HONG KONG—A group of former "rightists" from China's prestigious Beijing University has called in an open letter to President Hu Jintao to be rehabilitated following years of political harassment under the leadership of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
"We were denounced as rightist youth students of Beijing University back then, and now we are old," said the letter, which was signed by 10 former Beijing University students who were branded "rightists" during the 1957 anti-rightist campaign.
"We have already written two letters to you, once on Dec. 23, 2007, and again on Feb. 26, 2008, asking you to pay attention to our situation, to hear our demands, and to help us to win justice," the letter said.
"Now, more than a year has passed since we sent the second of those two letters, but we have had no response, except the constant surveillance of police and neighborhood committee officials outside our door, since then."
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals were killed, jailed, or persecuted during the infamous Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957, and many are still calling to be rehabilitated.
The campaign came soon after the “Hundred Flowers” movement in which party chairman Mao Zedong invited intellectuals to set forth a profusion of dissident views.
The 50th anniversary in 2007 sparked calls for the government to make a public announcement accepting that the movement was a mistake.
Yan Suifu, a former Beijing University student "rightist" who signed the letter, said the group had also appealed to Beijing University to have the label of "rightist" dropped.
They had received no response, and they had also heard that other former "rightists" had received no response after demanding social and political rehabilitation.
Instead, she said, they had been subjected to further surveillance and political harassment.
"They are particularly concerned about former students at Beijing University," Yan said.
"Law enforcement officials frequently come to check up on us, to talk to us. They tell us that Beijing University is politically very sensitive, and they appeal to us to put stability and unity first, and not to go to the college campus."
"We have steadfastly refused to comply with their requests."
Prominent former "rightist" Tie Liu said the Chinese Communist Party had maintained the same attitude to former "rightists" all along.
"One method they use is to ignore you. Another is that some people will take a dislike to you and decide to use various forms of oppression against you," said Tie, adding that he had been prevented from leaving the country in the past by the authorities.
"We are a group of innocent people who were branded 'rightists' in 1957, and who have suffered great injury. This goes against common human decency, but it is also in breach of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. We are now trying to look to the future, and we have no wish to pursue legal responsibility against the officials concerned. But we have been consistently ignored to this day."
"Any talk of stability and unity shouldn't be fake, and can't happen under duress. You have to solve the underlying problem, to face up to history. I don't think that any country that faces up to its own history will have long-running problems with social stability."
The open letter said: "We are all old folk in their seventies now, so we continue to press for justice for ourselves. Apart from the fact that our demands are perfectly reasonable, we also believe that we will see a return to human decency and compassion, and that justice is inevitable."
During the campaigns, 550,000 people were “struggled”—often dying from beatings or summary executions or serving lengthy terms in labor camp.
Until now, the official line has been that the initial, narrow version of the Anti-Rightist Campaign was necessary to stamp out a threat to Communist Party rule, but that its expansion was a mistake.
Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong described the campaigns in an essay written to mark the anniversary:
"The fate of those 550,000 was as follows: some died right there during the struggle sessions; many died later in prison or labor camp, or as a result of kangaroo courts and summary executions. A small number survived to see their relatives suffer discrimination and oppression," said Bao, a former aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang.
Bao also noted that the first professionals to be sidelined in the campaign were lawyers and judicial professionals, pointing to the first major deviation from legitimate national structures that would culminate with the institutional chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
“During this movement, as part of its quest for absolute power with no rival, the Party leadership nakedly trampled national laws underfoot and destroyed the Constitution, mounting a massive and illegal attack on freedom of expression and ideological freedom,” he wrote in an essay broadcast by RFA’s Mandarin service June 14, 2007.
China’s leaders have remained silent on the Anti-Rightist Campaign in recent years, pointing only to a set of official guidelines titled “On a number of historical problems concerning the Party’s leadership,” which contains the official view.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Yan Xiu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.