In Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic, Bette Bao Lord’s memoir of her three years in Peking as the American ambassador’s wife, she recalled that “all Chinese were in pain, and taking their pulse, reading their temperature, charting every change and finding the cure took all the effort they could muster.” I believe this illness was largely fear, so intense that it frightened some Chinese out of their wits; others simply stopped thinking. Long before the Cultural Revolution, Jung Chang, the author of Wild Swans writes, “Many people had been reduced to a state where they did not dare even to think, in case their thoughts came out involuntarily.”
One of the informants in Voices From the Whirlwind, a chilling anthology of Cultural Revolution memoirs, remembers how in August 1966 she waited in a completely dark room with her father and mother for the Red Guards to return and continue tormenting them: they had already had their heads shaved and been badly beaten with belts. “Suddenly we had somehow become enemies of our country. Just cringing there. No idea of what our monstrous crimes might be.” So the narrator, a young woman doctor, decided that she would kill her parents and then herself by puncturing their carotid arteries with a penknife. In a scene that is almost unbearable to read, the three sat in the dark holding hands. “My mother said how lucky they were to have a doctor daughter to help them die.”
She managed to kill her father, but the Red Guards burst in, and she and her mother leaped from a window. The mother died and the young doctor, crippled for life, was jailed for twelve and a half years for “committing the crime of murder in opposition to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.”
This story is terrible enough, but perhaps more terrible still is the victim’s confusion twenty years later when she tries to think about it. Feng Jicai, the eminent Chinese writer who compiled these accounts, observes at the end of the doctor’s story, “In dehumanizing times, the highest expression of human nature is destroying oneself.” But the victim of those dehumanizing times says, “Who in their right mind could stab their own father to death?… And what about my mother? How can I make up for that? If I hadn’t done what I did, my parents would perhaps be enjoying life today. If I’m not to blame, then who is…. It must be my fault alone…. I can’t say any more. Please don’t ask me to go on.”
In his introduction to Voices from the Whirlwind Robert Coles says:
The “Cultural Revolution” was at heart a crazed, wanton assault on one part of a country’s people by another part—an effort of some to frighten and intimidate others, to drive them into a land of fear and trembling, to use accusation in hopes that endless self-accusation would follow.
Over the last ten years the many painful accounts of the Cultural Revolution—the doctor’s story is one of the worst—have been called “the literature of the wounded.” What is disturbing about many of them is that no one seems to blame for the pain and death except the people who were directly responsible: Red Guards, brutal cadres, frightening officials, colleagues, or, of course, Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. Mao and the Party are rarely mentioned, although in its 1981 judgment on the Cultural Revolution the Party placed most of the blame on the “tragedy” of Mao’s last years, and even accepted some of the blame itself; but it hastened to emphasize Mao’s primary role as a great revolutionary and the Party’s unique ability to correct its own errors. In some way these admissions made it difficult for victims to mention Mao and the Party when discussing “the ten terrible years.”
The inability to blame Mao and the Party and other fundamental elements in Chinese society, along with fear, led to widespread guilt and paralysis. I have already discussed in these pages such paralysis in the case of Liu Binyan, China’s best-known journalist, now resident in the US, who joined the Party before it came to power—when he saw almost at once its brutality and hypocrisy—and suffered for more than thirty years at its hands. At one point, after years of persecution, Liu admits, “I began to convince myself: between Mao and myself, there could be one wrong, and since he was beyond wrong, it could only be me. Thus I accepted my fate.”1
Much “wounded literature” fills us with horror and rage, or admiration for the pluck and endurance of the survivors, but usually these memoirs leave us, like so many of the survivors themselves, empty, helpless, baffled, or—worse—paralyzed. How could that have happened, we ask ourselves, and on such a scale? The post-Mao leaders have referred to many millions of victims. And how many persecutors? What was it in Chinese society itself that made it possible for Mao and his supporters so easily to manipulate various groups, driving others “into a land of fear and trembling”? Lucian W. Pye of MIT has asked, “Why was it that the Chinese, in their frustration over sacrificing themselves to gain so little,…could explode with hatred towards forms of authority while idealizing the pristine virtues they thought they saw in Mao Zedong?”2
For many Chinese the worst possible nightmare is the possibility of a return to the Cultural Revolution, which the Party has been careful to portray as a kind of “tragic” parenthesis during the first essentially progressive decades after liberation. But for years Mao and his disciples had been arousing the darkest forces within the population.
