ENEMIES IN THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION
Mao singled out nine categories of enemies: landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements, rightists, traitors, foreign agents, capitalist roaders and—the Stinking Ninth—intellectuals. In the fight against "class enemies" and "bourgeois reactionaries," teachers, people with a college degree or relatives overseas, workers, and members of minority groups such as Tibetans, were all targeted.
Mao announced that the Cultural Revolution would “thoroughly expose the reactionary bourgeois stand of those...who oppose the party and socialism.” Children of landowners were thrown into trash cans. Families who lived in large houses where squeezed into single rooms as their possessions were smashed by Red Guards and poor families moved into the other rooms. Families that held on to their deeds were later able to reclaim their entire houses. Many however handed over their deeds to the government in effort to avert further persecution.
People were accused of being class enemies for doing the simplest of things: forgetting a slogan from The Little Red Book, wearing Western clothes, seeking repayment of a debt or hoarding a piece of meat. Entire schools of elite musicians and teams of athletes were sent to labor camps. Intellectuals were kept in prisons called cow sheds.The only time they saw their spouses was during annual conjugal visits.
Peasants deemed “antisocial” were forced to stand for hours with their heads in the kowtow position, begging for forgiveness. Senior officials had their heads shaved, dirty gloves stuffed on their mouths, and ink and paint splashed on their faces. They were often forced to stand, bowing, with insulting signs hung from their necks.
Many hostile acts were taken by attackers seeking revenge, avenging a grudge or acting out of jealousy. People could make trouble for neighbors they resented for some reason or another by spreading rumors about them. If someone was jealous about another’s Flying Pigeon bicycle he could make a few comments about “bourgeois tendencies” to local units of Red Guards.
Professor Suzanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik of the University of Vienna who was in China during the early 1970s as a student that by then everyone was nervous. The targets of struggle had shifted so often and yesterday’s accusers had become today’s accused so many times that everyone knew it could be them next.
Books About the Cultural Revolution
Books on the Cultural Revolution: Wild Swans by Jung Chang, an international bestseller; Ten Years of Madness: Oral Histories of the Cultural Revolution and One Hundred People's Ten Years by Feng Jicai. The Execution of Mayor Yin and Other Stories from the Great Cultural Revolution by Chen Jo-his; Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Chang; Enemies of the People by Anne F. Thurston.
Colors of the Mountain by Da Chen (Random House, 2000) is a coming-of-age set in the Cultural Revolution. It was described by Newsweek as "surprisingly free of cynicism or bitterness...all the more poignant by the wonder and vulnerability in the voice of their child narrator." The Lily Theater: A Novel of Modern China by Lulu Wang is an entertaining and interesting depiction of the Cultural Revolution originally written in Dutch by a Chinese woman with a strong, eccentric voice.
Voice from the Whirlwind by Feng Jicai is a collection of oral histories from the Cultural Revolution. Also worth a look is My Name is Number 4: A True Story of the Cultural revolution by Ting-Xing Ye (Thomas Dunne, 2008)
Websites and Resources
Cultural Revolution 1 Good Websites and Sources: Virtual Museum of the Cultural Revolution cnd.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Morning Sun morningsun.org ; History of Cultural Revolution Think Quest ; Student Attacks of Teachers cnd.org ; Red Guards and Cannibals New York Times ; Cultural Revolution Website http://difangwenge.org/, developed by Prof. Yiching Wu and his team at University of Toronto: The website aims to collect sources about the Chinese Cultural Revolution such as memoirs, newspaper articles, photos, oral history and so on, and is a great resource for scholars and students who study contemporary Chinese history.
Death Under Mao: Uncounted Millions, Washington Post article ncafe.com ; Death Tolls erols.com ; People’s Republic of China : Timeline china-profile.com ; ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cold War International Project wilsoncenter.org ; China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Chaos Group of the University of Maryland a
Cultural Revolution 2 Websites on Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Mao.com chinesemao.com ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Spartacus Education spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com ; Mao Video biography.com ; Marxist.org marxists.org ; Propaganda Paintings of Mao artchina.free.fr ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com ; Oxford Reference oxfordreference.com ; Mao Book: Mao: the Unknown Story (Knopf. 2005) by Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband John Halliday, a British historian, portrays Mao as villain on the level of Hitler and Stalin. The book was read by U.S. President George Bush and embraced by the American right as a condemnation of Communism. It characterizes Mao as cruel, materialistic, self-centered and a leader who used terror with the aim of ruling the world. There is also a Mao biography by Jonathon Spence.
