Thought reform in China (, also known as ideological remolding or ideological reform) was a campaign of the
Chinese Communist Party The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), officially the Communist Party of China (CPC), is the founding and One-party state, sole ruling party of the China, People's Republic of China (PRC). The CCP leads List of political parties in China, eight other ...
(CCP) to reform the thinking of Chinese citizens into accepting Marxism-Leninism and
Mao Zedong Thought Maoism, or Mao Zedong Thought (), is a variety of Marxism–Leninism Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology and the main communist movement throughout the 20th century.Lansford, Thomas (2007). ''Communism''. New York: Cavendish Squar ...
Maoism Maoism, officially called Mao Zedong Thought () by the Chinese Communist Party The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), officially the Communist Party of China (CPC), is the founding and One-party state, sole ruling party of the China, People's R ...
) from 1951 to 1952. Techniques employed included indoctrination, "
struggle session Denunciation rallies, also called struggle sessions, were violent public spectacles in the Mao era−China, where " class enemies" of the Maoists were public humiliated, accused, beaten and tortured by people they were close to. Usually conducte ...
propaganda Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to Social influence, influence an audience and further an Political agenda, agenda, which may not be Objectivity (journalism), objective and may be selectively presenting facts to encourage a pa ...
, criticism and
self-criticism Self-criticism involves how an individual evaluates oneself. Self-criticism in psychology Psychology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awa ...

, and a variety of other techniques.


The Chinese term ''sīxiǎng gǎizào'' (思想改造, lit. "thought reform") "ideological remolding"
compounds Compound may refer to: Architecture and built environments * Compound (enclosure), a cluster of buildings having a shared purpose, usually inside a fence or wall ** Compound (fortification), a version of the above fortified with defensive structu ...
the words ''sīxiǎng'' ( 思想) "thought; thinking; idea; ideology" and ''gǎizào'' 改造 "transform; reform; remold; remake; correct". The related term ''sīxiǎng gōngzuò'' (思想工作, lit. "thought work"; also translated as thought-work or thoughtwork) "ideological education", with ''gōngzuò'' ( 工作) "work; job". In modern CCP usage, ''sīxiǎng gōngzuò'' "thought work" is a more inconspicuous term for ''sīxiǎng gǎizào'' "thought reform".


The Thought Reform Movement first began in September 1951, following a speech by premier
Zhou Enlai Zhou Enlai (; 5 March 1898 – 8 January 1976) was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China The premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, abbreviated to Premier, sometimes also referred to informally as ...

Zhou Enlai
calling for intellectuals to reform their thought. The ''
People's Daily The ''People's Daily'' () is the largest newspaper group in China. The paper is an official newspaper of the Central Committee Central committee is the common designation of a standing administrative body of communist parties, analogous to ...
'' called for teachers and college staff to "arm oneself with the thought of Marxism-Leninism" and to "throw away the vulgar perspectives of individualism and liberalism, and the cultural thought of European-American
reactionary In political science Political science is the scientific study of politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions In psychology, decision-making (also spelled decision making and decisio ...
bourgeoisie Bourgeoisie (; ) is a polysemous Polysemy ( or ; from grc-gre, πολύ-, , "many" and , , "sign") is the capacity for a word or phrase to have multiple meanings, usually related by contiguity of meaning within a semantic fieldIn linguist ...

".Fu, Zhengyuan "Autocratic tradition and Chinese politics", Cambridge University Press, 1993. p. 275. Intellectuals who studied overseas were forced to confess to their role as "implementers of the imperialist cultural invasion", while writers across the country were ordered to study Mao's speech "Talk at Yan'an Forum on Literature and Arts" and to engage in self-criticism. During the movement, the Chinese authorities restructured many school curricula, with science and engineering adapting Soviet models, while courses seen as "pseudo-bourgeois", such as sociology, political science, and economics, were abolished.

Three-anti and Five-anti Campaigns

The Thought Reform Movement ended by 1952 and merged with the Three-anti/five-anti campaigns of 1951-1952. As a result, the Central Committee Department of Propaganda took ideological control of China's cultural and educations systems. According to Robert Jay Lifton, the CCP's program of thought reform emerged as one of the most powerful efforts at propaganda ever undertaken, and included imposed doctrines, ideological purges, and mass-conversion movements carried out in an organized and comprehensive way.Lifton (1962), p. 4-5. The thought-reform program applied in universities, schools, special "revolutionary colleges", prisons, businesses, government offices, and peasant organisations. It brought significant personal upheaval to the individuals affected.

The Socialist "New Man"

According to a 1969 thesis by Theodore Chen, an important concept in thought reform is that of the "New Socialist Man", based on the idea that communist revolution is predicated on "new men with new minds, new ideas, new emotions, and new attitudes". Thus, before the new way of life can prevail, the old must be abolished. In China both the old and new generations were to be remolded according to communist ideology, so the making and remaking of "new men" became a fundamental task of the communist revolution and the main aim of education. Chen reports that the CCP selected "model citizens" from various walks of life, including laborers, peasants, women, and youth to popularize the attributes of the concept. From the virtues put forth in indoctrination and propaganda, and from the various "models" selected to promote desired behaviors, Theodore Chen writes that it is possible to discern a few major characteristics of the model man envisioned by communist planners. These include: absolute selflessness; obedience to the Communist Party; class consciousness; ideological study; participation in labor and production; versatility; and being a "Red expert". The Chinese notion of the "new man" was significantly influenced by its Soviet predecessor. In psychology, it was linked to Ivan Pavlov's theory of higher nervous activity and the method of conditioning, which were taken up by Chinese revolutionaries to promise the possibility of the "new man" to be created.

Thought reform of intellectuals

The thought reform project on Chinese intellectuals is indicative of the nationwide program, according to Lifton. The most intensive of the thought reform programs for intellectuals were conducted in "revolutionary colleges", set up all over China immediately after the Chinese Revolution (1949), communist revolution. They were most active between 1948 and 1952, when they represented an ideological hard core for the entire thought reform movement, and an extreme model for reform efforts throughout the population.

See also

* Cultural Revolution * Engineers of the human soul, Marxist concept


{{Maoism Campaigns of the Chinese Communist Party Maoist China propaganda Political repression in China