Jung Chang, writing in English, of which she has wonderful command, is one of the few Chinese to get to the bottom of this provocation and response. Wild Swans is one of the most intimate studies of persecution, suffering, and fear in Mao’s time, before and after his triumph in 1949, and one of the finest. Born in 1952, the daughter of high-ranking Party officials, Jung Chang participated and suffered in the Cultural Revolution before coming to Britain in 1978. She took her doctorate in linguistics at York University, and now teaches in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is Jung Chang’s history of her grandmother, her mother, and herself, beginning in 1909, when the empire still existed and her grandmother was born, and moving through the Nationalist and Communist years to 1978, two years after Mao’s death, when Jung Chang left China, although she didn’t know it, forever.
In 1924, when her grandmother was fifteen, she became one of the concubines of General Xue Zhi-heng, chief of police of the shaky government in Peking. He was aroused by her tiny bound feet as she knelt before the Buddha in a Manchurian temple where she had been carefully positioned by her ambitious father to attract the general’s attention.
After an opulent “wedding” ceremony (he already had a wife and other concubines) the general spent three days with his new acquisition before leaving—for six years. His teen-age concubine had already been told by her father that “in Peking they say, ‘When General Xue stamps his foot, the whole city shakes,’ ” but as the general was leaving her he gave her a little pep talk about fidelity. Another one of his concubines, he said, had betrayed him with a male servant. So he dripped raw alcohol into a gag stuffed in her mouth.
“Of course I could not give her the pleasure of dying speedily. For a woman to betray her husband is the vilest thing possible,” he said…. “All I did with the lover was to have him shot,” he added casually. My grandmother never knew whether or not all this had really happened, but at the age of fifteen she was suitably petrified.
When she was twenty-four, she fled on horseback in the dead of night from the general’s house, which she was visiting while he was dying, and, with the infant who would become Jung Chang’s mother, took shelter in the house of Dr. Xia, a kindly, sixty-three-year-old Manchu. Three years later she had a nervous breakdown and the doctor “was the first man she had ever met to whom she could say what she really felt, and she poured out her grief and hopes to him.” They fell in love and married, over objections by his children so violent that one of them shot himself dead. They were a devoted couple, but had no children. “Years later,” Jung Chang says, “my grandmother told my mother, somewhat mysteriously, that through qigong [a traditional quasi-medical practice involving pressure by the hands] Dr. Xia developed a technique which enabled him to have an orgasm without ejaculating.”
Dr. Xia’s envious children did not dare to openly insult his young wife, but her little girl was made to suffer. She sought comfort from Dr. Xia’s coachman, who taught her to skate and told her stories about his past life as a hunter in the forests of northern Manchuria. Bears were fierce “and one should avoid them at all costs. If you did happen to meet one, you must stand still until it lowered its head. This was because the bear has a lock of hair on his forehead which falls over his eyes and blinds him when he drops his head.”
After the defeat of Japan in 1945 Manchuria became a battleground in the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, and Jung Chang’s fourteen-year-old mother De-hong (de means virtue, hong means wild swan), a bold, idealistic, and intensely patriotic school girl disgusted by the corruption of Chiang Kai-shek’s forces, became increasingly involved with the Communist underground in Jinzhou, a key city in the struggle. Her first task was distributing Mao Zedong’s On Coalition Government, which had to be hidden inside grain stalks and green peppers. De-hong was risking her liberty and even her life—at one point she was arrested by the Nationalists, and before she was released was shown prisoners being horribly tortured. She was placed before a firing squad which executed the man next to De-hong but spared her. Her willingness to sacrifice herself for the Party is bitterly ironic when one considers how savagely she and her family were to suffer at its hands.
