In the early 1950s, numerous eyewitness reports, in multiple languages, began describing the efforts of the Chinese Communists to transform the minds of ordinary people, from workers in Shanghai factories to POWs in Korean camps. Called “thought reform” (sixiang gaizao) in China and “brainwashing” in the U.S., the reeducation project may or may not have turned individuals into communists. There is no doubt, however, that the project, as envisioned by its orchestrators and their critics, led many people, in China and elsewhere, to radically rethink the nature and potential violability of their innermost thoughts. This talk uses formerly classified and newly available archival materials on the reeducation project as it was carried out in multiple places – institutions for the lumpen proletariat, prisons for intellectuals, and POW camps – to delve into what this project meant to those who participated in it, as reeducators and reeducatees.
Aminda Smith is Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University. The author of Thought Reform and the Dangerous Classes: Reeducation, Resistance, and the People (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), she has a particular interest in the social and cultural history of Chinese communism. She is also co-founder and advisory board member for The PRC History Group (prchistory.org), which fosters collaboration and primary-source sharing within a global network of scholars interested in the history of the People’s Republic of China.
Aminda Smith, Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University