Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Pan Hannian Affair and Power Struggles at the Top of the CCP (1953-1955)

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Pan Hannian Affair and Power Struggles at the Top of the CCP (1953-1955)

Article excerpt

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Pan Hannian (1906-1977) became a militant Communist in 1925, with remarkable talents as an organiser, diplomat, and communicator. He was put in charge of some highly specific missions by the Party: organising the League of Left-Wing Writers, negotiating with warlords or the Nationalist regime, directing intelligence operations or rallying democratic personalities to the new Communist regime. He held the prestigious post of deputy mayor of Shanghai from May 1949 until April 1955, when suddenly he became caught up in a top-level power struggle in the Communist regime in what became known as the "Gao Gang-Rao Shushi" affair.(2) Pan and his boss, the Shanghai Party secretary Rao Shushi, along with Yang Fan, the chief of Shanghai police from 1949 to 1951, were accused of having shielded a large number of the former regime's secret agents and of having caused serious damage to the people's interests. Pan's reputation was further sullied by the revelation of a clandestine meeting in 1943, while he was a Communist Party secret agent, with Wang Jingwei, who headed a puppet regime of the Japanese at that time. Charged with treachery (neijian), counter-revolutionary acts (fangeming) and collaborating with the Kuomintang (KMT - tewu), he spent the rest of his life, from 1955 until 1977, between prison and laogai camps (the Chinese gulag). His wife, Dong Hui (1918-1979), also a former Communist secret agent, suffered the same fate and died, like him, in a camp in Hunan. In 1982, the Party absolved Pan of all charges, rehabilitating him and his wife posthumously. Their remains were reburied in Beijing's Babaoshan Cemetery, which is reserved for revolutionary heroes and high-ranking Communist cadres.

Pan was quickly raised to legendary hero status. The charges against him (and Yang Fan) are now regarded as having been part of the first unjust political trial (yuan'an) of the People's Republic. Over the past two decades, articles and commemorative publications have proliferated, as have fictionalised biographies/3' China Central Television marked Pan's birth centenary with a 30-episode serial focusing on his life and exploits.

Independent of the public's interest in it, the eulogising of Pan met the needs of a post-Maoist restoration of normality within the Party. Archives relating to the Pan case have never been opened to outside researchers, although a few official researchers have had some restricted access, as for instance Yin Qi, author of a richly documented biography.(4) Other writers were able to get their hands on pre-1949 Party archives, which are often less sensitive/5' and draw upon the now republished writings of Pan.<6) Sources relating to the Gao-Rao affair - Mao's speeches, senior leaders' statements, as well as accounts by former colleagues of Gao Gang and Rao Shushi17' - have helped penetrate the secrets surrounding the charges laid against Pan by revealing the political nature of the inquisitorial trials of the period and by clarifying Mao's crucial role in organising them.

Many biographers and observers believe the suit against Pan stemmed from leftist ideology and Mao's arbitrary authoritarianism. But this interpretation fails to explain why the Gao-Rao affair suddenly flared in intensity towards late March 1955, given that the Politburo had until then been restrained in punishing Rao Shushi/8' His sudden arrest on 1 April 1955 marked a turn for the worse in his case: his mistakes vis-à-vis the Party had become a counter-revolutionary crime. Just two days later, Pan's indictment was decided with no preliminary investigation whatsoever. One might well wonder whether the action against the two men had other political motivations and whether Pan's arrest was really meant above all to point to the existence of a so-called counter-revolutionary clique within the Party. It will not be possible to know with certainty so long as researchers remain locked out of the Party archives. …

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