Sixty years after China's Anti-Rightist political movement of 1957 saw hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals killed, jailed, or persecuted, a prominent dissident has called for compensation for the families of those persecuted.
Sichuan-based writer Tan Zuoren, who has previously been jailed for researching official corruption linked to child deaths in the devastating 2008 earthquake, called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to make amends to the survivors of the campaign by revoking the political verdicts on its victims.
"My first point was to call on the government to face up to the problems left over by history, and to address the question of compensation from the government, the income of 'rightists,' and their pensions," Tan said.
"The second was that we should be pushing for some kind of reconciliation in their last years, and calling on the government to tell us the truth," he said.
The 1957 crackdown came after then supreme leader Mao Zedong launched the "Hundred Flowers" movement inviting intellectuals to set forth a profusion of dissident views.
The ruling party has concluded that the Anti-Rightist movement led to "unfortunate consequences," but has never rehabilitated individuals labeled as "rightists," instead accusing them of attacking the party and trying to overthrow the government.
But the anniversary has led to calls for the government to make a public announcement accepting that the movement, in which 550,000 people were “struggled”—often dying from beatings or summary executions or serving lengthy terms in labor camp—was a mistake.
"It was therefore entirely correct and necessary to launch a resolute counter-attack," the official account says. "But the scope of this struggle was made far too broad and a number of intellectuals, patriotic people and party cadres were unjustifiably labelled “Rightists", with unfortunate consequences."
100 signatures for restitution
Tan's letter, which garnered more than 100 signatures, called for personal restitution to be made to the families of "rightists" in the form of official recognition and compensation.
"I don't think this issue has received nearly enough public attention," Tan told RFA in a recent interview after the letter was published. "Through several decades of the gulag system, 'rightists' have been marginalized by society in large numbers."
"Their health has suffered, and a lot of them died young; we still don't have a clear-cut resolution for the rightists," he said.
Tan said the persecution of "rightists" contravened China's constitution.
But activists said an ongoing crackdown on all forms of public dissent by the current administration of President Xi Jinping is likely to suppress public debate on the topic.
Fellow signatory and former "rightist" author Zhang Xianzhi said he had received a visit from police and neighborhood committee officials after the letter was published.
"The current political trend [of cracking down on dissent] isn't really conducive to what we are trying to do," said Zhang, who spent 23 years on a "reform through labor" penal farm after being denounced as a "rightist."
"Particularly in the past couple of days, when some people from the neighborhood committee came to my house to bend my ear about all manner of things," he said. "But there is no way we are going to let this go."
'Tales from the Gulag'
His "Tales from the Gulag," a memoir of that experience, was published in the United States in 2007.
Memoirs or books dealing with the period of history around the Anti-Rightist Campaign have been banned inside China.
Historical accounts suggest that among the first professionals to be sidelined in the campaign were lawyers and judicial professionals, a pattern which has been repeated under President Xi with a nationwide operation targeting human rights lawyers and activists since July 2015.
The official party line on the Anti-Rightist period can be found in a document titled “On a number of historical problems concerning the party’s leadership."
Outspoken political journalist Gao Yu said she was asked to leave town over the weekend by state security police, apparently for fear that a planned party would commemorate the movement in some way.
Gao refused, and two state security police were posted outside her Beijing home instead, sources told RFA.
Last month, Chinese authorities prevented dozens of mainland residents from visiting Hong Kong to attend a discussion forum on the Anti-Rightist movement.
"The Communist Party was too afraid to have them attend this forum, because they said it was an anti-China event," organizer Chen Yulin told RFA at the time. "But the aim of our forum was to get to the truth, and to refuse to forget; to remind people that there was such a thing as the Anti-Rightist movement."
"I believe that mainland China will [eventually] movement towards democracy."
Reported by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.