Category Archives: The Cultural Revolution

Chapter 2: The Boxer Rebellion

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Chapter 2:
The Boxer Rebellion

Mao was six years old when the Boxer Rebellion broke out, in the year 1900. He probably had no interest in it at that time, but it must have influenced him later in life as he became more politically aware.

At that time, China was in danger of being broken apart by foreign imperialism. It was loosely held together by the Qing dynasty, but popular support for this dynasty was weak, due to its ineffectiveness at resisting foreigners.

These foreigners included Americans, British, French, Germans, Italians, Russians, and Japanese. Yes, us imperialist pigs were at it again, messing around with a part of the world that couldn’t resist our bullying. And we did things that left many Chinese feeling angry and upset.

The British were the first to mess with China. They forced the Chinese to accept the import and sale of opium. Before the British came along, there was no drug problem in China, and opium was practically unheard of. But now, widespread addiction ravaged the populace, leading to many personal and family tragedies.

Two Opium Wars had been fought in the 19th century by the Qing dynasty against the British and French, in order to rid the nation of the opium trade. But they were defeated by superior military technology. This greatly weakened the Chinese government, and made the country more vulnerable to foreign influence.

The Chinese had proudly followed three different religions for thousands of years, prior to the arrival of foreigners. These were Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. But such faiths appalled Christian foreigners, and they insisted upon establishing missions to convert the Chinese to Christ and save their souls. This was highly resented by traditionalist Chinese.

And the foreigners had greedy eyes out for the ownership of territory. All of the foreigners competed against each other, jockeying for position, while planning to carve China up into separate colonies. Many Chinese felt wary and worried about this, and wanted to avoid being at the mercy of foreign rule.

A resistance organization formed in North China, called the “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists.” It was a spiritual and martial arts movement started by ordinary villagers, that practiced magic and propagated the belief that their magic could make them impervious to bullets and other weapons.

They called themselves Yihetuan, or “the militia united in righteousness.” But the foreigners just called them Boxers, which was the British term for anyone who practiced martial arts. In June 1900, the Boxers spontaneously rose up against foreign legations in Beijing. This would become known as the Boxer Rebellion.

Boxers executed in neck towers, where stones beneath their feet were slowly removed, causing strangulation.

These fuckers meant business. Their goal was to exterminate all foreigners in Beijing, as well as the rest of China. They massacred thousands of foreigners, including many missionary families, and nearly succeeded with their rebellion. But they were finally driven back when reinforcements arrived to rescue the remaining besieged foreigners.

It’s certain they would have succeeded had they actually been impervious to bullets, as they imagined they were. But they weren’t, and many died from gunshot wounds. Many more were rounded up and executed after the rebellion was put down.

But although they failed, the rebellion helped solidify Chinese nationalism. It encouraged would-be revolutionaries, and signaled the beginning of the end of thousands of years of imperial Chinese rule.


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 3: Consequentialism.

Chapter 1: Buddhism and Beatings

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Chapter 1:
Buddhism and Beatings

What would you do if you knew that the child you were raising would become the most prolific murderer of all time? If you were Mao Zedong’s father, Mao Yichang, I’m guessing you’d kill him. But if you were his mother, Wen Qimei, you might try harder to turn him into a good person.

I don’t know if Mao’s father actually tried to kill him, but at times it may have seemed like it. Mao Yichang was a cruel man, and a strict disciplinarian, and he often beat his son severely. Wen, on the other hand, was a practicing Buddhist. She tried her best to protect her son from the cruel hand of his father.

Wen used the teachings of Buddhism to try to convince the elder Mao to temper his rage and go easy on their son. Sadly, she was largely unsuccessful. She also used Buddha’s teachings to convert Mao to Buddhism. This may have been her best hope, but eventually it too fell flat, because when Mao was a teenager he left the religion.

Mao Zedong’s childhood home.

He was born on December 26, 1893, into a life of privilege and hardship. His family was rich, and from that came the privilege. But his father was mean, and from that came the hardship. They lived the peasant farmer life in a rural area of Hunan Province, in China.

Mao became an avid reader, between beatings and work on the farm. And from his reading he cultivated a political consciousness. He found a good cause to fight for. Perhaps the Buddhism he learned from his mother inclined him toward finding a good cause. But if so, then maybe his father’s beatings inclined him toward fighting for his cause using the most sadistic means possible.

