During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party not only destroyed traditional Chinese culture by “breaking the Four Olds”, but also confined culture in an unprecedented manner. At that time, except for a few works such as Mao Quotations and Lu Xun, many Chinese and foreign classics, even some novels depicting common human emotions and even some works written after 1949, were designated as “forbidden books” by the CCP. Only the “anti-imperialist” content of the later years could be publicly disseminated. At that time, whoever read these forbidden books was “mentally challenged”. As a result of reading the banned books, many people were not accepted as members of the Chinese Communist Party in the lighter cases, and in the more serious cases, they were criticized and branded as “active counter-revolutionaries”.
However, even under such harsh confinement, many people’s love for literature was not extinguished, and there was widespread spontaneous creation in the form of various handwritten books, which was also called “underground literature” during this period. Some people on the Internet have summarized the “underground literature” at that time into four categories, and the representative works are as follows.
The first is “The Second Handshake”; the second is “When the Evening Sun Disappears”, which offers criticism and reflection on the Cultural Revolution.
The third is “The Heart of a Young Girl”, which depicts the yearning for free love. An official who worked in the public security system during the Cultural Revolution recalled that “100 percent of the people arrested as hooligans had read The Heart of a Young Girl upon interrogation. Based on this, there was a fixed causal relationship between watching “Heart of a Girl” and sexual crimes. Wang Hongwen is known to have personally ordered the book to be censored nationwide. Many people were criticized for copying the book and even sentenced to reeducation through labor for the crime of “hooliganism,” and one young man was even sentenced to death.
Fourth, there were anti-Cultural Revolution poems, such as Gu Cheng’s “The night has given me black eyes, but I use them to find light. Another example is Niu Han’s “South China Tiger”, in which the poet criticizes the era of imprisoning life and killing spirituality by describing the imprisoned South China tiger.
In addition to the above-mentioned works, other “underground” works that were widely copied at that time included Zhang Baorui’s A Pair of Embroidered Shoes, Bi Ruxie’s Nine Level Waves, Anonymous’s Escape, Jin Fan’s Open Love Letter and Fluctuation, etc. The influential novel The Second Handshake was later called “the first banned book of the Cultural Revolution”.
Handwritten novel representative “The Second Handshake
Written in the 1960s, the first draft of The Second Handshake was titled The Waves, but later changed to The Return. In the process of being circulated in handwritten copies, it was named “The Second Handshake” by readers. The novel tells the story of intellectuals’ work and love. The main character, Su Guanlan, falls in love with Ding Jieqiong, which is opposed by Su’s father. Later, Ding goes to the United States to study and becomes a famous atomic physicist. Su Guanlan, who remains in China, becomes a professor of medicine and marries Ye Yuhan, the daughter of his father’s old friend. Ding Jieqiong chooses to return to China in order to fulfill her love pact with Su, but finds that her love has been lost and eventually chooses to stay in Beijing to work.
The author of the novel, Zhang Yang, who lived and grew up in Hunan, revealed in his 2009 article “Before and after I wrote The Second Handshake” that the main character, Su Guanlan, was based on his own uncle. Two years later, it was expanded into a full-length novel of more than 200,000 words, The Return, and began to circulate in handwritten form throughout the country. Its poignant love story had a lot of resonance and influence in those years when feelings were suppressed.
Zhang Yang was arrested and internally sentenced to death
As the influence of “The Second Handshake” grew, it gradually drew the attention of the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party. Yao Wenyuan, who was in control of the CCP’s Propaganda Department at the time, deemed it a “reactionary” novel because it not only “preached the bourgeoisie and the patriotism of scientists with overseas backgrounds” but also “preached love” and was therefore “yellow. “Therefore, it was a “yellow book”.
In January 1975, Zhang Yang was handcuffed and imprisoned in Ludongli prison in Changsha. His mother, uncle and aunt were also branded as “instigators” and were criticized. In addition, almost everyone who read and copied the Second Handshake was summoned and searched by the public security authorities throughout the country, and some were even detained.
In order to put Zhang Yang to death, the case officers first concocted a “Complaint” in which “the masses of poor peasants unanimously demanded” that Zhang Yang be sentenced to death, and then invited dozens of teachers and “workers, peasants and soldiers” from the Chinese department of a teacher training college in Hunan to “help and identify” Zhang Yang. Later, they invited dozens of teachers and “workers and peasants” from the Chinese department of a teacher’s college in Hunan to launch a full-scale criticism and siege against Zhang Yang in the name of “helping and appraising” him. Eventually, “The Second Handshake” was convicted of four major crimes: first, using the novel to oppose the Party; second, touting the stinking Old Nine; third, advocating science to save the country; and fourth, clearly forbidden to write about love, but still having to do so.
In August 1976, Zhang Yang’s case file was handed over to Li Hechu, a judge of the Hunan Provincial Court. Li Hechu, who was convinced that “The Second Handshake” was not an “anti-Party novel”, chose to delay the case. With the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution, Zhang Yang was acquitted in 1979 at the age of 33. After years of starvation, unjust imprisonment, extreme nutritional deprivation, and a heavy cold for more than 20 consecutive days, Zhang Yang contracted tuberculosis and became increasingly ill. The doctor said that if delayed for another two months, there would be no rule of law.
Hu Yaobang, then a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo and the third secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, was the one who gave instructions to implement the case. Shortly after Zhang Yang’s release, China Youth Daily published a headline with an editor’s note: “Handwritten copy of ‘The Second Handshake’ is a good book. In 1980, the novel was adapted into a movie of the same name for theatrical release.
Handwritten novels and poems such as The Second Handshake reflect the awakening, doubts, confusion, grief, anger, criticism, and yearning for freedom and love of people who still had their minds in that crazy and chaotic era. Although they were of mixed quality and not even free from the influence of the Communist Party culture, they made many Chinese people who came in contact with them think more, stay a little more alert to that era, keep their longing for love, and look for light with black eyes. And what happened to Zhang Yang and others is another entry in the history of the CCP’s evil.