Memories of the Cultural Revolution


After the “three years of natural disasters”, agricultural production gradually recovered somewhat, and the tension of urban Life was also relieved. But it was as if a person had just recovered from a serious illness and was not in good spirits, and did not know whether he could still have a healthy life in the future. So in the 60’s there was a feeling of confusion, should we do things, can we do things? There were things I wanted to do, but I didn’t dare to do them, for fear that the more I did, the more mistakes I would make. People were also very cautious in their speeches, not talking about national affairs, not to mention the world. Little did we know that by the second half of 1966, a new great upheaval would begin – a great upheaval created artificially and directed from the top down.

On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, those of us who worked in the government agency (the Committee for Textual Reform – ed.) were ordered to go to work on Time every day and study political documents when we got to work. One day, the air of study was particularly serious, and what did we study? We were studying an editorial in the People’s Daily, which was actually the one that launched the Cultural Revolution. The editorial cursed two kinds of people: one was a professor and the other was an engineer. The next day, we continued to study the editorial, and we did the same thing, continuing to scold professors and engineers. What was this about? We were all on tenterhooks, not knowing what was going on. On the third day, the tone of the editorial changed, no longer scolding professors and engineers. What did they scold? It was about “reactionary academic authorities”. Some days later, I was told that the People’s Daily’s opposition, cursing and attacking professors and engineers had caused strong international disquiet and opposition. So the tone of the editorial on the third day was changed to “reactionary academic authorities” – actually referring to professors and engineers. Since “academic authority” is “reactionary”, the Chinese government opposed it, and the international community could not criticize it. Later, the object of this opposition changed, and the focus was not on “reactionary academic authorities”, but on “those in power who follow the capitalist road” – the “capitalists”. “capitalists”. At that time, the bad guys were clearly categorized as “the rich, the rich, the bad and the right”, i.e., the “Black Five”. At this time, the composition of the “black five categories” changed, because the landlords were all knocked down, and the “capitalists” became the first category.

For the first year or two after the Cultural Revolution began, I continued to go to work and study on time, but I did not do any business work anymore. I went Home from work early in the afternoon to rest, and I had nothing to do but to feel frightened. Around the third year, the situation became more and more tense, and a “cowshed” was set up. This cowshed is a place to hold “cattle, ghosts and snakes”. We had three large rooms in our unit, which were originally car storage rooms, so we cleaned up the three car storage rooms and put a lot of beds in them, and they became “cowsheds”, where “capitalists” and “reactionary academic authorities” and other bad elements were kept. The “capitalists” and “reactionary academic authorities” were imprisoned in this place, and they were not allowed to live at home. They were not allowed to live at home. They lived there, studied and worked every day. I belonged to the “reactionary academic authority”, so I also moved in. In our unit, Wu Yuzhang and Hu Guizhi, the leaders of our unit, were not imprisoned in this place. The third one was Secretary General Ye Laishi, who was a “capitalist” and was imprisoned here. The “reactionary academic authorities” included Ni Haishu, Lin Handa, and me. In addition, there were more than seventy people in our unit at that time, of whom about twenty were classified as “gangsters”, and all of them were locked up in this “cowshed”.

The life in the “cowshed” was like this: in the morning, the main study was “Quotations from Chairman Mao”. This book of quotations was probably issued by the Central Cultural Revolution Group, and it was a kind of advanced quotations, printed in oil, with very large characters – kind of like a number four character. There were a lot of large books, not just one or two. The main self-study, read by themselves, not allowed to take notes, and can not take home, after reading to turn in. Learning this “Quotations from Chairman Mao”, but indeed opened my eyes, so I know a lot of outside the speech of Chairman Mao do not know.

Besides studying, I also had to work. Labor is to sweep the floor, pull weeds, carry garbage, and so on and so forth, not very heavy labor. We had to stand in line for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Because we were “reactionary academic authorities” and “gangsters,” we had to let others get in front of us and let them eat first. We lived in the “cowshed”, and at first the management was relatively loose, so we could go home every Saturday and return to the “cowshed” on Sunday morning. But there is a task to go home, what task? Continue to “break the Four Olds”.


