Nianbo[15] Township, 15 to 17 in Laoya Township, 27 to 29 in Jutan Township, 26 to 28 in Ganggou Township, 12 to 14 in Hongshui Township, 11 to 13 in Gaodian Township, 14 to 16 in Fengdui Township, 16 to 17 in Maying Township, 19 to 20 in Lijia Township, 11 to 13 in Shoule Township, 13 to 15 in Gonghe Township, 13 to 14 in Shuimo Township, 20 to 28 in Gaomiao Township, 13 to 14 in Yuruin Township, 16 to 18 in Xinren Township, 19 to 21 in Putai Township, 16 to 18 in Zhongba Township, 17 to 19 in Chengtai Township, 18 to 19 in Machang Township, 15 to 17 in Luhua Township, 12 to 13 in Zhongling Township; 18 to 20 in Yinsheng Township, 15 to 17 in Dala Township, 9 to 10 in Shuangbao Township, 7 to 10 in religious temples. Deadline: start from June 25th, finish by July 15th. The pioneer group of arrests is to be made on June 20th, and additional group from July 3rd to 5th; finally, from July 12th to 15th, all the subjects under our control are to be arrested.”

Such a thorough and detailed plan to arrest people can truly be rated as unsurpassable. People today may ask how this can happen? It can’t be real. However, I want to state seriously that such incredibly ridiculous things have indeed happened in our country, and it did not happen just in this one place.

At that time, the political and legal departments put forward a slogan for the "Great Leap Forward" as the code of conduct for the public security, the procuratorial and court systems:  "One chief to represent three chiefs (public security chief, procurator-general and chief justice), one handler to substitute three handlers (detective, prosecutor and judge); go down for general arrests, separate [those to be arrested] on return." Guided by this slogan, the Public Security Bureau, procuratorate and court were effectively turned into one single organ without any supervision or restriction. Party, administrative leaders and police personnel from public security, procuratorate and court went down with blank arrest warrants, arresting people wherever they went and whoever they wanted to arrest. Even though the slogan claimed they would “separate after coming back”, it was never put into practice. As a matter of fact, it was impossible to do so.

In December, 1959, Xining City Public Security Bureau drafted 15 policemen and dispatched them to Sanhe Commune, Huangzhong County to carry out “anti-right-opportunism struggle”. Hui Pu, the deputy mayor, gave them this instruction: “The reason for your task is to implement the spirit of the Lushan Conference, and resolutely fight back against the right-opportunist trend. The task was quite hard. To make a breakthrough, a certain number of arrests must be made. When necessary, you can make arrests first and go through the procedure after you come back.” As a result, shortly after the work group arrived at the commune, a decision was made to arrest 58 people. When Hui Pu went down to the country, he always brought blank warrants with him, and arrested people along the way. He claimed that in this way “[warrants] can be used immediately when needed and the procedure is simplified”.

As the Public Security Bureau, procuratorate and court effectively merged into one organ, all the arrested were sure to be sentenced. In areas where too many arrests had been made for available judges to process, conviction notices were preprinted. When sentencing, all they needed to do was to fill in the names of those indicted and the number of years of their sentence, with no trials or interrogations conducted.  In the Yushu Prefecture court, 183 people were sentenced with one single warrant. The “criminal offenses” were written as follows: “XXX, the defendant with extremely wicked character, has never made an honorable living before or after the Liberation, and had raped 607 married women and 51 [other] women. In addition, [he] also committed 607 sodomies and participated in 30 cases of sodomy with each other.” Today people may not be able to understand this unfounded accusation or figure out what this bizarre warrant was all about. It turns out that the 183 accused consisted of 11 females and 172 males. Instead of distinguishing each individual’s criminal activities, the cumulative activities of adultery, rape, and sodomy they collectively committed, both by individuals and with each other, were added up to get the total number. However, reading the warrant one gets the impression that each one of the 183, including the 11 females, had committed 607 rapes and acts of sodomy. The warrant was discovered by the [Qinghai] Provincial Party Committee inspection team during its inspection of Yushu Prefecture which had the highest arrest rate.  Later on, when I went with my superiors to Yushu, I saw this warrant myself.

This warrant should be preserved as a historical artifact to educate later generations and show them what the idiom “treating human life like a piece of dry grass” means.

All these appalling and bizarre activities that completely disregarded law and discipline happened at the lower and grassroots levels during the Great Leap Forward and other political movements, however, the root causes were at the top level, in the CCP Central Committee. Without erroneous direction from the Central Committee, such things would not have happened. Even if they did happen, it would not have developed on such a large scale and it would have been easier to straighten things out. However, in the extreme Leftist era, bizarrely, arrests were based on the quotas issued by the Central Committee; what happened to the spirit of work based on facts and reality?