Links in this Website: MAO, HIS EARLY LIFE, TACTICS AND REVOLUTION Factsanddetails.com/China ; COMMUNISTS TAKE OVER CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EARLY COMMUNIST RULE UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China ; COMMUNES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LEADERSHIP AND PROPAGANDA UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO'S PRIVATE LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; JIANG QING, LIN BIAO, ZHOU ENLAI Factsanddetails.com/China ; DEATH, REPRESSION AND LIFE UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China ; GREAT LEAP FORWARD Factsanddetails.com/China ; CULTURAL REVOLUTION Factsanddetails.com/China ; CULTURAL REVOLUTION --ENEMIES AND HORRORS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CULTURAL REVOLUTION--THE END Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO MEETS NIXON Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO DIES Factsanddetails.com/China ;
Crackdown on Intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution
In the Cultural Revolution, learning was a crime. The crackdown on teachers, professors and intellectuals was particularly nasty. In middle schools students ordered their teachers to cultivate cabbage. In high schools, teachers wore dunce caps and spent the whole day reciting "I am a cow demon" in front of classroom filled with mocking students.
At Fudan University in Shanghai, a woman professor was crippled for life after she was beaten and kicked for "advocating the reading of the bourgeois feudalist William Shakespeare." The dissident Wang Xizhe said he had to perform a "grotesque loyalty dance" and offer "morning prayers and evening penitence" for his perceived crimes.
Describing the treatment he endured in the Cultural Revolution, one linguist told The New Yorker, “They shaved off half our hair—that was called the Yin-Yang Head. Then they took off their leather belts and started beating us. First they used the leather, then the buckle. One was wearing a white shirt, it turned entirely red with blood. Once they let me go, I telephoned my work unit, and they sent people to take me back home.”
"In China," Theroux wrote, "an intellectual is usually just someone who does not do manual labor...It was an awful fate but it was easy to imagine how the policy had come about. Everyone in his life has wished at one time or another for someone he disliked to be trundled off to shovel shit—especially an uppity person who had never gotten his hands dirty. Mao carried this satisfying fantasy to its nasty limit."
Struggle Sessions during the Cultural Revolution
Many people suffered through humiliating "struggle sessions" in which they were taunted and ridiculed for days by members of the Red Guard. Describing such an event, a former university professor told Theroux, "One night, in September 1966, Red Guards showed up at my house. Forty of them. They came inside—they burst in, and there were both men and women. They put me on trial so to speak. We had 'struggle sessions.' They criticized me...They stayed in my house, all of them, for forty-one days, and all this time they were haranguing me and interrogating me. In the end they found me guilty of being a bourgeois reactionary. That was the crime...I was sent to prison...I had no idea when I would be released. That was the worst of it."
Describing an assault on a landlord labeled "The Capitalist" one former member of the Red Guard told Theroux: The Red Guards "decided to criticize The Capitalist. There were about eight or nine of us following them—we were just little kids. We made a paper dunce cap for The Capitalist. His name was Zhang. We went into his house pushed the door open without knocking. He was in bed. He was very sick. He had stomach cancer. We shouted at him. We made him confess to his crimes. We renounced him. We forced him to lower his head so that we could put on the dunce cap—lowering the head was a sort of submission to the will of the people."
"He had cancer," he continued. "He could not walk. We mocked him in his bed. Then the neighbors came in. They also accused him—but not of being a capitalist. I remember one woman shouted, 'You borrowed cooking pots and materials and never gave them back!...On one of his chairs there was a tiny emblem of the Kuomintang. That proved he was a capitalist and a spy. Everyone was glad of that. We screamed at him, 'Enemy! Enemy!' He died soon after that."
