Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China

Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China

Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China

Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China

Excerpt

This study began as a psychiatric evaluation of Chinese Communist "thought reform," or "brainwashing." It is still primarily this; but it has also, inevitably, become a psychological study of extremism or totalism--and even more broadly, a study of the "closed" versus the "open" approaches to human change.

It is based upon research which I conducted in Hong Kong in 1954-55. It then evolved over four years of additional research and teaching in the United States. My work with Western and Chinese subjects--piecing together emotional details that were both poignant and extreme--and the psychological, moral, and historical challenge of the material have made this study an exceptionally absorbing personal and professional experience.

A book about extremism calls for a special measure of objectivity. This does not mean that its author can claim complete personal or moral detachment. The assumption of such detachment in psychological (or any other) work is at best self-deception, and at worst a source of harmful distortion. And who during this era can pretend to be uninvolved in the issues of psychological coercion, of identity, and of ideology? Certainly not one who has felt impelled to study them at such length.

Instead, I have attempted to be both reasonably dispassionate and responsibly committed: dispassionate in my efforts to stand away from the material far enough to probe the nature of the process, its effects upon people exposed to it, and some of the influences affecting its practitioners; committed to my own analyses . . .

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