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"One night, the machine gun shot a big section of tile off our roof."

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  • Interviewer: Shall we start [the interview]?
  • Alright, [let’s] get started.
  • Interviewer: OK.
  • I am from Yunnan. When the Cultural Revolution started, I was in high school. At the time, I was around 20, and was a junior in high school.
  • In 1966, we were just about to graduate and were preparing to take the university entrance exam.
  • At that time, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued the May 16 Circular, and the Cultural Revolution formally began.
  • At that time, we had already completed the graduation exam at school and received our diplomas.
  • We were about to get the admission cards to take the university entrance exam. We did the physical examination, and we were ready in every aspect.
  • However, one morning in June, the teacher suddenly gathered everybody together, and announced a decision from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China:
  • all schools in the nation would suspend classes, and the universities would stop admitting new students. The college entrance exam was also cancelled; this was called "suspending classes to make revolution."
  • As soon as this new was announced, it caused a shock among my classmates. Some of my classmates had prepared everything for testing into university.
  • They wanted to go to college, even wanted to study in Beijing or Shanghai. Instantly everything was made difficult. They couldn’t help bursting into tears.
  • As for me, because my family background was not good, going to university was a distant dream, so I was neither sad nor heartbroken. Who cared? It just passed like that.
  • However, after that day, the whole school was in chaos. Students wrote “big-character posters” to accuse and expose teachers.
  • For example, some Chinese language and history teachers had lectured on classical poetry. This became [proof] they’d advocated “feudalism, capitalism, and revisionism.”
  • [The students] accused them and made them confess their guilt. The teachers who were put up on “big-character posters” were too ashamed to raise their heads.
  • A few days later, [some teachers] were rounded up to do manual labor, were sent down to the labor reform team, and were escorted by students. A few students even used leather belts to beat them.
  • Among those people, one was quite strange. He had been a party branch secretary in our school. He was demobilized from the Army and was not well-educated.
  • One day, he saw a big-character poster my classmates had written. It included a poem: “A few flies hum without cease.” Seeing this, he said, “This poem has a flavor of ‘feudalism, capitalism, and revisionism.’
  • It feels like [the writing of] the Three-Family Village [Anti-Party Clique].” The Three-Family Village was several leaders of Beijing's municipal Party committee who were being criticized.
  • Hearing what he said, the student said, “This is a poem written by Chairman Mao. You dare to criticize Chairman Mao? You are a counter-revolutionary!”
  • Immediately, the party branch secretary became a counter-revolutionary and was taken into custody and sent to the labor reform team. The so-called labor reform team was symbolic.
  • It did reform through labor in our school with students overseeing it. [Students would] beat and scold them as they did heavy physical work.
  • One of them was a teacher who taught drawing. He was beaten, too. That teacher was an extremely kind person.
  • One day, I sat down next to him—I never beat people because my family background was not good. He was resting, too. I asked, “What did you do wrong?”
  • He said he had been a propaganda artist in the Kuomintang army. I asked, “What was your military rank?” He said he was a second lieutenant.
  • Because of this, he became a historical counter-revolutionary. [They] banned him from teaching, beat him, and made him do manual labor.
  • Then, there was a female teacher. Her husband had been sentenced as historical counter-revolutionary and imprisoned. She had once said a few sentences defending her husband.
  • Now, she was pulled aside to be struggled against. Her hair was half-shaved in what was called “yin-yang” style. They shaved half of this female teacher’s hair and kept the other half.
  • Then, that teacher was beaten terribly. One day, several male students wanted to go into her dormitory to beat her.
  • There was nothing she could do, so she took off all her clothes and went out naked. Seeing her, the students were scared and ran away. So, she wasn't beaten that night.
  • At that time, people in China observed social rules. It was rare to come across someone not wearing clothes like this.
  • She had no other choice but to do this, because she had been beaten and couldn’t take it.
  • Also, the art teacher I just spoke of was beaten to the point he really couldn’t stand it. There was a pond next to our school. He jumped into it and committed suicide. He had been beaten terribly.
  • Students in our class exposed and struggled against each other. Some students stood up [and said]: “Oh, that student once said something.”
  • For example, a student once read a book saying Stalin was extremely cruel, something like that. It became evidence of guilt.
  • That student was quickly pulled aside and struggled against. They would even pull out a belt and beat their classmates during class time. On top of that, the belt had a large brass buckle.
  • The buckle was typically used to beat the most sensitive areas. The students who beat others were from so-called good family backgrounds, the "five red categories.”
  • Their parents had been in the army, and their belts were the kind worn in the army. It was very cruel. They were in the same class.
  • Some students stood up and exposed their own parents’ reactionary words. For example, a student said, “My father said Chairman Mao was too cruel,” etc.
