David Wright analyses the use of political slogans in China, the article first appeared in SACU's China Now magazine 1989.
The Chinese Communist Party has always seen propaganda as of great importance, and the slogan (kouhao) is one method of achieving the aims of the propagandist. It is usually short, easy to remember, and neatly encapsulates a particularly important idea or call to action. The Chinese language lends itself well to such concise expressions, as each character represents a word or idea. So a four-character slogan may well require at least six or more English words in order to express the same idea. [See also proverbs] The slogans used at various periods since Liberation in 1949 show the changing political imperatives and policies promoted by the central government.
Wei renmin fuwu : Serve the people
A timeless slogan, first used in the 1940s, and one of the few which may still be seen today.
Bai hua qi fang, bai jia zheng ming:
A hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend
This slogan, used during the Hundred Flowers period of 1956-57, harked back to the distant past during the Warring States period (476-221 BC) when many different schools of philosophy existed in China. The modem 'Hundred Schools of Thought' were the criticisms of the Communist Party which Mao invited in late 1956, partly in response to the Hungarian uprising. The ferocity and scale of the discontent which the Hundred Flowers campaign revealed severely shook the Party leaders, and in 1957 many of those who had offered their criticisms were punished as part of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, set in motion to eradicate the 'poisonous weeds' which had sprung up in such alarming numbers.
Gan xiang gan gan : Dare to think, dare to act
A slogan of the Great Leap Forward of 1958-60 when Chairman Mao was encouraging the peasants to form communes and to increase production to unheard-of levels. Communism itself was thought to be imminent, and in a few years the industrial countries of the West would be overtaken.
Nongye xue Dazhai : In agriculture, learn from Dazhai
Dazhai is a village in Shanxi Province, north-west China. In 1964 it was held up as a model of what could be achieved by self-reliance and collective effort. From then until 1979 it was one of the most famous places in China, and brigade leader Chen Yonggui travelled all over the world talking about the spirit of Dazhai. After 1979 Dazhai's example was repudiated, and since 1983 Dazhai has been privatised.
Zao fan you li : To rebel is justified
A Red Guard slogan of the early Cultural Revolution period (1966-68). Chairman Mao had encouraged attacks on virtually all of the existing party apparatus, and this rebellion extended to all forms of authority: parents., teachers, doctors, scientists, musicians, artists and intellectuals of every kind were targets of attack. Many committed suicide, many more were sent to work on the land in remote areas.
Pi Lin pi Kong : Criticise Lin Biao and Confucius
The campaign against Lin Biao started after his 1971 attempt to assassinate Mao, and his own death in a plane crash, were made public. At first Lin was accused of being ultra-leftist, but later he was (somewhat bizarrely) labelled as ultra-right and in 1974 linked with Confucius, the sage of ancient China. The campaign to criticise Lin Biao and Confucius was really a covert attack on Zhou Enlai and his policies, viewed as pro-modernisation and as less 'radical' than those promoted by Mao himself.
Fencui si ren bang : Smash the Gang of Four
Mao died in September 1976 and soon after it became clear than Jiang Qing and her followers were agitating for the removal of Hua, calling him a 'revisionist chieftain'. Hua acted decisively, arresting Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan (the so-called Gang of Four). This was the beginning of a series of sweeping political changes after the death of Mao, all of which in effect repudiated the policies (now termed the 'ultra-leftist') advocated by Mao since 1958. The sudden fall of the Gang of Four was followed by a national campaign, which at first reviled them personally and then gradually moved away from their individual crimes to the 'mistaken' policies they espoused. The above slogan was the core of the early stages of the campaign against them.
Shishi qiu shi : Seek truth from facts
This was the credo of the reformers who from 1977 onwards began 'to set the political agenda for China after the death of Mao. It meant that facts rather than ideology should be the criterion of the 'correctness' of a policy; the policy had to work in practice. Deng Xiaoping himself had said, 'It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches the mouse.' Mouse-catching (expertise) was now at a much higher premium than political colouring. This of course contrasted completely with Mao's suspicion of hard-headed empiricism. For Mao, the Foolish Old Man (a character in an ancient Chinese fable retold by Mao to encourage people to continue to struggle despite enormous difficulties), had shown that 'human will conquers heaven' and had refuted the scepticism of the so-called experts.
Shixian sige xiandaihua : Achieve the Four Modernisations
The Four Modernisations are the modernisation of science, industry, agriculture and defence. The reformers see modernisation of China in all these fields as the primary task facing China in the late twentieth century. Science, rather than mass movements and ideological upheaval, is seen as the means by which China will achieve socialism.
Zhi sheng yige haizi hao : It is good to have just one child
Since Mao's death, the problem of rapid population growth has been treated with great seriousness by the Chinese government. On 14th April 1989 China marked 1.1 billion population day with exhortations to strengthen family planning. Predictions of severe hardship and even starvation if the rate of growth is not stemmed have been reinforced by campaigns to encourage the one-child policy. This has not been completely successful, partly because it is difficult to impose sanctions on couples in the countryside who have more than one child.
Even today slogans do still arise and will continue to appear, as governments of any political colour need to get messages across to the population, and slogans are a convenient and effective way of packaging ideas. The huge roadside boards in Beijing and other big cities used to be covered with quotations from Mao, Marx, Engels and Lenin; now for the most part these have disappeared, replaced by commercial advertisements and government posters of a less political kind: promoting health campaigns or birth control. Yet slogans are still very much part of political life.
© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's magazine China Now 131, Page 22.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
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