Revolution was in the air, in Mao’s young life. In fact, revolution would hang in the air throughout his life. In his young days, the Qing dynasty held power over China. But it was tenuous power, corrupted and weakened by foreign influence, and left vulnerable to attack by those who sought political change.

And many did.


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 2: The Boxer Rebellion.

Preface: Millions?

This is the second installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Preface:
Millions?

Cultural Revolution propaganda poster, featuring Chairman Mao.

Millions with a question mark. That’s one way to describe the Cultural Revolution. Historians can’t agree on how many died as a result of it, but a few low estimates actually go below a million, to hundreds of thousands.

Most estimates seem to range from 1.5 million to as high as 20 million. That’s quite a spread of tormented souls calling from the grave for accountability. We’ll never know anything close to the exact toll, because many deaths went unreported, or were covered up by local authorities.

Also, China did a piss-poor job of keeping accurate statistical records at that time, and the Chinese government has not allowed scholastic access to what archives it maintains, concerning this tragic event. But from what many scholars have gleaned from the evidence they’ve been able to access, it seems millions were killed in China.

And millions more died abroad, because the Chinese exported their Cultural Revolution to the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. With Chinese funding, Pol Pot and his supporters murdered nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population, or 1.5 to 2 million people. Those targeted for death were considered to be enemies of the revolution, similar to those targeted in China during the Cultural Revolution.

Beyond those who died in China, millions more were left crippled for life, mostly due to beatings from Red Guards. Millions were imprisoned on baseless, trumped up charges, and forced to endure hard labor. And millions lost their livelihoods, and were unceremoniously fired from their posts in universities, government, and even the Communist Party itself.

Nobody of any level of importance, prestige, or position of authority was safe during the Cultural Revolution. Top Party officials, including the president of China, Liu Shaoqi, were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. Top generals were sacked and publicly humiliated, and sometimes murdered.

But low level authorities were also targeted. Teachers, mayors, landowners, supervisors of workers, heads of small departments, and anyone else who rose even slightly above the average prestige of a peasant, found themselves vulnerable to attack.

Civil war broke out in parts of China, resulting in even more deaths. A red hysteria swept the nation, pitting pro-Maoist factions against each other. Violence broke out everywhere. The hysteria that sought to persecute so-called counterrevolutionaries was so widespread, that every Chinese citizen was in some way affected by the Cultural Revolution.

For ten years this revolution ground on, until it finally ended with Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, and the arrest of the Gang of Four. In fact, the Cultural Revolution was instigated by Communist Party Chairman Mao, and facilitated by the Gang of Four, which included Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing.

But why? Why would Mao do this to his own people? The Cultural Revolution set China back economically, intellectually, and politically for many years. It weakened China in many ways, though some have argued that there were some benefits. What was Mao’s motivation? Those meager benefits at the cost of all those lives?

To understand the Cultural Revolution, it helps to go back in history to the events that led up to it. It helps to study the life history of Mao Zedong, and it’s also useful to learn about the rise of communism in mainland China.

We’ll start with Mao first, and follow his inimical rise to absolute power, his fall from power, and his diabolical scheme to regain power through the complex machinations of the Cultural Revolution.


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 1: Buddhism and Beatings.

Introduction to The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao

This is the first installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao. This will be somewhere around a 40-part series that will be posted about every other day, except those times when I’m on a vacation, hiding out from the law, or otherwise distracted. It will likely carry us into October. I know, it’s history, which is nothing more than old news, but I hope I’ve brushed off enough dust to keep it interesting for everyone.


The Peace Sign was designed in 1958, for the British nuclear disarmament movement. It was adopted by anti-war hippies in the Sixties.

I grew up in the Sixties, an era of peace, love, and flower children. I was pretty young, so I didn’t get a chance to participate in all the protesting going on. I had no draft card to burn, I wasn’t allowed to grow my hair long, and I was scared to death to drop acid, smoke a joint, or do any other kind of drugs. Not that I had an opportunity.

But there was that time I helped my siblings harbor a couple of Vietnam War deserters. They hid out in our garage loft, and my mother never had a clue. We thought that was far out. And yes, I did learn all those corny cool slogans, like “far out,” “groovy,” and, well, “cool.”

There was a lot of shit going down in the Sixties. It was a youthquake. Young people were rebelling against the establishment like never before. Hippies were living in communes, smoking joints, and turning into Jesus freaks. Old stodgy attitudes were on their way out, and being replaced by fresh new ideas that promoted free love and free thought. It was a revolution, in a sense. A cultural revolution.