Here lies the central tragedy of Wild Swans, a story of dashed idealism, and of suffering, endurance, and courage. The tragedy lies in the Chang family’s dogged faith in Mao and the Party despite considerable early evidence of their true nature. Or indeed because the Changs, like many others, half perceived that nature and it terrified them. What we see in Wild Swans is that much of the Party’s support depended on simple dread.
This can be understood from Jung Chang’s father’s early years in the Party and the first months of his marriage. In 1948, when she was seventeen, De-hong, who by now was well known to the Party as a daring and reliable supporter, met Chang Shouyu, an already important regional Communist official, ten years older than herself. He was from Yibin, in Sichuan province 1,200 miles away, the son of a well-off textile manufacturer bankrupted during the worldwide Great Depression. After a poor and wandering childhood, during which he acquired the love of books he would pass on to his daughter, he joined the Party when he was seventeen. By 1940 he had made his way to Yanan, Mao’s guerrilla headquarters.
His daughter says her father loved Yanan, which like the Americans who visited it during the war he compared to Kuomintang-controlled China and found it to be “a paradise of fairness.” Self-educated but brilliant, the young man from the provinces amazed his big-city comrades by placing first in the entrance examinations for the prestigious Academy of Marxist-Leninist Studies, where, when he was barely twenty, he became the youngest research fellow. It was in this Academy that fear turned the upright and idealistic Chang Shou-yu into the still upright but rigid and unyielding Communist who loved Jung Chang’s mother but blighted her life; thirty years later he would implore her forgiveness.
Jung Chang recalls that in 1942. Mao asked for open criticism of the Party’s failures, as he was to do again in the late Fifties after the Hundred Flowers. The effect was the same as in 1957: having, as he put it, “charmed the snakes from their holes,” Mao proceeded to punish his critics, who included leading intellectuals, such as the woman novelist Ding Ling. Some of the young research fellows, including Chang Shou-yu, had publicly called for individual expression and attacked the elite’s personal corruption. “Mao did not like what he saw, and turned his campaign into a witch-hunt,” says Jung Chang. Her father was accused by one of Yanan’s top ideologues, Ai Si-qi, of having “committed a very naive mistake,” and in what was an augury of decades of campaigns against intellectuals, Chang and his friends were subjected to months of group attack and self-criticism. They were charged with no less than causing chaos in Yanan and weakening Party discipline, “which could damage the great cause of saving China from the Japanese—and from poverty and injustice.”
This zheng-feng, or rectification campaign, came to a climax at the Yanan Forum on Literature and Art in 1942, at which Mao laid down once and for all the rules for China’s artists and writers to which they have been compelled, with more or less severity, to adhere ever since; it could be said that almost nothing worthwhile was written again.
Although what happened to Jung Chang’s father was a tiny side show in this mighty upheaval, his ordeal, which is not crudely described by the metaphor of brainwashing, was significant for understanding the rest of his life: it “turned him into a convert…. He regarded his harsh treatment as not only justified, but even a noble experience—soul-cleansing for the mission to save China.”