At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, “breaking the Four Olds” was a key task. At that time, I lived in the back street of the beach, where more and more people were living. When the “Four Olds” were broken, it was a thunderbolt, creating an atmosphere of terror and constantly listening to big reports. The report praised some people who did a good job of “breaking the Four Olds”, that is, removing all the old things from their homes. All things associated with feudalism and imperialism, including the former diplomas, documents, university appointment letters, photos, all have to be burned. Some people even smashed the furniture handed down from their ancestors. Foreign currency, silver, Gold, etc. are not allowed to be kept. The old wire-bound books are also “four old”. I used to put a lot of books in a small room in the unit, after the Cultural Revolution began, we were “gangsters”, so we could not go to the office, the office can no longer put things. So our books had to be sold. At first, the price was good. After the Cultural Revolution, the wages of us “gangsters” were reduced, at first by about half, and then by less and less, until I had only 35 yuan a month. This 35 yuan also has to deduct the various fees that need to be paid – I can not remember exactly, anyway, there is no money to eat. I was ordered to “break the Four Olds” and destroy all my diplomas, awards, medals and writings about capitalism. There was a big stove to burn these old books. My wife, Zhang Yunhe, who was a history teacher, had a copy of “The Twenty-Four Histories” and sold it to a used bookstore – people from the used bookstore came to our compound to collect old books one by one. How much did it cost? The book collectors were already very polite, otherwise they would have had to weigh the book by the pound, and they probably would have been able to sell it for 7 yuan.

At that time, people from used bookstores could come to your home and look at your old things at will, “breaking the Four Olds”. When he saw that I had an Encyclopedia Britannica, he said, “This is also the ‘Four Olds’.” I said, “Okay, this is the ‘Four Olds’.” I smiled. The old bookstore man was still friendly to us, and he said, “This book of yours, there are people who want it, I will contact you, if you can sell it, you can also get a few money, otherwise the ‘four old’ are burned or thrown away, it is also a pity.” I said yes. Soon, he told me that a school or library wanted the book, and gave a lot of money, 500 yuan. At that time, 500 yuan was a big amount, and we were short of money at that time. I said yes, so I sold it to them. 500 yuan, which was the highest price among the things that could be sold in the “broken four old”.

Zhang Yunhe loved kunqu, and she took a lot of photos of it. At the same time, we still have a lot of old photos at home, although the number is small, but we have preserved some ancient things, such as the photos I took with my Parents when I was very young, the photos of Zhang Yunhe when she was young, and the photos of Zhang Yunhe’s parents. We don’t want to “break” these. The situation is getting more and more tense, and some people have already become the target of struggle because of the incomplete “breaking of the Four Olds”. After being struggled, that “break” up is more powerful.

When the “Four Olds” were broken, we, the named “gangsters”, did not dare to go out to see our friends. In addition to my books, I also have my friends’ books at home. What about my friend’s books? I casually “broke” it, there is no way to return it to others in the future. One of the books, “The Complete Collection of World Art”, was lent to me by Handa Lin, and it was full of pictures of world famous paintings, which was very valuable. I thought if I lost this book, I would be sorry to him, I’d better return it to him first. I asked around, their Family because they live alone in the house he bought, for the time being there is nothing – our family that area “broken four old” very strong. So I found a way to sneak in this book at night to return it to him. When I returned the book, I felt that I had done a good deed. The next day, the rebels arrived at their home. Lin Handa is our unit, but his son or someone is another unit, and this unit seems to be related to a furniture factory, probably this factory people to “break the four old”. So, at that time, if you did not “break” yourself, the rebels would come to your home to help you “break”. These people came to his house to “break the four olds”, once they found this book, ha, this is not good, the “yellow book” hidden in the house! They took the book away and “broke” it. What’s more unexpected is that, a day or two later, the unit took him to a struggle meeting for hiding the “yellow book”. I regret this. When the rebels from our unit came to my house to “break the Four Olds”, they searched all the Chinese books, and did not move any of the foreign books they saw. So I did not move a single foreign book in my house, and I kept many foreign books. But he suffered because of this book. It is said that when he was dragged to struggle, he was made to kneel down to the masses and give an account on his knees.

