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The Cultural Revolution, 50 years on 文革50

It was the worst of times


China is still in denial about its “spiritual holocaust” 中国仍然否认这场“灵魂的浩劫”

May 14th 2016 | BEIJING | From the print edition

IN FEBRUARY 1970 a 16-year-old boy,Zhang Hongbing, denounced his mother to an army officer in his village in Anhui province, in eastern China. He slipped a note under the officer’s door accusing her of criticising the Cultural Revolution and its leader, Mao Zedong. She was bound, publicly beaten and executed. Decades later Mr Zhang began writing a blog about the tragedy, seeking to clear his mother’s name and to explain how her death happened. “I want to make people in China think,” he wrote in April.“How could there be such a horrifying tragedy of…a son sending his mother to execution? And how can we prevent it from happening again?” Mr Zhang suffers recurrent nightmares about his mother. So does China about the Cultural Revolution.


What documents at the time called“the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolutionary bugle to advance” first sounded50 years ago, on May 16th 1966, when Mao approved a secret circular declaring war on “representatives of the bourgeoisie” who had “sneaked into the Communist Party, the government, the army and various spheres of culture”. Just over a year later Mao wrote to his wife, Jiang Qing, that he wanted to create “great disorder under heaven” so as to achieve “greater order under heaven”.

当时也就是1966 年5月16号,所发的文件都声称“伟大的无产阶级文化大革命吹响了前进的号角”50年前第一次响了起来。毛当时下达了一份文件,宣称要向那些混入党内,政 府以及军队和文化各层面中的资产阶级分子们宣战。一年以后,毛在写给江青的信中说他想让“天下大乱”目的就是为了让“天下更加太平。”

He achieved only the first. Between May 1966 and Mao’s death in 1976, which in effect ended the Cultural Revolution, over 1m died, millions more were banished from urban homes to the countryside and tens of millions were humiliated or tortured. The Communist Party does not want any public commemoration of those horrors. Though it has called the Cultural Revolution a “catastrophe”, it fears that too much scrutiny might call into question the party’s fitness to rule. But debate about it still rages on the internet in China, and even occasionally surfaces in mainstream publications.

毛是唯一取得成就的第一人。1966 年5月到1976毛死去期间也正是文化大革命的真正结束,差不多有1百万人被折磨致死,数百万人被从城市赶到了农村,还有上千万人受到侮辱和折磨。尽管中共也已经把文化大革命称为一场“浩劫”,但却不想有任何公开纪念这些恐怖浩劫的内容出现。因为害怕太多细节曝光会让人们对党的政策产生质疑。可在当今的中 国有关这场浩劫却仍然在网上争论得热火朝天,甚至偶尔你还会在官煤的主流报刊上看到。

Its wounds are still raw. On May 2ndthe Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square held a gala concert featuring“red songs” of the period, triggering uproar on social media. Xi Jinping,China’s president, was himself a victim. Yet his seeming fondness for Mao, his contempt for Western liberal thinking and his ruthless campaigns against political enemies cause some to see parallels between China today and that of Mao’s later year. Like an unexorcised demon,the Cultural Revolution still torments China.

它带给人们的创伤依然是痛苦的。5 月2日在位于天安门广场上的人民大会堂内举行了一场表现那个时期的“红歌会”,引发了社会媒体的骚动。中国国家主席习近平本人就是一个受害者。然而他却在讨好毛,他是想在引进西方自由思想的同时去无情地对付他的政治仇敌,让人们看到如今的中国和毛晚年时期的中国协调产生某种平衡。就像被驱除的一个恶魔一 样。文革仍然折磨着中国。

To most outsiders, the period was one of those episodes of unreason that can afflict a great nation, comparable,say, to France’s reign of terror in 1793, though that nightmare lasted only ten months and claimed fewer lives. The Cultural Revolution involved three years of mob violence and an entire decade of terror (or more—even in 1978, two years after Mao’s death, the Cultural Revolution was officially described as having been “triumphant”).


