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"I think China has the soil for the Cultural Revolution to happen again."

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  • Interviewer: Hi, thank you for accepting my interview. Could you tell me when you were born?
  • I was born in the 1950s.
  • Interviewer: Where did you live in China between 1966 and 1976?
  • I was living in Shanghai.
  • Interviewer: Having been born in the 1950s, you must have many memories of the Cultural Revolution.
  • If we give you about ten minutes -- which is to say, during the first ten minutes of the interview -- what memories of or thoughts about the Cultural Revolution would you like to share with us? You may say anything you like.
  • Yeah, I definitely could say a lot about my experiences and the situations I encountered. I was in primary school at that time. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the classes were suspended, and I felt happy.
  • I had never liked going to school; I preferred staying at home. Later on, some things happened in my neighborhood; when I think back on them today, they’re unusual, even a bit scary.
  • But I didn’t understand it all at that time. I was just curious.
  • One thing is that the violent struggles began. I have an older cousin who was at Shanghai Physical Education College.
  • One day, one of my cousin’s classmates ran to his home and told my aunt that he’d seen [my cousin] going to a violent struggle.
  • A whole truck full of people, who were all wearing miners’ caps and holding clubs, went by, heading for the violent struggle.
  • Oh! The family was worried – so worried. Later at night, my cousin came back home, saying that they’d all gone for the violent struggle but did not actually fight, so he wasn’t injured.
  • His family saw something red on his shoulder [and said], “You’re bleeding!” But it turned out that my cousin was wearing a red sports shirt under his other shirt,
  • and the other shirt happened to have a hole on it. In retrospect, the violent struggles were quite dangerous -- there were even cases where people were beaten to death.
  • Another thing [I remember] is “searching people’s houses to confiscate their possessions.” Originally, the relationships between households were quite harmonious.
  • Later, during the movement of “searching people’s houses to confiscate their possessions,” there were some relatively prosperous people, senior intellectuals and former capitalists who lived in rather large houses.
  • But [the houses] were the housing authority’s houses; they weren’t privately-owned.
  • [These people] then had their living space limited. For example, they had four or five rooms, but they were relegated to one or two rooms.
  • As a result, suddenly many vacant houses appeared, and some people who originally lived in smaller houses took the opportunity and moved in.
  • We called it “grabbing houses.” For a period in Shanghai, this was a trend. These relatively poor people who lived in close quarters rushed to the wealthy families’ homes and moved their stuff in.
  • Some wealthy families--well, each person was different, but some were quite timid and just let them live there.
  • But I also saw cases where a wealthy family had several children who were Red Guards or from the rebel faction, and [these children] came out to argue with the squatters, refusing to let them in.
  • Finally, whatever institution had authority over this drove squatters away and the “grabbing houses” movement did not last.
  • However, the originally harmonious rapport among neighbors was ruined.
  • People treated each other like enemies and struggled back and forth. As a child, this kind of thing shocked me.
  • It all came about so quickly.
  • There was one family living in a house behind ours.
  • The children of that family were all older than I, and they were all high school students during the Cultural Revolution period.
  • At the beginning, they were also very radical, going to search neighbors’ houses and pasting “big-character posters” about them from the second floor to the first.
  • One night, they dragged the family out, lit up the “big-character poster” with a flashlight, and forced the family to read the poster out loud.
  • But finally, one day, their own home was searched and their possessions were confiscated, because their father was the chief of Shanghai Customs Taxation Services Bureau and before Liberation had served the Kuomintang Government.
  • One day, a group of people, Red Guards or something, rushed over to “search [his] house and confiscate [his] possessions.”
  • They locked his family members in different rooms, forced them to make an inventory of their possessions, and if one of them said something different from the others, they pounced on the error.
  • Their house was behind ours, so I ran up to the balcony of our home, where I could look down on the scene.
  • It was summer; all the windows were open. The Red Guards ran in and out with [the family’s] things, [including] many bolts of cloth.
  • People said there were all kinds of jewels and lots of American dollars in his home, but I didn’t see that.
  • I did see all that cloth being carried away. The house was vacated and the housing management assigned people to live there – not the squatters; these people were assigned. Those folks live there even now.
  • Interviewer: They’re still there?
  • Yes. Because the house belonged to the housing management authority, it was not returned [to the family], nor were they compensated.
  • But actually, all that has become personal property today. So, that family suffered a huge loss.
  • I also heard that some of the senior students beat teachers at our school.
  • Interviewer: Did you witness that?
  • No, I didn’t. I heard about it; what I heard was pretty formal.
  • I believe it was true. I heard they did things like grabbing them by their hair.
  • Thinking back on it, these are serious things, but at the time, I didn’t see them myself.
  • I think the study of the Cultural Revolution is very necessary. There are a lot of debates on the Internet.
  • Most people comment negatively about the Cultural Revolution, while quite a few are positive about it.
  • The difference is related to personal experiences; for example, people who rebelled, “grabbed houses,” and benefitted from the Cultural Revolution would feel positively about the event.
  • I would have to agree that the Cultural Revolution was basically not a good thing.
  • However, since it did place a check on some lawless senior cadres of the time, I’m afraid the Cultural Revolution also had a positive impact.
  • I think China has the soil for the Cultural Revolution to happen again.
  • The Cultural Revolution didn’t come out of nowhere; it had a base in the masses, in cultural tradition. Take another country…it could not happen in America.
  • It could not occur no matter how great the leader is. China’s science and technology, and its material life have advanced greatly in the past decades.
  • However, I don't feel national culture, customs and habits have changed.
  • At least, there were no fundamental qualitative changes.
  • At best, they were quantitative changes – some were even “reverse quantitative changes.”
  • Of course, the current society also has many irrational points.
  • But if a situation comes to a head, for example, a civil turbulence breaks out, I think it’s possible that some local rebellions would automatically start to “overthrow local tyrants and redistribute land” because of their jealousy.
  • This is not to say the distribution system in China is totally reasonable right now–there are problems that must be improved–but the foundation for another Cultural Revolution still exists.
  • Interviewer: What else do you want to say?
  • My family was not impacted. But some of my distant relatives were.
  • My father had a cousin, whose family was quite wealthy; [this cousin] was a delicate single woman.
  • During the Cultural Revolution, her family home was searched and their property was confiscated.
  • She was very scared. Later, she married the head of the rebels who’d come to search the house.
  • This guy was crude, a boor, but I’m not saying he was all bad. It’s just that they were not the same kind of people at all.
  • They were from two different worlds. I guess she thought he’d offer her protection.
  • They married, and later she did not interact with our family much.
  • During the later phase of the Cultural Revolution, she was quite ill; sometime in the ‘70s or ‘80s, my father went to see her, only to find that she was already divorced.
  • I think it was a tragedy of the time, a very weird situation.
  • My family was a minor intellectual family. We were not in the rebel faction; we didn’t have the qualifications to be considered one of the “five red categories,” and we weren’t major intellectuals.
  • Interviewer: You weren’t turned into a target.
  • Right. I don’t know for what reason, but the Red Guards called upon my grandpa to ask him some questions, and my father was similarly summoned by his work unit for questioning,
  • because they had worked some type of administrative jobs before the Liberation. But they did not search our home.
  • My family was very poor at that time, and the average spending in our family was just about 10 yuan per person [per month] – it really wasn’t worth searching our home as it was with the wealthy families.
  • So, my family and I were not really affected. Therefore, my views [of the Cultural Revolution] are relatively objective and rational, without any personal grievances within.
  • Interviewer: Thank you very much. Thanks for accepting the interview.