(De)Revolutionizing Information: Information Control and Media Politics in Communist China (1945-1976)
3: The Anti-rightist Campaign as Media Event: Media, Censorship, and the Making of Dissent in 1950s China
Thursday, March 24, 2022
12:30pm – 2:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Sei Jeong Chin
Ewha Womans University, Republic of Korea
This paper explores the role of the media in the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957-1958) against non-party intellectuals by emphasizing the theatrical and performative nature of the campaign. It analyzes the high-profile case of Zhang Naiqi, the Minister of Granary and democratic party leader, who was denounced as one of the three leading "rightists" during the campaign. Earlier studies on the political campaigns in the PRC often neglected the role of the media, due to the assumption that media functioned merely as a party mouthpiece. However, this study demonstrates that media played an important role as a public tribunal in which a particular political discourse was delegitimized and defined as “dissent.” Intriguingly, rather than simply censoring the "rightist voices," the CCP allowed the news media to publicize Zhang's contestation against the accusation, even when the CCP had the capacity to completely censor Zhang's rebuttal. The intended effect of the publicity on the campaign did not necessarily lie in the indoctrination of the public, but in the censorship of a particular political discourse in the public realm. However, the process of the campaign was highly contested and not necessarily predetermined by the state. Zhang, unlike other leading rightists, never acknowledged that he was anti-socialist and anti-party. Thus, the successful campaign was still predicated on the performance of the dissidents. Nevertheless, Zhang became vulnerable to public accusation not because his voice was silenced or censored, but because he could not construct favorable publicity legitimating his stances.