It was a time of ignorance and folly. “They beat her to death with their clubs,” wrote a student about his teacher. “It was immensely satisfying.” Schools and universities closed for months or years on end. When it reopened, Beijing Middle School Number 23 was held up as a model for devoting many hours to Mao Zedong Thought and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and for dedicating “a very limited amount of time…to general cultural knowledge (for example, Chinese, mathematics and foreign languages).”


The struggle of memory

It was a time of devastation. The demolition of ancient monuments by Islamic State in the Syrian city of Palmyra was an echo of what happened in Qufu, Confucius’s birthplace in eastern China,in 1966. Groups of Red Guards (Maoist youth gangs) took over the Confucian temple there, a great national treasure, and smashed it up. They destroyed thousands of manuscripts, ancient stone tablets and other “feudal property”. Of the 6,843 officially designated places of cultural and historic interest in Beijing, Red Guards vandalised 4,922.


Above all, it was a time of death.In Wuhan, in central China, where 54 rival Red Guard groups fought it out,middle-school students were paid 50 yuan (roughly a month’s wages) by gang leaders to kill children in rival factions. “I killed five kids with mystar-knife,” wrote one teenager. In Daxing, on the southern outskirts of Beijing, 325 people from “landlord and rich peasant families” were killed in one night, with most of the bodies dumped down a well. A Chinese journalist who visited in 2000 was told of an old lady and her granddaughter being buried alive. “Granny, I’m getting sand in my eyes,” the child cried. “Soon you will not feel it any more,” came the reply.

尤其那个时期是个死亡的时代。在中国中部的武汉,有54 个有敌对势力的红卫兵派系,造反派武斗的头子只要给中学生们50块(大约是当时一般人一个月的工资)这些中学生就可以去杀儿童。一个中学生写到“我用一把星状刀就杀死了5个小孩儿”在北京南郊的大兴,所谓的“地主和有钱人”一共325人一夜之间全部被杀,大部分尸体竟把一口井填满。一位中国记者在2000 年到当地采访时,有人讲一个老太太和她的外孙女被活埋。孩子哭着说:“奶奶,沙子进到我眼睛里了”奶奶回答说“很快你就没有感觉了”

In a nightmarish confluence of class hatred and reversion to primitive custom, it is claimed that victims in Guangxi, a province in southern China, were eaten according to rank. In “The Cultural Revolution: a People’s History” Frank Dikötter quotes a local account asserting that “leaders feasted on the heart and liver, mixed with pork, while ordinary villagers were only allowed to peck at the victims’ arms and thighs.”


The people’s entertainment

Mr Dikötter estimates that between1.5m and 2m were killed in political violence across China between 1966 and1976. As a proportion of the total population (then 750m), that was smaller than the number of Chinese killed in pogroms in Indonesia just before the Cultural Revolution began. It was also eclipsed by the numbers killed in earlier episodes of violence and calamity inflicted upon China by its Communist leaders. Millions had died in purges of “landlords” and“counter-revolutionaries” in the early years after Mao’s victory in the civil war of the 1940s. Tens of millions perished in the famine Mao created with his“Great Leap Forward” of the late 1950s.

迪克特先生估计在1966 到1976年期间,全中国政治武斗中有约150万到200万人被杀。作为人口总数7.5亿的一部分,比起文革刚开始发生在印尼对华人的大屠杀来说这个数字 要小得多。比起中共领导人对整个中国造成的暴力和灾难中死亡的人数比也要逊色很多。在1940年毛在内战得胜后初期,有数以百万人因沾上了“地主和反革 命”而死去。50年代因为毛的“大跃进”就饿死了几千万人。

But what made the Cultural Revolution so unusual was its assault not only upon the lives but also on the values and norms by which people had lived for centuries. One of its core purposes was to accelerate the eradication of the “Four Olds”: old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas. So family ties, cultural traditions and Confucian principles of respect for the elderly and learning all became targets of Mao’s revolutionary fury. Ba Jin, a novelist, once called the Cultural Revolution China’s “spiritual Holocaust”—a stretch but perhaps an understandable one. In “Mao’s Last Revolution”, Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals quote the chairman as saying “this man Hitler was even more ferocious. The more ferocious, the better, don’t you think? The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are.”