Well, we weren’t the only ones. Because while we were getting in the groove in America, more than 7,000 miles away another cultural revolution was taking place in the People’s Republic of China. And it was actually called the “Cultural Revolution.” But unlike the peace, love, and flowers in our hair that we got to experience, their Cultural Revolution was some heavy shit.

It was downright scary for many people. And for good reason, because a lot of folks died.

We didn’t have much of an idea what was really happening in China at that time. Some thought that whatever it was, it must be wonderful since it was tagged with such a high-minded label: “Cultural Revolution.” Some hippies even imagined that they liked Chairman Mao, and they carried around pictures of him. But nobody had any idea what Mao was really like.

For most of us, the details of the Cultural Revolution were sketchy. And in many ways, it remains a mystery. Books have covered it, but very few have been written by those who bore the brunt of it. And the Chinese government refuses to allow access to its archives, so that investigative journalists can answer many of the questions the world has wondered about.

But in spite of this, some information has escaped. And for those diligent enough to research this strange era of Chinese history, much of the mystery can be resolved.

Some information can be found on the internet. I know, because I’ve been googling and reading. I’ve been grabbing bits of info here, and dabs of it there, analyzing it, throwing out that which seems too suspect to believe, and then putting the rest together to form the best picture I can.

I got interested in the Cultural Revolution while watching the news, and growing alarmed at all the bullshit that’s been going on lately. I’m no longer the young, rebel-at-heart of the Sixties. Now I’m in my sixties, and a long-standing member of the establishment. Now when I see people marching, rioting, burning, and looting, I get downright unsettled. I don’t mind the marching, but the rioting, burning, and looting kind of puts me in survival mode.

I’ve noticed some parallels between the 1960s and 2020. Young people are marching and calling for change. They’re demanding justice and equality. And they’re calling the police the same vile names, like “pigs” and “bacon.”

But there are some differences. For instance, the cops seem to be using a lot more restraint these days, than they used on the hippies in the days of yore. The media coverage seems to also be much kinder on protesters. And members of the establishment seem to be rolling over like never before, throwing their support behind outrageous demands, such as the call to defund police departments.

It feels a bit unnerving for old guys like me. And what’s even more unnerving is that those who dare speak anything even slightly critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, run the risk of losing their careers, or being targeted for violence. In fact, to say something as seemingly anodyne as “All Lives Matter” is to invite a level of censure and condemnation that borders on hysteria.

And I don’t remember the iconoclasm we’re witnessing these days. The toppling of statues, including those of Grant and Lincoln, is foreign to my memory of the Sixties. It makes no sense. It seems like madness.

But then again, so did the Cultural Revolution of China. This is why I’ve turned to if for answers. I’m seeing sinister parallels. I’m seeing political correctness taken to the point of persecutorial nitpickiness. I’m seeing intolerance on the part of those who demand tolerance. I’m seeing the opposite of peace, love, and flowers, yet in the name of peace, love, and flowers.

It’s piqued my curiosity. And so I’ve turned to China’s past to learn about our potential future.

So far, I think we can feel grateful we’ve never experienced a movement nearly as dangerous and deadly as China’s Cultural Revolution. Although we seem to be heading down that road, thankfully we’ve only made it a short distance.

I’ve written a long series of posts about the Cultural Revolution. About as long as one of Marco Polo’s famous journeys. Yeah, I guess maybe I got a little carried away. In fact I got so carried away that I went all the way back to the birth of Mao Zedong, in 1893, and to the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

We’re going to learn a thing or two, not just about the Cultural Revolution, but also about the life of Mao Zedong, the Chinese Civil War, China in general, and much more.

I’ll be posting my series every few days over the next few months. I hope the reader will see what I mean, when I draw parallels from what happened in China to what’s starting to happen now in the U.S.A. We seem to be going through a bit of our own Cultural Revolution, and I want us to learn from China’s tragedy.

I believe that no matter how wonderful the message and cause may seem, there is danger in any movement. The ideals of today can quickly morph into disasters tomorrow. I think that regardless of how much we may admire a cause, it’s important to remain wary, lest we get so caught up in the crusade that we do things we regret later.

It can be easy to harm others in the passionate heat of the “greater good.” And it’s common for people to create monsters that turn on them and devour them. We must be careful.