Prisons and Humiliating Jobs during the Cultural Revolution
Communists officials labeled as "enemies" were sent to labor camps like the May 17th Cadre Schools, which resembled a Stalin-era Siberian gulag. A former history professor told Theroux, "I was in prison, from 1966 to 1972. But I tell my friends I was not really in prison for six years. I was in for three years—because every night when it was dark and I slept, I dreamed of my boyhood, my friends, the summer weather, and my household, the flowers, the birds, the books I had read, and all the pleasures. So that it was only when I woke up that I was back in prison."
"Usually we got one thin slice of meat a week," the professor continued. "If the wind was strong it blew away. But just before President Nixon's visit we started to get three pieces. The prison guards were afraid that he might visit and ask how they were being treated."
Many prominent intellectuals were sent to remote provinces such as Qinghai, Ningxia, Gansu and Inner Mongolia to perform manual labor. There a Russian instructor carried boulders; a math professors was punished for not fulfilling his brick quotas of 900 bricks a month; and a journalist was told everyday to write six-page essays on "Why I Like Dickens," only to be told afterwards it was rubbish and to write six more pages.
Some intellectuals were imprisoned in "cowsheds," outhouses that were turned into makeshift prisons. The president of prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai was forced to assemble radios in the day and study Mao sayings at night. A banker was forced to work as flycatcher and keep the dead flies in box. After counting the flies in his box his Red Guard supervisor told him, "125 isn't good enough, kill some more."
Losing Your Father to the Cultural Revolution
Carol Chow only knew her father for a few months before he was taken away. Zhou Ximeng killed himself in captivity, aged 27. "It's painted like a memory. It's like he's frozen in that time," she told The Guardian . She knows her father from a handful of photographs and from the stories her mother has told, of a smart, confident, capable man — too accomplished, perhaps. "My mother said he was an overachiever.," Chow says. "Whatever he did, he excelled at — he was always top of his class. The reason she gave for his suicide was that he had never encountered any huge obstacles. I think he reached a point where it was all beyond his control and he didn't feel he could change anything. You had to first renounce yourself and then renounce your family and friends. I think, when he got to that point, really, he just closed up." [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, February 24, 2012]
Zhou came from a long line of landowners and scholars; his father, a renowned paleontologist, had spent time in America and Taiwan. But in the Cultural Revolution such a privileged pedigree condemned him. All it took was "some really small comment" for him to be seized and held, in a village outside Beijing. His body lies somewhere near the train tracks where he died. Her father was subsequently forgiven "for his crimes, whatever they were", she says. "I don't feel bitter or angry — I feel sad for him, that he missed so much," adds Chow, now 42, and who has two daughters.
Widow of a Famous Architect Recalls the Cultural Revolution
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “When Liang Sicheng was denounced as a counter-revolutionary, he was scared to look even his wife in the eye. Lin Zhu, who had been working in the countryside at the time, rushed home to him on learning the news. "He said, 'I've been waiting for you and missing you every day, but I'm afraid to see you,' " the 83-year-old told The Guardian. Her husband sensed the horror ahead. Beijing's Tsinghua University — one of the country's top institutions — was already covered in posters attacking professors. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, February 24, 2012]
Liang Sicheng is regarded as the father of modern Chinese architecture. Lin Zhu is his widow. "Back then, I thought this was like a dark cloud that would soon pass. I didn't realise it would cover the country for the next 10 years," Lin says. When it lifted, Liang was dead, his health wrecked by the scores of lengthy "struggle sessions" publicly to humiliate him; by beatings from Red Guards; and by the cold, damp conditions of the building to which the family had been moved.
Lin still struggles to understand how hundreds of millions could participate in such cruelties. Some of Liang's persecutors were forced into taking part, she says; others were jealous of his success. Most were young students who did not understand his ideas. To her husband, who had loved teaching, that was particularly painful. "He wrote confession letters, one after another, but didn't know what he had done. The most important claim was that he had received a 'capitalist education'. No one could tell us what proletarian architectural design was — and you were too afraid to ask."
