China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - From Shame to Pride: Changing Perceptions and Identity Formation of "Rightists"

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 4, Exhibit Level

Since the introduction of “rightist” as a political category in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957, its perception by the authorities and society in general have been changing in the past six decades. In the Maoist era, “rightists” were a marginalized yet educated group lumped together with four other categories: landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries and rotten elements. In the Reform era, “rightists” were treated as victims of Mao’s political campaigns. At present, some “rightists” became dissidents and troublemakers.

Along with the changing perception of “rightist,” the identity formation also took shape in steps. At first, many had difficulties accepting that they were labeled “rightists.” It was a humiliation for both “rightists” and their families. By the early 1980s, most “rightists” took off the label and went back to work. Many were willing to move on, though some others refuse to forget the past. They self publish memoirs, circulate underground journals, and meet regularly. The label of “rightist” is no longer a shame, but a mistake, and some even took it as pride.

This paper answers two questions: how have the authorities changed its perception of “rightists,” and how have “rightists” themselves come to terms with the label in the last sixty years? Using de-classified documents, memoirs, and oral history interviews, my paper delineates the changing perception and identity formation of “rightists” from 1957 to the present. I argue that by creating the “rightist” label, the state has produced its own dissidents, and distanced itself from people who originally supported it.

Yidi Wu

St. Mary's College, Indiana, California

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