The Compelling Ideal

The Compelling Ideal: Thought Reform and the Prison in China, 1901-1956

Jan Kiely
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The Compelling Ideal
    Book Description:

    In this groundbreaking volume, based on extensive research in Chinese archives and libraries, Jan Kiely explores the pre-Communist origins of the process of systematic thought reform or reformation (ganhua) that evolved into a key component of Mao Zedong's revolutionary restructuring of Chinese society. Focusing onganhuaas it was employed in China's prison system, Kiely's thought-provoking work brings the history of this critical phenomenon to life through the stories of individuals who conceptualized, implemented, and experienced it, and he details how these techniques were subsequently adapted for broader social and political use.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18637-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Maps
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-5)

    “Thought reform” is a peculiar term in English, still tethered, more than a half century after its introduction, to the Communist China of Mao Zedong. “Brainwashing,” however, the related word coined a few years earlier based on a literal translation of the Chinesexinao(wash brain), has developed a popular, fulsome life of its own. I was first struck by the Chinese origin of the word when, still an undergraduate, I saw the reissue of the 1962 John Frankenheimer filmThe Manchurian Candidate, an entertainingly campy Cold War political thriller starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey in which ludicrously Orientalized...

  6. 1 Architects of Penal Reformation in the Late Qing Empire and Early Republic of China, 1900–1920
    (pp. 6-41)

    In the thirtieth year of the Guangxu emperor (1904), Jia Liaotou, a young man from Gong Village in Wanping County just outside of Beijing, was arrested for robbery. In keeping with imperial Qing laws and regulations, he was tortured under interrogation before the county magistrate. He gave an alias, Jia Wanhe, which was duly entered in the record. The magistrate sentenced Jia to be executed after the autumn assize review of capital cases. Yet, before long, Jia had his sentence commuted and changed to the new statutory punishment of imprisonment. The imperial government was beginning to implement a new system...

  7. 2 Guides to Reform: Prison Instructors in Jiangsu and Beijing, 1918–1927
    (pp. 42-83)

    In the dim light of a small room stifling in the stench and wet heat of summer, Instructor Shao Zhenji faced a troubled inmate alone. It was July 18, 1922, deep within greater Shanghai’s largest and newest (since 1919) Chinese-administered prison—the imposing nine-hundred-inmate-capacity Jiangsu No. 2 Prison, which rose above the fields of Caohejing village to the southwest of the city. Although he had less than three months experience, Shao spoke with authority:

    What you have said today would seem to show that you have somewhat understood how to restrain yourself. Yet you are still being grudgingly perfunctory about...

  8. 3 Objects of Reformation: Common Prisoners, 1912–1937
    (pp. 84-122)

    Common convicts (in contrast to political prisoners) do not frequently tell their side of the story to history. Hence, Chen Zhixi’s “Looking Back on Seven Years in Prison,” a brief autobiography of a prisoner published inPrison Magazinein November 1929, would seem a rare opportunity to view the evolving modern Chinese prison system through an inmate’s eyes. Chen relates that he was the eldest son born to a poor farming family in a remote county in northern Shaanxi Province. Thanks to his parents and the patronage of a wealthy neighbor for whom he had worked, he was at the...

  9. 4 Reformation for Salvation: The Buddhist Movement in the Jails and Prisons of 1920s Zhejiang and Jiangsu
    (pp. 123-160)

    In the fall of 1928, the Jiangsu No. 2 Prison outside Shanghai came under investigation by the new Nationalist Party (KMT) government for “obstructing the propagation of party doctrine.” The KMT authorities accused the prison of failing to teach prisoners Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People and instead continuing “Buddhification [fohua]” instruction. Warden Wu Kui, in a November 30 response, refuted the charges, claiming that the prison had begun to teach KMT ideology. Yet he did not disavow the prison’s propagation of Buddhism. Even as he strategically observed that the teachings had been mandated by the pre-1927 Revolution government,...

  10. 5 A Mechanism for All Offenses: The Nationalist Expansion of the Reformation Regime, 1927–1937
    (pp. 161-213)

    It had been six months since Jiang Jieshi’s April 12, 1927, launching of the purge of CCP and other leftists from the ranks of the KMT. The recently deposed chair of the KMT’s Party Purge Judicial Committee, Hu Yimin, was returning to Nanjing from his father’s funeral in his native West Mountain village in the hill country near Yongkang in central Zhejiang when he stopped in Hangzhou to visit his colleague, the Military Affairs Court justice, Jiang Bocheng. The reception Hu received on this October day was far from cordial. Jiang had Hu arrested on the spot, accusing him of...

  11. 6 The Indispensable Regime: Thought Reform in Wartime, 1937–1945
    (pp. 214-254)

    It was freezing cold as most of the 774 inmates, including 61 political prisoners, at the Hebei No. 4 Prison in Baoding tried to sleep under filthy, worn blankets on the night of December 22–23, 1936. With the prison furnaces shut down for the night to save on coal expenses, all but 13 of the 51 officers and guards had departed to sleep in the warmth of their homes. The remaining detachment led by thirty-year-old Auxiliary Head Guard Liu Yuxin was mostly unarmed and concentrating on keeping warm. And Rear Ward Guard Wang Keren had left his post without...

  12. 7 Revolutionary Thought Reform: The Communist Version, 1946–1956
    (pp. 255-296)

    Not long after the end of the war, Hu Yimin was back in prison—a prisoner for the fourth time. This time it was at Nanjing’s Tiger Bridge Prison, the former Jiangsu No. 1, renamed the Capital Prison, where he had briefly been warden nineteen years before. He had been brought before the special sessions of the Capital High Court led by the legal-penology scholar Chief Justice Zhao Chen, and was sentenced to ten years for collaborating with the enemy. This misfortune, he felt, as he had with his previous jailings, had come of malicious accusations. It was not about...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 297-310)

    Chairman Mao famously boasted to the American journalist Edgar Snow on his first post-1949 visit to China, “Our prisons are not like the prisons of the past; our prisons are actually schools, and also factories or farms.” Mao made this statement on October 22, 1960, amid the horrors of the Great Leap Forward famine resulting largely from his failed utopian policies; China’s teeming prisons and labor camps were swollen to a gargantuan scale, spiraling out of the Ministry of Public Security’s control and descending into their most hellish period of brutality and starvation. Many risked everything to escape and in...

  14. Selected Glossary of Chinese Terms
    (pp. 311-314)
  15. List of Abbreviations in the Notes
    (pp. 315-322)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 323-382)
  17. Index
    (pp. 383-403)