但是文革所造成的灾难非同寻常就在于这场浩劫不仅危害到了人的生命也颠覆了人们生存了几个世纪的价值和标准。其核心的目的就是要加速废除“四旧”所谓四旧是 指旧风俗、旧文化、旧习惯、旧思想。所以家庭关系,文化传统以及孔夫子对长辈的尊崇礼德全部成了毛领导的革命要摧毁的目标。作家巴金曾把中国的文化大革命 称为“灵魂的浩劫”或许是能让人好懂的一种意思的延伸吧。由罗德里克·麦克法夸尔和迈克舒哈尔斯共同撰写“毛的最后革命”一书中這样写到:主席曾这样说“希特勒算什么,我要比希特勒更残忍,越残忍越好,你们不这么认为吗? 你杀的人越多,就说明你越革命”

But the Cultural Revolution was not anarchic for anarchy’s sake. It was manipulated by Mao to rid himself of rivals, real and imagined, and to purge the Communist Party of doubters of his wisdom. After the famine, Mao thought he was being sidelined. To reassert control, he called on students and workers to “bombard the headquarters”, that is, attack everyone in authority—except himself and those he had clearly signalled to be his allies. By 1968 almost three-quarters of the members of the Central Committee had been dubbed traitors or counter-revolutionaries. They included Liu Shaoqi, the state president, whom Mao had once tipped as his successor. Had Mao seen his revolution mainly as a means of defeating rivals,he might have stopped there. But he wanted it to go further. According to Chen Boda, Mao’s secretary in the early 1950s and later the Cultural Revolution’schief propagandist, Mao thought that, when righting a wrong, one had to “go beyond the proper limits”. This he repeatedly did.

但是文化大革命并不是以无政府为目的无政府状态。它是由毛操控废除自己敌对势力的运动,是真实和可想象的。就是清除共产党中对他智慧怀疑的分子。大饥荒过 后,毛认为他靠边儿站了。为了重新控制权利,他号召学生和工人们掀起“炮轰司令部”运动,那也是攻击除了他本人和他认为是自己的同盟外当政的每个掌权者。 到1968 年,中央委员会所有成员中几乎3/4的人被扣上叛徒和反革命的帽子。这些人中包括国家主席刘少奇,刘少奇一度是毛既定的接班人。本来毛看到他掀起的运动成 为击败对手的武器,他或许就该住手了,可他当时还想深化这场运动。根据毛的秘书陈伯达在50年代初期和文革后期的说法,毛认为当纠正一个错误时,就要“彻 底”他也是重复這么做的。陈伯达当时是文革的主要推动着。

Disorder under heaven

Almost all countries struggle to come to terms with dark periods in their histories. Japan, for example, has failed fully to acknowledge its wartime atrocities. China is no exception. Both its government and its people wrestle with the story of the Cultural Revolution.


For many young people at the time,the Cultural Revolution was a thrilling experience, a period when those in authority were humbled and peasants and workers were encouraged to speak up (as long as they supported Mao); when students could travel free by train and meet comrades from other parts of China.


Zhang Baohua, a member of a group that promotes orthodox Maoism via a website in China called Utopia, recently wrote about China’s modern leftists commemorating the achievements of the Cultural Revolution with seminars, lectures and other public events. He admitted they are being kept low-key, lest the government stop them.


Many of today’s leaders spent their formative years in the Cultural Revolution. Of the seven members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, the party’s highest organ, four others shared President Xi’s experience of banishment to the countryside to “learn from the peasants”, including: the prime minister, Li Keqiang; the chief ideologue, LiuYunshan; and the anti-corruption chief, Wang Qishan. The sister of another, YuZhengsheng, committed suicide after persecution by schoolmates. Mr Xi’shalf-sister also committed suicide.


