Tue, January 25, 2011
China > Mainland

Belated confessions of former Red Guards(2)

2011-01-25 09:38:00 GMT2011-01-25 17:38:00(Beijing Time)  Global Times

A popular Cultural Revolution poster depicts Red Guards and their motto: "It's no crime to revolt and there's no guilt in rebellion." Photo: IC

Red Guards shave half the hair off "gangster" Li Fanwu. Photo: 1966, Memory of Our Generation by Xu Youyu

A Research Paper into Hunan Farming by Mao Zedong provides guidelines for Red Guards such as "we must correct the wrongs even if we may use excessive means" and "A revolution is not a dinner party. We must strike down all landowners and step on them." Photo: 1966, Memory of Our Generation by Xu Youyu

Red Guards amass in Tiananmen Square in 1966. Photo: www.zrcx.com

Shen himself publicly apologized on November 4 last year in a Southern Weekend cover story headlined "After 44 years, the Red Guards finally begin to apologize publicly."

It was the first Red Guard apology article ever published on the Chinese mainland and immediately sparked a mainstream media debate.

"I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't beat or hurt anyone," Shen said. "That makes people like me most susceptible to apologizing."

Where readers might have yearned for a more cathartic, reconciliatory experience, in fact the recipients of apologies seemed nonplussed by the whole experience.

"I don't remember Shen Xiaoke hitting me," said Cheng Bi, the 86-year-old former party secretary of Beijing Foreign Languages Middle School. "He was a good kid."

Guan Qiulan, a teacher from the affiliated high school of Peking University, was "surprised" by the visit of a dozen former students.

"I don't remember," he said.


This is a very normal reaction, according to Wang Youqin, an overseas researcher into the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution and a former Red Guard.

"There's this tendency toward unconscious selective memory loss," Wang said.

An example, Wang said, is victims cannot remember the lyrics to popular Cultural Revolution songs while Red Guards can often recall every word.

"Almost all the victims chose to forget rather than taking in the persecution they had been through."

This type of unconscious selective memory loss might also explain why victims rarely demand an apology from their tormentors, she believed.

There's also another kind of "selective forgetfulness," Wang said.

"For those agitators who actively participated in the violence and persecution, they tend to omit their own violence from their memories, not even mentioning the names of the dead," she said.

Shen's letter of apology moved his classmate Zhang Yongbing. He called Shen from his car at noon a few days after the letter first circulated on an alumni website.

He ended up crying and confessed his role in the death of Yao Shuxi, his study program director. He told the Global Times he dearly wanted to apologize to Yao, but knew he never could.

One winter evening when he was barely 16, Zhang participated in a denunciation meeting.

"There were 30 of us in the classroom and seven or eight participated in the beating," Zhang said.

"They made her wear paper hats, kneel down. She was punched and kicked. When she was half unconscious after almost an hour of torture, she was ordered to crawl out of the classroom.

"When she passed me, I … kicked her on the side of her body so hard … that she fell out into the sidewalk, outside of the classroom," Zhang's voice cracked on the phone.

"I didn't feel anything at that time, nothing still after hearing the news she hanged herself opposite my dorm the next day.

"I even checked her body with other curious students."

The guilt came later.

"Gradually I felt regret," Zhang said. "It was the most unforgivable thing I have ever done in my life and I will never forgive myself.

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