There was hardly a family of our relatives and friends who were not “broken by the rebels”. For example, Shen Congwen’s family had a lot of books, but they were all destroyed. After the books were all gone, Shen Congwen’s family was put together in a small room where they used to store their books, and the family lived in the original small study.

There was also Yuan’s second sister’s family. Yuan’s second sister’s name is Minxuan. This Yuan Minxuan kunqu singing very well, very well educated. Although she did not graduate from college, she went to university, knew English and German, sang kunqu exceptionally well, could draw and write, and was really a talented woman. It used to be the custom that talented women did not work after they got married. She and Zhang Yunhe were both in the Kunqu Study Club and were good friends and partners. Her husband’s name was Hu Xianzhou and he was very rich. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, her neighbor had an elementary school principal who committed suicide within a few days. It was a shocking event in their hutong, and she didn’t know what to do, so she came to our house and asked what the Cultural Revolution was all about and why that person had committed suicide. She didn’t know what to do, so she came to our house and asked what the Cultural Revolution was all about and why the man had committed suicide.

At this time, the whole country stopped working, except for the peasants who were farming, the workers who were working, and a very few other places, and all the schools, research institutes, and government agencies stopped working. This was unprecedented in the world. It was unprecedented for a strong central government to order the whole country to stop working.

So at this time, we felt that even if we wanted to study, we could not do research at all, although we still had time, it was very difficult to do research. For example, the Beijing Library was next to the North Sea, and it was difficult to borrow books at this time. Our house was on the beach, close to the Beijing Library, and I often went there for a walk to borrow books. Before the “Cultural Revolution”, it was very difficult to borrow books here, and there were restrictions. You could only borrow books of your major, but not books of other majors. For example, my major was linguistics, so I could only borrow books on linguistics. Once I went to borrow a book by Shakespeare called “The Merchant of Venice”, a very famous book called “Merchant of Venice”, which is written in the so-called “basic English” in England. The book was written in what is called “basic English” in England, and the word “Merchant” was not used in “basic English”, so the word “Trader” was used instead of “Merchant”. I wanted to borrow this book, but the library said I couldn’t, because you are a linguistics major and this book is literature. I had to explain why I wanted to borrow this book. I said, “This book is written in basic English, and I am a researcher of basic Chinese, and I want to refer to some features of basic English. I told him that the word “Merchant” did not exist in basic English, so I used “Trader” instead, which meant that it was not an ordinary literary book, but had something to do with linguistics. I had a hard time talking to him for half a day, and he finally gave me face and lent it to me. So, at this time, I was already very restricted to do academic research.

Later, I realized that, starting from the “Anti-Rightist Movement”, the strategy to suppress intellectuals step by step was called “use, restrict, and reform”. Restrictions were like this: you were not allowed to do research work; you were not allowed to write articles; you were not allowed to collect books – foreign books, or ancient books. Such and such are all restrictions. Among the “breaking the four old”, especially in our kind of units, the main is to break the “four old” of knowledge, the destruction of your books is an important means.


After the Cultural Revolution began, the office was closed, research could not be done, and the mood was very unstable, and every day seemed to be in a big storm. Therefore, when I was free, I went with Zhang Yunhe to see Yuan’s second sister.

Sister Yuan is an articulate person, and it was very interesting to talk with her. When we talked at her house, Hu Xianzhou did not participate much in our conversation. Every day after dinner at six o’clock – we had dinner early – we went for a walk in Jingshan Park, and Hu Xianzhou also went for a walk, so we became walking friends. During the walk, we also met another friend, an engineer who had studied in Europe. But at this time, he was dressed in a very rustic way, and his habits were also very rustic, which was very interesting. For example, we walk in the park, tired of sitting on a chair will. He did not sit on the chair, but squatting on the ground – not sitting on the ground, is squatting, take a leg curled up, the other leg standing, which is a bit like the crane in the park. When a crane rests, it bends one leg up and hides it in its feathers, standing with only one leg. Later I noticed that many people in the countryside of Beijing rested in the same way: not sitting on the ground, because the ground was dirty; and not sitting on a stool, which they did not necessarily have at home since they were small. How can you not see that this person is a very good engineer. In this brief period when there was nothing to do and nothing to do, it was a pleasure to be with Hu Xianzhou and this rustic-looking senior engineer every day, and to take a walk and rest in Jingshan Park.

