HORRORS OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION: CANNIBALISM, MASSACRES AND CLEANSING OF THE RANKS

HORRORS OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION


Attacked police chief with two broken legs

Barbara Demick wrote in The Atlantic: “What started as casual brutality — class enemies forced to wear ridiculous dunce caps or stand in stress positions — degenerated into outright sadism. On the outskirts of Beijing, where traffic-crammed ring roads now lead to walled compounds with luxury villas, neighbors tortured and killed one another in the 1960s, using the cruelest methods imaginable. People said to be the offspring of landlords were chopped up with farm implements and beheaded. Male infants were torn apart by the legs to prevent them from growing up to take revenge. In a famous massacre in Dao County, Hunan province, members of two rival factions — the Red Alliance and the Revolutionary Alliance — butchered one another. So many bloated corpses floated down the Xiaoshui River that bodies clogged the dam downstream, creating a red scum on the reservoir’s surface. During a series of massacres in Guangxi province, at least 80,000 people were murdered; in one 1967 incident, the killers ate the livers and flesh of some of their victims. [Source: Barbara Demick, The Atlantic, November 16, 2020]

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.

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 's multimedia report on the Cultural Revolution. multimedia.scmp.com. Cultural Revolution posters 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 ; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn ; Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters ; People’s Republic of China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org; Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com

Books: “The World Turned Upside Down: a History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution” by Yang Jisheng, Translated and Edited by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020; "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. "Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62" by Frank Dikotter (Walker & Co, 2010)is an excellent book. "Tombstone" by Yang Jisheng, a Xinhua reporter and Communist party member, is the first proper history of the Great Leap Forward and the famine of 1959 and 1961. "Mao; the Untold Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf. 2005). 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. Also check out "Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic" by Chang-tai Hung (Cornell University Press, 2011) and "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui (1994).

Students Killing Teachers during the Cultural Revolution


Teacher with students

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


Dead student carried through the streets

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 writer Paul 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.

Cleansing The Class Ranks Campaign


Paying last respects

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


Before an execution in the 1970s

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 +++]

“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 +++]

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."” +++

20111025-Wang Shouxin execution photos Northwestsouthwest.com  2.jpg
Wang Shouxin Execution in 1980

Dao County Massacre

In summer 1967, a rumor began to circulate around Hunan Province’s Dao County that there was going to be an invasion of mainland China by Taiwan by The Kuomintang, Taiwan’s ruling party and the former rulers of China from 1928 until 1949. They allegedly were going to cooperate with antirevolutionaries in the area to take seize the mainland from the Communists. It was said, the antirevolutionaries were also planning to conduct a massive purge in the county, killing all the members of the Communist Party and the peasant leaders in the local government. Although the "invasion" had no basis in reality the county government said it was true. A preemptive strike against the perceived antirevolutionaries claimed the lives of over 4,500 people in only two months. [Source: Tristan Shaw, Listverse, June 24, 2016]

Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: For several weeks in August and September 1967, more than nine thousand people were murdered “in the mountainous area around the Xiao River in southern Hunan Province “The epicenter of the killings was Dao County (Daoxian), which the Xiao River bisects on its way north. About half the victims were killed in this district of four hundred thousand people, some clubbed to death and thrown into limestone pits, others tossed into cellars full of sweet potatoes where they suffocated. Many were tied together in bundles around a charge of quarry explosives. These victims were called “homemade airplanes” because their body parts flew over the fields. But most victims were simply bludgeoned to death with agricultural tools—hoes, carrying poles, and rakes—and then tossed into the waterways that flow into the Xiao. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, January 19, 2017]

“In the county seat of Daozhou, observers on the shoreline counted one hundred corpses flowing past per hour. Children danced along the banks competing to find the most bodies. Some were bound together with wire strung through their collarbones, their swollen carcasses swirling in daisy chains downstream, their eyes and lips already eaten away by fish. Eventually the cadavers’ progress was halted by the Shuangpai dam where they clogged the hydropower generators. It took half a year to clear the turbines and two years before locals would eat fish again.

