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.
Websites and Books on the Cultural Revolution
Good Websites and Sources on the Cultural Revolution Virtual Museum of the Cultural Revolution cnd.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Morning Sun morningsun.org ; Red Guards and Cannibals New York Times ; The South China Morning Post has produced a wonderful multimedia report on the Cultural Revolution. multimedia.scmp.com. Posters: Cultural Revolution posters at The Ohio State University online exhibition Picturing Power: Posters of the Cultural Revolution and the University of Westminster Chinese Poster Collection huntingtonarchive.org ]
Great Leap Forward: University of Chicago Chronicle chronicle.uchicago.edu ; Mt. Holyoke China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Wikipedia ; Industrial Planning Video You Tube Death Under Mao: Uncounted Millions, Washington Post article paulbogdanor.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 ; Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org; Wikipedia article on propaganda Wikipedia ; Cultural Revolution sino.uni-heidelberg.de; Communist China Posters Landsberger Posters ; More Posters chinaposters.org ; Yet more posters Ann Tompkins and Lincoln Cushing Collection Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Mao.com chinesemao.com ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; Propaganda Paintings of Mao artchina.free.fr ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn
Books on the Cultural Revolution: "The Cultural Revolution: A People's History” by Frank Dikotter (Bloomsbury 2016); “The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution” by Ji Xianlin (New York Review Books, 2016); "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.
The human costs of the Cultural Revolution have been best captured by Simon Leys (the pen-name of the Belgian sinologist and literary critic Pierre Ryckmans) in his books "Chinese Shadows" (1974) and "The Burning Forest" (1987). "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). Li Zhensheng’s photographs of the Cultural Revolution can be found in “Red Color News Soldier: A Chinese Photographer’s Odyssey Through the Cultural Revolution,” edited by Robert Pledge and published by Phaidon Press in 2016. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.
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.
Dao County Massacre
Tristan Shaw wrote in Listverse: “In summer 1967, a rumor began to spread around Hunan Province’s Dao County that there was going to be an invasion of mainland China by Taiwan. The Kuomintang, Taiwan’s ruling party and the former rulers of China from 1928 until 1949, was allegedly going to cooperate with antirevolutionaries to take back the mainland. [Source: Tristan Shaw, Listverse, June 24, 2016 *-*]
“The antirevolutionaries were also planning to conduct a massive purge in the county, wiping out all the members of the Communist Party and the peasant leaders in the local government. The invasion was a completely groundless rumor, but the county government’s confirmation that it was true set off a massacre that claimed the lives of over 4,500 people in only two months.*-*
“Many of the victims were members of the Five Black Categories, a group that the Communists identified as landlords, rich farmers, counterrevolutionaries, bad influencers, and rightists. Some of the victims were killed by armed militias in their own homes, while others were given a mock trial and then killed by mobs.*-*
“Victims were variously shot, decapitated, buried alive, and in some instances, blown up with explosives. The violence got so out of hand that it spread to nearby counties, eventually resulting in another 4,000 deaths. When all was said and done, over 14,000 people were thought to have participated in the massacre in Dao County. By the 1980s, 52 of the participants had been arrested and given prison sentences, but the vast majority were never punished.” *-*
Cleansing The Class Ranks Campaign
Tristan Shaw wrote in Listverse: “To “cleanse the class ranks” of counterrevolutionaries and capitalists, the Communist Party operated revolutionary committees nationwide to root out its perceived enemies. From 1968 until 1971, the committees launched a campaign of terror across the country. One area especially hit hard was Inner Mongolia, where an alleged secret Mongolian separatist party was said to be carrying out counterrevolutionary activities. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Mongolians, were arrested, maimed, or tortured. Another 22,900 people were killed. [Source: Tristan Shaw, Listverse, June 24, 2016 *-*]
“Other provinces, such as Hebei and Zhejiang, also experienced huge purges. As part of a crackdown on an alleged Kuomintang spy ring, 84,000 people were arrested in Hebei. Over 2,900 suspects are recorded as having died from injuries they received from being tortured. In Yunnan, as estimated by the province’s Cleansing the Class Ranks Office, almost 7,000 people suffered “death from enforced suicide.”*-*
“The Cleansing the Class Ranks Campaign began to fizzle after only a year in 1969, although it lasted in some areas until 1971. The large-scale arrests and executions eventually unnerved Mao Tse-tung, who feared that the purges had gone too far and could hurt his public image.” *-*
Cannibalism In Guangxi Province
Tristan Shaw wrote in Listverse: “According to the research of Zheng Yi, a Chinese dissident and writer, hundreds or possibly thousands of people were cannibalized in the province of Guangxi during the Cultural Revolution. During his time as a Red Guard in Guangxi, Zheng heard stories about the cannibalism, but he never witnessed any incidents himself. In the mid-1980s, Zheng returned to Guangxi to see if the stories had any truth to them. Shockingly, he found and interviewed many participants, and few of them spoke with any remorse or fear of reprisal. [Source: Tristan Shaw, Listverse, June 24, 2016 *-*]
“Zheng found that the participants ate their victims not out of starvation but as a commitment to political ideology. Simply killing the revolution’s enemies wasn’t enough. They believed it was necessary to eat and completely destroy them.Participants ate brains, feet, livers, hearts, and even genitals. They held human flesh barbecues and banquets with their friends and families. In Wuxuan County, where the cannibalism was most prevalent, victims would be stalked by crowds and then pounced upon. Some of the victims were cut and skinned while they were still alive.*-*
“In one incident in 1968, a man was beaten on the head, castrated, and then skinned and cut open alive by a mob. Children and elderly people also took part in the cannibalism. One old woman was infamous for cutting out and eating victims’ eyeballs. In another incident, a female teacher was killed by her students and barbecued at their school. The incidents of cannibalism in Guangxi remained unknown outside of China until Zheng left the country and publicized the episode in his book Scarlet Memorial in 1993. The Chinese government has banned Zheng’s book, and even today, officials are reluctant to talk about what happened in Guangxi.”
