Peng Dehui, a prominent Chinese military leader who held the post of Defence Minister during 1954-59, was purged by the Chairman of Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong, for criticising the latter’s policies during the Great Leap Forward (GLF).
Peng termed Chairman Mao’s policies “anti-people” and warned him of serious repercussions and loss of millions of lives if the policies continued. In 1958, in his poem, Peng also wrote: ‘Allow me to raise my voice for the people’, which was his angry outburst towards the Mao’s GLF policies and an open challenge to the Chairman.
However, Peng had to pay the price with his life for his actions. He was captured by the Red Army, put behind bars, tortured publically, and shamed as a ‘capitalist’, ‘counter-revolutionary’ and ‘imperialist agent’ for opposing Mao.
These incidents also marked the beginning of China’s Cultural Revolution which was a political tool used by Mao to systematically eliminate threats to his leadership from within the party.
In 1959, one of the prominent historians in China Wu Han made a play (titled: Hǎi Ruì bà guān or Hai Rui Dismissed from office) drawing the allegory of Hai Rui, a minister under the Ming Dynasty Emperor (1368 – 1644 AD).
Like Peng Dehui, Hai Rui too was a just officer but was purged for standing against the Emperor. Hai criticized the Emperor for turning a blind eye towards the misuse of power by some of the imperial officials. However, the Emperor was unhappy to Hai for his criticisms.
Wu Han’s play communicated to the public that what Mao Zedong has done to Peng Dehui was nothing less than what the Ming dynasty Emperor did to Hai Rui. Both these men, despite keeping a high level of integrity at work and commitment to people were falsely implicated by some corrupt officials.
The stories of Hai Rui and Peng Dehui are relevant even in today’s domestic politics in many countries. While China had only one Mao, other countries have several of his clones. If anyone finds any similar incidents in India, it cannot be termed a mere coincidence.
(Disclaimer: The stories of Hai Rui and Peng Dehui have no similarity whatsoever with the way top babu Subhash Chandra Garg was ousted from the Finance Ministry.)