WU DE [Old style: WU TEH] (1913-1995)
A fairly high-level cadre of the Chinese Communist Party who took an active part in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, but then supported Hua Guofeng after Mao’s death and turned against the so-called “Gang of Four”. Later he was himself removed from real power as the revisionists directed by Deng Xiaoping tightened their control. His trajectory seems to be a sad example of how someone who is basically a good revolutionary, but who is unfortunately rather naïve (and perhaps overly upset by personal slights against him), can be used by sinister reactionary forces against the revolution itself.
“Wu joined the Communist Party of China in 1933, and organized strikes and
other workers’ actions in the Tangshan area. After the eruption of the Sino-Japanese War (or
‘War of Resistance Against Japan’, as it is called in communist literature), he organized the
Hebei Anti-Japanese Army, committing it to guerrilla warfare in the northern regions. In 1940
he was appointed head of a working commission under the Central Committee of the Communist
Party of China to oversee activity behind enemy lines. After the war, he served as Party
secretary for Tangshan.
“After the communist victory of 1949, Wu De was moved to Tianjin, where he served as Mayor from 1952 to 1955. Afterwards he was appointed first secretary of the CPC Provincial Committee of Jilin....
“Wu served in this position until the Cultural Revolution started in 1966. As Mao Zedong insisted that the Beijing Municipal Committee needed to be reorganized without Peng Zhen, who contested the policies of the Cultural Revolution, on June 4 the Central Committee transferred Wu De to the capital as second secretary of the CPC Municipal Committee, ranking immediately beneath First Secretary Li Xuefeng. During their leadership, the two of them ordered the suspension of classes of Beijing universities to allow students to fully concentrate on the Cultural Revolution. In 1967 he became a vice-chairman of the Beijing Revolutionary Committee, and was elected member of the CPC Central Committee in 1969.
“As Mao Zedong clashed with Lin Biao and Chen Boda at the Central Committee plenum held in Lushan in 1970, Wu De advised him to act swiftly in order to avoid trouble within the People’s Liberation Army. He said: ‘The Chairman must act personally ... believing in the possibility to enlighten a lot of people united under the great leader Chairman Mao.’ From this moment on, Mao praised Wu De, calling him ‘virtuous’ (playing on Wu De’s first name, whose character ... means ‘virtuous’). Lin’s death in the air crash following his attempted coup in 1971 enforced Wu’s position. He was proclaimed head of the Cultural Group Under the State Council, a sort of temporary Minister of Culture.
“After Xie Fuzhi’s death in 1972, Wu De took over as chairman of the Beijing Revolutionary Committee and concurrently first secretary of the CPC Beijing Committee. In 1973 he was admitted into the CPC Politburo. He took [an] active part [in] the ‘Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius’ campaign, but Jiang Qing, believing he wanted to mislead the movement, criticized him, bringing forth his hostility towards the Gang of Four.
“In 1975, he was a vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Wu De actively struggled against a rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping and worked to promote Hua Guofeng as Mao’s successor. He advocated repression of the 1976 Tiananmen Incident, earning the ironic nickname of ‘no virtue’ [from the bourgeois democrats]. In October of the same year, he played a role in the arrest of the Gang of Four.
“The rise of Deng Xiaoping and the ouster of the Gang of Four marked the beginning of a repudiation of the Cultural Revolution. Though initially an important part of Hua Guofeng’s leadership, Wu De was openly criticized at the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee and lost his Politburo seat. In 1980, along with Chen Xilian and other Maoists, he was purged and resigned his post in the NPC Standing Committee.
“Despite his participation to the Cultural Revolution, his role in removing the Gang of Four earned him a powerless position in the Central Advisory Commission. He died in Beijing in 1995.” —Wikipedia entry for Wu De, accessed on April 16, 2012.
WU HAN (1909-69)
A non-Marxist historian specializing in the Ming Dynasty whose play Hai Rui Dismissed from Office was strongly criticized by Maoists in 1965, thus providing one of the important sparks for the initiation of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.
In the 1940s Wu Han became a leading member of the Democratic League, originally a “non-aligned Third Force” between the Communist Party of China and the ruling Guomindang [Kuomintang] led by Chiang Kai-shek. As part of the United Front against the GMD, after the 1949 Revolution he was invited by the CCP to become a Vice Mayor of Beijing in charge of education and cultural affairs. Even during periods of clampdowns on rightists, Wu Han was protected by the revisionists within the CCP, including Peng Chen (the Mayor of Beijing) and Liu Shaoqi. During this period Wu began using historical figures in an allegorical way to comment on contemporary politics. It is said that he became a secret member of the CCP in the mid-1950s, though this was only made known to a few top members of the Party.
Wu Han first wrote his play about the Ming Dynasty official Hai Rui (or Hai Jui, in the old Wade-Giles system) in the 1950s. It is not known to us if it had any allegorical purpose at that time. However, he revised the play many times, and specifically reissued it in 1961 after the downfall of China’s Minister of Defense Peng Dehuai (old-style: Peng Teh-huai) in 1959. At this point the allegory was clear. As Mao expressed it, “The crucial point [of the play] is ‘dismissed from office.’ The Emperor Chia Ching dismissed Hai Jui from office, and in 1959 we dismissed Peng Teh-huai. And Peng Teh-huai is ‘Hai Jui’.” [Quoted in Peking Review, Sept. 7, 1969, p. 17.]
However, for a long time not much came of this. Then in November 1965, Yao Wenyuan (who later became one of the so-called “Gang of Four”) wrote an important article strongly criticizing the Hai Rui Dismissed from Office play, and exposing what it was really all about politically. At first the rightists tried to suppress Yao’s article, or ignore it, but the uproar soon got out of their control. It marked an opening salvo in the Cultural Revolution.
Wu Han then admitted “ideological mistakes”, but denied that he was a counter-revolutionary. But the controversy developed further over the next several months, and Wu was eventually jailed. He died in prison that same year. It is not known whether he died of mistreatment there or from bad health. (He had recurrent tuberculosis.)
WU XUN [Old style: WU HSUN] (1838-96)
See: THE LIFE OF WU HSUN
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