Jung Chang doesn’t fully explain what happened to her father, although her description of him and the rest of his life helps us to understand him. She mentions that the young dissidents at the Academy were led by a young writer called Wang Shi-wei. She says little about him, except that he was accused of being a Trotskyist and a spy. But Wang, the author of an essay called “The Wild Lily,” which was attacked as “a poisonous weed,” was the only one of the Yanan victims actually put on trial and, in 1947, when Mao was forced out of Yanan by Chiang Kai-shek’s forces, he was shot.3 As the Chinese expert Laszlo Ladany puts it, the Yanan purge “created a pattern which China was to find difficult to get rid of…. It culminated in the Cultural Revolution…. Mao made a number of fanatical converts who from their earliest days had only known one way of governing the Party and the country: namely the way Mao dealt with the Rectification campaign in the 1940s.”4
From then on Mao and his disciples tended to treat their critics like enemies. They terrified them, first by casting them out of the inner circle, which meant the victims suddenly became powerless, forcing them into detention or manual labor and, on occasion, shooting them. This should not be confused with Stalinism, which depended on one man, with enormous power, killing old comrades, singly or in great numbers, and eradicating religious and ethnic groups. Mao, by contrast, was a master at provoking the group, whether it was the Politburo or a cell in a primary school, into humiliating the people designated as legitimate targets. Although it was always possible that one could be executed, the prevailing fear among China’s Party members and intellectuals, until the mass killing of the Cultural Revolution, was of being isolated from guanxi—the Chinese web of alliances that protects individuals and their families. Avoiding this fate was a major preoccupation of Party life and is a core theme of Wild Swans.5
Eventually rehabilitated after his disgrace, around the time he met his seventeen-year-old future wife in 1948, Jung Chang’s father had become a famous guerrilla leader in Manchuria. They were instantly attracted to each other—she by his cultivation and cultural interests, his fine appearance, his habit of brushing his teeth each day, and his use of a clean handkerchief; he by her beauty, daring, and political maturity. And now for the first time De-hong encountered Party coercion and total control. “For those who had ‘joined the revolution,’ the Party functioned as the family head.” After securing Party approval to get married, the couple were literally on the point of climbing into their honeymoon bed when a Party representative arrived to take De-hong away “because of her family connections.” Two weeks later they were again given permission to marry. But “revolutionaries” were supposed to spend every night in their offices. De-hong used to sneak over a wall to her husband’s quarters and return at dawn. They were discovered. Each had to make a self-criticism. De-hong could not see “what harm [it] could do the revolution if she spent the night with her husband.” To her dismay he admonished her: “A revolution needs steel-like discipline. You have to obey the Party even if you do not understand it or agree with it.”
The reason for such insensitivity on the part of this unusually intelligent man, who deeply loved his wife and later his children, emerged fully in 1949. The young couple were ordered to travel, mostly by foot, over one thousand miles back to Sichuan, Wang’s native province, where by 1966 he would be one of the top officials. It was a grueling ordeal for De-hong, who although she didn’t know it was suffering the first pains of a miscarriage. Her husband’s rank meant he could travel by jeep. Although she was vomiting continuously he refused to carry even her bedroll because that would be nepotism (as opposed to the elitism which permitted him use of a car) and told her, “You have a choice: you can either get into the car, or get into the Party, but not both.”
Jung Chang is somewhat sympathetic to this on the grounds that the peasants would expect officials to be tough, and that her father had proved himself as a guerrilla fighter, but it seems to me that her father was frightened of criticism and its consequence—ostracism. It was regarded as disgraceful for a revolutionary to cry, Jung Chang says, and one night when her mother was weeping with pain her husband hurriedly clapped his hand over her mouth. Through her tears she heard him—the man who years before at Yunan had felt the blowtorch of Party discipline—whispering into her ear: “Don’t cry out loud! If people hear you, you will be criticized.” Later when she miscarried, and demanded a divorce, he apologized to her and washed her blood-soaked clothes, an unusual act for a Chinese man, Jung Chang observes. But when De-hong complained that “she could never please the revolution,” and might as well go home, he warned her, “That will be interpreted as meaning you are afraid of hardship. You will be regarded as a deserter and you will have no future…. Once you were ‘with the revolution’ you could never leave.”
Before long, when De-hong heard Mao proclaiming the victory of the revolution she scolded herself for her suffering—“trivial compared to the great cause of saving China.” But soon, and for the rest of her life, she realized “that my father’s first loyalty was to the revolution, and she was bitterly disappointed.” Six years later, in 1955, when De-hong was in detention for six months while her “class background” once again came under minute scrutiny, her husband—one of the top twenty Party officials in a province of well over seventy million people—never visited or telephoned. “As he saw it, to comfort my mother would imply some kind of distrust of the Party.” In 1957 De-hong told him, ” ‘You are a good Communist, but a rotten husband!’ My father nodded. He said he knew.”