Hu Xianzhou was also an engineer, and his knowledge was very broad. He reads mainly German books, and whenever he reads something interesting, he tells us about it. For example, there are many snakes in Indonesia, and one kind of snake likes to eat pigs, and a small pig snake swallowed it in one bite. So what to do? The farmer put a small pig in a cage made of sticks, the snake went in and swallowed the pig into the stomach, the snake’s stomach became very large. The snake’s head could come out of the cage, but its stomach could not. So the owner was able to catch the snake the next day and cut the piglet out of the snake’s stomach – dead, of course, but still eatable. This is a method of catching snakes. Later, the method improved even more. Farmers knew that snakes liked to eat eggs, so they made many wooden “eggs” – broken eggs coated with wood and placed in a cage. The snake went in and ate the eggs, and when it was too greedy to eat them, its stomach grew too big to run out. And the snake swallowed these “eggs” in the stomach, want to crush it, but the wood egg how to winch can not be crushed, the result is that the snake died of swelling. It is more convenient to catch snakes in this way.

In this part of Indonesia, there are many crocodiles, and they eat children, dogs and chickens. The crocodile has a strange habit, where it comes ashore, it also goes down from where. The traces of where it passed are very clear. So, the farmer waited for the crocodile to come ashore and stuck a sharp knife in the place where it was going to pass. After the crocodile came ashore and ate the chicken, he went back to the original road and his stomach was cut open, and before he reached the water’s edge, the crocodile died. The local people use this method to catch crocodiles.

Every evening, we had a very happy talk in Jingshan Park, without talking about politics or the Cultural Revolution. We did not talk about politics, not about the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was getting stronger and stronger outside, so we did not talk about it.

But it didn’t last long, the rebels were getting worse and worse. The rebel faction went to Hu Xianzhou and Yuan Er sister’s house to rebel. We didn’t see the specific scenario of this rebellion, we just heard that there was a big problem in their house and didn’t dare to go to see them anymore because the situation was also tense where we lived. Later, we learned that the rebels came to their house and took everything that could be broken and everything that was valuable. The rebels suspected that they had hidden good things under the floor, because they lived in a very sophisticated house. Yuan’s father was a great official in the Qing Dynasty, named Yuan Lijun. The plaque inscribed by Yuan Lizhun can still be seen today in the Summer Palace’s Hall of Hearing Orioles. Yuan Lijun was the teacher of Emperor Xuantong, a native of Changzhou, my hometown, and probably some distant relatives. Yuan Erzun grew up in Beijing, and naturally spoke Beijing very well. Their house was raided so badly that the floor was dug up and the house was smashed to pieces. After the raid, they had a small room for firewood, and the rebels let the family live in that room, leaving the other rooms for the rebels.

Not only that, they also took Hu Xianzhou away. In less than a week, the family was informed that the person had died. Only later did we know the general situation. He had severe diabetes, and when he was at home, he did not dare to eat rice or steamed buns, but only nestlings and corn porridge. At the same time he prepared his own Medicine so that he could treat his condition himself if necessary. After he was taken away, the rebels struggled against him and locked him up in an outhouse. There was no way to control his diabetes when it flared up, and with the severe beating he received, he soon died. Although he was diabetic, he was still in good health, which was tragic. He was not rehabilitated until after the fall of the “Gang of Four”, when Hu Yaobang presided over the vindication of wrongdoings.

After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Yuan lived in a shabby room and we went to see her. She was still so optimistic, still talking and laughing, very funny, and she told jokes with a high level of Culture. Later, she died when she was sick and unattended. She was younger than Zhang Yunhe and even younger than me. She could truly be called a woman of talent, and her death was a pity.