“For decades, these murders have been a little-known event in China. When mentioned at all, they tended to be explained away as individual actions that spun out of control during the heat of the Cultural Revolution—the decade-long campaign launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 to destroy enemies and achieve a utopia. Dao County was portrayed as remote, backward, and poor. The presence of the non-Chinese Yao minority there was also sometimes mentioned as a racist way of explaining what happened: those minorities, some Han Chinese say, are only half civilized anyway, and who knows what they might do when the authorities aren’t looking?

“All of these explanations are wrong. Dao County is a center of Chinese civilization, the birthplace of great philosophers and calligraphers. The killers were almost all Chinese who murdered other Chinese. And the killings were not random: instead they were acts of genocide aimed at eliminating a class of people declared to be subhuman. That class consisted of make-believe landlords, nonexistent spies, and invented insurrectionists. Far from being the work of frenzied peasants, the killings were organized by committees of Communist Party cadres in the region’s towns, who ordered the murders to be carried out in remote areas. To make sure revenge would be difficult, officials ordered the slaughter of entire families, including infants.”

The victims were categorized “black elements”, which included “landlords, wealthy farmers, rightists (anyone who had voiced complaints in the late 1950s), and capitalists (usually small shopkeepers), as well as the catch-all “bad elements” (former prostitutes, opium smokers, homosexuals, and others seen as guilty of deviant behavior). For the previous eighteen years of Communist rule, black elements like Mrs. Zhou and her family [described below] had lived a marginal existence. The state had stripped them of their property. It had assigned them bad jobs with low pay or rocky plots of land to farm. And it had inundated China with a barrage of propaganda intended to convince many that black elements were dangerous, violent criminals who were barely human.

“In the Cultural Revolution, Mao whipped up the propaganda another notch, declaring that enemies were readying a counterrevolution. In Dao County, stories began to fly that the black elements had seized weapons. The county government decided to strike preemptively and kill them. When village-level officials objected—many were related to the victims—more powerful leaders sent out “battle-hardened” squads of killers (often former criminals and hoodlums) to put pressure on locals to execute the undesirables. After the first deaths, locals were freed from moral constraints and usually acted spontaneously, even against family members.

“This was not exceptional. Most accounts of the Cultural Revolution have focused on the Red Guards and urban violence. But a growing number of studies show that genocidal killings were widespread. Previously, we knew of cases of cannibalism in Guangxi province. But recent research, as well as in-depth case studies like Tan’s, show that the killings were widespread and systematic instead of being isolated, sensational events. One survey of local gazetteers shows that between 400,000 and 1.5 million people perished in similar incidents, meaning there were at least another one hundred Dao County massacres around this time.

Book: “The Killing Wind: A Chinese County’s Descent into Madness During the Cultural Revolution” by Tan Hecheng, translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian, Oxford University Press, 2017]

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Wang Shouxin Execution in 1980

Victims of the Dao County Massacre

Many of the victims of the Dao County massacre were said to be members of the Five Black Categories --- landlords, rich farmers, counterrevolutionaries, bad influencers, and rightists. Accord to Listverse: 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.” [Source: Tristan Shaw, Listverse, June 24, 2016]

Reporting from Fengshushan in Dao Country, Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Behind the school was monument to the all-powerful state: a stone stele with a couplet that read: “Father and Children, Rest in Peace...Those in this World, a Life of Peace. Several other lines explained the meaning. They listed the names of the dead father and three children, and the person who erected the stele—the person still in this world who needed peace—their wife and mother, Zhou Qun. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, January 19, 2017]

“On August 26, 1967, Mrs. Zhou and her three children were dragged out of bed by leaders of the village of Tuditang. She had been working there for several years as a primary school teacher but had always lived under a cloud. Her father had been a traffic policeman during the time the Nationalist government had ruled China, which was enough to make her a “counterrevolutionary offspring.”That meant her family had been categorized as a “black element

“Mrs. Zhou was tied up and frog-marched to a threshing yard next to the storehouse. Thirteen others were there too, including her husband, who had been seized a day earlier. The group was ordered to set off on a march. At the last moment, one of the leaders remembered that Mrs. Zhou and her husband had three children at home. They were rounded up and joined the rest on a five-mile midnight trek through the mountains. Exhausted, the group ended up at Maple Wood Mountain at the very spot where we now stood. A self-proclaimed “Supreme People’s Court of the Poor and Lower-Middle Peasants” was formed out of the mob and immediately issued a death sentence to the entire group. The adults were clubbed in the head with a hoe and kicked into a limestone pit. Mrs. Zhou’s children wailed, running from adult to adult, promising to be good. Instead, the adults tossed them into the pit too.

