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"My son's generation can't grasp any of this."

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  • Interviewer: Thank you for accepting my interview.
  • First, could you please tell me the decade of your birth? You don't have to say the exact year; just "'30s," "'40s,""'50s" will do...
  • I was born in the 1950s in Shanghai, and grew up there, in the southwestern part.
  • It was the area where Shanghai's culture and administration is concentrated; relatively speaking, it was a fairly nice and stable area.
  • After the Cultural Revolution started, the situation quickly changed. The lane where we lived was lined with Spanish-style houses; there were six houses altogether.
  • [Before Liberation], six wealthy people had lived in those six houses; to put it in Cultural Revolution terms, they were all capitalists.
  • After Liberation, [numbers] 1, 3, and 5 were taken over by the officials, and became officials' dormitories.
  • [Numbers] 2, 4, and 6 were still occupied by capitalists. So, during the Cultural Revolution, this strange phenomenon occurred.
  • After the Cultural Revolution started, the capitalists in [numbers] 2, 4, and 6 began having bad luck.
  • [They were classified among] "landlords, rich farmers, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements, and rightists," you know.
  • They were impacted first. Their houses were searched to confiscate their possessions, and they were struggled against.
  • [Incriminating] things were indeed discovered [in their homes].
  • A kid was climbing on a fence, and he saw the old man in number 2 burying something.
  • That child was about 10 years old, and didn't really understand what was going on.
  • When people came to search the house, that kid just said so-and-so had been burying stuff.
  • In the end, a stack of gold ingots, paper bills—
  • Interviewer: Really?
  • Yes. Land deeds, and real estate contracts were dug up, and [the man] was struggled against.
  • Six months later, that so-called capitalist head of the household died not from illness, but from the anger [stress].
  • Of course, for them it was hard to bear. However, to children like us at that time, we were just watching the action. At the time, we lived in the officials' dormitory.
  • Later, as the Cultural Revolution moved forward, [its development] was not right.
  • The so-called "capitalist-roaders" within officialdom met with misfortune, as did intellectuals.
  • The houses at [numbers] 1, 3, and 5 were searched in order for possessions to be confiscated, and those families were struggled against.
  • "Big-character posters" were were also hung up.
  • Among the six families, there were no "good people."
  • Some were rich landlords or capitalists; others were "capitalist-roaders" or "the stinking old ninth" [intellectuals].
  • Anyway, it was these people.
  • I remember clearly the year the Cultural Revolution started [1966], because I was in the fifth grade.
  • Since the school [I went to] used a 10-year system, [I] graduated elementary school after that [fifth grade] year.
  • Right after that came "suspending classes to make revolution."
  • The Shanghai Municipal Party Committee was not far from my home or my school,
  • so when the Committee was under attack, [when people] were throwing bricks and factions were fighting, [everyone] saw it.
  • All we kids did was play. Our parents all went to cadre school. Not long after this, I started middle school.
  • My older brother and sister went to Heilongjiang to join a production team.
  • There was an impact, but for us regular intellectual families the impact was not that large.
  • But in our environment, nearly every family had someone in it who felt some kind of impact.
  • So, you can say [the Cultural Revolution] had its good and bad: every family had complaints, but after everyone was impacted, still not many people were killed.
  • For example, the man at number 2 died from anger, but he was already pretty old. Of course his family was unhappy after he died from the stress.
  • But in general, since everyone was in poor circumstances, we didn't differentiate ourselves [in our thinking].
  • Interviewer: [You] felt everyone was the same.
  • We didn't think we were especially tragic. Because, in fact, no one [among us] had the bad luck of someone like [Chinese novelist] Lao She.
  • The bureau chiefs at [numbers] 1, 3, and 5 were struggled against somewhat harshly.
  • One was the marine bureau chief; one was the light industry bureau chief; I forget the other one. They were struggled against quite fiercely.
  • But everyone was struggled against; that's how it was. After being struggled against, they went to May 7 cadre school, and were released after several years.
  • Altogether, my feeling is that [the Cultural Revolution] hurt many people, but for regular people, the feeling was not that deep.
  • Personally speaking, it was a waste of several years; I didn't really go to middle school, and fifth grade didn’t really count.
  • And right after that I went to "do field study on farms and in factories." Then, I was assigned to work.
  • What left the deepest impression on me from the Cultural Revolution was something with which I can make an important comparison to my children's generation.
  • During the Cultural Revolution, because of “up to the mountains and down to the countryside," though I didn't join a production team,
  • I studied farm work for over six months. I ate, lived and worked side-by-side with the peasants.
  • I also experienced famine.
  • I know what it's like not having enough to eat, not having filling foods like meat and oil.
  • I've been a worker and an apprentice. I saved my pennies to work on semiconductors and make model planes.