As the movement escalated, Lin considered demands to join it: "I thought probably I would be beaten to death by the Red Guards. Maybe my children would desert me and my friends would keep their distance. But I couldn't understand what Liang Sicheng had done. I couldn't go against my conscience by leaving him."
Together they endured six years of enforced Maoist study and public denunciations that often ran for hours. "Because it was all day long, the brain sort of became numb," Lin recalls. "Normally he was not beaten up at those sessions, but sometimes they would come and beat us at home." Liang's ordeal ended when he grew so sick that he could no longer rise from his bed for the struggle sessions. He died in 1972, aged 70.
In later years, Lin worked with her husband's accusers; some, quietly, apologised. She does not blame individuals for caving into pressure to attack others, though she is adamant that she never did so. She even suggests those years helped her to grow. "Whatever happens, whatever comes, I'm not afraid any more. It made me stronger and made me think," she says. But she fears that intellectual life in China has never fully recovered — and she worries the country could see another such movement. "Many of us are concerned about whether we can avoid a similar disaster in future. History doesn't repeat itself exactly— but it's possible."
Destruction of Art and Temples during the Cultural Revolution
In their attempt to wipe out China's past and create a new society, Red Guards destroyed any precious painting, vase, pottery, calligraphy, embroidery, statue, book or works of art they could their hands on. Owners destroyed their own stuff to avoid getting caught with it. One man told the Washington Post that he watched his mother destroy a valuable old painting. "She was afraid the Red Guard would come and find it, and then they would kill us," he said.
The Red Guard and supporters of the Cultural Revolution also destroyed temples and historical buildings. Between 1970 and 1974 an army unit stationed at Gubeikou tore down two miles of the Great Wall and used the stone blocks to construct army barracks. In Tibet the Red Guard turned thousand-year-old monasteries into factories and pigsties. At the Shanghai Art Museum, curators slept in the museum to fend off Red Guard attacks.
A Mao portrait painter and loyal communist was shipped away to a framing factory. His crime: painting portraits of Mao at a slight tilt so that only one ear showed, implying that Great Helmsman listened only to a select few not every one. “How many ears I painted was not up to me. It was decided by the central government,” the artists told the Los Angeles Times.
Crackdown on Religion during the Cultural Revolution
Red Guards did not discriminate against particular religions, they were against them all. They ripped crosses from church steeples, forced Catholic priests into labor camps, tortured Buddhist monks in Tibet and turned Muslim schools into pig slaughterhouses. Taoists, Buddhists and Confucians were singled out as vestiges of the Old China that needed to be changed.
One Chinese man told Theroux about an effort by the Red Guard to tear down a cross from the largest church in Qindao: "The Red Guards held a meeting, and then they passed a motion to destroy the crosses. They marched to the church and climbed up to the roof. They pulled up bamboos and tied them into a scaffold. It took a few days —naturally they worked at night and they sang the Mao songs. When the crowd gathered they put up ladders and they climbed up and threw a rope around the Christian crosses and they pulled them down. It was very exciting!"
Cultural Revolution in Tibet
The Cultural Revolution arrived in Lhasa in July 1966. Red Guards entered Jokhang Temple two months later and destroyed or desecrated everything they could. Over the next few years, monasteries were destroyed with dynamite and artillery, libraries were looted and rare books and painting were burned. Buddhist scriptures were used as wrapping paper and to make shoe soles. Monks were forced to wear blue suits instead of their reddish brown robes and some were forced to work for years on communes digging vegetables.
Buddha was declared a reactionary and the Dalai Lama was called a criminal. Festivals, pilgrimages and partying were banned. Some Tibetans were forced to cut their hair. Others had to learn a new "friendship language" that incorporated Chinese and Tibetan words in weird ways. By the time it was over 99 percent of Tibet's 6,000 religious monasteries, temples and shrines were looted or totally destroyed and hundreds of thousands of sacred Buddhist scriptures were destroyed.