After the Seven Thousand Conference held by the Central Committee in 1962,[16] the Central Political and Legal Leading Group submitted a report entitled "Summary Report on Political and Legal Work from 1958 to 1961" to the Central Committee. The report said: "While fully affirming the great achievements of political and legal work, some shortcomings and mistakes have occurred in the actual work, mainly in the following: First, public security organs, courts and procuratorates have wrongly arrested a few who should not have been arrested and sentenced. A few grassroots-level public security organs did not act in accordance with national laws, and arrested some people in the name of detention, reeducation through labor, and collective training. In addition, some organs and offices (such as those in communes, brigades, construction sites, enterprises, schools) that are not authorized to arrest criminals, and even a small number of local party committees and responsible persons have illegally exercised the power of arrest and detention, or used apprehension, reeducation through labor, collective training  and other means to arrest and detain people. What is particularly serious is that in a very small number of places, cadres used legal means such as arrest, detention, and sentencing to implement policies that violate the Central Committee’s political directives and guidelines…”

In 1958, it was clearly stated that the main points of public security for that year were to "arrest those who should be arrested, and control those who should be put under control according to law." What does this “should” mean and on what “law” was it to be based? From the central to the local, no one took the law seriously. At a meeting with directors of the Beidaihe Cooperation Zone on August 21, 1958, Mao Zedong said "Law should not be used to manage the majority of the people. The kinds of laws like civil law and criminal law are not needed. Who remembers all the codes in civil law and criminal law? I participated in the formulation of the Constitution and I can’t remember it.... Each one of our resolutions is a law, and the meetings are also laws... We mainly rely on meetings, four meetings a year, and the Big Leap Forward, no time to break the law! No need to rely on civil law and criminal law to maintain order. " In accordance with the spirit of Mao Zedong’s speech, the Central Political and Legal Leading Group immediately wrote a report entitled “Report to Chairman [Mao] and the Central Party Committee on Issues in Political and Legal Work after Communization”. The report clearly stated: “Formulation of criminal law, civil law, and procedural law is no longer necessary.” At the time, those three laws had been drafted, and revised many times, ready to be passed by the National People’s Congress. However, due to prevailing nihilist ideology, they had not been adopted. Now the Central Political and Legal Leadership Group simply announced that these three laws did not need to be formulated. How would the political and legal organs execute law? We could only act according to the party’s resolutions and leaders’ instructions. It was unfair that the Central Political and Legal Leading Group failed to act in accordance with the law but pushed all the mistakes onto the lower level.

Liu Shaoqi wrote this instruction after reading the Summary Report: “The mistakes in political and legal work in recent years were mainly caused by applying the dictatorship method of handling problems between us and our enemies to people on our own side, and problems among the working people. It is a fundamental mistake.   This is not the Communist Party’s method, but the Kuomintang’s style of work, to stand above the people and exert pressure on the people."

Liu Shaoqi’s criticism of the nature of the mistakes in political and legal work hit the nail on the head. However, he did not explicitly point out that even though the error occurred at the lower level, the root cause was in the Central Committee, and did not specify the fact that both the Central Committee and local governments had failed to act in accordance with law, which was the root cause of the mistakes committed in the work.

This is not surprising though. During the "Great Leap Forward" period, Liu Shaoqi was an active advocate and practitioner of the "Great Leap Forward" movement and a legal nihilist himself. He had this to say at the August 21 meeting of the directors of the Beidaihe Collaborative Zone: "Is it the rule of the people or the rule of law? It seems that [we must] actually rely on the people, …and the law can only serve as a reference while getting things done. The party's resolution is the law." Following the speeches of Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi, during the "Great Leap Forward" period, the resolutions of the party committees at all levels became law, and leaders’ words were also the law. The only unlucky ones were ordinary people. During the "Cultural Revolution" movement, when the Red Guards subjected Liu Shaoqi to struggle, he once held up the "Constitution of the People's Republic of China" claiming that he was the President of the People's Republic of China and protected by the Constitution, therefore it was illegal to struggle him. However, by that time both the Constitution and the law had been trampled on and completely destroyed, and could no longer protect him. He ended up being cruelly persecuted to death. It was a subject of infinite sympathy and grief. Having said that “the party’s resolution is the law”, in 1968 he was denounced by the party as a “traitor, enemy agent, fink” during the 12th Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee which announced that the party “permanently expels Liu Shaoqi and revokes all his duties inside and outside the party." It was this party resolution, that went totally against the constitution, that ended Liu Shaoqi’s life.

Without respect for the constitution and the law, there will be no constitutional or legal protection. This is a lesson we should never forget.

