The Telegraph said that it may be "a warning to the hardline faction within the Communist party not to repeat the mistakes of history".
Another leader who must have suffered a great deal during his youth, probably more than Wen, is China's future President, Xi Jinping.
While Wen's father was persecuted during the Hundred Flowers Bloom movement instigated by Mao, ('Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend'), Xi Zhongxun (Xi Jinping's father) was 'purged' by Mao in September 1962, mainly due to his closeness to Marshal Peng Dehuai who had dared criticizing Mao for his Great Leap Forward.
This was Mao's first act of vendetta before the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Interestingly, the Chinese press never mentions Xi Jinping's childhood.
Roderick MacFarquhar recounts:
The sage of the eastern sea
...At the 10th plenum, Mao revealed that Peng Dehuai and the three men denounced with him at the Lushan conference were to be subjected to further investigation, by a special case review commission (zhuan'an shencha weiyuanhui). Deng Xiaoping announced that, as suggested by Kang Sheng, they would no longer be entitled to attend meetings of the party bodies of which they were still member, though this was almost certainly only a formal confirmation of the current situation. Mao was indicating to all and sundry that Peng could write as many letters at whatever length he pleased, but he would be rehabilitated only over his de ad body-which is what eventually happened. All and sundry suited their words to the Chairman's mood, and Peng was roundly denounced at the plenum for his latest missives which, among other things, were said to be in concert with China's enemies, labelled for convenient memorization as the 'three ni's and the one tie' that is, Kennedy (Ken-ni-di), Nikita Khrushchev (Ni-ji-ta He-lu-xiaa-fu), Nehru (Ni-he-lu), and Tito (Tie-tua).
Whether Mao's colleagues had any compunctions about colluding in his further act of vengeance against the already disgraced marshal is unknown. But they should have been more alarmed at the Chairman's announcement of the creation of a second special case review commission to investigate a totally new victim, for it exhibited Mao's readiness to believe in plots against him. The new 'anti-party' figure was a key vice-premier in Zhou Enlai's State Council, Xi Zhongxun, who sometimes acted as premier when both Zhou and Deng Xiaoping were absent from Beijing. The identity of his chief persecutor, Kang Sheng, and the grounds for and manner of Xi's disgrace provided a foretaste of the early months of the Cultural Revolution.
Kang Sheng was a sinister and shadowy figure even to his colleagues, sinister because of his activities in the Soviet Union and Yan'an prior to 1949, shadowy because for the first six years after the CCP's conquest of power he had been almost invisible, apparently ill. Nevertheless, he was evidently a man of considerable ability; Tian Jiaying regarded him with great respect, and referred to him as 'the sage of the eastern sea' (danghai shengren).
...By 1962, the reason for Kang Sheng's seat on the Politburo may have been a mystery to the 80 per cent of the CCP's 17 million plus members who joined after 1949. Kang had been almost invisible during the early years of the PRC.
…Kang Sheng immediately confirmed his value to Mao by using his ideological expertise to boost the Chairman's ideas and cult and by indiscriminately backing both his 'rightist' policies in 1957 and his leftist policies during the GLF. …But when Mao sounded the leftist tocsin at Beidaihe, Kang Sheng responded with alacrity, making an 180-degree turn. His stratagem was to attack the manuscript of a novel about a revolutionary martyr, Liu Zhidan.
The Liu Zhidan affair
Liu Zhidan was born in 1903 in the northwestem province of Shaanxi. In 1926, already a CCP member, he entered the fourth class (along with Lin Biao) at the Whampoa Military Academy, directed by Chiang Kai-shek with Soviet military advisers. After the CCP-KMT split in 1927, he had returned to his native province and set up a guerrilla group. For a time he was under attack by 'leftists' in the CCP leadership, but after Mao and the Long Marchers reached Shaanxi in 1935, he was rehabilitated. He died in battle against the KMT in 1936, still in his early thirties.
The origins of the novel about his life resembled that of the play about Hai Rui. Wu Han had no intention of writing a play about the Ming official, but did so after being importuned by a theatrical company. His reluctance stemmed from his not being a playwright. Li Jiantong, the author of Liu Zhidan, also had grave doubts about accepting the commission when approached in the mid-1950s. She thought she did not have the appropriate artistic or ideological talents. The matter was complicated because she was married to Liu Zhidan's younger brother, Liu Jingfan, a vice-minister of geology, and had had a complicated 'struggle relationship' with Liu Zhidan.
Li’s husband was against her accepting the commission. But the Workers' Publishing House had decided that Liu would make a good subject for a planned series of uplifting and edifying revolutionary sagas. By sponsoring fictionalized accounts, the publishers could hope to invoke artistic license as an excuse for either mistakes or gaps, and perhaps this was what persuaded Li Jiantong. Liu Zhidan’s most senior surviving comrade-in-arms, Vice-Premier Xi Zhongxun, warned her, when he learned of the project, that it would bring her grief because of all the intra-party disputes in which Liu had been involved, but she eventually decided to ignore his advice and, like Wu Han, took on an assignment for which she had little experience. After two years of collecting materials and interviewing many of Liu's one-time comrades-in-arms, she began to write in 1958 and submitted her third draft to the publishing house in 1959. The editors found it acceptable, but Li asked them to submit it to Xi Zhongxun for his approval.