In Chengdu, the provincial capital, because of her father’s extremely high rank (her mother’s was much lower, although she too had considerable power), Jung Chang grew up in a luxurious walled compound, surrounded by the squalor of the masses. Served by guards, chefs, and chauffeurs, she was entitled to see special movies and plays provided to the Party elite, and attended a “key school,” founded in 141 BC, for which she had passed the entrance exam with perfect marks in Chinese and mathematics. (Her “class background” had helped too, although her father cautioned her not to count on it.) She belonged, in short, to a group of “high officials’ children” (gao-ganzi-di), who had “an air which identified them unmistakably as members of an elite group, exuding an awareness of powerful backing and untouchability,” and because her father advised against close contact with such children, Jung Chang had few other friends and found that it was nearly impossible to form relationships with ordinary people. So sheltered was this life that between 1959 and 1961 when, according to Jung Chang, China’s great famine killed 30 million people, 7 million in Sichuan alone, or “10 percent of the entire population of a rich province” in which people were kidnapping and killing children for food, she knew nothing about the disaster—or “in fact, anything that might sow a grain of doubt in me about the regime, or Mao. My parents, like virtually every parent in China, never said anything unorthodox to their children.”
And here, as is so often the case in Wild Swans, Jung Chang provides us with part of the explanation for the success of the Mao cult. She observed that many Chinese believed that the Chairman had ended the civil war, brought peace and stability to China, and restored it as a great country in foreign eyes. The almost complete lack of information in China made it impossible to distinguish between Mao’s successes and failures—like the disastrous Great Leap and the ensuing famine—or even to compare his achievements with those of other Communist leaders. (Except, very quietly, within the inner circle: already in 1958, when the Great Leap was in full swing, her father had seen Marshal Ho Lung, one of China’s greatest military figures, point at Deng Xiaoping, and murmur, “It really should be him on the throne.” According to a popular song, “Father is close, Mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao.” But “fear was never absent in the building up of Mao’s cult,” which meant, as Jung Chang notes, that even thinking was dangerous.
All this was taking place long before the Cultural Revolution, and by 1961 Jung Chang’s father was cracking under the strain. Although she did not know there was a famine Jung Chang hardly saw her father between 1959 and 1961 as he inspected its ravages. Her parents, working “right in the center of the misinformation machine,” were racked with guilt, and before long her father collapsed, “no longer the assured puritan of yesteryear.” When he came under attack during the Cultural Revolution this collapse was characterized, accurately, his daughter dryly remarks, as “the waning of his revolutionary will.”
The last part of Wild Swans describes the Chang family’s agony during the Cultural Revolution. It is the most harrowing and extended account I have read of the years between 1966 and 1976, and the most analytical. During much of this period Jung Chang, who was only fourteen in 1966 when the grim decade began, watched with fear and shame the wrecking of her beloved school by its own students and saw her even more beloved teachers being beaten and humiliated. The deputy headmaster cut his throat. Her parents, although disillusioned, still said nothing to their children. “The situation was so complex and confusing that they could not understand it themselves.” Mao, she says, wanted total obedience, and to secure it, “he needed terror—an intense terror that would block all other considerations and crush all other fears.” All this was accompanied by a propaganda machine, with no rival sources of information, creating a picture of an allwise and good Mao for whose works even foreigners clamored.
But even when we take into account admiration for Mao’s achievements, and the efforts of the gigantic cultmachine, outsiders are often puzzled that Mao was able so easily and quickly to persuade large numbers of Chinese to do awful things to each other. Fear of the consequences of noncompliance, as I have already observed, was a very big reason. Jung Chang, whose book is in large measure her attempt to make sense of what at the time felt like chaos, looks at the nature of Chinese society itself. “In China,” she says, “there were virtually no safety valves for ordinary people.” No football, few genuine demonstrations, no redress, no politics.6
Jung Chang believed that when
Mao launched his call to “seize power,” he found a huge constituency of people who wanted to take revenge on somebody. Although power was dangerous, it was more desirable than powerlessness, particularly to people who had never had it. Now it looked to the general public as if Mao was saying that power was up for grabs.