“Some fell down twenty feet to a ledge. Mrs. Zhou and one of her children landed alive on a pile of corpses on a higher ledge. When the gang heard their cries and sobs they tossed big rocks at the ledge until it collapsed, sending them down onto the others. Miraculously, all the family members survived. But as the days passed each of them died, until Mrs. Zhou was the last person in the pit with thirty-one corpses around her.

“After a week, when an order from the Party had gone out to cease the killings, a few villagers from her hometown—which was not the village where she had been living—sneaked to the cave at night and rescued Mrs. Zhou. The village leadership from the town where she lived then recaptured her and debated killing her. Instead they tossed her in a pigsty and ordered the wardens not to feed her. But some courageous villagers tossed sweet potatoes into her cell at night and she survived another two weeks until a posse of villagers from her hometown freed her.

“As Tan told us this story I thought back to the only other memorial in all of Dao County. It was erected by the son of a Chinese medical practitioner who was clubbed to death (his success as a doctor had made him prosperous and that made him a black element). The stele was similar to Mrs. Zhou’s. It just mentioned the facts and alluded to some sort of pain, without daring to be specific. The doctor’s stele stood alone in an empty field, surrounded by knee-high wild grass. It looked unremarkable until we approached it. There we saw something left behind by a mourner at a recent festival for the dead: two sabers, made for ritual use out of wood and silver foil, lying at the base of the monument, glinting in the sun.

“On the fourth day of our stay, we drove up the Xiao River toward the Shuangpai dam. We had seen Mrs. Zhou earlier that morning. Now elderly but still very alert, she was unable to forget what had happened. She had remarried and had a daughter but the younger woman was unwilling to talk about the past, or even allow her mother to bring it up. This was not unusual for the victims’ offspring. Even though it was their parents who had suffered, the awful history seemed to cheapen or make hollow today’s world with its promise of prosperity and normalcy. The old victims and the dead were reminders of the past, and resented for it.

Killers in the Dao County Massacre

In his book book about the Dao County massacre, Tan Hecheng, described how the killings radiated out of the cities and towns into the countryside like a “pestilence.” In an interview with Ian Johnson, Tan said: “I mean it spread at foot speed. It spread like an old-fashioned plague, with carriers bringing it from one place to the next. At that time, transportation, information wasn’t developed. The massacre’s spread relied on individuals walking and delivering the message. When someone arrived with the orders, the killing started. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, January 13, 2017]

The killers were all young... most were in their twenties. Were they brainwashed by the Maoist propaganda? “Yes. The young people kept talking about exploitation by the landlord class. But for all this talk, all the exploitation was by the same four landlords: Huang Shiren, Zhou Bapi, Liu Wencai, Nan Batian. [Four landlords whose alleged crimes were constantly repeated by Communist Party propaganda across the nation in movies, posters, and textbooks.] And it turned out that their crimes were all fake. But this is all they knew and they thought that anyone who owned any land in China was a horrible landlord who deserved to die. In fact, the people who owned land were mostly just the country’s middle class. Especially in Hunan, big landlords were very rare. But they were all classified as landlords. They were declared to be subhuman, and when the orders came down, people found it easy to kill them. They had been conditioned to think of them as not human.

“According to the commission, 15,050 people were directly implicated in the killings, including one half of the Party’s cadres and members in the county. But only fifty-four people were sentenced for their crimes and another 948 Party members were disciplined. In addition, families only received 150 yuan for each person killed. This was equivalent to about 5,000 or 6,000 yuan [about $1,000] in today’s currency.

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 August 2021


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