The Cultural Revolution stands as a prime example of the dangers of any social movement. As our country continues through its current era of turmoil, I hope people will be circumspect enough to learn from history, and avoid taking things too far. Only then can we make progress without wounds, scars, and backlash erasing every benefit activists may struggle so hard to achieve.


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Preface: Millions?

The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Part 2 (Review)

Welcome to Part Two of my two-part review of the book, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, by Ji Xianlin. To read Part One, click this link.


The Cowshed:
Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution,
Book Review, Part 2 of 2

After about a month of planting sweet potatoes, Ji was hauled back to Peking University, where he and other persecuted professors were forced to build their own makeshift prison. These types of prisons were being built on university campuses all over China, to house counterrevolutionary intellectuals. They were called “Cowsheds.” They got this name because the prisoners were insultingly referred to by the Red Guards as “Cow Devils.”

The prisoners were usually professors and school administrators. Many of their guards were their own students.

Ji describes the horrific conditions of the Cowshed that housed him as a prisoner. And in the analytical style of a professor, he presents a theory, which he calls the Law of Maximum Torment. It states that whatever the Red Guards did, it was calculated to inflict the maximum pain possible on their victims, both physically and psychologically.

The Cowshed was poorly built, and not very sturdy. It was damp, musty, and full of webs and pests. The convicts were required to sleep on bamboo mats over a thin layer of hay, that failed to block the dampness. They were constantly bitten by mosquitoes and other insects.

Every morning they rose at exactly 6:00 am, and were required to jog around the prison yard. By the time they were finished jogging, they were worn out, yet had to begin the day’s labor.

They were required to always gaze at the ground and never look up, even while walking. They were given an allowance, which they were required to use to pay for food. It was barely enough, and left them feeling constant hunger. Their meals consisted of cornmeal buns and pickles. They were not allowed any meat.

Those who were employed as university workers, such as janitors and maintenance personnel, were no longer required to work. Instead, they could come down to the Cowshed every morning and choose convicts to do their work for them.

But before beginning the day’s labor, every convict had to memorize the Mao saying of the day. Then throughout the day, if a guard asked them to recite it, they had to get it perfectly right or risk being beaten. And if a guard recited the first phrase of any quotation from Chairman Mao, that would be the convict’s cue to complete the sentence or receive a beating.

However, the guards themselves were often too stupid to memorize Mao’s sayings. So when Ji made an error in completing a sentence, he acted as if he’d done it right, and the guards rarely noticed.

Ji was required to perform a variety of jobs, as a prisoner of the Cowshed. These included stacking bricks, pulling nails from boards, carrying 130 lb baskets full of coal, hauling rocks, and plowing paddy fields.

For all these dark days that Ji endured, kindness sometimes shone through. On one occasion, Ji was selected by a plumber, to be his assistant. The plumber did the hard work, and only required Ji to perform light fetching work. This plumber was neither friendly nor hostile toward Ji, but Ji felt very grateful for the reprieve from hard work that he allowed.

Convicts were required to submit written thought reports every day. At the end of the day an evening assembly was conducted. Roll was called, and then a speaker gave a lecture. That speaker would choose an inmate to pick on, and then seize on various faults he found in the inmate. Or he would find political errors in the inmate’s thought report. The inmate would be criticized, slapped, and beaten.

Even though Ji was now a convict, he was still subject to Struggle Sessions. On some mornings, instead of being selected for hard labor, Red Guards would show up and haul him off to a Struggle Session. There, he was subjected to the usual public show trial of accusations and beatings.

Ji describes acts of brutality committed against other inmates, as well. He writes of an inmate who was particularly despised by the guards, and who was forced to stare into the noonday sun without blinking, under threat of a beating.

Gradually, his incarceration and the Struggle Sessions became less severe. In February of 1969 he was allowed to return home and sleep in his own bed. Eventually he was ordered to return to the university and resume teaching students. He had survived the worst of the Cultural Revolution. But in spite of that, he found it very difficult to adjust back to a normal life.

The Communist Party had been decimated by the Cultural Revolution. Most of its members had been persecuted and kicked out, and there was no one left to run the Party. In order to save the Party, many of those who had been persecuted, including Ji, were allowed to return through a special rehabilitation procedure. But Ji describes this procedure as a farce.

16 years after the Cultural Revolution ended, Ji wrote his book. He offers some reflections about this revolution, in his book.

