Blood guilt - China

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sun Feb 18 09:30:28 MST 1996

When I was in grad school at Cambridge one of my clkassmates was an older
Chinese historian of science who had been sent to my dept (Hist and Phil
of Science) as sort of payback for having been sent to the countryside. He
wasn't political and didn't care about ideology at all. I asked him what
it had been like and whether he was bitter. He saud that he regretted the
lost years for his scholarly work, but he wasn't bitter. When he arrived
in the country he was lost, lonely, and confused and deeply resented by
the peasants. He didn't know how to farm and was essentially just another
useless mouth to feed. AFter a while he tried various ways to make himself
useful. He discoivered that the peasants, who were illiterate and
innumerate, if that is a word, were wasting a lot of effort that could be
saved by simple mathematics. So he worked out the formula and taught the
peasants hwo to apply them. When he left after the fall of the Gang of
Four, they gave him a big party. He still got an annual note from one of the
few villagers who could more or less write, saying that he was remembered
with fondness. So, he told me, he learneda  lot that he would nefver have
learned in any other way about his country, and he had served the people
(he used the Maoist phrase) perhaps more thgan his scholarly work have
done. He had mized feelings about it, but didnb't think, on reflection,
that it had been so horrible. Would he go again? Not a chance.

I tell this story for what it';s worth. I don't have any idea whether it
has any general applicability.


On Sat, 17 Feb 1996, Lisa Rogers wrote:

> Perhaps someone would please explain what is possibly
> 're-educational' about 'being sent to the countryside to work
> alongside peasants'?  Also, what is 'rectification'?
> I'm already aware of the extremely destructive and oppressive effects
> of that 'work' in the countryside, and I regard 're-education' as a
> euphemism, at best.  What I'd like to know is more about this
> 'ambiguity', i.e. what's the other side.  
> What could be 're-educational' about being split from your family,
> losing all jobs for which one had been previously trained and
> experienced, and forcibly relocated with public humiliation and
> repudiation?  [Not to mention 'due process'...]
> Just wondering,
> Lisa
> >>> Chris, London <100423.2040 at>  2/17/96, 03:19am >>>
> [snip] ...Mao was consistently against solving political 
> contradictions with loss of life if possible. Rectification and 
> re-education campaigns were preferred to purges, and instead of the
> Gulag, being sent to the countryside to work alongside peasants.  
> The ambiguous nature of whether this was really re-education or
> punishment, concealed how very oppressive and destructive this was in
> practice, with accounts of suicides and tragedies that continue to be
> narrated.
> ***
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