"When the order went out, Smash the feudalistic nests of monks!," Paul Theroux wrote, "the soldiers, Red Guards and assorted vandals made chalk marks all over the monasteries—save these timbers, stack these beams, pike the bricks, and so forth. Brick by brick, timber by timber, the monasteries were taken down. The frugal, strong-saving, clothes-patching, shoe-mending Chinese saved each reusable brick. In this way the monasteries were made into barns and barracks.”
Many of teh Red Guards in Tibet were Tibetans. One former Tibetan member of the Red Guards told the Washington Post, "At the time, I didn't really think about it because we were young. Now as I get older I have regrets."
Foreigners and the Cultural Revolution
In August 1967, during an anti-foreigner phase of the Cultural Revolution, the British embassy was gutted and burned. All 23 people who were inside the embassy at the time felt lucky to escape with their lives.
A British diplomat later told the Times of London that at 10:30am a flare lit the sky and a crowd began climbing over the walls. The occupants of the embassy withdrew into a barred room while the crowd shouted "kill, kill, kill” and set the building on fire. The occupants had hoped to sit out the attack but the room grew hotter and hotter and they fled the building by a concealed concrete door.
The diplomat told the Times: “As we went out we fell into the arms of the mob. Hands went up women’s skirts. The men has their testicles screwed.” Somehow they managed to make it out of the compound, where they were rescued by PLA soldiers and taken to their diplomatic housing."
Chinese were also harangued for their associations with foreigners. People with Canadian-made alarm clocks were accused of worshiping foreign enemies and forced to endure "struggle sessions."
HORRORS OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION
Children stood by as Red Guards beat up their mothers for being "rightists." Neighbors informed on neighbors. violinists had their instruments and even fingers smashed by Red Guards. The accused sometimes had their jaws dislocated so they couldn’t speak in their defense and were forced to bow in front mobs that spit and screamed at them. There were also stories of people killing themselves by hammering nails into their skulls and corpses being mutilated in order to fit into coffins.
Children of unpopular party members were gagged and executed; "rich peasants" and "bad elements" were publicly denounced and beheaded; Pictures of factory workers being executed for being Soviet sympathizers were published in a counterrevolutionary booklet. In Zhejiang Province, more than nine thousand people were officially "hounded to death"; children denounced their parents, and political targets were paraded in stadiums packed with screaming crowds; students at a Beijing girls' school beat their vice-principal to death with nail-studded planks; in 1968, in at least two provinces, political zealots ate their victims.
In some areas local officials established quotas of victims that were targeted for violence. So many atrocities and horrors were committed during the Cultural Revolution that accounts and stories from this period have been catalogued according to their own category of literature—"wound literature."
One doctor, who was working in her clinic when the Red Guards burst in, was beaten severely and left for dead because she refused to march with the guards. She awoke in the hospital morgue and hide out there for eight months, subsisting on a bun a day given her by a hospital orderly. Still she half starved. Here digestive track was so damaged she had to have half of stomach removed.
Students Killing Teachers during the Cultural Revolution
In 1966, teenage Red Guards locked up, tortured and killed seven teachers at a secondary school affiliated with Beijing Normal University, one of the best schools in China. The son of one teacher, who was killed by a dozen 13- to 18-year-old Red Guard, told the Washington Post, "They put her face down on a big cement table used for playing Ping Pong. They used belts and clubs to beat her. At first she moaned a bit, but afterward she became silent...They didn't mean to kill her. Nobody realized that she would be beaten to death...It took about an hour. In the end, the clothing on her back was all gone. All you could see was her body." [Source: Daniel Southerland, Washington Post, July 18, 1994]
The Red Guards at this school also confined more than 20 people, mostly teachers, in the school dining room for two months. A history teacher who lost an arm fighting in the Korean War was caught after he tried to escape. "I saw three of four people with shovel handles, sticks and bats chase after him," one observer said. "They beat him and broke his artificial arm. He just fell back and tried to cover his head. He couldn't fight back, or they would have killed him even more quickly. Within 10 minutes he was dead." [Source: Daniel Southerland, Washington Post, July 18, 1994]
A restaurant owner in Shaanxi province told Newsweek about how he was haunted by images of a teacher his Red Guard faction killed for scolding students about wasting food. "He died from our torture," he said, "locked up in a basement. We have all agreed that if we find his resting place, we will raise money and renovate his home." In Hunan one teacher was thrown into a deep pit with a dozen other people. Her students rescued her, the only survivor, after seven days without food or water.
