This book illuminates the dark corners of life in Mao’s China, forty years after the Paramount Leader’s death. During the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957–58, scholars, artists, journalists, and others whom the state considered suspicious “intellectuals” were targeted for “re-education.” In Banished to the Great Northern Wilderness, Ning Wang draws on labour farm archives, memoirs, and interviews to provide a remarkable look at the suffering and complex psychological world of banished Chinese intellectuals. His use of these newly uncovered Chinese-language sources paints a vivid and nuanced picture that challenges our concept of the intellectual as renegade martyr.
Wang examines the ways in which the state sought to remould the intellectuals at army farms and labour camps, and the strategies the exiles used to deal with camp officials and improve their chances of survival. While banished intellectuals were victims of the campaign, some also became perpetrators of injustice themselves who betrayed their friends and comrades. Isolated in a desolate northern borderland and subject to physical and psychological abuse, the exiles often denounced each other and, for self-preservation, declared allegiance to the state.
Including interviews with former “rightists” and even a camp guard, Banished to the Great Northern Wilderness shines a bright light on the exile communities, social conflicts, and history of the early PRC.
This book will appeal to scholars and students of Chinese history and communist history.
This is the best scholarly book I’ve read about the experiences of those banished to penal camps in Mao’s China. Wang reveals the dynamic interplay between rightists, camp guards, camp officials, and local and central authorities. He also illuminates the long-term human toll of banishment in all of its complexity.
In this important, nuanced, and humane account of life within Chinese penal camps, Ning Wang complicates our picture of banished intellectuals by portraying them as complex human beings forced by circumstances to make some very difficult moral compromises.
Ning Wang is an associate professor in the History Department at Brock University. Previously, he spent ten years working in a Communist Party history research institute in China.
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