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"[B]ecause of the Cultural Revolution, all of a sudden I matured—or was forced to mature."

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  • Interviewer: Thank you for accepting my interview.
  • Interviewer: First, would you please tell me when you were born? You don’t need to say the exact year; just the decade will do, such as “’40s,” “’50s”…
  • I was born in the 1950s.
  • Interviewer: Where did you live in China from 1966 to 1976?
  • Beijing is my hometown. However, I was seldom in Beijing during that decade.
  • I stayed in Hunan for several years, in Hebei for several years, and in Inner Mongolia for more than a year.
  • Interviewer: Plentiful experiences.
  • Right. The longest stay probably was in Hunan, as a worker.
  • Interviewer: If I asked you to talk about your memories of that decade, you would probably be able to speak for quite a while.
  • Interviewer: But if I limit you to about 10 minutes—in other words, during the first 10 minutes of the interview—what memories and feelings do you most want to share with us?
  • The earliest stage of the Cultural Revolution left the deepest impression on me.
  • When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, I was in the second year of junior high school. That is, I was not yet 15 years old.
  • However, because of the Cultural Revolution, all of a sudden I matured—or was forced to mature.
  • Therefore, the first one or two years left me with the deepest impression.
  • The other stages of life had gone along as usual, but that period [of one or two years] was extremely eventful.
  • When the Cultural Revolution started, [people] responded to Chairman Mao's call to rebel.
  • I don't know why I became part of the initial rebel faction; I was young, only a seventh grader.
  • But at that time, the school set up a Cultural Revolution Committee.
  • I participated in the Cultural Revolution Committee as the representative of the seventh grade.
  • The Committee was organized by a “work group." Later on it was seen as a conservative faction, though [in the beginning] it was actually a rebel faction.
  • So I got involved in politics at an early age—even I don’t know why.
  • Of course, because of our [young] age, due to many reasons, we couldn’t genuinely get into politics.
  • Then later, our school was where a lot happened during the Cultural Revolution.
  • As time went on, a lot of messy, complicated things transpired there.
  • Anyway, though I was only about 15 years old, I had already started to think wow, politics is a really complex thing, even an insidious thing.
  • I had this feeling at the time.
  • Maybe that was why, relatively early, I started to see the Cultural Revolution more clearly, though I cannot say I saw through it completely.
  • Actually, some of the Old Red Guards in Beijing at that time also [felt the way I did.]
  • We were totally indifferent to, say, the Gang of Four or what at that time was called the Central Cultural Revolution Small Group.
  • I guess you could say this was very non-mainstream; [our] thinking in particular was very non-mainstream.
  • However, since at that time, my surrounding environment, and maybe the people around me--
  • Interviewer: What kind of [surrounding] environment?
  • My family [lived] in a military compound. My father was a soldier, an army cadre.
  • Most of the people I hung out with were the same.
  • What we all had in common was that we were all Old Red Guards, and that after October 1966 we despised the Central Cultural Revolution Small Group.
  • Although we did not associate this with the entire Cultural Revolution or with Mao, you can’t logically say they were totally unrelated.
  • If you’re someone who likes to think, you’d [naturally] wonder, what is the Cultural Revolution, after all?
  • So, actually [people] like some of my friends and I began having a very, very non-mainstream view of the Cultural Revolution at the end of 1966 and into 1967 and 1968.
  • Our view was far different from the average person’s viewpoint at the time—that is, far [different from] the propaganda the newspapers printed.
  • Interviewer: Is it because you got involved very early on, and so you were able to understand things clearly very early on?
  • Right, because I got involved early. I don't really want to talk about those specific things.
  • [Early in the Cultural Revolution] it was not so much about the broad political environment—each small political environment developed independently.
  • For example, [our school] was like a political laboratory.
  • In each independently-developing environment, many things were the same.
  • Each had a personality cult, autocratic dictatorship, and factional struggle.
  • Actually, I saw a lot of things like this happening.
  • I had been a junior leader in the Red Guards. Later [my position] went down as our faction fell; I became an ordinary person.
  • At the time I thought, oh, this is what politics is all about. So, very early on, I started becoming a "bystander."
  • Around September 1966, the “[great] networking” started and continued even when it was supposed to be banned.
  • I traveled the whole country, to between 10 and 20 provinces in one year.
  • Although basically it was just for fun, compared to the average person, my views of society were quite different.
  • However, because we could see the cruelty of politics, at the time we really knew how to protect ourselves, and knew what we could or could not say, depending on who we were with.
  • Actually, we talked imprudently among ourselves. I remember we kids talked about the appearances of our leaders. One of my friends said, “Lin Biao looks like a rat.”
  • We’d smack him and say, “You’re a reactionary!” We were just joking and having fun—there was nothing more to it than that.
  • Later on, I joined a production team, and served as both a solider and a worker.
  • I personally felt that during this time, I was able to retain my own ideas and viewpoints to a great degree; of course, you couldn’t go beyond that era.
  • Anyway, it was interesting. There were dozens of people who joined the production team at the same site I did.
  • I remember around 1968 or 1969, our head would assemble us every morning to proclaim our plans for the day; in the evening, we’d give an update on our activities.
  • At the time, this thinking could be seen as rather orthodox. But later, on the day Mao passed away [September 9, 1976], [our head] was in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.
  • When he heard the news broadcast, he was so happy he rolled around on the grass. So in fact, during that decade, many people's thinking changed a lot.
  • To sum up, under normal circumstances, during that decade, I would have gone to high school and university in Beijing.
  • Instead, I changed my registered residence changed three or four times [as I moved].
  • I went out from Beijing and made a big circle before coming back. As for occupation, I was a worker, a peasant [farmer], and a soldier.
  • Interviewer: Worker-peasant-soldier: you experienced all three.
  • Right, and had many types of experiences.
  • However, altogether, gains were definitely greater than losses.
  • Personally, I think it was good.
  • Another thing is that, altogether, the way I passed those days was...I can’t quite say it was joyful, but it was at least pleasant.
  • Because at that time, you had both a lack of freedom and an abundance of freedom.
  • Especially in the first two years of the Cultural Revolution: we didn’t have to go to school; we didn’t have to think too much about anything.
  • Of course, I read a lot of books, did a lot of foolish things, and actually had a great time.
  • Later on, after joining a production team and being a soldier and then a worker, [I] was not as free anymore.
  • Sometimes work was really tough, especially during the time in the rural village.
  • However, I didn’t have the kinds of problems the average young person faces [now], such as making choices and having conflicts with parents or society.
  • There was none of that. Generally, I could decide for myself what I wanted to do.
  • So, that was a tragic era.
  • However, for people my age, if you were in a relatively friendly environment, what you experienced would not be terribly tragic in itself, actually.
  • Of course, it also depended on a person's social status. For those a bit older than I was, things were more serious.
  • Therefore, today a lot of people miss the Cultural Revolution, or have some other ways of thinking about it. I think this is related to [one’s social status and environment].
  • Those days were actually quite interesting.
  • We just published a book about joining the production team.
  • I wrote a piece of more than 10,000 words.
  • I wrote about the feeling at the time. There was a really bitter side, but also a really happy, cheerful, or novel side.
  • So, those 10 years must have been very, very different for each individual.
  • Interviewer: Very good. You spoke very well. Thank you for accepting my interview.
  • You’re welcome.