Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10077/29379
Title: The Power of Words: Labels and their Consequences in Mao’s China (1949-1976)
Authors: Ji, Fenguyan
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Source: Ji Fenguyan, "The Power of Words: Labels and their Consequences in Mao’s China (1949-1976)" in: "Words of Power, the Power of Words. The Twentieth-Century Communist Discourse in International Perspective", Trieste, EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2019, pp. 381-399
Journal: Studi di Storia
Abstract: 
When Mao and the Chinese Communist Party became supreme in 1949, they used
their power to control words. They suppressed words that expressed ‘incorrect’ ways
of thinking, they taught everyone a new political vocabulary, and they required people
to recite political formulae and scripts that gave correct linguistic form to correct
thought. As part of this project of linguistic engineering, they introduced a system of
classification and political labelling that located every individual within a ‘good’ class,
a ‘bad class’, or an intermediate class. They supplemented this with a system of ‘Red’
(good) and ‘Black’ (bad) categories that enabled even people of good class origins to be
stigmatised. This essay will explain how this system of classification and labelling affected
people’s life chances, showing that it was especially devastating when the labels were
combined with the language of class war during the repeated ‘class struggles’ that Mao
instigated to attack alleged class enemies and promote revolutionary consciousness. The
damage to people’s lives reached its climax during the Cultural Revolution, when Mao
for a time lost control of the process of labelling and the country descended into low
grade civil war. After restoring order by the use of force, Mao brought the process of labelling
back under centralised control and used it to condemn the young revolutionaries
who had pinned invidious labels on their opponents and attacked them in his name. He
then ensured that labelling remained a fundamental technology of social control, using
it to institutionalise the Cultural Revolution and instigate new class struggles right down
to his death in 1976. From beginning to end, the labelling system was a weapon that
advanced the interests and objectives of those who controlled it.
Type: Book Chapter
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10077/29379
ISBN: 978-88-5511-086-0
eISBN: 978-88-5511-087-7
Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Internazionale
Appears in Collections:06 Words of Power, the Power of Words. The Twentieth-Century Communist Discourse in International Perspective

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