China: The Virtues of the Awful Convulsion

“Bianyuanren” Jishi [A Record of “Marginal People”]

by Yang Kuisong
Guangzhou: Southern Publishing Media, 364 pp., 56 yuan

Secret Archives of the Cultural Revolution in Guangxi

edited by Yongyi Song et al
Mirror Media Group, thirty-six-volume e-book, $16.67 per volume, $600 for all thirty-six volumes
Li Fanwu, the governor of China’s Heilongjiang province, being denounced and tortured at a rally in Red Guard Square, Harbin, August 1966. One of his alleged crimes was political ambition, evidence for which was found—according to the photographer Li Zhensheng’s book Red-Color News Soldier (2003)—‘in his hairstyle, which gave him an ill-fated resemblance to Mao and so was said to symbolize his lust for power.’ Two Red Guards chopped and tore out his hair, after which he was made to bow for hours. The banner behind him reads, ‘Bombard the Headquarters! Expose and denounce the provincial Party committee.’
Li Zhensheng/Contact Press Images
Li Fanwu, the governor of China’s Heilongjiang province, being denounced and tortured at a rally in Red Guard Square, Harbin, August 1966. One of his alleged crimes was political ambition, evidence for which was found—according to the photographer Li Zhensheng’s book Red-Color News Soldier (2003)—‘in his hairstyle, which gave him an ill-fated resemblance to Mao and so was said to symbolize his lust for power.’ Two Red Guards chopped and tore out his hair, after which he was made to bow for hours. The banner behind him reads, ‘Bombard the Headquarters! Expose and denounce the provincial Party committee.’

1.

For decades, Beijing’s Beihai Park has been one of the city’s most beloved retreats—a strip of green around a grand lake to the north of the Communist Party’s leadership compound, its waters crowded with electric rental boats shaped like ducks and lotus flowers. A former imperial garden, Beihai is home to stone screens, temples, and steles from as far back as the Mongolian occupation of China, but it also has reminders of more recent conquests. On its western shore is one of the oddest: a life-size bronze sculpture of three children rowing a boat through a wave of musical notes. Next to the boat, three more children sit attentively as a soldier on a stool recounts a story. Surrounded by shrubs and flowers, the boat and the children point out toward the lake, as if readying for an idyllic day in the park.

The sculpture of the children was put up in 2013 to honor one of the most influential movies in Chinese film history: Flowers of the Motherland, released in 1955 as one of the first children’s movies made by the People’s Republic. It tells the story of a fifth-grade class with two rebellious children. Unlike the other thirty-eight children, they refuse to join the Communists’ Young Pioneers, even after hearing a stirring lecture from two demobilized soldiers. But eventually a flood of good deeds by the Communist children convinces the two recalcitrants to put on the red scarf, and everyone happily rows across Beihai’s lake to the words of the song “Let Us Paddle”:

After we’ve finished our day’s homework
We come to enjoy ourselves.
I ask you dear friends
Who…


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