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"A young person who didn’t know the taste of sorrow": Life in the Military Compound

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  • Interviewer: Thank you for accepting my interview. Would you please tell me when you were born?
  • You don’t need to say the exact date, just “1950’s,” “1960’s,” etc.
  • I was born in the early 60’s.
  • Interviewer: In what area of China did you stay during the decade from 1966 to 1976?
  • I grew up in the western suburbs of Beijing, in a military compound.
  • Interviewer: You must have some impressions of that period of time.
  • Interviewer: If I give you about 10 minutes, please tell us what you want to share in the first ten minutes, what you want to say most.
  • Sure. 1966 to 1976 were the years I grew to be a teenager.
  • Compared to the rest of Chinese society, the environment I grew up in was relatively closed-off; we didn’t have too much contact with society.
  • At that time, I was a child. It was mainly when I was in kindergarten, elementary school, and the first two years of junior high.
  • That time is full of childhood memories. Most of the time I was carefree; a young person who didn’t know the taste of sorrow.
  • My growing environment, because it was a military compound, relationships were basically very simple.
  • All of my playmates were children of the compound, and unlike during other eras in China, the children did not have a lot of pressure from studying.
  • It was the same as you might read in some literary works: boys playing together, acting naughty, playing pranks, getting into gang fights…
  • And also we made simple little toys and games with whatever was at hand,
  • such as wire slingshots, water guns, pinball games, and many others whose names I can't think of now.
  • At that time, we were really carefree, living very happily.
  • Also, at that time the materials in China were not as abundant as now, but we did not feel terribly in need.
  • I was the oldest kid at home, with a younger brother and sister. Life was not without difficulties, but they could always be overcome.
  • After all, living in a military compound, we could eat our fill, and we had the nutrition we needed.
  • Relatively speaking, my parents’ jobs were stable and had not been negatively affected by various “movements” in society.
  • My personal impression, in two phrases, is this: life was simple, but really very happy.
  • Now I have gotten to middle age, I recall that time, 1976, as a time of being too young to know the taste of sorrow.
  • Later on, the physical changes, the arrival of adolescence, that was something afterward. Before then, nothing was understood, and you didn’t know to be nervous.
  • At worst, because of some mischief, our parents might give us a little talking-to or a spanking, but there were no serious punishments.
  • At that time, the relationships between people -- not just children, but between adults, too -- were very simple.
  • Something I think is really interesting, and that left a deep impression on me, regarding people in society,
  • is that I was able to leave the compound on weekends,
  • to look around and do some shopping with my parents at the shopping center which was outside the compound.
  • What left a particularly deep impression on me is that, when I was in kindergarten,
  • my class lined up to say goodbye to a big group of “uncles” and “aunties” in front of our compound,
  • who were being sent off to May 7 cadre school to receive reeducation.
  • At that time, Mao had issued the May 7 Directive, which was related to the sociopolitical environment.
  • Also, when I was really small, Chairman Mao issued a “highest directive,” so my father took me and a bunch of other children to march from Gongzhufen to Tiananmen Square.
  • Because I was small, I fell asleep after a while. When I woke up, I was already at home in bed.
  • This is my only memory related to society.
  • All other [memories] were carefree; besides playing we did nothing else.
  • Homework really did not leave me too many memories.
  • We just lived simply, but life itself gave me a lot of valuable treasures.
  • At that time, kids around ten years old need to do housework: steaming rice, steaming bread, washing vegetables, cooking.
  • Older brothers took care of younger brothers and sisters; I did all of these things.
  • Being the oldest one, I had to take more responsibility. Up until today, a whole lifetime, I still have the same feeling.
  • At that time few families had a single child; we all grew up like this, with the older kid taking care of the younger brothers and sisters.
  • Interviewer: Later on, through what channels did you learn about what was happening in civilian society during the Cultural Revolution? From literary works?
  • It wasn't just from literary works.
  • Following Mao Zedong’s passing in 1976, and then after October 6 [the arrest of the Gang of Four],
  • tremendous changes took place in Chinese politics, and later included the media.
  • The situation was that any media you encountered, any news you could receive,
  • all came from an official propaganda organization:
  • official newspapers, radio, TV, and movies were all the same,
  • and that’s how we learned about everything that happened in China.
  • Interviewer: Are you personally interested in the topic of Cultural Revolution?
  • Interviewer: Would you like to know more about it?
  • How can I put this?
  • I think the Cultural Revolution changed the destiny of millions of individuals
    families in China.
  • Because of being in different positions, each person’s feelings about the Cultural Revolution would be completely different.
  • The Cultural Revolution cannot be discussed from a limited scope.
  • If every individual, especially those from families whose destinies were greatly changed, discussed the Cultural Revolution, the differences [in what is expressed] would be huge.
  • However, from a social point of view, history has no “if”.
  • If we say we want to talk about the Cultural Revolution from all aspects, I think we must talk about history.
  • Leaders, political organizations, including officials and cadres,
  • ordinary people, educated, uneducated, workers, farmers, soldiers, scholars and merchants,
  • every different profession will feel differently about the Cultural Revolution.
  • Later from literary works, memoirs, the Internet, etc., we learned about the disaster brought by the Cultural Revolution.
  • But I think it is not the time yet to talk about the Cultural Revolution out of the reality of China.
  • During the process of the Cultural Revolution, what really happened from top to bottom -- regular people don’t lack interest in it,
  • since in the end, these kinds of ideological things will also influence society in some way. We are still talking very generally about it.
  • Now Jianchuan County in Sichuan has a Cultural Revolution Museum, a private museum.
  • Because during violent struggle in Sichuan, Chengdu, and Chongqing, weapons were used, heavy weapons.
  • Many people died; it was tragic. Many of the bodies of those who were killed are still buried in a woods there.
  • Studying the history of the Cultural Revolution touches on the history of the Communist Party of China, involves the modern history of the development of our nation.
  • Interviewer: Your meaning is that every person was involved in the Cultural Revolution,
  • studying the Cultural Revolution requires a process, takes time; it is not a simple thing.
  • You could say that, but it also depends on each person's worldview
    and attitude towards life.
  • The ancients said, wander outside the three realms, not in the five elements.
  • Heaven, earth and human beings: people can keep away from the mortal world, and not talk about these things,
  • to the extent that these things have nothing to do with them;
    they can go on like that in this world.
  • After a hundred years, maybe people will objectively
    and comprehensively review these things.
  • Interviewer: Thank you for accepting my interview.
  • You’re welcome.