When we talk about Yuan Er-sheng, we must think of one of Yuan Er-sheng’s nieces. She lived with one of her brothers, and they had a large house with many rooms, of which she lived in the best one. Her brother and sister-in-law, and two or three daughters, lived in the front one. These girls were all beautiful, some in elementary school, some in junior high school. During the Cultural Revolution, the Education at that time told them that they came from a bureaucratic landlord family and that their composition was too bad, and that they must change their composition. How could they change their composition? The only way was to go to the countryside to work. One of them – probably the third daughter, who was a junior high school student at the time – went to the countryside and soon married a peasant. She was very happy at that time, thinking that after marrying a peasant, her status would be changed and she would be the master of the country, not a reactionary class anymore. But after the end of the Cultural Revolution, tragedy struck. This beautiful girl married and gave birth to a child. One was a boudoir girl from the city, whose father taught at the university; the other was a peasant, uneducated, and the family was poor. This led to a conflict, and we keep hearing about this conflict and misfortune. What exactly it was like afterwards, whether there was a divorce or not, I’m not quite sure, but it was very unpleasant anyway. Things like this are very common, not just one or two.

In the same situation as this little girl, there is also an old friend of ours. The so-called “old friend”, because he is much older than us, is called Xu Qian’an (Xu Shizhen). Xu Qian’an’s granddaughter, also of the same age, had probably just entered junior high school. She did not go to the countryside voluntarily, but was forced to go to the countryside. She went even further to the northeast, probably to Heilongjiang. When Xu Qian’an went to the countryside, he told his granddaughter that she should not get married in the countryside, and that she should not marry for life. This granddaughter listened to this advice and never got married. Later, after the “Gang of Four” was defeated, the policy changed and she was released and is doing very well today. These two people are two kinds of results. At that time, Xu Qian’an, an old man, told his granddaughter to come back and not to marry a peasant, which was considered a “counter-revolutionary statement” at that time.


At this time, the trend of the Red Guards was getting bigger and bigger. Our unit soon organized its own Red Guards. I later learned that each unit must organize its own Red Guard to prevent outside Red Guards, fake Red Guards and non-Red Guards from coming to the unit to raid homes. Many of those who came to raid homes were robbing and smashing things. The Red Guards organized by themselves, their own rebellion, to some extent, to protect the unit’s “gangster” characters.

When the Cultural Revolution began, more and more large-character posters were posted. At first they were posted in the auditorium, but later they were posted on the walls outside the auditorium and the compound. The old site of Peking University was so big that the whole compound was plastered with them, so they were posted outside the gate. Not only our unit, but also all units are like this: after the walls of our unit are full, they are posted on the road. In terms of our unit, it goes west to north, all the way to the zoo. I don’t know if there are places farther away than the zoo. What does this large-character poster say? It is to scold people, scold “capitalist”, scold “reactionary academic authority”, scold “the rich, the rich, the bad right”. I was one of the “reactionary academic authorities” in our unit, so of course I was the target of criticism. Every large-character poster had our names on it, written in black ink with a cross in red ink, indicating that it was a reactionary figure, and sometimes your name was written upside down.

At this time, I was locked up in the “cowshed”. My beloved didn’t dare to live in the house, because it was a reactionary family, and anyone could come to fight you, to beat your door, to break your windows and doors, and to break everything you planted outside your window. This is not all. Sometimes they even come to your house in the middle of the night and beat people up. Under such circumstances, she is afraid to live in the house. My son and daughter-in-law are in the Chinese Academy of Sciences and live in Zhongguancun. When our side is very lively, their side is relatively cold. My beloved went to live with my son and daughter-in-law for a while. My granddaughter had just started elementary school, so my lover accompanied her to the zoo to play, because Zhongguancun is not too far from the zoo. When they arrived at the zoo, they saw that there were also large-character posters, plastered all over the place. Among them was the large-character poster of our unit, and my name was marked with a cross. My granddaughter knew my name, and she asked her grandmother, “Is this grandpa?” Grandma said, “Yes.” Then she asked, “Grandpa is a good man, how come he was marked with a red cross?” My beloved told her, “Grandpa likes to speak well of foreigners, so he made a mistake.” Then my granddaughter said, “Grandma, go back and tell Grandpa not to talk about foreigners being good anymore.”