First, he concludes it was neither cultural, nor revolutionary. It was instead a ten-year-long disaster with incalculable cost, both intellectually and economically. The only thing received in return for the high cost is a lesson on what not to do. And this can only be learned if it is ensured that it is not forgotten.

He argues that those who were persecuted carry with them a lingering resentment and simmering bitterness.

Ji recounts how in the early days after the Communist revolution, he transformed from being nonpolitical to supporting Mao and the revolution. But he also recounts how the Cultural Revolution left him disillusioned with Mao and the revolution. And so, rather than being revolutionary, it was counterrevolutionary, and counterproductive.

This leads Ji to address the question, what made the Cultural Revolution possible? He admits he is ill-equipped to answer this question. And he claims that the only people in a position to tackle it refuse to do so and do not seem to want anyone else to try. He believes that if this question were addressed seriously, those who were persecuted would be able to set aside their resentment and work collectively toward the harmony and progress of their socialist society.

Ji nearly attempted suicide when he was 56 years old, immediately before his first Struggle Session. He wrote his book when he was in his 80s, and at that time he expressed ambiguity about whether or not suicide would have been the best course of action. He writes of a shame for his cowardice of choosing the humiliation and torture of the Struggle Sessions, over taking his own life. He may have kept his life, but he laments that he lost his sense of honor.

But in 1989 he was able to regain some of his lost honor. During the Tiananmen Square uprising, he publicly showed solidarity for the rebelling students. And after their movement was put down, and the students were arrested, he refused to denounce their movement, even after this was demanded of him.

Instead he went to the police station and asked to be locked up with the students, declaring, “I’m over seventy, and I don’t want to live anymore.” He was forcibly returned back to the Peking university campus where he worked, but was never punished for this bold act of rebellion.

Ji often employs dark humor in his writings about the atrocities he suffered during the Cultural Revolution. But this is the Chinese way to cover up unbearable pain from horrific memories. The Chinese have been conditioned to repress and hide their pain, for the greater good.

In spite of his near suicide, all the torture he endured, and emotional trauma he carried with him, Ji went on to a long life. He finally passed away in 2009, at the age of 97.

I found The Cowshed to technically be an easy read. However the accounts of torture and beatings sometimes left me wincing.

Ji Xianlin at age 41, in 1952, 14 years before the Cultural Revolution began.

Ji’s character left me wincing from time-to-time also. He admits he was partially complicit during the first stages of the Cultural Revolution, and even during repressive movements that occurred prior to 1966. He admits to turning against his colleagues a few times, and throwing them under the bus, and readily confesses his guilt for falling for Mao’s propaganda.

He even admits to being so incredibly stupid that he supported the Cultural Revolution all the way until it ended in 1976. And so it can be easy for me to find ways to criticize the author. Ji makes it easy.

But I hesitate to do so. After all, hasn’t he been criticized enough? Between the Struggle Sessions and his time in the Cowshed prison, this man had flaws in his character, both real and imagined, flung in his face many, many times more than most of us endure in our entire lifetimes. He had enough. So I will leave him alone.

I say, let’s keep Ji out of the Cowshed.

But I highly recommend his book, The Cowshed, for anyone who likes history told in an easy-to-read and forthright manner. You can find The Cowshed at Amazon, by following this link.


Thanks for reading this review of the book, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

We’ll be continuing our exploration of China in a few days, when I’ll begin a multi-part series on the Cultural Revolution, and the life of Mao Zedong, entitled The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao. So don’t throw away your passport. China is a big country, and there’s much more to see.

The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Part 1 (Review)

Welcome to Part One of my two-part review of the book, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, by Ji Xianlin. Part Two will be posted tomorrow.


The Cowshed:
Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution,
Book Review, Part 1 of 2

In 1966 a madness swept over China, called the Cultural Revolution, and Ji Xianlin found himself at the epicenter. Ji was a professor, and head of the Eastern Languages Department at Peking University, in Beijing. He was an intellectual, and that made him a target.

He endured terrible beatings and persecution during the Cultural Revolution, and spent time in a type of prison known as a Cowshed. But Ji was lucky enough to survive.

He went on to become a popular writer in China. When Ji became an old man, it troubled him that of the millions who had been persecuted and survived, none had written about their horrible experience. So he decided that since he had nothing to lose, due to his advanced years, he would write such a book.