  • He cried while he kept on: “I need to ‘make a clean break’ with my father, and I won’t recognize him.”
  • However, no matter how good your performance, you still belonged to the "five black categories.” You’d still be struggled against.
  • In our class, there were even some students who—as I just said, the party branch secretary was locked up.
  • The party branch secretaries lost all their power at the time, and a so-called Cultural Revolution Committee was established.
  • There was a student in our class whose schoolwork was always poor, but did well in physical education. We were almost the same height, and we sat in the last row.
  • In class, his work was always done poorly, but he was very good at running and high-jumping.
  • He said his father was a “worker by blood lineage,” so he became the director of our school’s so-called Cultural Revolution Committee.
  • A junior high school student governed teachers for seven years. At that time, all students had to live on campus.
  • During the day, we made revolution, writing “big-character posters,” informing on each other, reading Quotations from Chairman Mao, and so on.
  • At night, we needed to guard the Provincial Party committee. Some rebel factions would attack the Provincial Party committee. We would run over and guard it.
  • I was in poor health at that time. I told this classmate, “My health isn’t good. I really can’t bear staying up late like this every night.”
  • That guy was friendly with me, since we sat on the same bench [in class]. His schoolwork wasn’t good, so during exams he usually cheated by copying my notes.
  • He said, “OK. Go back to sleep. Go rest.” Of all the faculty, staff, and students in our school, I was the only one that went home.
  • After I went home, the struggle at school became severe, but I didn’t care. However, some of the students from a good family background said, “That person ran off.
  • His family belongs to the darker category of the ‘five black categories.’” Because my father was a higher-level officer in the Kuomintang army, I counted as darker among the "black brats."
  • Some classmates said, “[We should] pull him out to struggle against at some point.” I thought if they want to pull me out, they’d pull me out. I knew there was no way to run.
  • [I knew about this] because one of my classmates sneaked out and told me.
  • Later, a few days went by, but they still did not come. They were probably busy making revolution somewhere and forgot about me.
  • Another cruel thing in our class was that suddenly one night, it was said that a board was discovered in our classroom with a reactionary slogan written on it insulting Chairman Mao.
  • Of course, the reactionary slogan was not announced because it disparaged Chairman Mao.
  • Everyone in our class was asked to hand in a handwriting sample. The Public Safety Bureau came to compare our handwriting and take pictures.
  • It took a few days. Suddenly one day, a couple of police officers showed up. At that time, police officers wore white uniforms and drove Jeeps.
  • They held a meeting in our school’s auditorium and said, “Now we have uncovered a counter-revolutionary case, a vicious attack on Chairman Mao, writing reactionary slogans.”
  • They suddenly announced that a student from our class surnamed Yang had written it. They took out and read an arrest order. They said, "Bring him up!"
  • It had already been set up. Two students from the "five red categories" were standing beside him. They immediately twisted his hands and escorted him to the stage.
  • The police officers handcuffed him. Some students picked up ink bottles and used them to beat him.
  • I saw an ink bottle struck on a police officer’s body – a stream of black ink. The police officer’s uniform was white. [My classmate] was escorted away in the Jeep.
  • I went back home. After a few days, I heard that [my classmate] was sentenced to jail for several years, but he never confessed.
  • Finally, during the latter period of the Cultural Revolution, several classmates helped him search for information and find people [who could help his case].
  • Later, it was said that the evidence was not sufficient and he was released. He had already spent quite a few years in a real jail, locked away.
  • Do you remember, in Kunming there used to be a department store with a large stage on the second floor? There, people held a grand rehabilitation meeting for him and announced that he was rehabilitated.
  • Our classmate who was the director of the Cultural Revolution Committee offended a lot people. He beat teachers and struggled against classmates.
  • Later, those students started to beat him, and they asked me to join them because he lived near us. I said, “If you beat him, I can totally understand. He really crossed the line when he hurt you.
  • However, he and I have a good personal relationship." I said, “When I told him I was in poor health, he let me go home and rest. Otherwise, I would definitely have been beaten and struggled against at school.
  • I cannot go with you. If you want to beat him, then go, but I won’t go [with you].” However, they did not find him. This guy was quite something.
  • He became the director of the Cultural Revolution Committee and developed a very good relationship with some people in the army. He heard the rumors and ran away.
  • In the end, he used his relationship [with people in the army] to join up. He joined the army and took off. Moreover, once he put on the army uniform, no one would dare beat him.
  • At the time, the Liberation army was the best. No one dared beat him with that uniform. He escaped. However, up until now, students in our class have forever been divided.
  • It’s not like in the past, when old classmates could have fun together at their school reunions.
