Professor Jin Yuelin’s confession and self-criticism during China’s 1951-52 thought reform campaign

On April 17, 1952, the newspaper Guangming Daily published a “confession” written by professor Jin Yuelin (金岳霖, also spelled Chin Yüeh-lin). The confession, entitled “Criticism of my idealistic bourgeois pedagogical ideology” (批判我的唯心論的資產階級教學思想), was made during the “thought reform campaign” launched by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Mao Zedong‘s leadership in 1951-52 (Chen 1960, p. 209; Lifton 1961, p. 473).

Jin Yuelin (1896-1984) is considered the founder of modern logic in China. He studied at Tsinghua University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University, where he obtained a PhD in Politics. He was influenced by the work of T.H. Green, Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, as well as by China’s neo-Confucian tradition (Brown, 1996, p. 379).

In 1920 he returned to Beijing to teach mathematical logic. He later established the department of philosophy at Tsinghua University. In 2017, Tsinghua University decided to institute a Jin Yuelin Visiting Chair to support the activities of its Logic Center.

Jin Yuelin (via Wikimedia Commons)

In the Mao era, Jin Yuelin was one of the many victims of the CCP’s attempt at “thought reform” aimed at imposing Mao’s interpretation of Marxism and Leninism on the Chinese intelligentsia.

Jin’s confession, quoted in Robert Jay Lifton’s book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in China, is one of the most dramatic personal examples of the clash between the Communist regime and Chinese intellectuals.

Jin Yuelin: Criticism of my idealistic bourgeois pedagogical ideology

Born of a bureaucratic landlord family, I have always led a life of ease and comfort. I went abroad at nineteen and stayed there for eleven years to absorb the way of life and the predilection for pleasure of the European and American bourgeoisie. The principal source of my various pleasures lay in the decadent philosophy of the bourgeoisie, and for thirty years I played a game of concepts.

I was engrossed in this game of concepts because it was the only way for me to feel happy and free, and to escape from the restrictive realities of society. I thus cultivated the habit of running away from realities, despising realities, and leading a life isolated from realities. However, since I still had to live in a society of realities, the only way for me to maintain this life isolated from the realities was to gain certain privileges. I needed those privileges, and I thus fell a victim to the ideology of special privileges.


My life in school served to form this outer crust of mine which can conveniently be divided into three phases: I. My decadent bourgeois philosophy. While in school, I incessantly disseminated the trivialities of metaphysical idealism, in particular the inanities of metaphysical philosophical methods. As I gradually assumed a position of leadership within the Philosophy Department of Tsinghua, all sorts of injuries to the people’s enterprises inevitably resulted as manifested in:

(1) I obstructed the development of the philosophy of materialistic dialectics [dialectical materialism is the Marxist understanding of history] in Tsinghua’s Philosophy Department. Though I never actually tried to stop the discussion of materialistic dialectics among teachers and students, I nevertheless throttled the development of materialistic dialectics in Tsinghua’s Philosophy Department by subjecting it to attacks by a circuitous system of philosophical debate.

(2) I trained those who concerned themselves only with the game of concepts, were not interested in politics, and were even reactionary. As for instance, Yin Fu-sheng, one of the reactionary elements for whose training I was responsible, is now serving the Chiang bandits in Taiwan. I was further possessed of the bourgeois viewpoint of the education of the talented. I was thus very much struck by Professor Shen Yüeh-ting’s powers in playing the game of concepts. As a result of my evil influence, Professor Shen is even now seriously isolated from the realities.

(3) I disseminated the purely technical viewpoint in logic. For twenty years I taught logic to numerous students. All the time, however, I only tried to teach logic from the formalistic viewpoint …

(4) I encouraged the development of sectarianism within Tsinghua’s Philosophy Department by stressing the highly involved analysis of concepts and the formulation of circuitous systems of philosophy as the most important aspects of philosophy. I then thought that the Philosophy Department of Tsinghua was very good in these respects. This sort of sectarianism was inevitably one of the facts which obstructed the regulation of the departments and colleges. My decadent “above-politics,” “above-class,” ” out-of-the- world”, and “above-humanity” philosophy of life.