Ordinarily it would be impossible to publish such an honest and critical book in Communist China, but the publication was approved during a politically relaxed time, in the late-1990s. Ji’s first-hand account of the torture, pain, and suffering he went through opened a rare window into a period of time the Communists had been trying to forget.

Ji’s book is called The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I found it on Amazon, and purchased it as a Kindle book for $14.99. To me, that’s a lot of money for a few electrons, and I’ve never understood why electronic books cost so much. What the hell! There’s no physical material here, publishers! Downloading an e-book is about like receiving a very large email, so I don’t get these big price tags. The printed version is about twenty or so dollars, and that is more understandable to me.

But I was curious about the Cultural Revolution, which left me willing to pay their ransom price. I’d heard about this revolution a few times, and the name of it sounded wonderful. But it had always seemed tinged by a dark, evil shadow.

I couldn’t find a whole lot of books about the Cultural Revolution on Amazon, so I guess there’s not a whole lot of interest in it. Of the few, Ji’s memoir seemed the most fascinating and, importantly for me, one of the cheapest.

The Cultural Revolution for Ji, as well as for the rest of China, began in May 1966. That’s when the head of Peking University’s Philosophy Department, Nie Yuanzi, crafted a poster that criticized the university’s Communist Party committee. On June 1, 1966, Chairman Mao praised the poster. After that, all hell broke loose.

Students at universities all over the country were encouraged by Mao’s praise of the poster, and abandoned their classes and studies so that they could devote all their time to creating their own posters critical of the Party. It was like Arts & Crafts class gone wild. And this criticism was like a cancer. It spread to include university administrators, and then to the professors and anyone else in any position of authority.

A Red Guard was quickly formed, composed of angry students and young hooligans, who went on a rampage. They began accusing intellectuals and Party officials of being counterrevolutionaries. They arrested them and subjected them to Struggle Sessions. A Struggle Session was a public trial where the accused was forced to stand or squat in an awkward position, while terrible accusations were leveled at him or her. They ended with the crowd in attendance beating the accused, sometimes to death.

Ji had already survived several persecution campaigns against intellectuals, since the establishment of communism in China some 17 years earlier. And he endeavored to survive this one also. His strategy had always been to keep a low profile and make as few waves as possible. Nothing succeeds like success, so he tried to employ this strategy again, to survive the Cultural Revolution.

It worked for the first year-and-a-half. During this time he saw many of his colleagues hauled before Struggle Sessions and endure the worst kind of public humiliation possible, and he witnessed terrible beatings. He’d been informed by Red Guards that he was not a target, but that he was “on the edge”. This was a scary time for Ji, as he endeavored to keep from falling over whatever that “edge” was.

But eventually he voluntarily went over the edge. The Red Guards on his campus split into factions. Nie Yuanzi headed a faction called New Beida. New Beida’s rival faction was called Jinggangshan. Both pressured Ji to join them. Ji knew he’d have to choose sides. The safest side was New Beida. It was strongest, and controlled most of the campus.

But Ji disliked Nie. She was a tyrant. Both factions were equally cruel toward those they persecuted. But Nie herself was very vindictive and Ji harbored a personal disdain for her. So he joined the weaker faction, Jinggangshan.

Now he was expected to work for Jinggangshan’s cause, and so he helped them create posters that excoriated his colleagues, accusing them of being counterrevolutionary. And he also helped create posters and write speeches that attacked New Beida and Nie Yuanzi. This was a big mistake, due to Nie’s vindictive nature.

On November 30, 1967, Red Guards from New Beida raided Ji’s house, searching for any evidence that might incriminate him as a counterrevolutionary. A few days later he was interrogated by these Red Guards. Some of them had been his own students, whom he’d gone out of his way to be kind to. But they turned on him during the interrogation and insulted him and twisted his ears.

They confronted him with a photograph of Chiang Kai-Shek, which they had discovered when they ransacked his home. Ji had never been a supporter of Chiang Kai-Shek. The photograph had been given to him by a student many years before, and he had kept it because he was one of those types of people who never threw anything away. But the Red Guards accused him of keeping the photo so that if Chiang Kai-Shek ever retook mainland China, he could use it to prove his loyalty to him.

Ji knew his situation was hopeless. For several days he brooded, worrying that he would not be able to endure the inevitable Struggle Session that was coming. He finally decided to commit suicide, like so many of his colleagues had done. But just when he was about to take an overdose of sleeping pills, Red Guards came to his house and hauled him away to the thing he dreaded the most. A Struggle Session.