  • Our class was split into several factions: the ones who beat, the ones who were beaten, the ones who exposed, and the ones who struggled against others.
  • If you beat someone, you might have forgotten about it. But the one who was beaten wouldn’t forget it for years. You insulted them, humiliated them.
  • Being divided even now, it is truly difficult for everyone to get together for a reunion. This is our situation.
  • Another thing is, at that time we lived on Changchun Road. At the top is Wuhua Mountain. There were violent struggles [there] later.
  • The “Pao” faction was on the top of Wuhua Mountain, and the “Ba” faction was at the foot, next to the department store. At night, the two factions would scream at each other through megaphones.
  • The [faction] on the mountaintop would sing Chairman Mao’s [songs] “Below the Hills Fly our Flags and Banners” and “Steadfastly We Stand Our Ground.”
  • The [faction] down below would sing “Sunflowers Turn Toward the Sun.” At night, the two sides shot at each other.
  • We lived at the intersection of Changchun Road and Zhengyi Road. One day, we saw a person shot to death there. That person's brains blew out onto the street.
  • Also, at the time, there was something really irritating. I slept on the bed with one of my older brothers. One night, the machine gun shot a big section of tile off our roof.
  • We stayed in bed and stared at the sky, but we did not dare climb up to fix it. If you went up, and there was a gunshot from Wuhua Mountain, you’d be doomed. So we didn’t dare go up to fix it.
  • When it rained, we could only grab a basin and use it to catch the drops. You see how it was. Later, after a few months, the central [government] asked us to hand in our guns.
  • The guns were handed in, and there were no more shooting. Only then did we dare climb up to fix our house.
  • There was another thing. At that time, our home didn’t have a private toilet. We had to use the public ones.
  • Our public toilet happened to be right on that corner. My brother and I were going there once, when my aunt stopped us and said, “Don’t go. It’s too dangerous.”
  • We said we couldn’t keep going at home every day, since it didn’t smell good. Our house was small and smelly. So we went out.
  • We went out two or three times before some little twerp from the rebel faction shoved a pistol, the 20-bullet kind, against my back.
  • “Hands up!” [he yelled]. “What are you up to?” I answered, “I’m going to the toilet.” “What’s your work unit?” he asked. I said, “XXX Middle School.”
  • “Which faction?” he asked. “Neither.” Then he said, “Leave.” He jabbed the gun against me two or three times! So, at the time, things were really chaotic.
  • Later, the factories were closed and the workers did not work. There was no choice. At that time, rice was rationed. You have to buy it with your grain purchasing certificate.
  • Later, things were too disordered. The grain shop would notify which morning it would be open for a few short hours.
  • People working in the grain shop were afraid [of the chaos], too. They’d only come to work for a few hours. The next day [after the notification], people would line up to buy [rice].
  • What you got was neither rice nor flour. What they gave you was the raw wheat, and you had to find a place to grind it yourself.
  • They said, “We can’t process it. The factories are not open. The workers are not working.” Also, our ration was 30 jin [~35 pounds].
  • When we were in middle school, it was 32 jin for boys. Only about half of the ration was rice. The rest was a weird mix of corn, wheat, beans and other kind of grains.
  • How could I eat wheat? I had no choice. I had to find a bike to carry the wheat and go to the village in the suburbs to find peasants who had a place to grind it.
  • I went there to grind it on my own, and brought the flour back. I did not even dare throw the wheat bran away.
  • I took it back as well and fed it to the chickens at home, who would lay a few eggs. At that time, there were generally no eggs or meat.
  • It was really awful. We did have a little oil. This mess continued for several years. Later, there was going "down to the countryside."
  • Chairman Mao described it as “Educated Youth should go ‘up to the mountains and go down to the countryside.’” It was all of a sudden.
  • [Among] those people, who was willing to go? [Nobody.] They thought if they went down, they would never be able to come back, would become peasants.
  • Later, I did not want to go, either. A lot of people in our school didn’t want to go. There was only one excuse—illness. They would pretend to be sick and say, "My health is not good."
  • At that time, the old party branch at school was gone, and the Cultural Revolution Committee that had been set up by students was abolished, too.
  • They sent some workers propaganda teams, some workers, to govern the students. At that time, the working class was the greatest of all, said Chairman Mao.
  • The workers propaganda team was from a factory next to our school. There were too many people who applied [for the exemption from going “up to the mountains and down to the countryside”].
  • [The supervisor] told us to stand in line, and said he’d notify us when we should go in together. He supervised everyone to go to the hospital for a blood test to see if they were really sick.
  • Because I had been unwell before, at the time there was an issue with my blood. My nose bled easily. Everyone in the school knew about it. All of our classmates knew.
