Political Socialization and the Authoritarian Personality in China

  • Anita Chan


On one level this study has considered how four young people of fundamentally different dispositions became political activists, the problems and difficulties they faced, and how and why as adults they personally became politically disaffected — desocialized — and left for Hong Kong.


Chinese Communist Party Cultural Revolution Social Character Official Activist Political Socialization 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom (London: Kegan Paul, 1942) p. 141.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, e.g. Fred I. Greenstein, ‘Personality and Political Socialization: The Theories of Authoritarian and Democratic Character’, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, vol. 360 (Sept 1965) 81–95. One major reason that political scientists have given particular attention to theories of the ‘authoritarian personality’ is that central to both politics and the ‘authoritarian personality’ is the notion of power relations, particularly between ruler and ruled.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom; Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 3rd edn (New York: Orgone Institute Press, 1946). Reich’s theory that the authoritarian personality owes its origin to sexual repression by the family and the state unfortunately comes close to relegating an otherwise stimulating study to the level of crude psychologism.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    T. W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, R. Nevitt Sanford et al., The Authoritarian Personality (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969 edn). This book was first published in 1950. For the ideas of the Frankfurt School and Adorno seeGoogle Scholar
  5. Russell Jacoby, ‘Toward a Critique of Automatic Marxism: The Politics of Philosophy from Lukacs to the Frankfurt School’, Telos, no. 10 (1971) 119–46;Google Scholar
  6. Paul Piccone, ‘From Tragedy to Farce: The Return to Critical Theory’, New German Critique, no. 7 (Winter 1976) 91–104;Google Scholar
  7. T. W. Adorno, ‘Society’, in Robert Boyers (ed), The Legacy of German Intellectuals (New York: Schocken Books, 1972) pp. 144–53; andGoogle Scholar
  8. Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973).Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Adorno’s statistical ‘F scale’ of fascist personality traits suggested, for instance, that people who are aggressive towards inferiors tend to be submissive to superiors, just as Fromm had postulated. However, as yet there is no consensus on the validity of the F scale as an absolute statistical measure of authoritarianism. Indeed Adorno himself, coming from a non-empiricist German sociological tradition, has downplayed the statistical significance of his book and thinks the book’s contribution is ‘above all in posing the issues, which were motivated by a genuine social concern’. (T. Adorno, ‘Scientific Experiences of a European Scholar in America’, in Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn (eds), The Intellectual Migration: Europe and America, 1930–1960 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1969) p. 361.)Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1955) pp. 78–9. Though the Berkeley project was interested in identifying isolated cases of latent authoritarianism in a society which was not at that time promoting an authoritarian ‘social character’, the study was in agreement with Fromm’s thesis in its concluding remarks: ‘people are continuously molded from above because they must be molded if the over-all economic pattern is to be maintained’ (p. 976).Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Erich Fromm and Michael Maccoby, Social Character in a Mexican Village (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970) p. 16.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    For the German authoritarian personality, refer to Zevedi Barbu, Democracy and Dictatorship (London: Routledge, 1956); Wilhelm Reich, Mass Psychology of Facism; Erich Fromm, Fear of Freedom. For an analysis of the prewar Japanese personality seeGoogle Scholar
  13. Kazuko Tsurumi, Social Change and the Individual — Japan Before and After Defeat in World War II (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970);Google Scholar
  14. Douglas C. Haring, ‘Japanese National Character: Cultural Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and History’, in Douglas G. Haring (ed), Personal Character and Cultural Milieu (Syracuse University Press, 1956) pp. 424–37; andGoogle Scholar
  15. Weston La Barre, ‘Some Observations on Character Structure in the Orient: the Japanese’, in Bernard S. Silberman (ed), Japanese Character and Culture (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962) pp. 325–69;Google Scholar
  16. Agnes M. Niyekawa, ‘Factors Associated with Authoritarianism in Japan’, PhD Dissertation (New York University, 1960). For an analysis of the Soviet personality seeGoogle Scholar
  17. Margaret Mead, Soviet Attitudes Towards Authority (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951); Zevedi Barbu, Democracy and Dictatorship; andGoogle Scholar