Cannibalism and Chopped Off Tongues during the Cultural Revolution
During the Cultural Revolution there were reports of several hundred “counter-revolutionaries" being publically killed, cooked and eaten in Guangxi province. Relying on information from interviews and secret documents smuggled out of China, Chinese writer Zheng Yi reported that Red Guards and party workers in one remote area of Guangxi ate the flesh of some 100 victims they had tortured to death.
The Chinese scholar Lu Xiuyaan reported in Public Affairs that Red Guards in Guangxi ate the flesh of the people they killed "as a way to demonstrate their "class feelings.'" One of former Guangxi Red Guard, who participated in a cannibalism episode, told Zheng, "What I killed was the enemy. Didn't Chairman Mao teach us, 'If we don't kill them, they'll kill us?'"
Feng Jicai, author of One Hundred People's Ten Years, described a man who led a Red Guard attack on student who defeated him in a political debate. "His faction trapped the guy and cut of his tongue with scissors," Feng told Newsweek. The man Feng interviewed "actually did the cutting and is haunted by the image of scissors,” he said.
Chaos in the Countryside during the Cultural Revolution
Describing a train station near Lanzhou, dissident and former Red Guard Wei Jingsbeng wrote: "A horde of beggars swarmed forward. Under my window I saw a young woman, her face smeared with soot and her long hair covering her upper torso. I took out some cakes I had bought and reached through the window. No sooner had I stuck my head out than I withdrew it instinctively, for I saw something I could never have imagined. Except for the long hair spread over her upper torso, that young woman had nothing at all on her soot-and-mud smeared body."
"From a distance, the soot and mud had looked like clothing. The man opposite me chuckled and said, "Never seen that before? There's a lot of that around here. You see girls like that at every small station. Some are very pretty. Just give them something to eat, you don't even need money, and you can..." [Source: New York Times magazine, April 14, 1996]
Suicides during the Cultural Revolution
In addition to many people who were killed outright during the Cultural Revolution, thousands of people were publicly humiliated and tortured to such a degree that they committed suicide. The son of a man who was once in the Kuomintang was kept in a cupboard for two years and then committed suicide after a brutal interrogation. Another man tried to commit suicide by killing and eating hundreds of flies.
One man told Theroux about a section of railway called "Death Road." "During the Cultural Revolution," he said, "people used to kill themselves on this section of track. One person a day, and sometimes more, jumped in front of the train. In those days the buildings in Beijing weren't very tall—you couldn't kill yourself by jumping out of the window of a bungalow. So they chose the train because they were too poor to buy poison." [Source: "Riding the Iron Rooster" by Paul Theroux]
One woman was hounded to such a degree she leapt off a three-story building in a suicide attempt and broke her back. She survived. In the hospital workers refused to clean her body cast after she soiled herself.
Bloody Battles Between the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution
Violence and death caused during the Cultural Revolution is now believed to have been more widespread than previously thought. Scholars originally thought that most of the violence ended with the suppression of the Red Guard and rebel organizations in 1968.
During one phase of the Cultural Revolution factory fought factory, school fought school and Red Guard factions fought each other over the honor of being the purest Maoists. One man in northeast China—who was 13 when he joined the Red Guards and said that "for a teenager" the Cultural Revolution "was very exciting”— described Red Guard factional fighting that began as a clash over ideals, escalated to struggle for local power, and ended up as a "revenge fest." "In the beginning, the two sides used sticks and clubs and spears," he told the Washington Post. "But then they grabbed hunting rifles, and it kept escalating. Our organization even used artillery." [Source: Daniel Southerland, Washington Post, July 18, 1994]
The worst clashes took place in the Sichuan, Province where rival groups of Red Guards fought "house to house street battles" with guns, rockets and tanks looted from the People's Liberation Army. Chengdu was where the first Red Guard clashes of the Cultural Revolution began, first around a cotton mill and then at a fighter-plane factory. In May 1967, conservative and radical factions in Chengdu, a center for defense industries, battled with automatic rifles, mortars recoilless rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers. One side obtained weapons from local militias and People's Liberation Army units. in the summer of 1967, PLA troops shot dead a many as a thousand Red Guards members who protested the arrest of a faction leader. [Source: Daniel Southerland, Washington Post, July 18, 1994]
Scholars now believe that two little-known and little-studied campaigns of the Cultural Revolution—the "Purification of the Class Ranks" (1968-70) and the campaign against "May 16 Elements" (1968-69)—were among the bloodiest events of the Cultural Revolution.
