By Yujia Yang
Green military cap and uniform, Sam Browne belts, red armbands (always on the left arm), Little Red Book held tightly – the typical dress of the Red Guard during China’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. “They were the biggest nightmare when I was 16 years old”, says Xianping Wang, 66, a retired Chinese teacher from Guiyang Shengfu Road Primary School.
Wang took a deep breath and recalled her story, “One Sunday afternoon in March 1968, a small group of Red Guard broke into my house when I was having a nap with my sister and my parents were at work. A woman, a member of the Guard,spoke to my sister. She said, ‘Xianling, we are now 20 years old. Do not go to university to listen to those rubbish things. It is time to join us, like me, to devote ourselves to Chairman Mao’s revolutionary cause!’ Her tone became cold; she threatened my sister that they would confiscate our property and take me away if sherefused to join them and be one of the adherents of Mao. In fact, she was a childhood friend of my sister, even I regarded her as my second sister, but…” Wang stops and looks miserable.
The Red Guard group was first formed by China’s youth in response to Mao Zedong’s call to propagandise his ‘true’ communist ideology. It rapidly grew around the country and became a mass organisation, including farmers, literary and artistic workers and neighbourhood committees. As a political propaganda tool, the Red Guard was under protection and enjoyed the personal support of Mao; this meant they could do anything they wanted like taking away anyone they suspected of being a counterrevolutionary.
“The woman gave my sister no chance to answer. After she had finished, she immediately left. But the rest of members loudly read out their slogan ‘战无不胜的毛泽东思想万岁！’ (Long live the invincible Mao Zedong thought!), and started to search my house; everything was dumped on the floor, everything.” Wang continues in a trembling voice: “There was nothing we could do; my sister and I just stood there and watched. We had no idea what had happened and why they were doing this to us.” Wang still looks confused, even now. She continues: “Previously, other groupsof Red Guard just came to propagandise and tried to find out whether we had any ‘forbidden books’ like foreign literature. Normally, they just burned any books they found, and left.”
“I felt every organ of my body cease to operate as soon as I heard it, because I was indescribably scared. Since that day, I have continually had nightmares about someone taking me away.” Wang pauses for a few seconds to calm herself down. Then, she begins again, “My sister embraced me, and kept comforting me that she would not let it happen. After telling our parents what had happened, Xianling insisted that she would join the Red Guard in order to keep me safe, because she believed that the Red Guard could do anything if people disobeyed them. Of course, my parents disagreed and my father suggested that our whole family might pretend to move, while in fact only my parents would return to their old home on weekdays while my sister and I stayed at home.”
During the decade of China’s Cultural Revolution, there were also many organisations that lined up on mass against the Red Guard groups. Wang’s sister, Xianling, had entered Guizhou University in 1966, just after the Cultural Revolution had begun; she founded a student newspaper with her friends, aiming to help the public to keep hope by publishing positive articles about China’s real history, society, politics and economy. Wang says: “My sister always tells me not to give up hope for the future.”
“I read all of articles from their newspaper when I holed up in my room. I can feel the power of words that cheered me up and made me determine to do as the same as my sister did.” Wang continues with a slight smile, “After one month, we were finally able to go out because the local government suppressed the Red Guard, as some Red Guard groups were out of control. In the next few years, my sister and I wrote articles together and contributed to many newspapers not just local until Cultural Revolution truly ended in 1977. Then we became teachers because we believed that our next and future generation will have material effects on our society, so correct education is vital.”
“Although, Cultural Revolution was an extreme dark period for China, we still need to remember and reflect on it. The most beautiful rainbows come after the worst storms.”