Nevertheless, in Shao’s eyes, Mao Zedong and the CPC had the strategic vision and wisdom to found a new country and serve the Chinese people. That was why he had no qualms with working for State media and producing propaganda about “socialist construction” with all his heart.
The “blind belief” he described in his book was that “he had seldom asked why or doubted any policy of the Party or the government” even when he sensed something amiss or wrong.
For example, when Shao joined in the “land reform” the CPC launched in 1947 in the liberated areas which aimed to redistribute rural land held by landlords, he realized that the campaign might have strayed too far to the left, as the Party neither distinguished ordinary landlords from the more unscrupulous and oppressive ones, nor gave the ordinary landlords any alternative options for making a living, which actually created resistance to the reform. But at that time, he believed that the Party was always right.
Shao also feels a certain remorse for not questioning the 1956 relocation of the Sanmenxia power station in Henan Province, for which hundreds of thousands of local residents were forced to move to remote and sterile saline and alkaline land. According to Shao, the Chinese side of the project unquestioningly followed the Soviet experts’ erroneous analysis of Sanmenxia’s geology which then caused the sediment of the Yellow River to block the reservoir. However, as a government propagandist at the time, he did not speak for the residents and opponents, but rather sang praise for the project based on his “unrealistic and romantic fantasy.”
“In the piles of documents available to the public, the government always concludes the achievements, but seldom reflects on the mistakes and detours they made… so it is hard for them to learn a lesson,” wrote Shao when he reexamined land reform in his book.
His words might indicate a reason why many intellectuals at the time, including Shao, became concerned about the dark sides of society and the defects in Party officialdom, especially when the government encouraged people to “fully air their views” on the Party in the late 1950s.
“I thought that we could not expand the bright side until we fought and eliminated the dark sides. It is a dialectic of ‘serving the politics’ which is deeper and more direct,” says Shao in I Died to explain his shift to critical essays.
Despite the intellectuals’ expectation when providing criticism, much of what they wrote was subsequently deemed to be “ignoring the achievements of socialist construction and trying to uglify it.”
In his new book, Shao repeatedly mentions the well-known “‘Counter-Revolutionary’ Case of Hu Feng,” in which Hu, a renowned literary critic of the time, was arrested for publicly blaming officials for ignoring the laggard and dark sides in the socialist construction, and appealing for writers and critics to launch independent, non-governmental journals. Shao, however, was originally only a spectator to the incident, failing to realize that he would one day fall as a “rightist” due to his critical essays.
Today, the political campaigns of the late 1950s still remain a sensitive topic in China, though discussion of them is not banned, Shao frankly points out in I Died that political campaigns would always spread to and affect large groups of innocent people and violate the “rule of law.”
In his later years, Shao has kept a close eye on China’s development and reform, especially of the legal system, Party disciplinary supervision and elections, which he believes have plenty of room to improve when he examines history.
“After ‘we have crossed the river by feeling for the stones’ [Deng Xiaoping’s description of how to conduct China’s process of reform and modernization], it is a challenge, not a fantastical dream for us to take a new, correct and sunny road … To learn the lessons from our bloody history and rationally say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” he wrote at the end of the preface to his new book.
Encouragingly, I Died, though sharp and bold, was published without issue or censorship and drew the attention of young Chinese people. “There is little time left for our generation …” he told NewsChina, revealing that he will keep reading and writing to leave his “last words” to the world and the younger generations.