She notes, too, that the chance for “privilege, awe, and fawning,” when combined with the fear of what would happen to anyone suddenly designated as a target, could have deadly consequences. Especially so in a country so violent that Jung Chang’s father, a decent man, sympathized with a subordinate who had beaten to death a bandit chief and eaten his heart, because the bandit was not “an innocent person but a murderer, and a cruel one at that.”
Yet even as the Cultural Revolution began destroying her protected world, separating her from her brothers and sisters, crushing her parents and driving her father insane, Jung Chang remained “incapable of rational thinking in those days.” No one forced her to join the Red Guards, she admits—of which she became a timid and shrinking member:
I was keen to do so…. They were Mao’s creations, and Mao was beyond contemplation…. So, at the very time the Cultural Revolution had brought disaster on my family, I became a Red Guard.
By now her father, who had been personally attacked by Madame Mao, was being paraded around Chengdu in a truck with a placard hung from a thin wire which ate into his neck. He appeared not to care: “In his insanity, his mind seemed to be detached from his body.” “What had turned people into monsters?” Jung Chang asked herself. She admits that previously, when people had been tormented, she had doubted their innocence, but she knew her parents were guiltless. (Innocence and guilt must be understood in Maoist terms.) She actively hated the government but thought of Mao as “the idol, the god, the inspiration. The purpose of my life had been formulated in his name. A couple of years before, I would happily have died for him. Although his magic power had vanished from inside me, he was still sacred and undoubtable.” This sounds as if his magic still remained potent.
In 1969 the Chang family was split up and sent off to the countryside. “Mao intended me to spend the rest of my life as a peasant,” Jung Chang says succinctly. Although some Westerners imagined “education through labor” to be politically progressive, all Chinese, Jung Chang maintains, “knew that hard labor, particularly in the countryside, was always punishment. It was noticeable that none of Mao’s henchmen, the members of the newly established Revolutionary Committees, army officers—and very few of their children—had to do it.” One of her observations of the efficiency of the “down to the countryside movement” is new to me: fifteen million young Chinese were forced to take part in what she rightly describes as “one of the largest population movements in history.” During a period of great turmoil, each was provided with sneakers, water can, flashlight, clothes, and bedding, all specially manufactured because they were not available in shops in such vast numbers.
The—astoundingly—still idealistic Jung Chang believed she was going to “a mountain of blossoms with a golden river at my feet,” and indeed what she describes as the tempestuous beauty of mountains, snow, and flowers stunned her. But when she arrived at the village where she was expected to settle down as a peasant, like thousands of other urban Maoists, she saw at last how the revolution had failed the rural people of China, 80 percent of the population, to whom these students were the same as foreigners. “Everything at Ningnan was done manually, the way it had been for at least 2,000 years…. The peasants were too short of food to be able to afford any for horses or donkeys.” The sheltered city girls, who had never cooked a meal in their lives, now had to walk for thirty minutes into the mountains, carrying empty water barrels which weighed ninety pounds when filled for the return trip. Foraging for firewood took four hours every day. Jung Chang had believed that the more one became like a peasant the better one was. With this “blind belief” gone she developed a skin rash, which lasted for three years but vanished each time she left the countryside.
Like her unhappy mother years before, when Dr. Xia’s old coachman told her how to deal with bears, she heard a marvelous animal story:
The wolves were very clever, the locals told the new arrivals. When one got into a pigsty, it would gently scratch and lick the pig, particularly behind its ears, to get the animal into a kind of pleasurable trance, so that it would not make a noise. Then the wolf would lightly bite the pig on one ear and lead it out of the sty, all the time rubbing its body with its fluffy tail. The pig would still be dreaming of being caressed by a lover when the wolf pounced.
