John Paton Wu Ningkun
INT: It's difficult in the West to quite understand that atmosphere - and we're still talking about the early days here, in the early fifties. Was there a sense that the more you confessed, the more lenient you would be treated? I mean that seems to me, the more guilty you are, the more you get off. That's a strange atmosphere, how did... Can you tell us a bit about that?
WN: Well, the people were induced to believe that because Communists had high credibility at the time, you know, their performance was quite good at the time. Therefore, we also trusted them in this area, in this area of telling it all, especially when I felt there was nothing on my conscience. The fact that I came all the way home to serve new China was enough, but no, they suspected I had connections with the nationalists and I had connections with the Americans, so they had to pump and pump me and so it went on and on through each succeeding political campaign.
INT: It must have been very frustrating for you, because you had come back to China with this ideal of now was the moment for your nation and yet the finger then seemed to point at you as having guilty associations. Was that not a source of anxiety and frustration for you personally?
WN: All this examination and confession was most frustrating, especially because I felt I was so conscientious in coming home, so I got more and more frustrated and I got more and more angry, so I kept talking and talking and talking. I got myself into more and more trouble, because I didn't know at the time, everything I said was actually monitored. In a peaceful society, and whatever you said among your colleagues or to other people was actually recorded in detail.
INT: What do you mean by that, being monitored, what do you mean exactly?
WN: Well, whatever I said would be brought up at the next political cam. You said two sentence to so and so on such andsuch a day... well if I had anything on my conscience, I wouldn't have said it. It was just because I was oppressed and so frustrated, I had to say something to keep going.
INT: Very interesting, very interesting, let's cut there for just a second.
INT: Did the mid 1950s seem to you like a golden era, a golden age in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China?
WN: The mid fifties seemed to be a golden period between the Soviet Union and China. There were so many [coughs], excuse me, so many Soviet experts working in China, but I didn't really see the point of inviting so many Soviet experts to Chinese universities, for example, including English Department. I didn't think that made sense at all, 'cos I met one such Soviet expert, who came from a teacher's college in Leningrad or somewhere and who spoke English with a very heavy Russian accent [clears throat] and we, all professors, or Chinese and United States, great universe, Harvard, here or Chicago or Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh. And so I don't see the point. So when he was invited to my college, I didn't go to the seminar. It didn't make sense to me. I said, 'What are you going to do the next? Invite them to Chinese departments?'
INT: But did most Chinese people at the time look up to the Russian advisers, respect them for their knowledge and expertise?
WN: At the time the Chinese who worked with the Russians, worked with civilian Russians or for them had to treat them most respectfully. They were not allowed to say anything against them, otherwise they would be denounced as anti-Soviet Russia. They were not really loved by the Chinese people. Chinese people had no feelings for them and the Chinese people had no hatred against the Americans or the British, you see.
INT: Was there... do you remember the moment of the reporting of Stalin's death in 1953?
WN: [Interrupts] Yes.
INT: Did that have an impact on Chinese people?
WN: The Chinese... the death of Stalin had no impact whatsoever on the Chinese people in general. Of course we were forced to march to the Soviet consulate in Kenjing , I was teaching at Nankeen University at the time. The [inaudible] was [inaudible] bands around our arms to pay our last respects, but we had no good feelings for Stalin. We never had any.
INT: Was there a feeling, do you think, that with Stalin's death the leadership of the international Socialist movement would move towards China?
WN: At the time of Stalin's death, we didn't know what would happen next. And China did nothing powerful enough to become the leader of the Soviet bloc. And the Chinese people didn't care anyway.
INT: Right. How did China see itself? How did Chinese people see its international role during the 1950s?
WN: During the 1950s, the Chinese people probably saw itself as a great ally of the Soviet Union and China was developing fast, so to speak, and perhaps we did have a future, but the Chinese people realized how poor we were and we were not really very powerful.
INT: But Cho En Lai had a very clear vision of China's future, did you and other intellectuals share this grander view of the future for China at that point? Again, I'm thinking now still mid-fifties, before the split with the Soviet...
WN: The mid-fifties, I don't know whether Cho En Lai had any grand vision of China in the future, because Cho En Lai was held in high regard by the intelligentsia and also within the party, although the people didn't know what struggles were going on within the hierarchy. [Clears throat] We were of course looking forward to the emergence of a great China. The government kept talking about it. The people were taught to despise the United States and the [inaudible], Britain was even lesser and China could eventually catch up with Britain and the United States.
INT: What were your own personal impressions of Cho En Lai? Perhaps you could tell us about the lecture that he gave you and other intellectuals in the early fifties and your feelings towards him?
WN: Well, I first met Cho En Lai... not met, I mean, I'd heard his lectures in Utang during the War in 1938, when he was collaborating or co-operating with the nationalists, with Go Ming Do, with the nationalists, he lectured at an army training corps where I was receiving training. He came to lecture once every other week and each time he lecture four hours, on international situation. He was very diplomatic, he didn't touch down on domestic situation, he only talked about international situation and... exalted the Soviet Union for the role it was playing in international affairs. and then in 1951, when he was Premier of China, he was held in high regard by intellectuals and in September, that's probably a month after I returned, we were called into Dho Mal Hai , where the party headquarters and the government headquarters were, to hear a lecture to the college teachers in Kenjing and Beijing and he gave a lecture eight hours long and he was very suave and actually he was very relaxed. He didn't have a prepared text and the core of his lecture was to urge the intellectuals to change their class stand, their point of view, their viewpoint and their method of thinking. The intellectuals were considered bourgeois intellectuals. We were given bourgeois education so we were all considered bourgeois and we had to switch over to the proletarian standpoint and view and method. But actually it was declaration of war on the integrity and mind of the intellectuals.
INT: But did it seem like that at the time? How did you and the other teachers listening to the lecture respond?
WN: Well, knew... well, at least my friends knew it was coming, so OK, we were... but we didn't really know what would be coming. We thought it was just a matter of studying documents, taking lessons in Marxism, Leninism and all that, but it turned out to be violent than that. There was one political campaign after another to weed out the undesirable intellectuals and to force them to accept the orders and thinking of the government.
INT: I'll come back to that point in a moment, but can you tell us were you personally surprised? When you heard of the falling out with the Soviet Union in '57, '58, in those years, were you personally surprised that...
WN: When I first heard of the falling out between Beijing and Moscow I was surprised and I suppose I was pleased about it. [Laughs]
INT: Why was that?
WN: Because I was pleased because I never like the Soviet Union and I despised Stalin and now was a time for China to stand on her own feet and perhaps I was vaguely hoping that China would develop better relations with the Western world, especially United States. And I thought it was good for China and of course it would be good for me.
INT: Tell us about some of the slogans of that period, the period of the falling out, the late fifties.
WN: Well, it came out very slowly. At first we didn't know, given our censorship system control of the media, but later on, suddenly the party started issuing documents, editorials, attacking Soviet revisionism. So from then on, along with other slogans, we had to shout 'Down with Soviet revisionism'. Later on was 'Down with Khrushchev'.