Working in the public security organs has been my career, to which I had a strong emotional attachment. I wrote this article with a heavy heart. My purpose is to sum up lessons in order to avoid repeating historical mistakes. The basis of public security work is the party's leadership, the mass line, and acting in accordance with the law. However, we must have a correct understanding of the party’s leadership, that is, strictly abide by the constitution and laws enacted under the leadership of the party, and establish the absolute authority of the constitution and the law. Any person or organization at any level must act within the scope of the constitution and law; they cannot put themselves above them, and turn the public security, political and legal departments into their own vassals to implement wrong policies and policies that violate the constitution and the law. The best way of accepting the party’s leadership is to act in strict accordance with the law, as the constitution and the law reflect the will of the party and the will of the people, and represent the fundamental interests of the party as well as the people. In the New Era,[17] the public security organs and police have safeguarded people’s legitimate rights and interests from infringement, and worked hard and fearlessly to maintain social stability so that people can live and work in peace and contentment. They have made a great contribution to maintain the overall stability of the society. Many people have sacrificed their precious lives and have been fully affirmed and praised by the party and the people. In the past 30 years of reform and opening up, public security work has not made big mistakes or directional mistakes. An important experience is that under the leadership of the party, we constantly eliminate all kinds of interference and resolutely act in accordance with the constitution and law. There are still a very few local leaders who often use dictatorship tools to suppress the people in order to promote their own wrong policies, however, resulting in mass incidents occurring from time to time. This situation can no longer continue. Otherwise, “building a harmonious society” is nothing but empty talk.

Originally published in Yanhuang Chunqiu No.1 2010.


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[1] “Cross the threshold” is a CCP political term meaning a person passes the party’s investigation and examination. A typical example: after the June 4th Tiananmen crackdown, every person in universities, colleges, party and governmental organs etc. was required to tell their whereabouts during the month-long protest and make a statement, oral or written and sometimes both, on their thoughts about the protest and the crackdown. This practice was referred to as “everyone crossing the threshold” (Ren ren guo guan).

[2] One mu is 0.16 of an acre.

[3] Wang Zhao (1917-1970), participated in the Korean War as political commissar of the 64th Army. After returning from Korea in 1953, he was appointed director of the political department in the Ministry of Public Security, and later as deputy minister. In 1961 he was appointed the second secretary of Qinghai Provincial Party Committee and governor of Qinghai. He died of persecution during the Cultural Revolution and was later exonnerated.

[4] In China, the public security and legal system are considered instruments of the proletarian dictatorship. 

[5] In CCP political terminology, “wearing a hat” refers to a person being classified in one of the categories deemed to be “class enemies”.  For example, “landlord” is a “hat” that put a person into a category to be controlled. Once the person was considered to be well reformed, his “hat” was “taken off”. However, a landlord whose “hat” had been taken off was still referred to as “a hatless landlord”.

[6] In the early days of the Great Famine (1959-1961), peasants passively resisted the government’s excessive mandatory grain collection by lying about the actual amount of grain output. On January 27, 1959, Zhao Ziyang, then secretary of Guangdong Provincial Party Committee, submitted a report about this issue. The report was sent to Beijing and Mao Zedong wrote a comment  on February 22 and ordered it transferred to the whole country, which started the movement to search and confiscate grain from peasants’ homes. Known as “counter grain-concealing movement”, it turned out to be one of the factors causing millions of deaths from starvation.

[7] Peng Dehuai (1898 – 1974) , was a senior CCP military leader, commander of Chinese forces in the Korean War and Defense Minister from 1954 to 1959. In 1955 he was awarded the rank of Marshal, second only to Zhu De in the  CCP military hierarchy. He was purged at the Lu Shan Conference in July 1959 for opposing Mao’s Great Leap Forward. His downfall was followed by an internal purge called the “anti-right-opportunist movement”, in which a large number of cadres supposedly belonging to Peng Dehuai’s clique or following his political line were labelled “little Peng Dehuai-s”, and persecuted in various ways.

[8] Haomen Farm is one of the undisclosed number of Reform-Through-Labor farms in Qinghai Province. It is located in Menyuan Hui Autonomous County, Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

[9] (Tib. Gonlung). Huzhu Tu Autonomous County in today’s Haidong City, Qinghai Province.

[10] Tib. Rusar). The 14th Dalai Lama’s birthplace was in this county until 1979. 

[11]  From 1932 to 1959, one Jin was 16 liang. One liang was 31.25 grams.

[12] (Tib.) Drotsang. Today’s  Ledu District, Haidong City. It was a county from 1929 to 1979.

[13] In CCP terminology, “enemy and puppet (government)” refers to the Nationalist government.

[14] One of the largest religious sects flourishing in China in the 1930s and 1940s with millions of followers.    

After 1949, CCP declared it a “counter-revolutionary society and cult” and banned it. For details, see

[15] (Tib.) Nanpae, county seat of Ledu County.

[16] Formally known as the Expanded Working Conference of the CCP Central Committee convened in Beijing from January 11 to February 7, 1962. Participants included leading cadres from the Central Committee to county level, 7000 altogether, and was thus popularly referred to as the “Conference of Seven Thousand.”

[17] New Era refers to the period since the CCP’s “Reform and Opening up” policy [1978].

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