Burning the Grassroots: Chen Boda and the Four Cleanups in Suburban Tianjin

Jeremy Brown

Abstract


Abstract
Chen Boda's four cleanups model in Xiaozhan, a marshy area southeast of Tianjin, was as important as Wang Guangmei's Taoyuan brigade in 1964, but is less well known. As Chairman Mao's top theorist and the editor of Red Flag, Chen Boda enjoyed support from Mao and Liu Shaoqi as he uncovered evidence of 'revisionism' in Tianjin's south suburbs. Chen's claims led to a witch-hunt that killed tens of people and tortured and imprisoned many others. Beyond Tianjin, the 'Xiaozhan experience' was promoted as a successful 'power seizure' in a central document circulated nationwide in October 1964. The document pushed the socialist education movement in a more radical direction, causing the downfall of rural cadres across China. This article draws upon archival sources, memoirs, and interviews to detail Chen Boda's contentious interactions with Tianjin officials and suburban villagers. Chen allowed the four cleanups to turn brutal in Xiaozhan, and his vision of a rural China dominated by class enemies differed from what work team members experienced. Ironically, in order to keep the Xiaozhan experience from falling apart, Chen had to resort to methods similar to those used by the village cadres he had recently overthrown. Chen Boda's meddling in Xiaozhan reveals considerable diversity—and indeed, confusion—in how top leaders interpreted and carried out Mao's shifting plans for the countryside during the four cleanups. This confusion led to disastrous outcomes for rural residents.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22439/cjas.v26i1.1372



Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies
ISSN (print): 1395-4199, ISSN (online): 2246-2163

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