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Reform and Closing Up: Shanghai’s Universities in the First Years of the People’s Republic

Sat, June 25, 5:00 to 6:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 102


This paper traces the history of Shanghai’s universities from the end of World War II through their ultimate reorganization along Soviet lines in 1952. Drawing on archival materials, institutional histories, and personal accounts, I argue that the thought reform campaign in Chinese universities, generally seen as a final softening up campaign before the 1952 reorganization, in fact encountered unexpected opposition and left a legacy of mutual suspicion between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and students/intellectuals in Shanghai. Initially, the CCP had many advantages in Shanghai’s universities, including a powerful organizational presence among students, staff, and faculty. After the CCP took control of Shanghai, changes to curriculum were swiftly instituted, regular channels of communication were opened with administrators to guide ideology and policy, potentially troublesome intellectuals were removed, reformed, or pressured to resign, and the political life of Shanghai’s campuses was directed towards supporting the earliest campaigns of the People’s Republic. However, the thought reform campaign, launched in late 1951 to lay the ground for reorganization, soon ran into problems, including criticism sessions meant to denounce “reactionaries” in the universities turning against the CCP’s policies instead. Knowing from their own history how powerful a political force students could be, the Party remained mistrustful and wary of Shanghai’s students and intellectuals even well after the universities had been reorganized. Therefore, rather than representing the final phase of transitioning Shanghai’s universities away from bourgeois ideology and towards secure control, the thought reform campaign heralded a new dynamic of apprehension towards the universities.