CHINESE Premier Wen Jiabao has revealed how his family was ”constantly persecuted” during the darkest years of Chairman Mao’s rule, in a speech that may be a warning to the hardline faction within the Communist Party not to repeat the mistakes of history.
The speech, delivered in front of students at Mr Wen’s alma mater, the Nankai high school in Tianjin, recalled the paranoia and fear of life in China at the end of the 1950s as a deeply divided Communist Party hunted down its opponents.
”I was born into an intellectual family in Yixing, north Tianjin in 1942. My grandfather ran a school in the village. It was the first primary school to admit girls, against pressure from the local landlords. Many of the teachers were university graduates and some became professors after 1949,” said Mr Wen.
According to a transcript published in China’s official state media, Mr Wen said he had carried his grandfather’s body to hospital. ”He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1960. The school he taught at had kept his files, filled with one self-criticism after another, written in small neat characters,” he said. At the time, the Communist Party had forced intellectuals to ”revise their thinking” through self-criticism until they became ideologically sound.
After inviting them to speak out about China’s problems, Mao performed an about-turn and attacked those who were bold enough to voice their opinions publicly.
”After I went to high school and university, my family suffered constant attacks in the successive political campaigns,” he said. ”In 1960, my father was also investigated for so-called ‘historical problems’. He could no longer teach and was sent to work on a farm on the outskirts of the city tending pigs. My father was an honest man, hard-working and diligent throughout his life.”
China’s top leaders rarely discuss their personal history or family lives. The attacks by Mao on 550,000 intellectuals at the end of the 1950s remain a strictly censored topic.
The attacks on Mr Wen’s family came at a time when the party under Mao was split internally over how to set a path for the country, with liberal and hardline factions taking opposing views. In the end, liberal forces lost. ”My childhood was spent in war and hardship. The poverty, turmoil and famine left an indelible imprint on my young soul … I realised only science, truth-seeking, democracy and hard work can save China,” Mr Wen said.
As the 69-year-old gets ready to step down next year he has made a flurry of speeches calling for ”urgent” political reform and the loosening of the party’s iron grip on the state. However, there is little sign that reform is forthcoming. Some have suggested that Mr Wen is merely trying to paint himself on the right side of history, while others have noted that he lacks a broad enough power base within the party to effect any change.