Then one day we got orders in the cowshed to come out of the cowshed and go read the big words. It was just after dinner, and we had to leave after dinner, so someone led us to read the big-character posters. Our “barn” was very close to the courtyard of the office building. The office building had six floors, we used the first to the third floor, and the fourth and fifth floors – mainly the fourth floor – were for the Foreign Cultural Liaison Committee, which was a subordinate body of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At that time, Vice Premier Chen Yi was also the Minister of Foreign Affairs, so the number one critic of the “capitalists” in this organization was Chen Yi. As soon as we stepped out of the cowshed, we realized that there were so many large-character posters criticizing Chen Yi. The wall can not be posted, so take a rope to hang in the courtyard, hanging a line, two ropes between but two feet wide. The rope was hung higher than a person, and the large-character posters were hanging to the ground, so it looked like a forest of large-character posters. You can’t see anyone inside the large-print newspaper, they are covered by the large-print newspaper, you have to find a person is no way. Oh, these big-character posters were all critical of Chen Yi, saying that Chen Yi was “extremely reactionary” and an old “rightist”.

After reading the big-character posters, we went back to the “cowshed” to wash our faces and rest for a while. We all thought, “How can Chen Yi be a “bad element”, a “rightist”, a “capitalist”? We didn’t understand what was going on, because Chen Yi gave us a pretty good impression. But I remembered one thing. At the beginning of the “Anti-Rightist” movement, Chen Yi made a report at the CPPCC, saying that if anyone was aggrieved during the “Anti-Rightist” period, he could tell him, and he could fight for justice. When I think of this remark, it may be a serious “rightist” remark. Later, many of the “rightists” suffered a lot of grievances, but they had no place to complain, and they could not tell Chen Yi. Chen Yi himself could not protect himself, so what Chen Yi said was also empty words.

By this time it was very late, so we all went to bed. But after reading the big-character posters, we kept thinking about Chen Yi’s problems. At that time, we heard many people shouting slogans together, and at first we couldn’t hear them clearly, but later we heard them more and more clearly: “Down with Chen Yi! Down with Chen Yi! Down with Chen Yi!” This “Foreign Cultural Liaison Committee” was only one of the departments under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and there were many other diplomatic organizations that were probably equally opposed to Chen Yi. However, there was one difference: these anti-Chen Yi posters could only be hung inside the gate, not outside, for fear of being photographed by foreigners.


Early the next morning, we went out to work as usual. At this time, the labor was getting heavier and heavier, and the small cart made of iron was not easy to push. The empty cart was very heavy and not easy to push, and it was even more tiring to push up after putting a lot of things in it. In our unit of “cattle and snakes”, there is a colleague named Chen Yue, born in Vietnam, is a descendant of Vietnamese Chinese. He was patriotic and aspired to revolution. After the founding of New China, he secretly left Vietnam and came to Beijing. He wrote to Hu Guizhi and asked for a job, so Hu Guizhi placed him in the Cultural Reform Committee. But after he entered the Cultural Reform Committee, he was suppressed all the time, and every time there was a movement, he was hit. We couldn’t understand what could be wrong with him if he had been out of the country. He and I were particularly good, because we studied many academic issues together. When I couldn’t push the iron wheelbarrow, he helped me. He helped me with many heavy tasks, and when two people were carrying something, he carried the heavy load. He was younger than me, of course, about 20 years younger than me, and I am very grateful to him.

This man did a lot of work in the Cultural Reform Commission. For example, the Chinese character simplification program, which later became, by analogy, the Master List of Simplified Characters. This Master List of Simplified Characters was a specific work done by Chen Yue. For example, a very small thing is that this Master List of Simplified Characters was initially called the Master List of Simplified Chinese Characters. Chen Yue proposed to leave out the word “Han” from “Chinese characters” and call it the “Simplified Chinese Character Master List”. This was simple and clear, and people thought his idea was very good. Moreover, among the simplified characters, several characters were added later, such as the word “ft” in “英呎” was abolished, and the word “ft” was used in the future; the word “海浬” in The word “nautical mile” in “海浬” was abolished, and it was called “海里”. There are about 20 characters, mainly from Japan. Some characters were pronounced with several sounds, so they were changed to one word with one sound. The simplification of a number of characters used in science and technology, as well as those used in metrology, was proposed by Chen Yue. He also studied the use of the phonetic alphabet for shorthand, and published a book called “Simple Shorthand”, which was very well done and very popular.