Before the liberation, having absolutely no idea of the truth that the human world is created through labor, I mistakenly took the human race to be insignificant and the history of the human race to be but a minor episode in the main stream. I therefore tended to despise the world, and to become above-politics and above-class …

The three above-mentioned phases constituted the main ingredients of my crust. The scope of the crust was moreover variable: one crust represented my individual self, one crust the Philosophy Department, while another represented Tsinghua. My personal crust being the “core” of this miniature universe, I accordingly remained completely indifferent to things which had little to do with my personal interests …

I opposed the reform of curriculum because I wanted to maintain the crust of the Philosophy Department in Tsinghua. When the regulation of departments and colleges started in 1950, I was dead against it, for my most outstanding crust was Tsinghua University. Motivated by departmentalism, sectarianism, and the educational ideology of the bourgeoisie, I was of infinite harm to the program for the regulation of departments and colleges.

Had the regulation of departments and colleges been carried out in 1950, then Tsinghua alone would have turned out another 5,000-6,000 cadres, and a far larger number would have been turned out throughout the country. Incalculable harm has thus been caused the democratic construction program of the entire country. For this I now hate myself beyond measure.


My crust is based on the past prevailing economic social foundation, that is, the capitalistic social system. In order to protect this crust, I had to give my political support to the old system of democracy. As a confirmed individualistic liberal, I have always based my political attitude upon this point of view. Only now have I realized that fact that the old democracy is but the dictatorship of the bourgeois class, and the so-called individual freedom is but the “freedom” for the bourgeoisie to exploit and oppress the laboring people. My numerous criminal deeds of the past should thus be attributed to my acceptance of individual liberalism.

With regard to my attitude toward American imperialism, as a result of long years of studying in America, the evil influences of bourgeois education, my large number of American friends, and my constant contact with Americans, I became instilled with pro- American thoughts which prevented me from realizing American imperialism’s plots of aggression against China during the past hundred years, and turned me into an unconscious instrument of American imperialistic cultural aggression.

I cried bitterly over the Twenty-one Demands, but took no notice of the Sino-American Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation. While I was highly indignant at the time of the Tsinan Incident during the Northern Expedition, and was all for resisting Japan when the Mukden incident and the Luguochiao Incident took place, I nevertheless remained blind to the misdeeds of American soldiers in China.

In 1943 I was one of the Chinese professors who went to America on the invitation of the American State Department. There, totally deprived of my national standpoint as a result of my pro-American thoughts, I even tried to persuade the American State Department to force bandit Chiang to practice democracy.

With regard to my attitude toward the Soviet Union, in always looking at the USSR from the viewpoint of old democracy, I consistently distorted and slandered the Soviet Union, and right up to the liberation I thought that individual “freedom” does not exist in the Soviet Union. I considered both the October Revolution and the purges within the Party to be “going too far,” and that the Soviet Union made use of the Communist Party in other countries to interfere in their internal affairs. All these ideas were of course mistaken and reactionary.

My principal mistake lay in thinking of the Soviet Union as devoid of individual freedom. At that time, in failing to take the October Revolution as an epoch-making great event of history, I only tried to antagonize the Soviet Union on the basis of my individual liberal pro-America ideology. It was only after the liberation that I succeeded gradually in gaining an understanding of true freedom, and thus to change my attitude toward the Soviet Union.

With regard to student movements, I nearly always maintained a negative and double-faced attitude toward all the student movements I came across in my teaching career. On the one hand I “loathed” the Kuomintang [Guomindang[ of the Chiang bandits, while on the other hand I opposed the Communist Party of China. I say “loathed” advisedly, because I never tried to oppose them by any positive effort.

