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World Association of International Studies

PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Growing Up in Mao's Cultural Revolution
Created by John Eipper on 11/13/17 3:18 AM

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Growing Up in Mao's Cultural Revolution (George Zhibin Gu, China, 11/13/17 3:18 am)

When Mao's Cultural Revolution began, I was aged 5, but I still remember the ugly scenes: homes were raided, books burnt, my future elementary school was ruined and its windows and furniture were all broken. At least one teacher surnamed Yang committed suicide, and many other teachers were attacked on campus, streets, and inside homes.

In the cold winters, my playmates and I went to the school and we used broken desks to slide down an icy slope on campus. Nobody was there to stop us.

At the time, residents were ordered to perform cultish rituals daily. Inside one first-floor apartment in the neighborhood, a cult site was created with Mao's photo hanging high on the wall. Every morning around 7 clock, my mother took me to the site. Dozens of us followed one female official's order and bowed to Mao's photo three times. Then, she led us to sing a cultish song. Before going home, we bowed to Mao's photo again. This activity lasted for over a year. The crowds grew bigger and bigger, so that most of us stood outside in the courtyard.

Another memory: When the home raids occurred in Xian, my mother shouted to my father, "Our son could be killed by the mobs. Do something about it!" On the following day, my father brought home two steel pipes. I tried to play with them, but my father said, "Don't ever touch them. They could save your life!"

Reading Books

When I entered elementary school named Xian Dragon Head Village Elementary School in the spring of 1968, the Cultural Revolution was already in its third year. My school was shut down for two years prior. So, my classmates had age gaps of some three years.

But there were no books to read except cultish ones. The school library had already been destroyed.  In every class, we first had to stand up, shouting, "Long Live Chairman!" Our teachers were all terrorized and had been tortured.  Even so, they tried hard to do what they were supposed to do.

Often we attended attack meetings, in which teachers and students were ordered to make attacking speeches. I was often selected as a speaker to attack Mao's enemies. Also, we were ordered to write attack papers. Again, my papers were often selected as models. I was even selected as a speaker in the attack meetings attended by selected kids citywide. Looking back, those cultish speeches and papers only promoted the Party's interests at the expense of people. Now I feel the shame!

In addition, regular classroom study was often interrupted, as students were ordered to do manual work. We had to spend days and even weeks doing manual work. As we grew older, the manual work kept increasing in time and strength.

I enjoyed reading, but it was difficult to find books. I searched everywhere and made friends with many book lovers. Many books I read were torn or had missing pages. Even so, they were difficult to obtain. Sometimes, some books I borrowed went unreturned after I lent them to others. When this happened, I had to ask my parents for money to pay back. Still, I kept borrowing books. Sometimes I had to walk an hour to get a book. Even so, there were not many books in private homes. Many times, the owner required me to return a book in one hour or so. So, I became a fast reader. And I read many books sitting on street corners.

Only when I reached age 15, around the time of Mao's death in 1976, did I enter a library for the very first time. At the time, the public library was under tight control. Common people were banned from borrowing books. Only those who had a special permit were allowed to do so. I was lucky to borrow a special permit from a family friend, so that I started to borrow books from the library. But the permit carried another person's photo, so that it was tricky to get the job done.

After I entered high school in the fall of 1974, its library was also destroyed. I had to continue to rely on borrowed books. Only after entering university in 1978, did the library became a part of my life.

One event should be mentioned: In early 1974, I was nearly killed in an accident. Dozens of my teachers rushed to the hospital to see me though it took about a half hour by bus. Some teachers begged the doctors, "Please try your best. This boy is our best student!" At the time, our teachers continued to live under terror, but they tried hard to make our school as enjoyable as possible. Today, my gratitude only increases.

JE comments:  George Zhibin Gu's is a story of bravery, perseverance, and an all-encompassing commitment to learning.  I'm going to share his post with my students.

George's vignettes from the Cultural Revolution would probably ring familiar to North Koreans...today.


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