Many perpetrators survived, too many to prosecute. And millions were both perpetrator and victim. Red Guard torturers were tortured in their turn. Among a generation of educated teenagers sent to the countryside were some who had been vicious fanatics. And although for some of those rusticated the experience was liberating, for many others it was grim. Girls were raped; girls and boys starved. No wonder older Chinese do not want to revive such memories.

很多凶手还活着,这些人太多了都起诉不过来了。有数百万之多的人既是凶手又是受害者。很多红卫兵虐待者后来又变成了被虐待者。在被送到农村接受教育的一代学生中有些就已经成为了邪恶的狂热分子。尽管那些沾了乡土气息的人中有些已经自由了,可对很多人来说还是沉浸在阴霾中。很多女孩被强奸,孩子们都吃不上饭。 难怪很多年长一些的中国人都不堪回首那段往事。

Thomas Plankers, a German psychologist, argues in “Landscapes of the Chinese Soul” that, in the few countries where people have come to terms with dark periods in their history,historians and public intellectuals have played vital roles in overcoming the reluctance of politicians and ordinary people to talk openly. That process has not happened in China.


One reason for the silence is private reticence. But another is Mao’s unique position. Whereas in the former Soviet Union, the chief perpetrator of terror, Joseph Stalin, had not been the founder of the Communist state (that was Vladimir Lenin), in China, Mao was both. At the end of his life, he described his two proudest achievements as the founding of Communist China and the launching of the Cultural Revolution. It is impossible to separate one from the other. “Discrediting Comrade Mao Zedong”,said Deng Xiaoping in 1981, “would mean discrediting our party and state.”

对于这种沉默的一个原因就是自私的沉默寡言。可另外一个原因是毛的唯一统治地位。然而前苏联恐怖主犯约瑟夫斯大林并不是共产国家的创始人(真正创始人应该是 维拉迪尔列宁),而在中国毛却身兼双任。在他生命的晚期,毛把自己描绘成共产中国的创始人以及文化大革命的发动者,为此成就他感到极大的骄傲。想把二者分 割开来是不可能的。在1981年邓小平就曾说过,“怀疑毛泽东同志就是对我们党和国家的不信任”

That could not be tolerated, so official historians, with Deng’s guidance, concocted a careful formula. In 1981the Central Committee published a “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party”. It argued that Mao had “initiated and led” the Cultural Revolution, which it called a “grave blunder”. But “as for Lin Biao [Mao’s chosen successor in 1969-71], Jiang Qing and others…the matter is of an entirely different nature. They…committed many crimes behind his [Mao’s] back,bringing disaster to the country and the people.” And having established that,Deng said he hoped debate on major historical questions would come to an end.It was a sort of historical omerta.

有邓的授意,于是官方历史学家捏造了一个小心翼翼的准则,那是不能容忍的。1981 年中央委员会发表了“有关我党历史若干问题的决议”這个决议就强调毛是发起和领导的文化大革命,被称为“一个惨痛的大错”可“作为林彪(毛在 1969-1971制定的接班人)、江青和其他帮凶… 事情全然不同了。他们。。。承认了在毛背后犯的许多罪行,给這个国家和人民带来了灾难。”已经定性了。邓说他希望有关就主要历史问题的争论应该结束了,这 简直就是一种对历史的否认。

And it has mostly been respected. A few memoirs have been published. In the late 1970s a so-called “scar”literature appeared, in which writers sought to describe their experiences. And in March Wang Meng, a former minister of culture under Deng, wrote in YanhuangChunqiu, a reformist magazine, that China bore an “unshirkable responsibility” to explain the politics of the Cultural Revolution. “The Chinese people should be doing this, the Chinese Communist Party should be doing this, Chinese scholars should be doing this. It is the duty of the Chinese people, to history and to the world.”

差不多就已经得到了尊重。发表了几篇回忆录。在70 年代末期便出现了一种所谓“伤痕”文学,都是作家在描述他们自己的经历。3月王蒙-邓旗下的前文化部部长,在一份名为炎黄春秋改革派刊物上写了一篇文章, 中国肩负着对文革政治解读不可推卸的责任。他说中国人民应该這样做,中国共产党应该這样做,中国的有识之士应该這样做。這是中国人民对历史对世界应尽的责 任。

But public discussion is rare. Most Chinese historians have steered clear of writing about the period. Shapingba cemetery in the south-western city of Chongqing is the only one dedicated to the dead of the Cultural Revolution, bearing monuments to hundreds of Red Guards, most of whom were killed in battles with another faction. It is closed most of the year. Museums gloss over the period. And this year China’s leaders,who love to celebrate anniversaries at every opportunity, will draw a veil of silence over the decade.


Yet however much the Cultural Revolution is ignored officially, it casts a long shadow. Widespread abhorrence of it enabled the eventual rise of pragmatists led by Deng Xiaoping, who ushered in economic and social reforms. But it also exacerbated widespread disenchantment with politics; Rana Mitter, a historian at Oxford University,notes that older generations that suffered under Mao’s endless politicalcampaigns and policy flip-flops transmitted their disillusionment to younger ones. Perhaps, Mr Plankers suggests, Chinese people are unusually determined to succeed in business partly in order to protect themselves against the randomness of power embodied in the Cultural Revolution.

然而,很多有关文革的内幕都被官方掩盖,酿成了长久的阴影。对这场运动所具有的广泛性的深恶痛绝使得邓领导的支持经济及社会改革务实主义者们最终崛起。但也 同时使人们对政治的厌恶进一步加深。哈佛大学的一位名叫拉娜米特尔的历史学家這样写到:由于深受老毛没完没了政治运动以及政治立场不断改变所带来的痛苦折 磨使更老一代的人们把他们那种幻想破灭感传给了年轻一代。普兰先生说中国人民异乎寻常的下定决心在生意上取得成功部分原因是为了保护他们自己免于受到文革体系内权利的不可预测带给他们的困扰。

Failure’s inheritance 失败的传承

Yet the reaction against a decade in which ideology trumped all has not helped China’s leaders think more profoundly about how to avoid the destructive caprices of unrestrained power. In a rare criticism of this omission, China’s then prime minister, Wen Jiabao, warned in2012 that without successful political reform, “such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again in China.”


The violence of the Cultural Revolution, and the many officials it claimed as victims, may explain why China’s liberalisation of the economy has not gone hand-in-hand with greater democracy. To Westerners, the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989may have seemed a million miles from the Red Guards who had assembled there more than two decades earlier screaming Maoist slogans. But to China’s leaders,there has always been a connection: that the Cultural Revolution was a kind of“big democracy” (as Mao called it) in which ordinary people were given the power to topple officials they hated. The students in 1989 may not have been Mao-worshippers, but had they been given a chance, they would have acted just like the Red Guards, according to the logic of Chinese officials—with chaotic,vindictive rage. They produce no evidence. They do not need to. The nightmare of the Cultural Revolution continues to disturb the dream of Chinese democracy.

文革的混乱以及许多被认为是受害者的官员们或许会解释为什么中国经济自由化并没有同更伟大的民主相结合在一起。对于西方人来说,学生们1989 年在天安门广场抗议或许已经同20多年前集聚在那里高喊毛泽东语录的红卫兵们似乎相距甚远。但对于中国的领导人们来说,两者似乎总是有关联的:即文化 大革命就是一种“大民主运动“(老毛就曾這么说过)普通民众赋予了权利去推翻他们痛恨的官员们。1989年的学生们或许就已经不是老毛的崇拜者了,但按中 国官员们的逻辑,带有混乱报仇心的愤怒一旦这些学生获得了机会,还会像红卫兵那样采取行动。这些官员们拿不出证据来,他们不需要拿出证据。文化大革命的噩梦会继续困扰着中国实现民主的梦想。