Before I left for America in 1943, I had to go through five days of Kuomintang training in Chungking before I could get my passport, and had to write a short essay of two hundred words on the advisability for local officials to visit the central government. This was really a shame. Though I honestly loathed the Kuomintang, this was not what mattered.

The important thing was that I opposed the Chinese Communists. This dualism in my makeup was best shown at the time of the December First Incident [a student movement which took place in 1945 in Kunming]. Though I was highly enthusiastic at the start of the movement, when I followed the footsteps of the progressive elements, I later lost my interest and finally I stood for the resumption of class. This was because I opposed the Communists. Soon after the end of the movement I quarreled with Professor Chang Hsi-jo [Zhang Xiruo] and I told him in the sternest manner and in tears that, “It is you people who made such a mess of China. After depriving China of ‘freedom,’ it will take I don’t know how many years to have it restored.”

As viewed from the three above-mentioned aspects, my political attitude was truly intolerable. How was it possible that though early in life I loved my country and wanted to save her from the fate of partition, yet I turned out to be such a fool later? On this point I have to charge the American imperialists who made use of a mission school, that is, Tsinghua College, and of the education I received while in America, to turn me into an instrument of American imperialistic cultural aggression, deprived me of my national standpoint, prevented me from making a distinction between our friends and our enemies, and led me to do things detrimental to the people.


My preliminary understanding of the People’s Liberation Army and the Communist Party. The miracles of the People’s Liberation Army demanded my whole-hearted respect. I never thought such discipline possible, and they love the people so much. In the early days after the liberation, I was highly moved by an episode involving the son of my maid Liu.

When her son, who was working in a certain factory, misbehaved himself, certain soldiers of the PLA stationed in that factory tried to reform him by education. When this failed, two comrades of the PLA approached Liu to request her to go and reform her son. In the end, the two soldiers treated the mother to a meal and finally saw her home.

I consider such a fighting force as unique in history. In the spring of 1949, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to listen to a series of reports rendered by various senior Party cadres. There attitude was so very honest and sincere and they were always prepared to practice what they preach. Though all occupying senior positions within the Party, they yet were always ready to admit their mistakes publicly before the masses. Such a party I consider unprecedented in China. However, this kind of recognition was only the preliminary stage of cognition through emotion, something within the capability of all Chinese.


Generally speaking this change can be divided into three periods. During the first period, I was still unable to link up the actualities of the revolution with Marxism-Leninism. Though I had already acquired a preliminary understanding of the Communist Party and the PLA, yet this did not mean that I was ready to accept materialistic dialectics and historical dialectics. When Comrade Ai Ssu-ch’i [Ai Siqi] lectured in Tsinghua, I even tried to argue with him. Starting from the months of March and April 1949, I began to attend various meetings for the exchange of philosophical opinions.

Even at that time I still held two mistaken points of view: in the first place I still looked upon materialistic dialectics and the old philosophy as equals, and, under the illusion that our Communist comrades were ignorant of the old philosophy, had the wish to initiate them in the mysteries of old philosophy; in the second place, in the mistaken idea that materialistic dialectics and historical dialectics were not well systematized, I thought of putting them to order by means of my trivial system of analysis.

My unbelievable arrogance and ignorance was the result of the fact that I was still looking at materialistic dialectics on the basis of the old philosophy. As I took part in the first attempt at curriculum reform in the above mentioned spirit, naturally nothing was accomplished. The Philosophy Department was thus prevented from making any progress …

In the spring of 1951, I went regularly into the city to make a study of On Practice [an essay by Mao Tse-tung ]. It was during this period that a radical change began to take place in my ideology. For almost two years before this, I had been going to the city regularly every Sunday to take part in the study activities of the Chinese Philosophy Society. Whatever I gained in the course of these two years, coupled with my study of On Practice, enabled me to realize the fundamental difference in nature between materialistic dialectics and the old philosophy.