The beatings began. At the Struggle Session he was slapped in the face and kicked in the back. He was forced onto a stage, where he was compelled to bow down so low that he nearly collapsed. He had to hold his arms out to maintain his balance. This was a newly invented torture by the Red Guards, called the “airplane position.”

He nearly fell over, but knew he would be severely beaten if he did. Suddenly he was hauled off stage and herded into an open truck, along with others who had been accused, to be paraded publicly. People threw stones at him, hitting his face and body. They kicked, punched, and spat on him. Finally they literally kicked him off the truck. Someone he knew punched him square in the face, making his mouth and nose bleed. Then he was ordered to go home.

Ji realized that in spite of this horrible experience, it had saved his life, because if the Red Guards had not shown up when they did, he would have committed suicide. He decided that if he could survive this he had nothing more to fear, and changed his mind about suicide. Yet even at the time of writing his book, in his eighties, he expresses uncertainty as to whether or not this had been the best choice.

More Struggle Sessions followed, leaving Ji beaten and bloodied nearly every time. They continued until the early spring of 1968. Then he was sent into the countryside to perform hard labor planting sweet potatoes.

His overseers beat him if he didn’t work hard enough to please them. One day he was beaten so badly, he collapsed. His testicles became swollen, and he could no longer stand or walk, so he was forced to crawl upon the ground and move bricks. Finally, he was ordered to crawl to a military clinic for treatment. But the doctor there refused to treat him, and he had to crawl back. It took him several hours each way.


In the next post, Ji finds himself living in a Cowshed. Come on back tomorrow for Part 2, and the conclusion to my review of the book, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, by Ji Xianlin.

A Trip to China

It’s pretty hard for Americans to travel to China these days. We’ve banned the Chinese from coming here, and they’ve banned us from going there. Ostensibly, it’s because of the Covid pandemic, but that makes no sense to me. After all, both our countries have had Covid. They’ve got plenty of antibodies over there, and we’re getting plenty of our own over here.

In fact, none of the travel bans make sense to me. We can’t even travel to Canada, nor can our Canadian friends visit us. And yet both countries have had Covid. What are we trying to prevent that hasn’t already happened? In my view it’s all bullshit hysteria, rooted in politics and xenophobia.

We can’t travel to Europe either, nor many other places. Some people from some states can’t even travel to other states without having to quarantine. Try visiting Hawaii, and you’ll have to lock yourself up in a hotel for 14 days, before you can dip your tootsies in Waikiki beach. This is nutty, in my view.

So I called bullshit on this, and went ahead and planned a trip to China, and I’m inviting all of my blogging buddies to come with me. But it has to be a virtual trip, because that’s the only way we can get to that country these days.

I’ve already dug a hole for myself now, with my complaint about travel bans, and I’m bracing myself for the usual heated lectures from those who disagree with me. But since I’ve started this hole, I’m just gonna keep digging deeper and deeper until I reach my travel destination. Those who want to visit China will have to grab a shovel and follow me.

I’m going to China because I recently became interested in Chinese history. Especially the period of the Cultural Revolution, which took place from 1966 to 1976. I got interested after some pundits compared China’s Cultural Revolution to all the bullshit going on in America these days.

Not the Covid bullshit but rather, the bullshit aftermath to the outrageous killing of George Floyd. We’ve seen our streets fill with demonstrators demanding racial justice. That’s not bullshit, in my view, although I do wonder about the public health experts who encourage demonstrating, arguing that racism is more dangerous than Covid. But the bullshit I’m referring to is when the demonstrations devolve into riots, looting, vandalism, burning down businesses, and pulling down statues.

I’ll keep digging by pointing out the increase in “cancel culture.” That’s more bullshit, in my opinion. We’ve seen people’s careers destroyed for something unfortunate they may have said or done, even if happened many years ago. We’ve seen iconic names targeted for change. And we’ve seen the destruction of statues of famous Americans.

Conservative pundit Jesse Kelly recently magnified the absurdity of the cancel culture craze, when he launched a campaign to cancel Yale University. He points out that the founder of Yale U., Elihu Yale, was a slave trader. With tongue in cheek, he’s calling on Yale to immediately change its name, and remove the name of Yale from every building and piece of paper, or else they hate black people.

