Borrowed Red Guard armbands

Not long ago, I watched the movie “Fang Hua”, which has this episode: the heroine stole to borrow the uniform to take photos, by the humiliation of comrades, until the end of the film only to know that the hero buried the photos under the floor. This episode is a wonderful part of the film and touched me deeply. Not all viewers are able to understand the sorrows and the struggles of this girl under the weight of the burden of her bad Family background. This reminds me of a past event. For many years, this incident has never been forgotten, just not mentioned it.

It happened 48 years ago.

I grew up in Changshu County. The alley that stretches along the foot of Mount Yu is called Shuyuan Alley, which has a history of nearly 1,000 years. It is paved with gravel and lined with old houses, mostly with large gates and courtyards and high tile walls. There is an ancient well deep in the alley, and it is said that there are also literary anecdotes from this well.

In this millennium unchanged, with this kind of elegant style of the alley, but opened a Western-style photo studio, the name is “Lushan”. This photo studio and the traditional dimly lit photo studio is not the same. Step into the door is the hall, the floor is paved with beautiful tiles, floor-to-ceiling windows, bright light, a look at the European and American style. There are long curtains in the studio, the curtain is soft and smooth, elegantly draped according to the window. The most interesting thing is that the female photographer, more than forty years old, she carefully surveyed customers, while constantly running back and forth, tirelessly moving the floor lamp to move around, but also with a long bamboo pole gently pluck the curtain cloth, patiently adjust the light, the photo effect than which one is better.

Lushan photo studio in our girls among almost no one knows. At that Time in 1969, I was only fourteen years old, also have a sense of love of beauty, saved 18 cents can take 1/4 inch “Mimi photo”. The standard 1-inch photo of a single person costs 36 cents, which is more expensive. Every time we took a photo, we loved it, and our good neighbors and classmates exchanged them with each other.

Since the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the business of this photo studio became more and more prosperous, people often crowded here, wearing red armbands and military uniforms, taking stylized art photos here. There were also many Maoist propaganda teams of the rebellion taking pictures of various stage performances. These photos were often displayed in the window. Sometimes my friends showed me pictures of their brothers and sisters in junior high school wearing military uniforms and Red Guard cuffs. We were all very envious and wanted to follow their example and take a picture of a stylish and heroic Red Guard.

At the beginning of 1969, classes resumed and the revolution began. I, as a “good educable child”, according to the division of family address, it was difficult to enter the Changshu County Third Middle School junior high school, in the North Gate Street, very close to the Lushan Photo Studio.

At that time, the middle school grade establishment military, my class was called a company of three classes, workers propaganda team leading the school. Every once in a while, the school approved some students to join the Red Guard organization, and held a general meeting, a ceremony, the award of red cuffs. The primary requirement for being a Red Guard was to be from a good family background, such as revolutionary cadres who were in power, soldiers, workers and poor peasants, while others had to go backwards. If you are a child of the black five, do not even dream of this, do not even think about being a Red Guard.

Many students joined the Red Guards one after another, wearing red armbands on their arms. But I did not, I felt very uncomfortable, and I felt very depressed in school.

At that time, there was a black wall poster at the back of the classroom, and I was the main member of the preparation of the material, even writing and drawing. I was often busy until it was dark at night before I went Home. The school often held political study meetings, and each class had to send a representative to speak on stage. Before each assembly, the teacher asked me to write a script, and then the teacher gave the script to another girl to read it aloud as the class representative. Also, when I went to the countryside to support the peasants, I had to write a vote, criticize this and that with the poor peasants, and fight against the private sector and criticize revision. I was even asked to write a thank-you letter when I was leaving, and I had to copy it with a brush on big red paper even if I couldn’t eat.

What’s more, the Suzhou Regional Textbook Writing Committee happened to be stationed at the Changshu Chinese Hospital across the street from the county’s third high school. They asked for students to help copy the textbook manuscript, and in addition to neat writing, they also asked for students who performed well. I was one of the two students recommended by the third county high school.

In addition, I participated seriously and actively in every work and activity, including military training, learning to work and farming, going to the countryside to support farmers, digging bomb shelters, cutting grass to accumulate green manure, and preparing for evacuation to the countryside. I was also chosen by my classmates to be the leader of the group studying Chairman Mao’s quotations, and I led the group study discussions between classes or after school.

All these should be considered as the efforts of a good educable child. I always had a naive dream of joining the Red Guards.

One day, a classmate borrowed a military uniform, military cap and military satchel. Several of us girls agreed to go to Mount Lushan together to take pictures. It was a breezy afternoon and the studio was well lit, bright and not dazzling. Everyone took a Red Guard photo, a look of heroic and heroic. When it was my turn, I put on my military uniform, with a belt around my waist, a hat that fit, and a Chairman Mao badge. I looked in the mirror, changed, a little embarrassed.

As I stood in the camera position, one of my classmates shouted, “I forgot to wear my armband! She reached out and handed me a piece of red cuff with the Red Guard on it, and the three big yellow letters of Huo Ran were very striking.

I hesitated, shook my head and said no. The classmates all said, “It’s okay, you’re doing so well, sooner or later you’ll be a Red Guard. I was impressed, how good it would be to be a member of the Red Guards! I let my classmates help me put on my sleeves. The photographer waited patiently for a while and set up the lights. At that moment, I suddenly regretted, heartbeat up: if others see that I am impersonating so do? I just want to smile, that little smile may disappear instantly. I looked uneasily at my classmates next to me, and just then, the photographer said okay.

I was apprehensive, and a few days later, I received the photo back. I immediately hid the photo, thinking that I would take it out again when I became a Red Guard. My best friend wanted one, but I resolutely refused to give it to him and pressed it under the drawer. I felt I had made a huge mistake and was afraid of being laughed at and sarcastic if people found out. Some of my classmates often discriminated against me, isolated me, and rolled their eyes at me because of my poor family background.

As I was about to graduate from junior high school in a few months, and a group of Red Guards were to be announced, I secretly resolved to fight to join the Red Guards. I was overworked in the next agricultural work, and with chronic malnutrition, I got a serious hepatomegaly and lost weight. Before graduation, there were many chores, class wall posters, and draft writing all gave me extra burden. I often couldn’t finish my lunch before running to school, and I got a severe stomach flu. In the last few days before graduation, I finally fell ill and had a fever. I couldn’t even attend the assembly on graduation day.

It was a day in July 1970, and I was lying in bed, weak and anxious, waiting for the news that the last group of Red Guards would be announced at the conference. However, my sister came home and said that my name was not on the red list. I turned my head sideways and a tear slid down and landed on my pillow.

This photo was always pressed to the bottom of the photo album, as if it were a criminal handle. I seldom took it out to look at it. The slightly disturbed, unsure expression causes a pain in my heart every time. For many years, I didn’t want to see this photo.

My father was the vice principal of Changshu County High School, and he was so famous and jealous that he was falsely accused of being a “historical counter-revolutionary” in the late anti-right movement in 1958. From then on, my family was plunged into boundless darkness.

The year before last, when I returned to China to pack up old books, I found this photo book, but this photo and that story have become history. No one would care about impersonating the Red Guards. But how many people could really understand the enormous pressure on the daughter of a wronged “counter-revolutionary” in the frenzied political climate of the time? My wish was simply to be recognized and included in the revolutionary ranks. When such a simple desire was mercilessly insulted and compromised, what was left behind?

This only I know.

Written in Briarcliff New York
August 18, 2018