Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

A Study of 'brainwashing' in China

By Robert Jay Lifton

With a new preface by the author

524 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4253-9
    Published: July 1989
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-8288-7
    Published: January 2012

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Informed by Erik Erikson's concept of the formation of ego identity, this book, which first appreared in 1961, is an analysis of the experiences of fifteen Chinese citizens and twenty-five Westerners who underwent "brainwashing" by the Communist Chinese government. Robert Lifton constructs these case histories through personal interviews and outlines a thematic pattern of death and rebirth, accompanied by feelings of guilt, that characterizes the process of "thought reform." In a new preface, Lifton addresses the implications of his model for the study of American religious cults.

About the Author

Robert Jay Lifton is lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima and The Nazi Doctors.
For more information about Robert Jay Lifton, visit the Author Page.


"While exploring the dynamics of Chinese Communist 'thought reform,' Lifton has performed the extraordinary feat of successfully linking . . . distinctly Chinese experiences with universal knowledge about human behavior."--Journal of Asian Studies

"Lifton has written a book with the rare virtue of being at once a rich source of information vital to international relations, and an interesting exploration of several aspects of ideology and identity."--Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease