Through Their Eyes: Cultural Revolution
1966-1976 By: Mina Kang Class: 8-8
Written in the perspective of Li Zhang Wei, an enthusiastic high school student was involved in the cultural revolution as a Red Guard. There were countless events during this rapid, impactful, and pervasive change, and these five journal entries shows Zhang Wei’s opinion and emotions towards the 5 turning points. Because of the failure of Mao’s campaign “Great Leap Forward”, it created the The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, to cover up the devastating consequences of the famine. Through the viewpoint of my character, you can put yourself in Zhang Wei’s shoes and walk the roads of revolution.
The Dazibao has been put up. At first, I thought it was something about Baozi, the dumplings we eat, but this was different. It’s about revolution! It’s time for us, non-intellectuals and proletarians to write in simplified characters and express our opinions through Dazibaos’! Now we have the freedom, a chance to spread Mao’s words. Everyday, when I would walk around our village, I’d see these posters and feel proud about what we, the Red Guards have done so far. Soon enough China will become the country Mao ever dreamed of, and we’d please Mao. Now everyone can read and write; communication is easier now, since most of the people can access the simplified characters. Popular slogans were written on these big-character-posters, it was a catchphrase that would stay on your mind. “Long-live Chairman Mao!” was a common one, so I mostly wrote slogans that motivated students to join the Red Guards, like “ The Chinese Military is Mao Ze Dong’s university”. Feeling like our dream is about to come true, as if we are one step closer to our goal, I wanted to do more things that make me more revolutionary. I wanted to do something that would make the Red Guards worth. Many students like myself got involved in nationwide mass campaigns, also calling workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionary intellectuals, and revolutionary cadres to write more big-character posters. “Transforming the superstructure” posters were written, while holding great debates. We cut down class time, and we would go across the country to meet young-activists to spread the Mao Ze Dong Thought. We must eliminate anybody with another background other than communism. They must be sent to prison. Those anti-proletarians, counterrevolutionaries, revisionists must be punished! And by these actions, we would show how we praise Mao deep down in our hearts. Because worshipping Mao is our pathway to a brighter, happier world, it is mandatory to read the “Quotations from Mao Tse-Tsung”. It is the only book we can access, but the more I read it, I feel like I’m one step closer to commence the world of Maoism. “To read too many books is harmful.” - Mao Zedong. I believe it is harmful too. Every moment of the day, we grip it with out right hands, waving it high with joy and cries of overwhelming happiness. Whenever we feel happy, or whenever we feel sad, whenever we need advice, we read the “Little Red Book”. It is our guide from the deep dark despair to illuminating radiant light, where we can all smile, laugh, breathe the fresh air. The only book we can read is the Little Red Book, but I believe it is the only book that contains the truth that remains eternally. The world is ours, and us, the young people that will fulfill the world with determination and sustain it, we are the ones that bring Mao’s dream to life. “Let a hundred flowers bloom.” - Mao Ze Dong We are the bloom of life. The world belongs to us. China’s future is in our hands!
Date: August 5th, 1966 - Dazibao
Dazibao put up on the walls. People would walk by and read the posters.
Der Pol, Blik Van. "Istanbul, 59 Locations: A Format For Nightcomers." Blik Van Der Pol. Blik Van Der Pol, n.d. Web. <http%3A%2F %2Fwww.bikvanderpol.net%2F%3Fbook %3D1%26page%3D311>.
I wave my Mao Zhu Xi Yu Lu (Little Red Book), trying to make myself noticeable to Mao. I had this sensation, that I had to be noticed by Mao. I wave one hand holding high, the red book, as well as waving the other frantically. Some holding the Wu Xing Hong Qi (5 star flag), some holding up the dazibao, we expressed our emotions at that moment with our heart’s content. As Mao appeared on stage, we roared. We clapped, we were ecstatic, we could not handle the joy we felt.Our red books glistened with the bright sun, blue sky, and it felt like each an one of our appreciation towards Mao was shining with the red book held high. We chanted, “wan sui, wan wan sui Mao Zhu Xi. “Forget the bitter past, remember the sweet present”During the Great Leap Forward, food was scarce and many were sacrificed during the famine, my grandpa being one of them. He became skinnier, and we could see his rib cage through his ragged shirt, until one day he died. My grandpa did not have a proper funeral, we just left his corpse lying on the floor, getting eaten by hungry rats. Some people ate the leftover meat in the dead bodies, but there was barely anything we could eat. Instead of food, we had clay, grass, tree barks, or dirt, that would ruin our intestines. But forget this, it was all a process to brilliance. No one dared to ask about the famine during the Great Leap Forward, we just thought we were not at Mao’s “level”. And I try to understand from our chairman’s viewpoint, trying to consider my grandpa’s death as a sacrifice for the better China, and that his death was worth. There should be something to give away for everyone’s benefit, and many others scarified their life for this, not just my grandpa. My only hope is the great change in culture becoming a event that shines our names as Red Guards, and something that would please Mao, make him the greatest leader of all. Because Mao was always right, and he always looked after us, he deserves to be praised. He wants us to experience revolution. Specifically, the Red Guards could be the ones who leads China to glory. Each word Mao said were considered revolutionary for us, Red Guards. We neglected the hot weather, we listened to Mao and Lin Biao. Whether the temperature had risen to almost 40 degrees Celsius, whether the sweat from the body heat rolled down our cheeks, we felt honored and acknowledged. The red waves of people responded every single word Mao said, and quoted his words. To see him in person made me feel passionate, patriotic towards our beloved country. I felt great liability, like there are duties to fulfill as the proud, brave Red Guard that protects Chairman Mao. “Catch the stars and moon”, we’ll catch them for you, our great Chairman Mao!
August 18th, 1966 – Our bible
“The Little Red Book” Little Red Guards Singing Chairman Mao's Quotations, Nanjing, Jiangsu province, 1966.
Anti- Revisionism Meeting at the Workers Stadium, Beijing, 1966.
Chairman Mao on Tiananmen, Beijing, 1966. Billboard painting at Chang'an Boulevard, Beijing, 1966.
I could feel the rumbling footsteps. As I looked out the window, 哇噻！ I saw a cloud of Red Guards marching across the street. I could hear the loud footsteps, their exhilarated voices as they chattered. I turned on the radio, turned the volume up, and listened carefully. It was Jiang Qing and Lin Biao’s speech, releasing the “January Storm”. Trying to calm myself, I could not stop imagining the brave-hearted Red Guards criticizing, removing all Shanghai Municipal Government Leaders and seizing power. Wang Hongwen, our new leader of the Municipal Revolutionary Committee. These activities excited me, like many others did. Back in 1966, August 19th, Red Guards brought an end to the Four Olds as it was presented as one of the stated goals. Old culture, old customs, old habits, and old ideas were considered anti-proletarian. I was inspired by this, and read this article on the People’s Daily, “Sweep Away All Monsters and Demons”, how old things have poisoned the minds of people for many many years. Ever since we banned the Four Olds, many clothing stores have changed their names of their store. My friend’s parents own a clothing store called “Blue Sky” to “Beloved Mao Zedong Clothing Store”. Our schools and homes were adorned with pictures of Mao, as well as Tiananmen Square. Whenever I would walk past Tiananmen Guang Chang, I would see Mao Zhu Xi’s portrait hung up on the wall. So clean, bright, and perfect. He is god. I wrote speeches and presented them at our village’s small stadium, and some of my friends joined me to destroy the homes of bourgeois, set them on fire. As I saw the books and painting igniting, I felt like I was released from the bad elements, set free. We wrecked historical artifacts and Chinese architectural structures. We felt like true rebels. We were fearless. As the “January Storm” continued, it was extended to the military, the People’s Liberation Army. I wanted to join the army and protect our country from the bad elements, but since I was already a Red Guard, I decided to become a good leader of the Red Guards and work hard to take hold of power as one of the leaders of the Municipal Revolutionary Committee. I became the hands and feet of Wang Hongwen, where I carry out his orders. Any papers that needed to be filed, any contracts that needed to be confirmed, I was the one who did them. I felt so involved in the revolution. As I became older I knew I was becoming “revolutionized” and more loyal to Mao. Because Mao’s beliefs are our beliefs, and his dreams are our dreams, we want to take it into action by ourselves, not to burden our Chairman. We must not worry, or infuriate our Mao Zhu Xi, as we continue his word and build a new world. It must be a world where we worship Mao and live in equality. I hope everyone lives in their “good spirits”. I wish.
Date: January 3rd, 1967
Red Guards: Publicly humiliating intellectuals and their families
Red Guard newspaper, 1967.
Destruction of the “Four Olds” "CR Blog." CR Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. <http://www.creativereview.co.uk/crblog/2010/august/red>.
