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The dictionary definition of 反动 means reactionary, and in the political sense it can also mean someone who is very conservative, as opposed to progressive.

However, it seems that this word is being used in a far broader sense, and with strongly negative connotations. For example, take this passage:

近代中国历届反动政府对内政策的出发点都是维护自身统治,推行专制独裁,镇压人民反抗,扼杀进步力量。

It seems that apart from the last of those four points, all could be used to describe any government, reactionary or not.

Or this passage:

指反动统治者自己可以胡作非为,老百姓却连正当活动也要受到限制。

Which describes unequal law instead of reactionary.

So what meanings does 反动 really have? And (although this one seems obvious) is such usage limited to PRC?

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    That is the communist version of infidel. – George Chen Nov 6 '14 at 3:30
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反动 = 反历史潮流而动, means taking the action against the trend of the historical/political movement. The word per se has nothing to do with socialism or communism.

In the context of Chinese politics, the word “反动” most of the time is used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chinese government to describe its enemies. Basically, 反动派 only means bad guys, evil. Of course, the CCP is the good guy, from its own eyes. You see, this word does not carry any real meaning. It is just a label for all sorts of enemies. You cannot take this word literally.

This word was used extensively from 50s to 80s. One day, you are part of the people (人民). The other day, someone could find you did/said something which makes you the enemy of the people. Then, congratulations, you are 反动派 now, and you should be 打倒.

Nowadays, 反动/反动派 is almost abandoned in public dialog because the political climate has changed in China. And the word just sounds too ideological, too strong, too old, and too stupid.

You know, sometimes you have to believe karma. Some people who against the CCP also use the word to describe the CCP. Your two examples happen to be a good fit (maybe not intentionally).

  • I like this answer. – AGamePlayer Nov 6 '14 at 13:19
  • This answer would be even better with references. – congusbongus Nov 6 '14 at 22:30
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Wikipedia on 20th century reactionary:

In the twentieth century, proponents of socialism and communism used the term reactionary polemically to label their enemies, such as the White Armies, who fought in the Russian Civil War against the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution. In Marxist terminology, reactionary is a pejorative adjective denoting people whose ideas might appear to be socialist, but, in essence, contain elements of feudalism, capitalism, nationalism, fascism or other characteristics of the ruling class. Reactionary is also used to denote supporters of authoritarian, anti-communist, and régimes such as Vichy France, Spain under Francisco Franco, and Portugal under António Salazar.

So basically it's used on anything or anyone that's against socialism and communism ideals. This meaning lives in the communist circle including several countries.

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正如若干词典会显示那样,"反动" 和 reactionary 一样不限用于马克思主义术语。其实有使用者想提醒大家反动派这个词出现在纳粹党党歌的中文翻译中一共四次并且等于 Reaktion 或者 reactionaries:

同志纵被红色战线与反动派夺命 Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries,

some users would like to point out that 反动派 occurs twice in the Chinese translation of the nazi party's anthem aka the horst wessel song

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Basically or in normal use a person or a group of persons Does/do something or says/say some words against current government. From government aspect, they will call that 反动, this word normally comes from government

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    That's only a small part of its usage; CCP are frequently describing the previous KMT and Qing governments as 反动 as well. – congusbongus Nov 6 '14 at 7:13

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