How successful was ‘The Hundred Flowers Movement’?
The Hundred Flowers Movement was launched under the slogan, “Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.” The movement encouraged the expression of different views. This was to counteract the demoralisation of academics and artists.
Some historians have argued that the policy was designed to encourage dissidents to criticise the regime, therefore making their views public and making it easier for the communists to identify them and deal with them effectively. Other historians argue that the intention of the movement was to allow free debate which it was thought would prove that socialism was the right way forward for China.
The Hundred Flowers Movement was established to allow intellectuals discuss the problems faced by China and the possible routes forward. Initially the response was quite muted with minor issues being debated and little in the way of constructive criticism being offered by intellectuals. In the spring of 1957 Mao stated that criticism was preferred and encouraged healthy debate of issues. In doing so he hoped that socialist ideals would become evident as the best route forward.
In some ways the Hundred Flowers Movement was quite successful following Mao’s pleas for debate. Millions of letters were sent offering opinions. However the idea backfired in many ways. A lot of the criticism was directed at the party and at Mao himself. Instead of suggesting that socialism was the answer, a lot of the views suggested that the party and its policies were the problem. As far as Mao was concerned, the critics had gone beyond what he considered to be reasonable debate and criticism.
Successes of the Hundred Flowers Movement
One of the consequences of the movement, and its subsequent ending, was that dissidents were unlikely to voice their opinions and were not willing to risk their lives criticising Ma and the party. As a result the movement inadvertantly made controlling the people and minimising dissent a lot easier for the communist party.
Failures of the Hundred Flowers Movement
If the intention had been to allow free debate and to utilise this to find shared and agreed solutions then the movement was an abject failure.
The Hundred Flowers Movement offered an opportunity for ordinary Chinese people to have a say. This had the potential to influence government thinking. It recognised that there was still work to be done in China. Culturally, Mao still wanted developments. Input was wanted from the artists and academics that could contribute to the Cultural Revolution. Similarly the economic issues of the day were important. The population could contribute ideas on priorities, solutions to issues and raise concerns. This might influence the implementation of the Five Year Plans. If done in a constructive way, the Hundred Flowers Movement had great potential to change Chinese society for the better.
Not many political leaders encourage discussion of policy in such a way. This was a brave move by Mao. It illustrates elements of his ideology, with everyone being equal. The repression of criticisms highlights the other side of his rule.Both are notable when assessing Mao’s successes as a leader.
Source: Intellectual opinions of the Hundred Flowers Movement, 1957 (A writer)
… We cannot but admit that since the liberation of the country, our guiding theoretical
ideas [in literature] have been conservative and at the same time profoundly influenced by
doctrinairism from abroad, which to a considerable degree has hindered and stunted the
development and prosperity of literary and artistic enterprises. …
Source: Intellectual opinions of the Hundred Flowers Movement, 1957 (A college professor)
The Party members, due to their occupying positions of leadership and being favorably
situated, seem to enjoy in all respects excessive privileges. …
Source: Intellectual opinions of the Hundred Flowers Movement, 1957 (A Student Leader)
True socialism is highly democratic, but the socialism we have here is not democratic. I
call this society a socialism sprung from a basis of feudalism. …
Source: Intellectual opinions of the Hundred Flowers Movement, 1957 (A Factory Manager)
Learning from the Soviet Union is a royal road; but some cadres do not understand and
think that it means copying. I say if we do, it will paralyze Chinese engineers. … I have been
engaged in electrical engineering for twenty years. Some of the Soviet experiences simply do
not impress me. Of course, I suffered a good deal in the Five-Anti movement [against private
business and business leaders] because of these opinions.
Wikipedia – encyclopedia entry on the Hundred Flowers Movement
Encyclopedia Britannica – brief entry about the movement.
E-Language – detailed article about the Hundred Flowers Movement.
Fact Index – article.