What should I do. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do now, now there’s no such thing called the “Red Guards”. There shouldn’t have extended the “January Storm” over to the military. Ever since they participated in events we Red Guards did, we would come across conflicts. Now, most of the Red Guards do not know what they can do for the revolution, because the army is doing controlling everything. Mao always told us to continue it but he removed us from the place where we could be the most active. I’m confused. I want to know what Mao is going to do next. “We shall heal our wounds, collect our dead and continue fighting.” - Mao Zedong
Date: December 17th, 1968
To villages we go, to the borders we go, to places in the fatherland where we are most needed we go, 1970
The recent mass campaign, promoting Mao as a demi-god, was the only campaign I had joined to experience revolution. However I needed more, the more I experience revolution, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Like having revolutionary experience is a drug, I couldn’t stop. The more I had, the more I wanted. I guess it is the power of Mao, how influential he is to us. Now, I’m involved in the “Down to the countryside Movement”, where many people including the intellectuals, Red Guards, and peasants are sent to rural areas. As part of the urban youth, and Red Guards, I was sent to do manual labor and learned from rural peasants In 1968, Mao Zedong said, "It is necessary for educated (We were called sent-down youth). Because I grew up in the farm, I already knew how to youth to go to the countryside so that they can be replow the field, and work with the rural peasants. I joined to do the rural work units and many of the youth had died of malnutrition, or some kind of disease. My friends that used to educated by the poor and lower-middle peasants." be Red Guards chose to be a part of the army, but I did not want to be the same kind of weaklings like they are. I wanted to be brave, strong, and someone who took the road, less traveled by. I farm everyday. Life is so repetitive, I’m getting tired of it. We did not produce the standard amount of wheat and cabbages. We were starving, but I try to forget the fact that I’m working hard while others are living as the soldier of the proud army. To be honest, I really don’t understand why I’m here. I know I volunteered to come here to become a bigger help to the revolution, but I don’t know the necessity of being “sent” to the countryside. But these thoughts are never supposed to come out of mouth, never, ever, EVER. We worship Mao, we consider him god. I don’t consider myself foolish for working in the rural areas. I know I will be prized with pride later on, when Mao recognizes me. I think of myself the actual royal one, that does all the rough work. It’s mother nature’s rules. When some are living in dignity, there are some that shine the one’s with fame. I wonder how that makes us all equal, but oh well, I guess I’m not at our Mao Zhu Xi’s level of thinking.
God looks over us. Mao was god, just mortal. He had breathed his last on September 9th. How can we live without our God, without protection. Maybe I should just die. No, I can’t! I shouldn’t. I should at least die after the end of the revolution. That was Mao’s last orders; to continue the revolution till the end. On that day, barely anyone spoke a word. We quietly wept in front of Tiananmen Guangchang, and wailed on the way home. I couldn’t sleep or eat for days. I could only think about our much loved chairman Mao Zedong. Even mentioning his name, makes my eyes red and teary. Hot tears come running down my cheeks. Hoping our devastation is reached to heaven, where our chairman Mao lives, we pray to him. Everyday we cry, but I feel like not enough tears are coming out of my eyes. I decide to march down Tiananmen Square to mourn the death of Mao. When I arrived home, I started writing this entry of the journal. I start to feel like crying again, trying not to mess up my journal, I wipe my tears from my face and continue writing: The revolution was the most impactful event in my life, and I think I will never forget it. Now that I think about it, I really don’t understand why I used to be so passionate about us Red Guards, or how crazy I was for a communist society. Everyone wanted equality, but when I think about it, I feel like the Red Guards were not treated equal to the PLA or the officials. A part of me tells me that after all the revolution was a time period of where everyone went crazy to run away from the reality, but another part of me says Mao the great founder of this revolution had reasons into building the China right now, and he was always right to this process. I have conflicting conversations in my head, whether this revolution was right or not. I’m not sure why I feel like I’m like a “pawn” in the puppet show, as if I was controlled under Mao’s order, but I I was actually happy that I was controlled by Mao. I guess I still am. Anyways, this doesn't really matter. The only fact that matters, is that our great leader has passed away, and we need to grieve for Mao. If you think about it, Mao was actually trying to create equality between the rich and poor, the educated and non-educated. At last, we eliminated most of the intellectuals, anti-proletarians, capitalists, counterrevolutionaries, bourgeois’s, all bad elements. We wanted to construct a happier society for us, but we had destructed so much. But that's just the process. What we’ve created is everlasting. Something that means a lot for everyone that participated in the Wen Hua Da Ge Ming. The revolution was like we were re-born to the world, living another life, working towards a utopian society. In ten years, so much happened, but in a long run its like nothing has been done. This feeling of emptiness will remain in our hearts. And I’m just waiting for another revolutionary experience that will fill my the cracks of my heart.
Date: September 10, 1976
The long term and short term effects that were caused by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution changed China forever, and it is still changing. Starting from the dazibao and the propaganda posters, many people were involved without knowing that they were only a “pawn” in the power struggle, that they were the ones keeping Mao in power. Nowadays we consider the ones who worked in countryside, and missed the period where they would go to universities and have the opportunity to study, the “lost generation”. Some people don’t know how to read or write, and they’ve basically lost the chances most people would get during the ten years of revolution. However, there were other changes, like Mao’s paintings hung up on walls in Tiananmen Square, or his portrait adorned on currency (you see him everywhere). Because of the destruction of the four olds, China lost numerous historical artifacts. Since, tradition is like something that differentiates your country from other countries, China cannot undo what they’ve done. The heritage that they passed on to the next generation was bygone, leaving no trail of their proud culture. Nevertheless, China is still rapidly developing, their economy, their academic contributions to the society grew stronger. China, still tightening the loose screws, The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution remains as a stepping stone to where it is now.
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Published on Mar 2, 2014