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"When [someone] hit me as a kid, it seemed like that person ought to hit me; it seemed like he was just in the position to hit me."

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  • Interviewer: Hello! Thank you for accepting my interview.
  • Hello.
  • Interviewer: First, could you please tell me when you were born, such as "1930s," "1940s," "1950s"?
  • I was born in the '50s.
  • Interviewer: 1950s. Then, could you tell me where you lived in China from 1966 to 1976?
  • From 1966 to 1976 I migrated from the south to the north. So, you could say my geographical location expanded across more than 3,000 kilometers.
  • Interviewer: Could you tell me, how far south? How far north?
  • In the north, I started from Beijing. Trains at that time were really slow.
  • In the south, [I went as far as] Guiyang, Guizhou Province.
  • In between, you had to switch trains; back then, there was no direct route.
  • It must have taken three days and two nights.
  • Interviewer: Based on your age, you must have extensive memories of that time.
  • Interviewer: Even given several days and nights, you might not be able to talk about everything.
  • Interviewer: If I only give you about 10 minutes, what would you think of first?
  • Interviewer: What are the deepest memories, or the things you'd most like to share with us? Could you relate them to us?
  • Looking at it all from today, memories of that time seem far away.
  • But at that stage of life, I could commit some things to memory.
  • Of course, some things I could remember, and others I couldn't.
  • In general, later memories are clearer, while earlier ones are hazier.
  • However, my hazy [memories] might be a bit clearer than most people's memories [at that age].
  • Why is that? Because I was faced with leaving Beijing.
  • I was born in Beijing. I grew up in Beijing. I lived there until I was almost 10 years old.
  • That was a serious issue in my family. The reason for it was manmade: in 1958, my father was sent to Guizhou for a very particular reason.
  • It was not because he was any ordinary counter-revolutionary, or an everyday rightist -- nothing like that.
  • It was something very unique.
  • My family looked at the mess of the Cultural Revolution, and [thought], even if it's a mess, having the family be all together makes it a little better.
  • So, we pulled up stakes and went to Guizhou.
  • When we got to Guizhou, we [children] were still pretty young.
  • Things that [other people] wouldn't usually remember at that age left an impression on us, since the environment was so much different.
  • In Beijing, we had lived in a traditional courtyard home, which was a dormitory for a central government agency [where my parents worked].
  • We were had already gotten accustomed to the space, the facilities, and the neighborhood.
  • In Guizhou, our whole family was crammed into a 12 square meter house. There was no kitchen or bathroom -- nothing.
  • Not to mention other things -- items we'd brought from Beijing wouldn't fit into that little place.
  • For us kids, the outside environment also changed, due to the Cultural Revolution chaos.
  • Our parents no longer let us run around outside, which was almost impossible for us. We ran around anyway.
  • At that time, it was rare to see my dad. I had gone so many years without seeing him, thinking that finally, after all that time, we could be together.
  • But soon, we followed him to one place, then all of a sudden, he was sent to prison.
  • So, during my childhood, I had little contact with my father.
  • For this reason, [we] didn’t dare even go out the door. As soon as we went out, anyone could beat you.
  • I was just a ten-year-old kid, and I had to protect my eight-year-old sister.
  • This was unreasonable. So, we just never went out.
  • As for external circumstances, well, as kids it seems like our habits were more like those of elderly people, such as how we tried to avoid trouble at all costs.
  • In principle, kids shouldn't think like this. Still, this was the kind of atmosphere we grew up in.
  • Later, schools "suspended classes [to make revolution]".
  • So, if you ask me about my real education level before I went to university -- well, other people could fill in "high school," "junior high" --
  • but as for me, based on the time period, I could fill in "junior high school," since they would not allow me to go to high school.
  • People with problems in their families could not go to high school.
  • Actually, my education level is a third-grade education level, since classes were suspended after I attended third grade.
  • In junior high school, no one taught class; [instead, they just read] a copy of
    Quotations from Chairman Mao
    .
  • I wasn't too familiar with the kids in my class, since I was put into the school's propaganda team, sent to play huqin and sing Peking opera.
  • My memories and my classmates' memories of junior high at that time are totally different, as if they happened in two different worlds at the same time.
  • That period of going to Guizhou and growing up feels a bit foggy.
  • I was numb to everything in a way that [someone] of that age ought not to be.
  • It was only when I got back to our home that I felt at ease.
