“Meeting Comrade Wu Han’s Challenge” Peking Daily: January 13, 1966:
Wang Ruoshui used the pen-name “Thought Form” and published an essay “Meeting Comrade Wu Han’s Challenge” in the People’s Daily today. He later stated he used the pen-name because he was instructed to write the essay on behest of People’s Daily editor Wu Lengxi.
The essay put forward that the crucial problem in Wu Han’s Play “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” was the word “dismissed from office,” and that the play was connected to the criticism of Peng Dehuai at the 1959 Lushan Conference.
The essay says, “Although Comrade Wu Han has mentioned the Lushan Conference and argued against the flag of right opportunism, we need to accept his challenge, and analyze the trend in 1959, and research the spirit of the Lushan Conference, and hence take another look what Wu Han did during the time of the conference.”
“Two months before the Lushan Conference (June 16, 1959), Wu Han published his first essay about Hai Rui, called “Hai Rui curses the emperor.” It stated, “People think that cursing the emperor is inconceivable, and that to criticize through the theatre results in some relief, and is a good thing.” These words can serve as an annotation of the importation of this “cursing” to the stage…
“Wu Han’s standpoint was exposed within the text of “Hai Rui dismissed from office.” Everybody knows, that when the attack of right opportunism against the party was defeated, some people were forced to resign from their positions, and this is what is “dismissed” from “office.” It was just at this time, not long after the Lushan Conference, that Wu Han began to write “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office.” Was writing this play an attack against right opportunism through the use of Hai Rui? Not at all. The right opportunists were dismissed from office, and Comrade Wu Han hence wrote that Hai Rui lost his office in this matter. Can this possibly be a coincidence?”
“The problem is hence thus. Wu Han’s self criticism has not touched upon the heart of the matter… This is not “history for the sake of history” but is in fact a case of “using the past to mock the present,” it is not “writing for the sake of writing” but is a play written for a political purpose, it is not a case of “forgetting about class struggle” but represents an act of struggle by the capitalist class and feudalist classes against the proletariat.”
“Comrade Wu Han in his self-criticism seeks to hide his political problems, and to attribute all his mistakes to problems of an academic nature… But, political problems cannot be hidden. I am not saying that everything that Wu Han has written about Hai Rui is a political mistake, but “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” certainly not only has academic problems, but moreover it has problems of a political nature.”
From January 13 to January 17, Guan Jian and Lin Jie’s Essay “The Reactionary Quality of ‘Hai Rui Dismissed from Office’ and ‘Hai Rui Curses the Emperor’ were submitted to the party’s central propaganda department for approval, but the assistant head of the office, Xu Lijun and Yao Qinna did not approve the essays…. Later they were submitted to Beijing mayor Peng Zhen, who instructed his secretary to respond that he was busy with work, had recently gone down to the countryside, and had no time to see the essay. Later he instructed that the essays must be edited, and that they could not touch upon any mention of the Lushan Conference.”
The previous day, the Beijing Daily had printed a self-criticism from Wu Han in which he admitted to errors around the question of morality stating:
“At the heart of the matter, regardless of the central thesis of one of my essays or lectures, at the root of my problem was that although I believed that the bourgeois class under feudalism could be criticized, I believed that some of its aspects were attributes which became the morality of the proletarian class. This was an extremely mistaken conclusion. It not only did not adhere to the actual situation of the historical development of class struggle in society, but also opposed the theory of class struggle, and was opposed to Marxism-Leninism and opposed to science.”
At Play at the Time:
We can assume that Wu Han’s self-criticism for focussing positive aspects of feudal morality is what the article below criticized for deflecting the actual political stakes embedded in his play “Hai Rui dismissed from office.” This namely was tacit support for Peng Dehuai in opposition to Mao Zedong and in opposition to collectivization. Interestingly enough however, the initial salvo of the Cultural Revolution was Yao Wenyuan’s polemic against the play the previous November, which one could say focussed on just the sort of “academic questions” which Wu Han was starting to address. We can surmise however that the awareness of the political stakes had risen by this point, so a more open discussion over political ramifications and connections to the contemporary politics now required that the discussion come more directly into “the present movement.” Importantly, Mao Zedong, in 1959 stepped down as state chairman of the People’s Republic, and was replaced by Liu Shaoqi, whose politics favored de-collectivization. The plethora of articles in the press at the time of the publication of the above articles, including discussion of collectivization in Guizhou and repeated mention of Daqing and Dazhai policies can be seen as an offensive towards a reemphasis on collectivization by those on the left to go along with the critiques of Wu Han.