He had five children, two boys and three girls, and the names he gave to his five children contained the meaning of “red”, which means leaning toward the Communist Party. It’s funny, one is Chen Hong, one is Chen He, one is Chen Zi, one is Chen Dan, and one is Chen Him, all five are red in color. So people say that his family is a red family, which shows that his ideology is indeed inclined to the Communist Party. But his application to join the Party was never approved. Why should he be subject to all kinds of restrictions? I don’t understand. All we knew at first was that he was restricted in his use. Later, when the Cultural Revolution ended and those who had been wronged were rehabilitated, we learned that there was a rehabilitating panel that announced which people had been wronged. For example, when I was rehabilitated, there was no procedure at all, that is, the criticisms against me were all wrong. He said we did not convict you of anything, those big-character posters scolding words, all written by the masses, is not a crime. So the vindication process is very simple, in one sentence it’s over. And for Chen Yue, there is a more detailed explanation. Because Chen Yue had a friend in Hong Kong, he often corresponded with this friend after he arrived in Beijing. This friend lived in an apartment in Hong Kong, and there were KMT agents upstairs and downstairs. When he corresponded with this friend, some people naturally suspected that Chen Yue was in contact with Kuomintang agents, and because of this suspicion, Chen Yue was restricted from using his services. After the Cultural Revolution, it was clear from the investigation above that although his friend lived in the same apartment building as the KMT agent, he had no relationship with the KMT agent. So Chen Yue’s wrongdoing was vindicated, and he was of course very happy after the vindication. But unfortunately for Chen Yue, he fell ill soon afterwards, and his illness came out of the blue, said to be a problem in the back of his head. At that time, the technology of opening the head was not as advanced as today, the hospital gave him an operation, after which it could not be closed, and as a result, he died soon. He was very young, enthusiastic, sincere and capable, and we felt sorry for him.

Soon, the political air became more and more tense. Day after day we were asked to write an account, write badly have to rewrite, hold a criticism meeting, one by one. For example, the criticism of Ye Laishi. Ye Laishi is the number one “capitalist” in our unit, so the charge is the heaviest. When criticizing a certain person, we, the “cattle ghosts and snakes”, had to sit in the first row and listen to the criticism. During the criticism, he was asked questions and beaten if his answers were incorrect. Ye Laishi was beaten so badly that once he was blinded in one eye. He couldn’t see for more than a month, and only later recovered. At this time, he was not allowed to go home, he did not even have money for Food, and he did not dare to ask others to borrow. He told me secretly that he had no money left. I still had money in my pocket, so I quickly took five dollars to him. At that time, five dollars was a large amount of money, we are so poor that two cents is not often available. No one knew about it, and if it was known, he would be punished, and I would be punished too. I was a “reactionary academic authority”, how could I secretly lend money to a reactionary “capitalist”? This is a big crime.

There was another person, our deputy secretary general, Zhao Pingsheng. This man joined the Communist Party in his youth and studied philosophy. When he was young, he wrote short philosophical essays and was very good at it. During the war against Japan, he was arrested by The Japanese on suspicion of being a communist and was tortured, so he was injured and could not write. This man was very good and responsible. During the Cultural Revolution, each floor of our office building had a large screen-like thing placed at the entrance of the stairs, with a large portrait of Chairman Mao hanging on it. When people see the statue of Chairman Mao when they go upstairs, they have to salute, salute. Zhao Pingsheng, a man who never speaks casually, but at this time he made a remark, saying that this is very much like the statue of Jesus hanging in the church. Oh, great, this remark was overheard and reported to the head of the rebellion. So they held a special meeting to fight him and beat him …… At first, only the “capitalists” were beaten, but the “reactionary academic authorities” would not be beaten as long as they explained their problems. Once there was a meeting to fight this Zheng Zhidong, or someone, Ni Haishu had some relationship with this person, so he was asked to accompany the fight. As a matter of fact, it was no problem to stand there for two hours and then come down. During the fight, the rebels asked Ni Haishu some questions, and Ni Haishu was very angry. He wore a French-style hat on his head – this was already unconventional – and he threw it to the ground, speaking very unkindly. As a result, he aroused the anger of the rebellious masses, who rushed to the stage to beat Ni Haishu and knocked him to the ground. This set a precedent for beating “reactionary academic authorities” and others. After beating Ni Haishu, another person who was considered to be a “bad element” was called up and beaten without asking questions. Another person was called up and beaten again, one by one. Finally, I was called, and I went up and was ready to be beaten. At that moment, the head of the rebellion said, “Okay, this meeting is over for today. You bastards, go back!” So we rolled back. I was the only one who wasn’t beaten, and I don’t know why.