Like Liu Zhidan, Xi hailed from Shaanxi. Born in 1913, he had joined the YCL in 1926 and the CCP in 1928. By 1932, still in his teens, he had set up a guerrilla force in the Shaanxi-Gansu border region. It was there that he became associated with Liu and Gao Gang, who were the two leading communists in the northwest prior to the arrival of Mao and the Long Marchers. During the civil war, as the PLA moved south, Xi remained in the northwest as the leading party official in the region, a role he maintained into the early 1950s, until he moved to the capital. After a brief spell as director of the CC's Propaganda Department, Xi took on a pivotal bureaucratic role as secretary-general of the State Council in 1954, a post which he still occupied in 1962.
Xi was unhappy with the manuscript, and it went through three more drafts, at which point he appears to been worn down by the persistent author, and he gave the project his blessing without reading any of the later drafts thoroughly. But Li Jiantong took the additional precaution of submitting the fifth draft to her old teacher Zhou Yang in the spring of 1962, and harried him into reading it. Zhou, whose position as the CC Propaganda Department's deputy director in charge of literature gave him the authority to issue an imprimatur, raised some issues, but did not forbid publication. At least one senior cadre, originally from Shaanxi, did take exception to the book. In a letter to the author in the summer of 1962, Yan Hongyan, an alternate CC member, a three-star general, the 1st secretary of Yunnan province, and a one-time companion-in-arms of Liu Zhidan, expressed the view that no writer could assume the responsibility for making historical judgements; that was up to the Cc. In view of Yan's objections, it was decided to publish a few chapters from the sixth draft in The Gongren Ribao (Workers' daily) and Zhongguo Qing-nian (China youth) in order to gauge public reactions. At Beidaihe, Yan immediately lobbied the AIl-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and YCL leadership - Liu Ningyi and Hu Yaobang then headed those organizations-to have publication stopped. Yan also raised the matter in writing with the head of the CC's General Office, Yang Shangkun, and again on 8 September at a preparatory meeting for the 10th plenum. Unfortunately for Li Jiantong, Xi Zhongxun, and a number of senior CCP officials, Yan Hongyan took the further step of mentioning the matter to Kang Sheng, c1aiming that the aim of the novel was to reverse the verdict on Gao Gang.
Unlike Liu Zhidan, Gao Gang survived the warfare in the northwest, rising high in Mao's favour. But he overreached himself in 1953, when he attempted to supplant Liu Shaoqi as Mao's eventual successor and allegedly plotted with the head of the CC's Organization Department, Rao Shushi, to bring about a major reshuffle of the CCP's top leadership. Both men were purged; Gao was put under house arrest and later shot himself.
The Gao Gang affair was still alive issue in 1962. As we have seen, by the time of the Seven Thousand Cadres Conference, it was Peng Dehuai's alleged involvement in it that had to be used as the major justification for Mao's refusal to rehabilitate the marshal, since his trenchant criticisms of the GLF had been proved correct. Thus it was no wonder that Kang Sheng should prick up his ears at the mention of a new Gao Gang angle. ln the tense atmosphere of intra-party struggle revived at Beidaihe by Mao, here was a heaven-sent opportunity for Kang to prove again to the Chairman his indispensability in ferreting out traitors.
Among Kang's current positions was vice-head of the CC's Culture and Education Small Group and head of its theory section, and on that authority he ordered the Propaganda Department to stop any further publication of chapters from Liu Zhidan, even though at this point he had not even seen the manuscript. He ordered 300 copies of the third draft and 600 copies of the fifth draft to be printed and distributed for examination by the Beidaihe conferees. On 24 August, he wrote to the CC's General Office to say that this was not simply a literary issue but had political implications. He coined the phrase 'using novels to promote anti-party activities is a great invention, which Mao embraced with enthusiasm, and which indeed was subsequently attributed to the Chairman. But author Li Jiantong was small fry, and so Kang Sheng concocted the idea of a high-level plot masterminded by Xi Zhongxun.
Why did Mao seize on the Liu Zhidan affair and give Kang Sheng his head without really looking into the matter, or indeed believing the charges?200 Did he not have enough to do discouraging his leagues from pursuing revisionist policies in the countryside and abroad? One reason was probably that he welcomed a fresh case seemingly tailor-made to justify his warnings on the need for class struggle and eternal vigilance. Secondly, ever since the Hungarian revolt and the Hundred Flowers in China, he had been extremely wary of the ability of intellectuals to use their professional skill for nefarious political purposes, what might be called the Petofi Circle syndrome. Kang's new concept resonated with him, and as the 1960s progressed, Mao would increase the pressure on the intellectuals. Finally, as Kang Sheng doubtless intuited, attacking Liu Zhidan was an excellent way to demonstrate the continuing relevance of the Gao Gang affair, and thus provide additional justification for the refusal to rehabilitate Peng Dehuai.
