Fifty years ago, Mao Zedong and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated a nationwide "anti-rightist" campaign in China, labeling around 550,000 intellectuals who had criticized the Party’s policies as "national enemies" and "anti-Party, anti-socialist rightists." Because the "rightists" were actually encouraged explicitly by Mao and the CCP to voice their concerns about the Party’s work prior to the campaign, it is generally viewed by Chinese historians that the campaign was a political trap set by Mao to purge potential dissidents and rivals.
The campaign brought immediate disaster to the "rightists." Some died during the infamous "struggle sessions." Many others died in prisons or labor camps, and their family members were indiscriminately persecuted as well to different extents. This was the first of the CCP’s remarkably similar, cyclical movements of purging its own people: the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the June 4th Tiananmen Square Massacre (1989), and the ongoing crackdown of Falun Gong (1999-present). Each time, a new group of innocent citizens was targeted by violence and overwhelming force. Perhaps most damaging, though, China’s traditional values of honesty and trust that had been its mainstay throughout history have been damaged beyond recognition, and they have been replaced a CCP-driven culture of deceit and violence. For the sake of survival, few today dare to challenge authority and speak the truth on sensitive issues. The moral degeneration of today’s China, reflected through slave labor, general lawlessness, and rampant counterfeit items of all sorts like forged diplomas, tainted food, fake medicine, and pirated intellectual property, is directly attributable to the propagation of the CCP culture.
True to form, the CCP is refusing to acknowledge that it made a mistake 50 years ago. Although the "rightist" label was removed from use in 1978, the CCP has never expressed public remorse for the campaign or provided financial compensation to the victims or their families. The website for CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily still emphasizes that the campaign was "a resolute counterattack against the very few capitalist rightists’ furious attack of (the Party and socialism) and was absolutely necessary," only acknowledging that the campaign was "overly expanded."
This year is the 50th anniversary of the "anti-rightist" campaign. Ever mindful of any potential threat to its rule, the CCP is prohibiting public discussion of the campaign and banning all published material related to the topic. In spite of this imposing set of circumstances, over 1,000 "rightist" survivors sent an open letter to the CCP leadership, demanding a lift of restrictions on the freedom of speech, a public apology, and monetary compensation. One thousand may not be a big number relative to the total number of victims, but their actions carry a huge implication. It is a signal that people are demanding justice. As Ren Zhong, former officer of the Beijing Public Security Bureau and one of the "rightists" who initiated the open letter, said, "If we do not raise the issue, no one would bring it up when we all pass away. We want to restore history. This is our historical responsibility."