Then one day at the labor place, during the break, I met a rebel. This rebel was a real worker, and he told me, “We treat you as an internal conflict within the people, not an enemy conflict, so we didn’t beat you up. Later, another rebel told me that you had come back from a foreign country, and we suspected you of being an agent of foreigners, but we checked carefully and found that you had not written to any foreign country after you returned to China, so we did not consider you an agent of foreigners.

When the struggle was getting fierce, almost to a white heat, suddenly came the order to take over by the army. Not only our unit, but many units were taken over by the army. After the takeover, meetings and struggles were conducted by the PLA under military control, not by the rebels. Our unit came to a soldier, I think this person is very good, civilized, very reasonable. After he came to the first meeting and reprimanded us, he announced that we could go home to sleep and not live in the “cowshed” – of course, we still had to come to the “cowshed” during the day Of course, we still had to come to the “barn” during the day to study and explain. So we all went home and were happy that the situation had turned a corner.

But suddenly there were problems again. At a meeting one day, I was told that I had not given a clear account of my counter-revolutionary behavior. Then I thought, “What counter-revolutionary acts have not been accounted for? I couldn’t think of anything. Every day I just desperately think how to explain, after the explanation, they still say it’s not right, so I explain again …… I went home to discuss with Zhang Yunhe, I said I could not think of anything else to explain. My wife said, you ah, think hard, you have spoken to others what wrong did not? Oh, I remember now. During the day, one of the rebels had already reminded me that I was hiding the situation and asked me to think about what I had said to people. It dawned on me and I remembered one thing. It was before the Cultural Revolution when I was talking with Ni Haishu, who said “Ivan Peter Stalin” and I said “Qin Huang Han Wu Mao Zedong”. I thought, this thing did not come to mind before, maybe they want me to explain. So the next morning after breakfast, went to the “cowshed” to prepare for the meeting. They said they didn’t want a meeting, they just wanted me to write a written account. So I gave an account of the matter. After the explanation, they said, “Okay, I want you to explain this matter, because Ni Haishu has already explained “Ivan Peter Stalin”, why don’t you explain “Qin Huang Han Wu Mao Zedong”? The two of you are speaking counter-revolutionary language, and you should be convicted of “active counter-revolution”. From that day on, our names were added to the large-character posters with the words “current counter-revolutionaries”. I was later told by a rebel that the account was ascending step by step, and the charges were also ascending step by step, up to the highest level of “current counterrevolutionary”, that is, to the top, and after the top, the account would end. The head of this military control announced that a public review meeting would be held, and those who were guilty, one by one, would go up on stage to review. So it will be reviewed one by one, sometimes two a day, sometimes three or four. Finally, I speak. I spoke from my origins and capitalist education to the founding of the new China and to the Cultural Revolution. Bad ideas, bad actions, bad social relations, bad history, and so on, I told. When I finished, I asked the masses if they had any more opinions. The crowd said “not satisfied, not satisfied”. The PLA, who was under military control, said, “The masses are still not satisfied with you, go back and think about it again, and then review it. Okay, let me go home. I think, I guess there will have to be a review meeting. As a result, it actually did not open.

Excerpted from “Passing Years Like Water: Zhou Youguang’s 100-Year Oral Narrative,” Zhou Youguang’s oral narrative, Zhejiang University Press, February 2015.