The old philosophy, being metaphysical, is fundamentally unscientific, while the new philosophy, being scientific, is the supreme truth. It was during the Curriculum Reform Campaign of 1951 that I succeeded in realizing that the mission of the Philosophy Department lies in the training of propaganda personnel for the dissemination of Marxism-Leninism. This time the curriculum reform was carried out in a comparatively thorough manner. However, insofar as my understanding of materialistic dialectics was still based on abstract concepts, it inevitably brought serious consequences to Tsinghua’s Philosophy Department.


Idealism and bourgeois pedagogical ideology have always occupied a leading position in Tsinghua’s Philosophy Department, and I have all the time been an outstanding representative of this decadent ideology. This situation has remained more or less unchanged right from the liberation up to the moment. This naturally resulted in huge losses. In the main, our principal defects lay in our low level of political consciousness and the dislocation of theory from practice …

Though the mission of the Philosophy Department lies in the training of cadres for the dissemination of Marxism-Leninism, yet as a result of the predominance of idealistic philosophy and pedagogical practice within the department, we inevitably failed to carry out this task, thus bringing about the above-mentioned harmful effects. Whereas this responsibility should be borne by all the professors of the Philosophy Department, the greater part of the guilt should be attributed to me for I led them to become estranged from politics and isolated from realities.


As stated above, it was in the spring of 1951 that I began to realize the scientific and truthful nature of Marxism-Leninism, though this realization was even then abstract and conceptual. Before the start of the study movement for the teachers of Peking and Tientsin and the Three-Anti Campaign, I failed to link up Marxism-Leninism both with the realities in general and with my personal case. Though I took part in numerous activities in and out of Tsinghua, these activities never influenced me to any appreciable degree.

It was only at the start of the teachers’ study movement that I succeeded in linking myself up, criticizing my old democratic individual liberalistic ideology, and taking the first step in gaining a correct understanding of the Soviet Union and of American imperialism. I was still unable to gain a correct understanding of my former ideological self. It was only at the start of the Three-Anti Campaign that I began to understand my former self, my crust of selfishness, and my ideological shortcomings.

Late in the spring of 1951, I began to try to become a good teacher of the people. However, I never was able to succeed in this. Not only did I fail, but I even committed the gravest mistakes. With the assistance of others and following my own preliminary analysis, I now consider the fundamental ideological source for my personal crust of selfishness to be the extremely depraved, epicurean, liberalist, and bourgeois ideology of striving after individual freedom.

The philosophical manifestation of this ideology was found in my preoccupation with the completely impractical and extremely abstract game of concepts. In personal philosophy of life, this ideology was manifested in my decadent “above-politics,” “above-class,” “above-the- world,” and “above-humanity” viewpoint. In actual life at school, this ideology was manifested in my attempt to maintain my life of ease and comfort and to build up a crust of special privileges. This kind of ideology was the ideology of the exploitative class, or rather the exploitative ideology of the “share-holders” and “behind-the-scene-boss” of the exploitative class.

It was owing to this ideology that I was led to become estranged from the social realities and prevented from gaining a correct understanding of the people even after the liberation. I shall smash my personal crust and eradicate the bourgeois ideologies which have for years dominated my life.


He who loves New China well must know that in New China the people are on their feet and have come into their own. There are 470,000,000 Chinese in New China and I am one of them. This New China is working for the interests and welfare of the people of China as well as of the world. I have no wish to be an onlooker both in connection with the revolution and with the people’s construction enterprises. I want to take part in the glorious and mighty enterprises which should be participated in not only by the young, but by the people of all ages, including the old. I am now close to sixty, and I am a criminal for having sinned against the people. From now on, however, I shall strive to become a new man and a teacher of the people in substance as well as in name. I shall exert myself to study, as well as to work, for one year, two years, three years, or even five or ten years. Provided I am able to keep up my efforts, I shall ultimately succeed.

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