At home in Chengdu, her ancient grandmother died, imagining she had been harassed by Maoists. Really, Jung Chang says, “she was finally killed by the accumulation of anguish.” Her granddaughter remembers her as, “a great character—vivacious, talented, and immensely capable.” But the ex-concubine had experienced little happiness. “How could the revolution be good, I asked myself, when it brought such human destruction, for nothing?” And still—she was now eighteen—“No matter how much I hated the Cultural Revolution, to doubt Mao still did not enter my mind.”
She managed to take leave of her village to spend three months with her father in what she describes as a gulag holding thousands of former officials. Although much aged, he was no longer insane. And he was full of remorse. He sent his wife a telegram: “Please accept my apologies that come a lifetime too late. It is for my guilt toward you that I am happy for any punishment. I have not been a decent husband. Please get well and give me another chance.” A year later he told Jung Chang’s brother that he had joined the Party to build a fair society. “But what good has it done for the people? If I die like this, don’t believe in the Communist Party anymore.”
In 1974, only two years before Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, Jung Chang, gripped by rage and hopelessness, “still did not condemn him [Mao] explicitly, even in my mind. It was so difficult to destroy a god.” But in the fall of that year, now a student at Sichuan University, and as idealistically unquestioning about the West as she had been about Mao, she read in Newsweek that Madame Mao was Mao’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” Suddenly—because it was a foreign publication and therefore must be telling the truth—she “experienced the thrill of challenging Mao openly in my mind for the first time.”
Chang Shou-yu died in 1975. His daughter wept for days for her father’s wasted life, his betrayal by a cause to which he had given himself since he was a boy. Even after death his ordeal continued: he had been offered the chance to blame his “deviationism” on his insanity, but he condemned Mao by name, thus losing the chance for political rehabilitation. His wife understood that if his official memorial valediction mentioned these deviations her husband’s descendants would be doomed “for generation after generation.” It would be the final casting out. By pulling every string she managed to procure an innocuous statement, and saved her children from the political cold.
In words which will not endear her to the Chairman’s old comrades who are still running China, Jung Chang hands down a terrible judgment: Mao, she says,
had managed to turn the people into the ultimate weapon of dictatorship. That was why under him there was no real equivalent of the KGB in China. There was no need. In bringing out and nourishing the worst in people, Mao had created a moral wasteland and a land of hatred…. The greatest horror of the Cultural Revolution…was carried out by the population collectively.
In 1989 the protesters in Tiananmen Square were trying to do something about Mao’s moral wasteland. The ceaseless assurances from Mao’s elderly henchmen, who are forcing every student in China to study the Chairman’s Thoughts, that the Peking massacre prevented another Cultural Revolution, are a particularly vicious example of the Big Lie.
March 5, 1992
See The New York Review, April 26, 1990, pp. 23–26. ↩
“Reassessing the Cultural Revolution,” in The China Quarterly, December 1986, p. 602. ↩
This episode is described ably in Merle Goldman, Literary Dissent in Communist China (Harvard University Press, 1967) and in Gregor Benton, editor, Wild Lilies: Poisonous Weeds (Pluto Press, 1982), which includes the text of “The Wild Lily.” ↩
Laszlo Ladany, The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921–1985: A Self-Portrait (Hoover Institute Press, 1990), reviewed by Simon Leys in The New York Review, October 11, 1990. ↩
Lucian Pye has recently written astutely on the traditional Chinese subordination of the individual to the group, and how this worked to the advantage of the Party. The Party’s attack on individualism, Pye notes with special reference to the ordeal of Liu Binyan, “was directed at keeping the masses in line so that the leadership would be free to advance its interests, which could be quite personal and not necessarily in the national interest.” “The State and the Individual: An Overview Interpretation,” The China Quarterly, No. 127 (September 1991), p. 449. ↩
This also makes for mass boredom. I noticed in Peking between April 15 and June 3, 1989, that the Tiananmen demonstrations offered something for masses of people, including lovers and parents with small children, to do. Even on the night of the massacre the streets were full of sightseers. ↩