  18. Nikolai K. Novak-Deker (ed), Soviet Youth: Twelve Komsomol Histories (Munich: Institute for the Study of the USSR, Series I, no. 51, July 1959). These studies of Soviet political socialization practices and of the nature of the Soviet orientation towards authority provide an idea of how similar the Chinese and Soviet systems used to be in this particular respect. However, from the autobiographies written by the twelve Komsomols of the first generation educated after the October Revolution, one gets the impression that in the 1920s and 1930s the demands on young people to become ‘new socialist men’ were less intense than in China during the two decades after Liberation.Google Scholar
  19. 10.
    Numerous studies on the authoritarian personality have tried to measure the differential presence of authoritarian traits among the members of different social and political groups. See John Kirscht and Ronald Dillehay, Dimensions of Authoritarianism: A Review of Research and Theory (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1967) pp. 95–126. As an example of this kind of study, also see Leonard Weller, Samuel Levinbok, Rina Maimon and Shaham Asher, ‘Religiosity and Authoritarianism’, Journal of Social Psychology, no. 75 (1975) 11–18.Google Scholar
  20. 12.
    Lucian Pye, The Spirit of Chinese Politics (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1968);Google Scholar
  21. Richard Solomon, ‘Mao’s Efforts to Reintegrate the Chinese Social Process’, in A. Doak Barnett (ed), Chinese CommunistPolitics in Action (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969) pp. 271–364; andGoogle Scholar
  22. Richard Solomon, Mao’s Revolution and the Chinese Political Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  23. 13.
    The attacks against Solomon were from three angles: he was charged with misinterpreting traditional Chinese thought (F.W. Mote, ‘China’s Past in the Study of China Today — Some Comments on the Recent Works of Richard Solomon’, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. xxxii, no. 1 (Nov 1972) 107–20); he was criticized for transforming Freudian psychoanalytic technique into an unconvincing ‘diapertology’CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. (Chen Pi-chao, ‘In Search of Chinese National Character Via Child-training’, World Politics, vol. xxv, no. 4 (July 1973) 608–635); and he was accused of adopting an ethnocentric Western vantage point that adjudged differences in Chinese culture as pathologicalGoogle Scholar
  25. (Richard Kagan and Norma Diamond, ‘Father, Son and the Holy Ghost: Pye, Solomon and the “Spirit of Chinese Politics”’, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, vol. v, no. 1 (July 1973) 62–8).Google Scholar
  26. 14.
    See Leo Bramson, The Political Context of Sociology (Princeton University Press, 1961) pp. 136–7; theGoogle Scholar
  27. Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, Aspects of Sociology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972) pp. 129–45.Google Scholar
  28. 16.
    David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (New York: Anchor Books, 1953).Google Scholar
  29. 17.
    It should be noted here that studies of the effects of social change on social character, especially in societies experiencing extreme social change, suggest that the parents themselves often smooth the way by adopting and transmitting new values and behavioural norms. Parents of my interviewees’ generation were aware that their children would have to inhabit a new world, and they had adjusted their own teachings to fit those of the agents of state socialization. On the more general case, with illustrations taken from Russia, see Alex Inkeles, ‘Social Change and Social Character: The Role of Parental Mediation’, in Amitai Etzioni and Eva Etzioni (eds), Social Change: Sources, Patterns and Consequences (New York: Basic Books, 1964) pp. 343–53. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  30. Martin K. Whyte, ‘Child Socialization in the Soviet Union and China’, Studies in Comparative Communism, vol. x, no. 3 (Autumn 1977) 235–59 andGoogle Scholar
  31. David Raddock, Political Behavior of Adolescents in China — The Cultural Revolution in Kwangchow (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1977) pp. 174–203. The Chinese urban family’s remaining influence on its children lay not so much in formal ideology but rather in underlying values: for instance, children of the former middle-class intelligentsia inherited their parents’ achievement orientation and patriotism. But these values, notably, were not at odds with the state’s own teachings. In the 1950s, following China’s prolonged nationalistic struggle against foreign domination, both agents of socialization, the state and family, were transmitting these same two messages. The result was that the effects of each agent were compounded on the other.Google Scholar
  32. 18.
    Ted Tapper, Political Education and Stability: Elite Responses to Political Conflict (London: John Wiley, 1976), ch. 3.Google Scholar
  33. 20.
    T. B. Bottomore, Classes in Modern Society (London: Allen & Unwin, 1965) p. 47.Google Scholar
  34. 21.
    Jonathan Unger, ‘The Class System in Rural China: A Case Study’, in James Watson (ed), Class and Social Stratification in Post-Revolution China (Cambridge University Press, 1984).Google Scholar

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© Anita Chan 1985

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  • Anita Chan

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