Death of the Principal

I witnessed with my own eyes the death of an old school principal, which was a great stimulus to me, and that happened in the Red August of 1966, on what should have been a schoolyard of books.

Those bloody and cruel days made me mature prematurely.

Our principal’s name was Gao Wanchun, tall, very stout, wearing a pair of glasses, walking the road always back hands, head held high, very majestic look, not only our students, is the teacher saw him, are some like a mouse saw a cat as afraid of him. Not everyone can be the principal of this old school, which was established in 1871, but he is the most qualified and capable. This is the unanimous assessment of people after more than 30 years of time.

He loved to listen to the lectures, and at this time, the lecturers and the students in the classes were extraordinarily nervous. Because he knew the ropes, he would find problems and would point them out nonchalantly. Teachers who failed to pass the test would be asked by him to leave our school. He was all about teaching. When I first enrolled, I heard from my senior classmates that he was a graduate of Southwest United University and a student of Wen Yiduo. Think about it, at that time, he was more than forty years old, at most less than fifty, it is the time to be rich and strong, and learned, can not stop from the lens of his glasses outward, a straightforward and unyielding energy, more or less overbearing. No wonder everyone is a little afraid of him.

Our school used to have a wall newspaper named “Hundred Flowers”, which was organized by the teacher of the language teaching and research group, with two dark green ping-pong tables hanging in the hall on the first floor of the school building, each issue was filled with mostly childish essays of our students. Principal Gao liked this garden, often wrote some articles, also posted here for publication. This makes everyone respect more and more, his articles are really well written, he is not the kind of talk but not practice mouth style, not the kind of leadership to the big old man. The more such a leader is, the more majestic he is, the more people are afraid of him.

We students see him from afar, are walking around, afraid to meet with him. I’ve been in school for six years, and I’ve met him twice.

Once, our class finished study hall early in the afternoon, and my classmates and I went downstairs while humming a song. Not unaware that other classes had not yet finished, we just hummed in a low voice. At that time, just after the movie “Visitors on the Iceberg”, the song “Why are the flowers so red” composed by Lei Zhenbang was very popular, and we were singing this song, and when we went down the last staircase on the first floor, we were dumbfounded. Principal Gao was waiting for us to come down with his head held high and his hands behind his back, and then asked us in a stern voice, “Why do you think the flowers are so red?” Even after more than thirty years, I still remember his question and his appearance so clearly. Because at that time, we were really scared out of our wits and immediately got stuck in silence.

Another time, when I was a sophomore in high school, my homeroom teacher told me one day that the principal had asked me to come to the principal’s office. At that time, it was not a good thing for students to go to the principal’s office, either to be lectured or criticized. I asked my homeroom teacher what was going on, but he didn’t know, so my heart grew fainter and fainter, not knowing what I had done wrong at the hands of Principal Gao again! When I walked into the principal’s office with anxiety, Principal Gao asked me how my studies were going lately. How are you doing? I also asked me how the situation in my class was. …… a long list of questions asked, and then educate me half a day to know how to be modest and cautious, do not be proud of the tail, learning is endless and so on, so that I do not know what to do, one after another to check themselves these days is not a mistake of pride?

At the end of the day, Principal Gao opened a drawer, took out a kraft envelope and handed it to me: “This is the English version of “Chinese Women”, one of your essays was translated into English and published on it ……” Principal Gao is such a strict person, that is, he should have praised The first thing you need to do is to get your tail out of your mouth.

In fact, more than thirty years later, today I know that the exceptions allowed me to enter the school library to look for books, it was his instructions. At that time, some students quarreled with the library teacher and gave their opinions to the school, but as usual, he insisted on his own opinion: to give students who love to learn a small kitchen. But at that time, I suffered his care in silence and did not know it, only that he was so strict with me.

It was probably Principal Gao’s character that brewed his tragedy.

He must have suffered from the hatred of many people, especially those students who were often severely criticized by him, all of whom were extremely poor learners. If there was no Cultural Revolution, these students graduated and left school, and could not have done anything to Principal Gao. They became the first batch of Red Guards in the school by virtue of their so-called good birth at that time. Of course they were the first to pull the principal up on stage to criticize.

If it is just like the current movies and TV shows that every day pulled up on stage to shave a yin and yang head, bending low to a jet, it is just. The Red Guards, however, swung their belts and beat Principal Gao to a bloody pulp, then put him in the second floor of the classroom.

That night, the Red Guards grabbed a man and a woman from the opera troupe from outside and said they were hooligans, beating them to death with belts and sticks. They didn’t know where they learned the fascist way, but they ordered Principal Gao to hold the two dead bodies and dance.

This is not all, they know that the principal was a student of Wen Yiduo, and ordered the principal to give the list of Wen Yiduo’s murderers, and must be handed over the next day. Principal Gao was only one of Wen Yiduo’s students, how would he know who the murderers were! He knew that the murderers of the pair were his own students!

He couldn’t stand it anymore. He used to be such a rigid and majestic man, who would rather be a rigid and straight building than a stooping hook. That night, he climbed out of the window of the step classroom and jumped down the stairs to commit suicide ……

What we saw the next day was just his corpse. I can’t imagine that a once majestic, living principal was tortured to death by his own students. A life that was once so vibrant just disappeared.

It has been exactly thirty-one years since Principal Gao died. We students, my class, are 50 years old this year, and those younger than me are also on their way to 50. Some of the students who brutalized Principal Gao were my classmates.

I do not know if they still remember this incident? In the bright and windy night, or in the stormy night, hugging their wives and children, or when they can’t sleep at night, will they remember the sad figure of Principal Gao jumping down from the staircase classroom, and their own crazy figure waving the belt? Will their souls be at peace?

I guess Principal Gao’s soul will not be at peace to this day.

Written in 1997

(From “Memories of the Sixties”, edited by Zhu Yong, published by China Federation of Literary Press in 2002.