Red Guard Violence in Beijing
Bo Yibo, Cultural
Revolution victim In 1968, Red Guard factions battled on another at Beijing’s Qinghua University. Red Guards told the writer and historian William Hinton about how the struggle on the campus in April of that year escalated from stone slingshots and wooden spears to revolvers and hand grenades. One group welded steelplates onto the body of a tractor to convert it into a tank. Ten students were killed and many more badly injured in the next three months till July 1968 when Mao Zedong finally sent in groups of local workers, backed by the army, to restore order. [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
The generally accepted view that the factional divisions among the Red Guards reflected the social and political inequalities of Mao-era China — in other words that some factions represented conservatives whose families belonged to the Party, the bureaucracy and other privileged strata, while the more radical factions were led by students from families with no social advantages who felt excluded from the dominant system. A variant of this analysis saw the main division as one between conservative networks of party members and political activists and radical groupings of those who had previously been excluded from these network ties. [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
An unrestrained wave of violence began at the end of July 1968 as work teams were withdrawn from school and college campuses. High-school students seized party secretaries, principals, teachers andclassmates and subjected them to violent beating. . . . At least eight high-school party secretaries, principals, or vice-principals were murdered or committed suicide— the first such murder was that of Bian Zhongyun, deputy principal of the Beijing Normal Girls’ High School. (The story of Bian’s murder has now been told in a remarkable film, Though I am Gone ( Wo Sui Siqu ) by the independent Chinese film-maker Hu Jie, largely based on interviews with her husband who at the time with exceptional courage took photographs of her corpse and the circumstances of her death. The film cannot be shown in China but may be found on YouTube.) [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
However the violence escalated after Mao’s first Red Guard rally even more terrifyingly. Walder records that in the following month more than 114,000 homes of those identified as bad classes were searched, typically in violent assaults by Red Guards, for evidence of bourgeois ideology such as foreign currency, books, paintings etc.In his book Fractured Rebellion: The Beijing Red Guard Movement Andrew G. Walder wrote: ‘ In the Western district, the books, paintings, scrolls, and other items confiscated from 1,061 homes were set ablaze and burned for eight days and nights. During this period 77,000 people were expelled from their homes in the urban and inner suburban districts. The violence crested during the last week of August, when an average of more than 200 people were dying every day. The official Beijing death toll for the month after August 18 was 1,772.’ [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
In their book Mao’s Last Revolution (2006), Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, say that Mao ‘unleashed a reign of terror in which the youth of China were . . . freed from parental and societal constraints . . . to perpetrate assault, battery and murder upon their fellow citizens to the extent their barely formed consciences permitted. The result was the juvenile state of nature, nationwide, foreshadowed in microcosm by Nobel prize-winner William Golding in Lord of the Flies. [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
Walder describes this condoning of violence as the Maoist shrug in which the suffering of victims of violence was regarded as acceptable collateral damage. I would call it, using the same military analogy, the Maoist equivalent of Stuff Happens. Some at the time argued that Mao must have been unaware of the extent of violence but this cannot be true. Mao, Jiang and the other Cultural Revolution leaders were kept fully informed through internal bulletins compiled by official news agency reporters. [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
Red Guard Violence in Chengdu
Chengdu was the site of brutal street fights between factions of Red Guards. Zhang Jingyan, a retired art-history professor in Chengdu who was 12 when the Cultural Revolution broke out. told The New Yorker,"I went to watch, and it was terrifying. I watched people being thrown off buildings," she said. "I couldn't move or run away. I was completely frozen by it. And then I felt ashamed: Why don't I have more class consciousness? These are the enemies of our class! How come other people are capable of hitting them, and I'm not?"
