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Hai Rui Dismissed from Office

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Title: Hai Rui Dismissed from Office  
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Subject: Cultural Revolution, Five Man Group, Red Guards (China), Cultural Revolution Group, Maoist China
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Hai Rui Dismissed from Office

Hai Rui Dismissed from Office (Chinese: 海瑞罢官; pinyin: HǎiRuìbàguān; Wade–Giles: Hai3 Jui4 Pa4-kuan1) is a theatre play notable for its involvement in Chinese politics during the Cultural Revolution.


Wu Han, who wrote the play, was a historian (and a municipal politician in Beijing) who focused on the Ming Dynasty. Wu Han wrote an article portraying Hai Rui, a Ming minister who was imprisoned for criticizing the emperor, as the hero. Wu later adapted his article into a Peking opera play, which was first performed in 1961.[1] The play is a tragedy in which an honest official carries the complaints of the people to the emperor at the expense of his career. It portrays Hai as an efficient magistrate who requests an audience with the emperor, but who then criticizes the Emperor directly for tolerating the corruption and abuses perpetuated by other officials in the imperial government. The emperor is so offended by Hai's criticism that he dismisses Hai from office,[2] but he is restored to office after the emperor dies.[3]

The play was initially praised by Mao Zedong.[1] It was published under Wu's pen name, Liu Mianzhi, the name of a Song dynasty scholar and a supporter of Yue Fei.

Political significance

After the play's initial performance, critics began to interpret it as an allegory for Peng Dehuai's criticism of Mao during the 1959 Lushan Conference, in which Peng's criticism of Mao's Great Leap Forward led Mao to purge Peng. According to this interpretation, Hai Rui is Peng, and the Ming Emperor is Mao. Peng himself agreed with this interpretation, and stated "I want to be a Hai Rui!" in a 1962 letter to Mao requesting his return to politics.[2]

After becoming convinced that Hai Rui was an allegory for Peng Dehuai, in 1965 Mao devised a long-term scheme to eliminate his chief rival within the Party, Chairman Liu Shaoqi, by criticizing the writer of the play, Wu Han. By criticizing and removing Wu Han from power, Mao planned to criticize and remove his superior in Beijing, Peng Zhen, who was one of Liu's closest supporters. By criticizing and removing Peng Zhen, Mao planned to eventually criticize and eliminate Liu.[4]

At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, in 1966, Yao Wenyuan published an article criticizing the play based on the interpretation that the play, by portraying Peng's position sympathetically, was an attack on Chairman Mao. Wu Han became one of the first victims of the Cultural Revolution and died in prison in 1969. In 1979, shortly after Mao's death, Wu was posthumously rehabilitated. After Wu was purged, radical Maoists quickly purged other "rightists" from China's cultural institutions, and the theatre became an instrument for the Gang of Four to attack their political enemies.[1] Peng Zhen and Liu Shaoqi were successfully purged shortly after Wu Han, fulfilling Mao's political objectives.


  1. ^ a b c MacFarquhar 167
  2. ^ a b Domes 114-115
  3. ^ Rice 188
  4. ^ Teiwes 91-92


  • Domes, Jurgen. Peng Te-huai: The Man and the Image, London: C. Hurst & Company. 1985. ISBN 0-905838-99-8.
  • MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Politics of China: The Eras of Mao and Deng. Cambridge. 1997. p. 165.
  • Rice, Edward E. Mao's Way. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1974. ISBN 0-520-02623-3.
  • Teiwes, Frederick C. "Peng Dehuai and Mao Zedong". The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs. University of Chicago Press. No. 16, July 1986. pp. 81–98. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
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