  • I know what it's like to go through hardships. But my son's generation can't grasp any of this.
  • I think the Cultural Revolution's [greatest influence on people my age] wasn't from attacks or factional fighting.
  • Rather, its greatest influence on me was that I didn't have a job; of the three kids in my family, the other two went "up to the mountains and down to the countryside," to a rural village.
  • I went to a rural village, too, but the work I was assigned to was in a factory in Shanghai.
  • I have the deepest impression from this practical experience in society. It had the greatest influence on my life.
  • Interviewer: Is your meaning that its influence on you, personally, was more positive?
  • Yes, it was more positive. It help me [understand] the difficulties in life, and gave me ambition.
  • For example, we make money, but we are not like today's kids.
  • My son's generation doesn't understand how to endure difficulty, doesn't understand that labor is important.
  • Among that generation, people just want to live well without doing any work. [They] have money to spend.
  • When I went abroad in the 1980s, it was when China was most poor.
  • Chinese people didn't get any respect in the west. The police called me "Chinaman."
  • I had gone abroad as a visiting scholar. Since Chinese people were poor, there were many who "hopped a plane."
  • People from Hong Kong said to "hop a plane" meant to arrive in another country as an illegal immigrant;
  • to
    disappear
    [消失] and work illegally. You might get off the plane and never been seen again. Chinese people were like that at the time.
  • Why? It was to escape from poverty; at that time, the salaries in western societies were 10 or more times greater [than salaries in China].
  • Our salaries were 10 times lower than theirs. How could you get along? Of course life was tough.
  • So, though people of my generation experienced great hardship for years, I think [this experience] helped our lives a lot later on -- and we also did our own hard work.
  • After working hard and succeeding, you couldn't [live] like the prodigal son or a rich playboy.
  • Even if you were one of those who had relatively good qualifications during the Cultural Revolution, such as Hu Shuli or Miao Ning, you wouldn't [behave] like some people today,
  • like in Guo Jingming's
    Tiny Times
    novels, which describe an extravagant lifestyle, which is totally self-involved, and really meaningless.
  • Interviewer: Under what circumstances have you spoken about the Cultural Revolution with your son?
  • They usually don't like to hear about this. I rarely get an opportunity to talk about it.
  • My son is actually not bad, since he’s an engineering student who knows about working hard to make money.
  • But still, most people in their generation don't like to listen to this.
  • It's just like us [when we were young].
  • It was so annoying to hear how the past was miserable, and we hated being made to eat a poor meal to recall past bitterness.
  • Interviewer: So when you talk about the Cultural Revolution, it's from the perspective of how our generation went through such hardships?
  • Actually, I don't speak too much about painful things. I want them to have a relatively correct outlook on life.
  • My son has been quite successful, receiving a Ph.D. and becoming a university professor in England.
  • He's gotten married and has children; he's bought a house in England -- material life is pretty good!
  • But he can't experience our life at the time, and it would be hard for him to deeply experience some of the valuable things in life,
  • including going to the countryside, or experiencing hardship or hunger.
  • Once you experienced this, you had a different view of how valuable certain things are. [Today's young people] are too fortune.
  • Interviewer: So from this point of view, do you affirm the value of your experience during the Cultural Revolution?
  • I'm not affirming the experience. People of our age didn't get overly involved. I became a Little Red Guard and a Red Guard.
  • That time during which I was a Little Red Guard was a bit of a mess.
  • Later, after I became a Red Guard, [things] proceeded on a so-called normal track.
  • At that time, the area of Shanghai I was in was [controlled by] the Gang of Four; this was an advantage, [because] there was no more factional fighting.
  • After the Gang of Four defeated a faction in a Shanghai diesel engine factory, no one could compete with them.
  • When [Shanghai] was controlled by a faction, although they were extremely leftist, relatively speaking, [that period] was pretty stable, compared to the rest of China.
  • Other places still had factional fighting, still had nothing to eat. Although Shanghai had rationing, material goods were in full supply.
  • So, with ration tickets, you could get anything.
  • It was relatively stable. My parents were never around, having gone to May 7 cadre school. My older brother and sister went to the Northeast.
  • I went to work in a factory. The years went by quickly, but I didn't think it was difficult. I saved money, made model planes, and was quite happy.
  • I have a good ability to work with my hands. I think that in today's [educational environment], children's ability to work with their hands is pretty poor.
  • Back then, we could do everything ourselves. In general, [our] lifestyle wasn't really affected.
  • Although a lot of study time was wasted, we received a lot of benefits, [things] that helped our entire lives, even if they were fun or enjoyable.
  • But my parents' generation was more miserable, since they experienced even more hardships.
  • Interviewer: Thank you.
  • That's what kind of generation it was – based on my age, that's how I feel about it.
  • Interviewer: Thank you for accepting my interview.
  • Thanks.