  • When we went out, we didn't have a strong feeling of being oppressed or persecuted, since we were young.
  • But when the environment changed like that, we didn't ask why; as a result, it seemed as if it ought to be that way.
  • So, what [habits] did this instill in me? One is that I don't go to places where there are a lot of people.
  • This preference has persisted up until today. I don't want to go to busy places.
  • Another is that it’s hard for me to hate people. I think it's strange.
  • I've read and looked at so much "scar literature" and "scar art," this and that, class struggle, etc. -- I think that kind of description of hate is somewhat affected.
  • Today, when I see those people who hit me as a kid, it seems like I can't hate them.
  • When [someone] hit me as a kid, it seemed like that person ought to hit me; it seemed like he was just in the position to hit me.
  • As for me, if I was worried about provoking someone, I just hid. I felt I ought to hide.
  • So I'd hide in a place where I wouldn't have to run into other people.
  • Interviewer: How did this come about?
  • That's just how I was as a kid.
  • Sometimes I talk about this with my wife, and she says, "You remember everything from childhood. You hated a classmate when you were eight years old-- do you still hate him today?"
  • I say I feel numb about this.
  • That's what it's like. This [feeling] influenced a lot of things in my life later.
  • For example, whether or not I should join the Communist Youth League -- I hadn't been a Red Guard or anything else.
  • Should I join the Communist Youth League?
  • My first reaction was that I shouldn't join this thing, since I didn't know what would happen if I did.
  • I didn't join the Red Guards. In elementary school, [when other people] were given red scarves [to join the Young Pioneers], I never was -- at that time the Cultural Revolution hadn't yet begun in Beijing.
  • I didn't wear the red scarf until later, [when] each person was given one.
  • So I was really insensitive to politics, and to the honor afforded by politics.
  • I didn't [join] the Red Guards or the army, which were both popular at the time.
  • I didn't pay much attention to that.
  • There were good and bad side effects to this numbness.
  • For example, I had to stay at home and wouldn’t go out.
  • At an [age] when I shouldn’t be reading old books, since my family had a lot of classic books at home, I started reading those tedious old things.
  • I was 14 at the time. I didn't want to read them -- what relevance did they have for me?
  • But there weren't any other books at home. Those books became like a symbol, something I knew very well.
  • What's more, they were [part of] Chinese culture. At the time, I didn't have a deep understanding [of Chinese culture].
  • I read whatever I could get my hands on, skipping over characters I didn't know. I was forced to start reading like this.
  • This lasted until the Red Guards came and burned all of our old books.
  • When houses started being searched to confiscate possessions – everything people have written in books about those kinds of things [happened].
  • Interviewer: This all happened in Guiyang?
  • Yes, it was in Guiyang.
  • For example, people came to search houses and confiscate possessions, and I was still numb -- go ahead and search -- we just watched them turn over everything in our whole place.
  • I remember quite clearly, a female [soldier] sat on our table.
  • Other people were searching, but she wasn't busy with them.
  • She just took some hair clips my mom had just bought, and pinned the whole strip of them to her head, one by one.
  • And then [she] went off to do something else.
  • I don't have a lot of resentment about these incidents.
  • [I didn't think,] why did [the female soldier] take our stuff? Weren't those our things?
  • At the time, I was numb to this degree.
  • I had a replica Mauser pistol, and in the blink of an eye, one of the male Red Guards had clipped it to his waist to take away with him.
  • And so on and so forth, such things happened in our house…
  • When I got a few years older, I started visiting [my father in] prison.
  • This situation left me feeling awkward, since the detention center wasn't too far [from home]; it was just off the main road.
  • Every month, my little sister or I would go with our mother to take some things there.
  • We took simple things: snacks, handkerchiefs, toothbrushes, soap, sometimes toothpaste, and other everyday items.
  • We'd watch as the soap was sliced into smaller pieces, to see if there was anything hidden inside of it.
  • Snacks were broken into pieces [to be checked]. It was a stupid ritual.
  • After the ritual was completed, the way these things were processed gave me the creeps.
  • The pieces of the soap, what was left of the snacks, the handkerchief, the clothing --
  • --since the check was done in a cardboard box, after it was finished, the box was dumped out into a paper bag that had a number written on it.
  • All these little bits of things were dumped in and sealed up.
  • We'd sign for it and then we could leave.
  • We did this same thing once every month.
  • I was afraid my classmates would see me. My little sister was afraid of this, too. She was a bit older by then.
