Chinese Scholars’ Decisions and Fates at the Crossroads of History
(Minghui.org) History is a good lesson for us to learn. When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was about to take over mainland China 70 years ago, Chinese scholars faced a dilemma: staying with the CCP or leaving with Kuomintang, going to Taiwan?
Some chose to leave, such as Hu Shih, former Chinese Ambassador to the United States (1938 to 1942). They were able to maintain their personal integrity and continue passing on the idea of freedom in the free world. Some chose to stay such as Chen Yinke, one of the greatest Chinese historians at the time. They ended up suffering never-ending political movements and losing academic freedom, human dignity, or even their lives.
Reflecting on their stories, one can learn that when dealing with the CCP, it is important to see through its true nature instead of trusting the rosy picture that it paints.
Hu Shih’s Cry
By the end of 1948, the CCP had been prevailing in the civil war against the Kuomintang, then ruling party in China who had led China to win in WWII. The Kuomintang government sent three airplanes to evacuate famous scholars from Beijing, as it was losing the battles in northern China.
Hu Shih was one of the most renowned Chinese philosophers and essayists. He had also served as China’s Ambassador to the U.S., president of Peking University, and later president of the Academia Sinica in Taipei. He was at Nanjing, the capital city of the Kuomintang government, when the evacuation planes were deployed. The plan was to pick up some scholars from Beijing, then more in Nanjing, before taking them to Taiwan.
Hu went to the airport to join those scholars from Beijing. When the door of the first airplane was opened, he was shocked to see it was empty. The second plane was empty again... Out of the 81 most renowned scholars in Beijing to be evacuated, only 22 took the offer, with 10 going to Taiwan with the Kuomintang government and 12 to the U.S. or Europe. The remaining 59 chose to remain in Beijing.
Hu wept openly at the airport, as if he could foresee the gloomy future for those who chose to stay with the CCP.
Leaving the CCP
The CCP had tried to keep Hu in Beijing before he went to Nanjing, for his great influence in academia and politics. Mao Zedong, then CCP’s top leader, sent Hu a message that he could serve as president of Beijing Library if he chose to remain in the mainland. Hu’s student Wu Han, a high-ranking CCP official, also sent a messenger to ask Hu to stay.
Hu answered with one sentence, “Don’t believe the CCP!”
He also asked the messenger to tell Wu Han, “The Soviet Union has bread but no freedom; the United States of America has both bread and freedom; but when the CCP comes, there is neither bread nor freedom.”
In as early as 1919, Hu had recognized that “Marxism and socialism are just self-deceptive dreams.” In 1946, Hu wrote an article “On Two Fundamentally Different Parties,” stating that there are two fundamentally different types of parties: one is the party in the U.K., U.S., and Western Europe, and the other is the communist party in the Soviet Union, the Fascist Party in Italy, and the Nazi Party in Germany. The two types divide at the line of freedom vs. non-freedom, independence vs. non-independence, and tolerance vs. intolerance.
Despite the CCP’s repeated invitation, Hu left the CCP and went to Taiwan.
Fu Sinian was considered one of the best scholars in Chinese history and literature studies in the 20th century. In July 1945, he and a few scholars visited Yan’an, a northwestern city that served as the CCP’s headquarters. He had a private conversation with Mao Zedong for a night. However, unlike some other scholars who praised the Yan’an trip, Fu thought the system of Yan’an was pure despotism and obscurantism. He found that Mao was very familiar with all kinds of novels, especially those of poor-taste, and that Mao used those materials to study the psychology of the people to control them.
Thus, Fu did not hesitate to leave mainland China and later served as president of National Taiwan University.
Qian Mu, one of the “Four Modern Historians” in China, was another master-level scholar who had a clear understanding of the CCP. After the CCP army crossed the Yangtze River to attack the Kuomintang in south China in April 1949, Qian Jibo, a scholar specialized in classic Chinese literature, suggested that Qian Mu remain in the mainland.
Qian Mu asked Qian Jibo, “You have been studying literature. Can you see any attitude of generosity and tolerance in the CCP’s official announcement of crossing the Yangtze River?”
Qian Jibo was silent.
Mao Zedong wrote that announcement. From it, Qian Mu read that Mao would not tolerate anyone with different opinions, and thus he chose to leave mainland China. He continued his teaching in Hong Kong and mentored many students.
Staying with the CCP
Qian Jibo chose to trust the CCP. But his ending was tragic. His manuscript, which he spent a lot of time writing, was largely burned during the CCP’s political movement to destroy the leading “bad” scholars in 1959. He became depressed and died.
Chen Yinke, a Chinese literature master, was called the “professor of professors.” He went with Hu Shih from Beijing to Nanjing but then decided to stay in the mainland with the CCP. He endured much suffering during the CCP’s political movements, as he chose not to give up his conscience to the Party.
The CCP stopped his salary and froze his bank account during the Cultural Revolution. Chen was tortured until he was blind and developed heart disease and many other illnesses. The Red Guards (teenagers who vowed to be loyal only to Mao Zedong) put a few high-pitched speakers next to his bed to frighten him. Even when he was in his last days, the Red Guards still demanded that he “confess his crimes.” As Chen described experience, “I live as if in a prison cell for death row inmates.”
Even CCP officials could not escape the torture.
The aforementioned Wu Han, a renowned historian on the Ming Dynasty and Hu's student, became the chancellor in charge of both Peking University and Tsinghua University. As a party activist, he served as the vice mayor of Beijing.
However, during the Cultural Revolution, he was taken down for a play he wrote, which was criticized as having a hidden political message against the CCP. He was forced to kneel down to receive public criticism and humiliation. His hair was pulled out and his chest developed internal bleeding due to beating. He died in October 1969, without seeing his adopted children for the last time, and leaving only a pair of pants full of bloodstains.
The CCP didn’t leave the children or relatives of the escaping scholars alone either.
Hu Shih’s youngest son, Hu Sidu, who had returned to China from the U.S., refused to evacuate to Taiwan along with his father.
When the CCP carried out a movement to denounce Hu Shih in the 1950s, Hu Sidu published an article titled “Criticism over My Father Hu Shih” and called Hu Shih “the dog of imperialists and the enemy of the public.” But that didn’t give him safety. Hu Sidu was labeled as a “Rightist” in 1957. He committed suicide by hanging himself.
Fu Sinian’s nephew Fu Lehuan finished his studies in Great Britain in 1951. He rejected Fu Sinian’s offer to work in Taiwan and worked as a professor in Beijing, where he thought he would be free and happy. During the Cultural Revolution he was labeled as a “spy” and repeatedly denounced, imprisoned, and tortured. He eventually jumped into a lake in Beijing to end his life.
The cases listed above are just some examples. The CCP has painted a free China with very rosy pictures during the civil war, to allure people to join it. According to the Chinese Academy of Science, about 5,000 Chinese scientists were overseas when the CCP came to power in 1949, and more than 2,000 came back to mainland China by 1956. However, what they experienced once they were in China was something they had never expected.