The persecutorial nature of cancel culture does remind me of the iconoclasm of China’s Cultural Revolution. Icons of our culture are in danger of being destroyed, often for unexpected reasons.

For example, the name Eskimo Pie, for that delicious frozen ice cream treat, is being canceled. The word “Eskimo” is considered offensive, because it either means “eater of raw meat” or “to net snowshoes” (experts can’t agree which).

In another case, a federal judge recently resigned after the way he complimented a court clerk. He said she had “street smarts.” That’s now racist, in case anyone doesn’t know. The judge didn’t know, and although he publicly apologized, that apparently wasn’t enough. He had to be canceled. So he resigned.

There have been calls for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resign, for having appeared in blackface. And last year, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam found himself in the same boat. He nearly resigned for having appeared in blackface many years earlier, until it was discovered that his would-be successor, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, had been accused of sexual assault.

Northam and Fairfax might have both resigned, except that the next successor in line, Attorney General Mark Herring, had once appeared in blackface. If all three resigned, then the Republican Speaker of the House would have become governor. The Democrats weren’t about to let that happen, so they canceled cancel culture, for that particular situation, and everybody kept their jobs.

A statue of Ulysses S. Grant was canceled by a lawless mob of protesters in San Francisco, because his wife had owned slaves, or because he once owned a slave which he inherited and then set free, or something like that. Ulysses S. Grant. You know, the guy who defeated General Lee, winning the Civil War and thus playing a vital role at ending slavery. That guy.

Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who for sure owned slaves, but arguably had some desirable facets to their characters and accomplishments, are also in the crosshairs of the culture cancelers. And there’s the Emancipation Memorial in Washington D.C., depicting Abraham Lincoln freeing a kneeling slave. It’s being guarded, for fear protesters will tear it down illegally. A replica of the statue, in Boston, will be canceled, but at least that’s being done legally.

I can understand canceling things like Confederate statues, and the Mississippi state flag, when done legally. But I feel uneasy when cancel culture goes beyond the obvious and into gray areas. And regardless of the symbol, I don’t like things torn down, ripped up, or otherwise demolished, if it’s done illegally. That only encourages more of such actions, in an ever-broadening mob crusade against anything even remotely hinting of racism.

The mob even took over part of Seattle. They “chopped” it away and turned into an autonomous zone, where no police were allowed. In this police-free “paradise” two teenagers were shot to death, until the cops finally moved back in and took over, after a 23-day absence.

The madness is getting dangerous. A leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, Hawk Newsome, has threatened to “burn the system down” if BLM doesn’t get its way. And the BLM movement has called for the defunding (canceling) of police departments. Do they have any inkling of the grief, pain, and suffering that may follow? If they knew anything about the Chinese Cultural Revolution, they would, because that’s what happened there. The system was burned down while police were required to stand down.

The West Gate to Peking University. This university in Beijing was at the epicenter of the Cultural Revolution. Photo by Daniel Ng, CC BY 2.0.

It seems strange that our orderly society would so quickly devolve into anarchy. But so far, it’s not too late for us. So far we haven’t devolved to the level of rampageous anarchy that ravaged China during the 1960s. It was much worse for them than it currently is for us. Millions died in all their mayhem. And millions more were persecuted and suffered irreparable harm.

No, it’s not too late to learn from China’s Cultural Revolution. At this point, we can use it as an example of what not to do, in our efforts to change our culture. It can be a yardstick to measure the danger of “burning the system down” and prod us to seek more safe and constructive ways to transform.

And with that in mind, I have written a historical series about the Cultural Revolution, entitled, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao. I’ve also written a two-part review of the book, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, authored by the late Ji Xianlin.

The book review will come first, then the historical series. They will allow us to take a virtual trip to China, while also stepping back in time. In fact, we’ll go all the way back to 1893, when Mao Zedong was born. We’ll learn about his life, the Chinese civil war, and how communism was established in mainland China. And we’ll explore the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, and how it came about, and how it ended up.

We won’t let Covid stop us. We’re traveling to the exotic lands of East Asia, and getting in touch with a part of the world that often seems mysterious to Westerners. There’s a lot to learn, but I’ve tried to make the reading as enjoyable as possible.

It all starts in a few days, so pack your virtual bags for the Orient. Whoops, “Orient” is no longer politically correct, according to some scholars. I mean “Asia”. Damn, now I hope this blog doesn’t get canceled. If it survives, I hope to see everyone soon.

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