  • Later, neither of us was willing to go to the prison with our mom.
  • We were growing up in this semi-underground family situation. At school, we didn't really study anything.
  • Compared to me, my little sister is a little more opinionated, but she also developed similar habits [to mine].
  • Her feelings of love and hate are stronger than mine. But at the same time, she developed a conservative way of looking at things.
  • For example, she graduated from high school.
  • When [she] graduated from high school, [she] ought to have gone to university, but she said she didn't want to go,
  • since she figured the political scene at university would be even more treacherous.
  • She said, "I don't want to go to university," and she stuck by that.
  • She had graduated from an excellent high school, but she wasted the opportunity to go to university.
  • The Cultural Revolution [lasted] from the time [I was] small, up until the early ‘70s, right?
  • During that time, I couldn't go to high school, and I started working quite early.
  • First [I worked in] Hunan, then Guizhou, on a surveying team, as a laborer, this and that. That's how I spent my youth.
  • Interviewer: Very good. [The interview] was quite detailed.
  • These are just some things floating around in my mind.
  • If you have me speak honestly, those things don't seem that realistic.
  • They don't seem real, because today our lifestyle is very genuine.
  • Thinking about those things makes them seem even to drift away even more.
  • But [we] floated here from among those fleeting things. So, I think those memories are incredibly precious.
  • I don't avoid the pain of those memories. Today you say, that was painful.
  • What I think is more prevalent is that people have defined [those experiences] as painful.
  • Everyone [lived] like that; for example, I was [working] in a factory at the time.
  • Everyone says the culture of a factory is so poor, so depressing, but I don't feel that way.
  • [In] a factory with over 3,000 people, if everyone feels depressed, that feeling just dissipates.
  • Also, no one draws a comparison with you -- would you give me a non-depressed [person] to look at?
  • Over 3,000 people, men and women, and everyone has the same lifestyle.
  • If you should do something, you do it; if you should sleep or eat, you sleep or eat, and go to work.
  • From today's point of view, the typical friendships [among factory workers] were really "brotherly."
  • Today your family's building a house; tomorrow their family needs coal, and [friends from the factory] all go to lend a hand.
  • Help is given without any ulterior motive, other than to share a meal when it's finished.
  • [At that time] there was nothing to eat or drink, but could you still say [factory workers] were actually depressed?
  • So, later there were some [works] that were much too literary, too artistic.
  • I myself studied art, but I think [such works] are pretentious and affected.
  • Interviewer: Do you think your own Cultural Revolution experience had an influence on your creative work?
  • Yes, it did. You could see this influence as good or bad.
  • As for my artistic sense, [my experiences] caused me to create work far removed from politics, far removed from those big works focused on politics.
  • Interviewer: To get away from all that.
  • Right. I don't often pay attention to others' [artwork], and my own [artwork] doesn't get into [politics].
  • [Those experiences] shaped my artistic sense. It's as if it slowly emerged from some concealed things, things from growing up.
  • When you want to draw out something to give your artwork your own signature, you must make those floating things concrete.
  • Once you concretize such things, they appear; can you still put them in your artwork?
  • My experience caused me to move away from reality.
  • However, it's still there, but I can't express it. Once I express it, I give it a symbol, something related to society and politics.
  • So my artwork… Some people say, for a writer to do well, or for anyone to do well, he/she must experience life, and must express those experiences.
  • But as for my life, I don't need experience; it's just mine, and I don't like expressing it.
  • I want to put it somewhere far away from the present. Since it has a floating spirit, close it up in some space where it can float.
  • [My experience] can just be in my memory. I'm not willing to impose it on others, to say, “Look how I suffered…”
  • So, to be honest, I haven't read that many "scar novels," even though I really like reading novels.
  • I don't read "scar literature," and I think it's all the same: you suffered; I suffered; he suffered.
  • Does it have to be so affected? This is my personal viewpoint.
  • Interviewer: Very good. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and feelings; they're very unique.
  • Interviewer: I don't understand, yet at the same time it enables me to think about why you have these feelings.
  • Yes, because each person is different.
  • Interviewer: Right, really different.
  • Each person's contribution is like another small piece...
  • Interviewer: Right. This difference is inherently valuable.
  • …And then you could use it to create a… system.
  • Interviewer: Right, you’ve made a contribution, contributed a truly distinct set of memories. Thanks so much.
  • You're welcome, and thank you.