Heaps of stripling palms rocketed skywards because the top-notch Helmsman stepped down from the podium in Tiananmen rectangular to greet the shock troops of his revolution. It changed into the summer of 1966 and Mao’s awesome Proletarian Cultural Revolution – a catastrophic political convulsion that could catapult China into a decade of heartbreak, humiliation and deadly violence – turned into under manner.

thousands visit birthplace of Chairman Mao – in photographs
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“when we noticed Mao Zedong wave his hand, we all went berserk,” recalled Yu Xiangzhen, then a 13-year-vintage schoolgirl whose bright pink armband marked her out as one among tens of millions of loyal crimson Guards. “We shouted and screamed until we had no voices left.”

Fifty years after the start of the Cultural Revolution, in may additionally 1966, Yu, who is now 64, has been running a blog her recollections of the length in a bid to prevent history repeating itself.

Fifty years on, one of Mao’s ‘little generals’ exposes horror of the Cultural Revolution
Fifty years on, one of Mao’s ‘little generals’ exposes horror of the Cultural Revolution

China’s communist rulers have remained silent over the anniversary of the devastating political mobilisation, which students estimate claimed someplace between one and a million lives.

however, because the being of this 12 months, Yu has been seeking to use her blog to tear down the wall of reputable silence surrounding the activities of that bloody summer.

“If our descendants do no longer understand the fact they may make the identical mistakes once more,” she wrote inside the advent to her series of on line reflections. “I want to apply actual stories to prove that the Cultural Revolution turned into inhumane.”

Even half of a century on, Yu, a retired journalist, says she is still looking to fathom the horrors she witnessed that summer season and to recognize how she turned into radicalised into turning into one in every of Mao’s “little generals”.

“We became red Guards [because] all of us shared the perception that we would die to protect Chairman Mao,” she says over a cup of tea in a Beijing cafe. “although it is probably risky, that became truely what we needed to do. the entirety I were taught instructed me that Chairman Mao became closer to us than our mums and dads. without Chairman Mao, we’d don’t have anything.”


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Yu’s attempts to don’t forget the mayhem of 1966 commenced in January, while she started out composing quick on line dispatches on a getting old computer at her home in China’s capital.

“once I started to write down, I didn’t have a plan,” she stated. “I simply wanted to jot down what I experienced in those 10 years of cultural revolution. I didn’t even have a title for my series of articles.”

the former crimson shield decided to start at the very starting, focusing her first essay on the closure of Beijing’s primary schools, in may additionally 1966: “For me, the Cultural Revolution started at that second. [So] that changed into the first article I wrote,” stated Yu, who turned into a pupil at Beijing’s Chongwen variety forty-nine center faculty on the time.

Former pink protect Yu Xiangzhen poses in the front of her picture through artist Xu Weixin.
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Former crimson shield Yu Xiangzhen poses in front of her photograph by way of artist Xu Weixin. photograph: Dan Chung for the father or mother
subsequent posts chronicle Yu’s journeys via a global that turned into at once exhilarating, bewildering, comic and horrifying. She recalls the vicious persecution of her instructors, the lynching of suspected class enemies, the hysterical mass rallies, and how pink Guards roamed Beijing, putting upon those with supposedly counter-revolutionary footwear, clothing or hair.

“We concept that if you wore skinny trousers you have been a monster,” said Yu, recalling how scissors had been used to lop the hints off pointy footwear, slice open excessively fashionable trousers or shear off locks of hair.

in one publish, Yu remembers the excitement of boarding public buses along with her crimson defend comrades and spending whole days analyzing extracts of Mao’s Little red e book to commuters. “It became quite amusing,” she recalled, leaning over the desk in laughter. “I still recollect the words in the book nowadays. ‘Revolution isn’t always a dinner party, or writing an essay, or portray an image, or doing embroidery. it is able to’t be achieved elegantly and lightly.’”

“I thought it,” Yu went on. “I thought Mao Zedong changed into top-notch and that his phrases were tremendous.”

different reminiscences are extra painful. as summer of 1966 stepped forward, and a period of so-called “red terror” commenced, the thrill of having been let out of sophistication and let out at the chinese capital diminished and turned into changed through an environment of worry. red Guards marauded throughout the city, ransacking and looting houses and staging public “war sessions” wherein sufferers had been savagely beaten, tortured and occasionally killed. as a minimum 1,772 people are recognised to were murdered in Beijing by myself. some targets dedicated suicide to escape the relentless persecution.

As violence engulfed the capital, an editorial in the Communist party journal, purple Flag, fanned the swiftly spreading flames. “The purple Guards have ruthlessly castigated, exposed, criticised and repudiated the decadent, reactionary tradition of the bourgeoisie … landing them in the function of rats walking across the road and being chased by all,” it examines, in step with Michael Schoenhals’ seminal ebook on the duration, China’s Cultural Revolution.

One night Yu remembers being not able to sleep due to the ferocious beating being inflicted on certainly one of her teachers. “on every occasion we fell asleep the screams woke us up. The screaming by no means stopped.”

Later, closer to the give up of August, Yu remembers seeing a severely injured man dragging himself across the road toward her after he had apparently been subjected to a savage pink defend assault. “there has been blood throughout his face,” she stated. “He seemed like a ghost.”

We red Guards all believed that we would die to protect Chairman Mao
Yu Xiangzhen
After fellow red Guards ordered her to pummel a collection of prisoners with a belt, Yu said she determined to flee. “God bless me, I didn’t beat all and sundry lower back then. If I had overwhelmed every person how could I’ve lived with myself a lot of these years?”

Yu’s reflections on the ones days of chaos have earned praise from many readers. “folks that stand up to inform the reality are so uncommon in recent times,” one fan wrote on her weblog. “So we look forward to greater humans like trainer Yu popping out to inform the fact. I clearly admire what instructor Yu has performed.”

but Yu admitted that her decision to revisit any such worrying length had additionally provoked a backlash, with a few critics accusing her of attempting to smear China’s Communist celebration by means of dragging up a painful beyond. “You don’t should be chinese language!” wrote one commenter.

She denied her blog turned into meant as an assault at the united states of america’s rulers: “some people say I’m anti-Communist celebration. This is incorrect. I’m not against the birthday celebration at all. I need it to be great. I’m not inquisitive about seeking to open the old wounds of the Communist party.”

Yu additionally shrugged off the worries of pals and relatives – consisting of her son – who warned that her outspokenness might land her in hassle.

“a few human beings have stated the authorities will arrest me. ‘in case you rise up the government will silence you.’ however, I’ve by no means told a single lie. everything I’ve said is based on the fact. they could arrest me but I’ve said nothing that isn’t actual.” She stated her blogging become partially therapeutic; a way of coming to phrases with the shocking matters she had seen. “I sense at peace when I write,” she stated.

but its primary goal become to train people who had now not lived via the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and had not been allowed to learn about them at school, in which the topic remains largely taboo.

Yu said recollections of the period had been now fading as many of those with first-hand knowledge of its turmoil entered their very last years: “Telling the truth is the right issue to do. handiest when human beings discover the fact can they find the answer,” she said. “This has passed off in different nations. Why can’t we do it right here?”