  • I was the tallest at school. Almost all of the teachers could recognize me. All the classmates knew my situation.
  • The workers propaganda team came and sent me to do the blood test. It turned out that I did in fact have a blood disease. [The supervisor] had nothing to say.
  • OK. If you were permitted to stay behind because of illness, how could they make sure of it? The ration for students was special, 32 jin.
  • The ration for the workers was 35 jin and it was 25 jin for the common citizen. Only middle school students were special. Boys could get 32 jin and girls could get 28 jin.
  • They announced a policy. All students had to bring a certificate of approval [from the school] to buy rice each month, to prove that the school had permitted you to stay behind.
  • Without that piece of paper, you could not buy rice. At that time, if you did not have a rice or grain purchasing certificate, you could not get food, even if you had money in hand.
  • Unless you wanted to starve to death, [the policy] was to forcing you to go [“down to the countryside”].
  • A lot of people were going “down to the countryside.” At that time, the train line from Kunming to Chuxiong had just been completed.
  • Some people took the train to Chuxiong. Because the train only went as far as Chuxiong, some went to the countryside directly by car.
  • We students all went down to the five outer counties next to the frontier. It took us several days to get there.
  • One day, several cars carrying students arrived at Xi Mountain and were about to make a turn. When they rounded the curve, everyone lost sight of Dian Lake, and they burst into tears.
  • They cried so loudly that the drivers didn’t dare keep driving and stopped. His co-workers asked him why he had stopped driving.
  • He said, “It was too scary. They cried too badly. My hands started shaking. What if I didn't drive well and we went off the cliff?"
  • They had to drive back and try again on the second day. So, people were forcing you to go, whether you were willing or not.
  • Moreover, those who’d had conflicts at class or in school were still fighting and struggling against each other after they went down [to the countryside].
  • Everyone was alienated, just like enemies. Later in 1977 and 1978, people in our class were able to take the college entrance exam again.
  • Probably no more than five people passed the exam. There were almost 60 students in our class.
  • Most people stopped studying after the Cultural Revolution and became workers. Some worked in little industries on the street for a living, just whatever they could do.
  • Now, a few have a very low pension and they are in poor health, too. It’s really sad. This generation was totally ruined.
  • Later, people said that when our generation should have been studying, we couldn’t study, and instead [met with] the Cultural Revolution, then went “up to the mountains and down to the countryside.”
  • When they came back, they were all in their 30s and finally got married.
  • When they finally had their own children, they were suddenly only permitted to have one instead of two. They really met with every movement.
  • At that time, the salaries were low and life was terrible. A lot of people [lived] just like that.
  • However, some people are strange. There’s a classmate who still really misses those days.
  • He was beaten back then. But later, he optimistically joined the Party and became a cadre. He thinks it’s pretty good. His father was executed by firing squad.
  • Once I met up with him. I said, “You are in [the Party] now?” He said yes. He became union chairman in a little local factory, and he was enjoying himself.
  • What I think is, his monthly pension is really low. So, people’s opinions vary now.
  • Some classmates have said they think our generation was totally ruined by the Cultural Revolution. They could hardly accept it.
  • Also, classmates tortured each other. It's really bad. ”Now I realized that Chinese intellectuals’ knowledge was very limited.
  • For example, the teachers in our school struggled against each other. A lot of people in college were doing the same at the time.
  • However, when we went to the factory later, [I realized that] the factory workers were quite smart.
  • When we went to the factory, a “worker by blood lineage” in the revolutionary committee who worked in the munitions factory came and spoke to us:
  • “Students, since you came here, I have two sentences for you. One, to hurt others is to hurt yourself. What you do will come back to you.
  • Two, skill is like a Chinese pear-leaved crabapple: the older, the redder; politics is like an onion; the older, the emptier.
  • Hearing these words, I thought this was truly the philosophy of life. He spoke much better than our teachers. He really saw [life] clearly.
  • Later I realized that those old workers in the factory were really something. Although they were not well educated, they were good at observing people.
  • When we became more familiar, they really spoke the truth. Because most of them had been farmers, they told us about struggling against landlords.
  • Those landlords were actually amazing. They bore hardship, and they knew how to farm and farmed well, so they made a bit of money.
  • At that time, most of the poor and lower-middle peasants were rogues. They squandered their money, and some of them didn’t even farm. They were bums, going everywhere trying to find something to eat.
  • In an instant, they became poor and lower-middle peasants and went to struggle against others. After that, they would rob people.
  • Those [in the factory] who said these things were all poor and lower-middle peasants. But even they hated to see the behavior of beating people, beating landlords and other stuff.
  • “That was ridiculous,” they said. That was pretty much what they said to us. OK. That is all.
  • Interviewer: Very good, very good. Thank you.