'Flesh Banquets' in Wuxuan Guanxi
Benjamin Carlson of AFP wrote: “In the frenzy of China's Cultural Revolution, victims were eaten at macabre "flesh banquets"...Some of the worst excesses happened in Wuxuan, in the far southern region of Guangxi, where the hearts, livers and genitals of victims were cut out and fed to revellers. Some residents say they have never heard of the dozens of acts of cannibalism, motivated by political hatred rather than hunger, that once stained the streets with blood. At least 38 people were eaten in Wuxuan, a high-ranking member of an early 1980s official investigation told AFP, asking not to be named for fear of repercussions. "All the cannibalism was due to class struggle being whipped up, and was used to express a kind of hatred," he said. "The murder was ghastly, worse than beasts." [Source: Benjamin Carlson, AFP, May 11, 2016 +++]
Wang Shouxin Execution in 1980
“Scholars say the violence resulted from Wuxuan's remote location, the ruthless regional Communist leader, poverty and bitter factionalism. "In 10 years of catastrophe, Guangxi not only saw numerous deaths, they were also of appalling cruelty and viciousness," the retired cadre wrote in an unpublished manuscript seen by AFP. "There were beheadings, beatings, live burials, stonings, drownings, boilings, group slaughters, disembowellings, digging out hearts, livers, genitals, slicing off flesh, blowing up with dynamite, and more, with no method unused." +++
In 1968 a geography instructor named Wu Shufang was beaten to death by students at Wuxuan Middle School. The body was carried to the flat stones of the Qian river where another teacher was forced at gunpoint to rip out the heart and liver. Back at the school the pupils barbecued and consumed the organs. "This was not cannibalism because of economic difficulties, like during famine," X.L. Ding, a Cultural Revolution expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told AFP. "It was not caused by economic reasons, it was caused by political events, political hatred, political ideologies, political rituals." +++
“For 15 years, rumours of the carnage in Guangxi -- which one official estimated left as many as 150,000 people dead -- rippled across China, and eventually authorities sent a group to investigate.” A “cadre once wrote an article for a small-circulation liberal Chinese magazine, describing the investigation findings, and saying tens of thousands died, with more than 100 people taking part in cannibalism. The report was never released publicly. The outside world only learned of the slaughter when journalist Zheng Yi smuggled documents out of China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square killings and published his book "Scarlet Memorial" -- banned on the mainland. More recently a senior inquiry team member has sought to spread awareness in China, but his efforts have been suppressed, he told AFP.
Trying to Forget the 'Flesh Banquets' in Wuxuan Guanxi
Benjamin Carlson of AFP wrote: Today the institution where the geography instructor was attacked “ has been relocated and rebuilt, and current students shook their heads when asked if they were aware of what happened. Residents of the old town say they do not know the history or meet questions with silence. The few willing to discuss the violence say memories are fading and the town is eager to escape its past. "Cannibalism? I was here then, I went through it," a man named Luo told AFP. But Wuxuan has developed rapidly in recent years and now, he said, that history "has no meaning". [Source: Benjamin Carlson, AFP, May 11, 2016 +++]
Wang Shouxin Execution in 1980
Retired regional officials responded with a written denunciation sent to top Communist bodies, accusing him of falsifying facts and demanding he submit a self-criticism, rectify his errors, and apologise personally. "They said I was anti-party, anti-socialist, anti-Mao Zedong Thought," he said. In recent months he took a manuscript to a publisher, but refused to cut some passages. "Before I retired I didn't dare say 'no' to the Party," he said. +++
“Nowadays government control over the media and public opinion is tightening, said the cadre: "It's absolutely clear, that to establish their own authority, they control public opinion." No official commemorations of the anniversary are expected. Academic Ding said the Communist Party fears recalling the officially-sanctioned chaos and violence could undermine its legitimacy. "The more you talk about such things, the more current CCP leaders are worried," he said. The suppression of knowledge and discussion worries author Zheng, who is now a dissident living in the United States. He told AFP: "Because the government has never permitted a deep examination of history, it's impossible to say that lessons have been learned."” +++
Image Sources: Poster, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/. photos: Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org, 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.
Last updated November 2016