For his own reasons, Liu Shaoqi had to fall in with this strategy vis-à-vis Peng Dehuai, but at the 10th plenum he also condemned Xi Zhongxun and Liu Zhidan in the same terms. There is no record of Zhou Enlai attempting to save a man he evidently regarded as a key member of his State Council team; with Mao's permission and Chen Yi in attendance, the premier tried only to comfort Xi Zhongxun with an assurance that if the Liu Zhidan accusation was a mistake, it would be corrected. At the 10th-plenum, Kang Sheng was thus free to lead the attack on Xi, and thereafter to lead the second special case review commission in its investigation of the supposed 'anti-party group' led by Xi; Jia Tuofu, a one-time associate of Liu Zhidan and currently a CC member and a vice-chairman of the State Planning Commission; and the author's husband, Liu Zhidan's brother, Liu Jingfan. Kang Sheng alleged that a character in the novel named Luo Yan represented Gao Gang, just as three years later he would claim that Hai Rui was Peng Dehuai. Officials at the publishing house and throughout the northwest were investigated, and the case had still not been concluded when the Cultural Revolution broke out and it became public knowledge. Kang Sheng's reward was promotion to the CC's secretariat at the 10th plenum.
Two months later, he moved to the Diaoyutai guest complex in the capital to mastermind a team of ideologues for the campaign against Soviet revisionism. The most cynical hit-man of Mao's Cultural Revolution swat team was now an agent in place, helping to initiate the domestic and foreign policies that were the prelude to that cataclysm.
Wen Jiabao reveals his family was persecuted under Mao
02 Nov 2011
Malcolm Moore, Shanghai
The speech, delivered in front of students at Mr Wen's alma mater, the Nankai high school in Tianjin, recalled the paranoia and fear of life in China at the end of the 1950s as a deeply divided Communist party hunted down its opponents.
"I was born into an intellectual family in Yixing, north Tianjin in 1942. My grandfather ran a school in the village. It was the first primary school to admit girls, against pressure from the local landlords. Many of the teachers were university graduates and some became professors after 1949," said Mr Wen, delving into his past for the first time publicly.
According to a transcript published in China's official state media, Mr Wen said he had carried his grandfather's body to hospital. "He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1960. The school he taught at had kept his files, filled with one self-criticism after another, written in small neat characters," he said.
At the time, the Communist party had forced intellectuals, many of whom had been educated abroad or had worked for the previous government, to "revise their thinking" through self-criticism until they became ideologically sound.
After inviting them to speak out about China's problems, Chairman Mao performed a u-turn and attacked those who were bold enough to voice their opinions publicly.
After I went to high school and university, my family suffered constant attacks in the successive political campaigns," added Mr Wen.
"In 1960, my father was also investigated for so-called 'historical problems'. He could no longer teach and was sent to work on a farm on the outskirts of the city tending pigs. My father was an honest man, hardworking and diligent throughout his life."
China's top leaders rarely, if ever, discuss their personal history or family lives. And the attacks by Chairman Mao on 550,000 intellectuals at the end of the 1950s remain a deeply sensitive, and strictly-censored, topic.
However, analysts said Mr Wen was sounding a warning to hardliners within the Communist party about the perils of maintaining an iron grip and refusing to reform the country.
The attacks on Mr Wen's family came at a time when the Communist party under Mao was split internally over how to set a path for the country, with liberal and hardline factions taking opposing views. In the end, liberal forces lost out, much to China's subsequent woe.
"My childhood was spent in war and hardship. The poverty, turmoil and famine left an indelible imprint on my young soul [ ...] I realised only science, truth-seeking, democracy and hard work can save China," said Mr Wen.
As the 69-year-old gets ready to step down next year and hand power over to a new generation of Chinese leaders he has made a flurry of speeches calling for "urgent" political reform and the loosening of the party's iron grip on the state.
However, there is little sign that reform is forthcoming. Some have suggested that Mr Wen is merely trying to paint himself on the right side of history, while others have noted that he lacks a broad enough power base within the party to effect any change.
Liu Shanying, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Mr Wen's speech might be read as an attempt to warn China's future leaders not to repeat the mistakes of history.
"As far as I recall, this is the first time that Wen Jiabao has discussed the political persecution of his family. He had not mentioned it even in his memoirs. Of course politicians are different from normal people and every word they say has a meaning," he said.
"When he talks about his childhood suffering, I think he means that he does not want to see China return to that era. He, and many other Chinese are victims of that era, and he is expressing the desire for peace and stability to calm down some of the other elements in the party," he said.
"It also shows his discontent with the recent sixth plenum, about how to restructure China's culture and the continuing need for control over public opinion," he added. Mr Wen's speech was also read by some as a pledge that he would continue to push his reform agenda even in retirement.