Demonizing Discourse in Mao Zedong's China: People vs Non-People

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article examines the use of demonizing rhetoric by the Chinese Communist Party during the first decades of the People’s Republic after 1949. It chronicles the rise, flourishing, and ultimate post-Mao demise of a political discourse predicated on an ‘essential’ distinction between people and non-people. With the help of illustrations lifted from public and until recently classified sources, it sheds light on the strategic reasoning behind official as well as popular deployment of dysphemisms like ‘ox-monster’ and ‘snake-demon’. Noting the extremes to which demonization was taken during the Cultural Revolution, when some party leaders were made to self-criticise for mis-speaking of class enemies as actual human beings, it hints at the role that the trauma of Mao’s final decade in power played in problematizing the people vs. non-people distinction and finally discarding it altogether as incompatible with the needs of political reform.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History and Archaeology


  • Revolution, Communism, Mao Zedong, Class, Discourse, Demonization, Politics, Society, China
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-482
JournalTotalitarian Movements and Political Religions
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch

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Michael Schoenhals


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