But Professor Zhou Daming, who was sent to labor in the fields at 16, said the new exercise was completely different. "We had barely graduated from high school. We did not even have the most basic knowledge about many things. The experience was good in that it taught me to 'eat bitterness'. Everything that came afterwards did not seem challenging or impossible anymore. I think this experience — especially now that I am doing social study work — broadened my view of society."
Red Guards Opposed to Violence
Huang Kechan In his book Fractured Rebellion: The Beijing Red Guard Movement Andrew G. Walder argues that substantial groups in the Red Guard movement in Beijing— perhaps the majority— were actually opposed to the violence and many said so. They organized Red Guard picket corps which sought to curtail violence and provide discipline to an anarchic and rapidly growing movement. The Western District Picket Corps, an alliance of 50 Red Guard groups from more than 40 schools, announced that ‘In the Cultural Revolution from this point forward it is absolutely forbidden to beat people, absolutely forbidden to physically abuse them either openly or in a disguised manner; absolutely forbidden to humiliate people, absolutely forbidden to extract forced confessions. . . . Kneeling, lying flat, bending at the waist, carrying a heavy weight, standing for long periods, keeping hands raised for long periods, keeping heads bowed for long period, etc., all are open or disguised forms of physical abuse and not methods of struggle that we should use.’ [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
Far from their consciences being barely formed, these young Red Guards showed a genuine sense of ethical judgement. Their members were expected to serve the people and gain their trust by non-violent means. The Red Guards at Qinghua University had issued a series of appeals for non-violence from the beginning of August. Their first appeal was initially welcomed by Mao himself who had it circulated to delegates of the Party plenum.[Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
We may infer from Walder’s account (though he does not pursue the argument) that the violent course taken by the Red Guards was not inevitable. Instead of being egged on by the ultra-left leadership, the students could have been steered to pursue a largely non-violent cultural revolution against privilege and bureaucracy — natural targets in China then and indeed now. Even after the violence erupted in August, the picket corps still represented the majority of student opinion, backed by Premier Zhou Enlai who held a series of meetings attempting to persuade the Red Guards to exercise restraint. [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
So why did reason not prevail? Walder explains that the calls to curtail violence ran directly counter to the views of the CCRG. Jiang Qing had given an early nod countenancing violence on July 28, telling high school Red Guards that we do not advocate beating people, but beating people is no big deal. Later, Mao told the Politburo Standing Committee that I do not think Beijing is all that chaotic. . . . now is not the time to interfere. . . Taking his cue from Mao, Xie Fuzhi, minister of public security, set the official line: I do not approve of the masses killing people, but the masses’ bitter hatred toward bad people cannot be discouraged, and it is unavoidable. The local police and army were ordered not to intervene when Red Guards were on the rampage.
Walder now shows that not only did many Red Guards dislike the violence but that — after the first protests by the picket corps had been stifled — a minority of independent-minded dissidents began to develop a new critique of the ultra-left CCRG leadership which identified the taste for violence as one of that leadership’s unprincipled weapons. Alone among students at this point in Chinese history, says Walder, they had a realistic view of what was actually taking place, while the [officially approved] ‘rebels’ were conforming to CCRG authority and wrapping their actions in a fantasy language of conspiracy and rebellion.
Walder argues that the factional struggles of those times did not reflect social conflict but were the product of authoritarian political structures. He called the dominant Red Guards radical bureaucrats, This may be true in Beijing but it does not necessarily explain factionalism elsewhere in China. John Gittings is an author and research associate at the School of Oriental & African Studies. His most recent book is The Changing Face of China: From Mao to Market (Oxford, 2005)]
Book: Fractured Rebellion: The Beijing Red Guard Movement by Andrew G. Walder (Harvard University Press, 2009)
Image Sources: Poster, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/. photos: Ohio State University ; Wiki Commons, History in Pictures ; YouTube
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2012