- Bianju: Qiqianrendahui shimo: Yijiuliu'er nian yiyue shiyiri–eryue qiri by Zhang Suhua
Scholars habitually use certain significant meetings held by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to demarcate historical periods of modern China as signposts of crucial political changes. The August Seventh Meeting in Wuhan in 1927 (launching the Autumn Harvest Uprising), the Seventh National Congress in Yan'an in 1945 (establishing Mao Zedong's unchallengeable position within the CCP), the Lushan Conference in 1959 (purging Peng Dehuai), and the Third Plenary Meeting of the Eleventh National Congress in Beijing in 1978 (initiating Deng Xiaoping's reforms) are all notable examples. Indeed, these meetings are truly landmarks of pivotal historical change and thus they tend to be frequently mentioned and widely examined. However, more CCP meetings deserve in-depth scrutiny. For instance, the largest meeting ever held by the CCP, with more than seven thousand delegates from all over the country, was convened in early 1962 in Beijing and is numerically dubbed the Conference of the Seven Thousands (Qiqianrendahui). This colossal size itself obviously arouses scholarly curiosity. Nevertheless, nobody had done serious academic research on it until Zhang Suhua published her monograph. In this pioneering work, she offers a systematic treatment, provides sound discourse, and presents rare archival sources.
One of the most important features of Zhang Suhua's book is her extensive use of archival material and firsthand sources to piece together what happened during the conference. Because she has been a researcher at the CCP's Central Document Research Department since the late 1970s, she has had the opportunity to make full use of its primary sources, selecting its original documents and combing its special collections. Without such access to ample records, it would be impossible for anyone to write a volume of such high quality. For doing so, she should be applauded for her original research, diligent exploration, thorough investigation, and meticulous scrutiny.
The book is partitioned into twenty-three chapters along with an appendix of thirteen short memoirs. The author invited Chen Jin, a fellow historian, to contribute a preface for the 2012 edition. She also includes a chronology of events and offers a postscript to explain important revisions and changes, thus effecting constant improvements throughout the book's four editions in twelve printings since 2006. To help the reader understand the conference, the author inserts ninety-two images of original documents, interesting cartoons, vivid pictures, newspaper clippings, private diaries, meeting minutes, and on-the-spot notes. [End Page 86]
At the beginning of the book, Zhang Suhua presents her analysis of the reasons why the CCP held such a mammoth conference that year. According to her, the seven thousand attendees included communist cadres on all administrative levels. Such a conference, in terms of size, was unprecedented and remains unparalleled as the CCP has never again held such a huge meeting (p. 8). No doubt, as she claims, the long-term reason was Mao's intention to solve daunting and touchy problems left over by the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958–1961). Of course, Mao also encountered numerous political, economic, and social issues and intended to overcome them with the assistance of his subordinates. Naturally, Mao wanted to discover the origins of those problems and intended to uncover the identities of those responsible wrongdoers. The movement of de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union under the new leadership of Nikita Khrushchev irritated and angered Mao, who also practiced the cult of personality and desired to unite his comrades to defend his own regime from this new international threat. The immediate reason for the conference was to acquire grain from the peasants to meet the urgent food needs of urban residents. To solve the last issue, Mao had to open discussions with local communist officials. The grain problem was indeed solved at the conference, but the other issues sparked...