To Summon a Wandering Soul

This is the third essay by Professor Xu Zhangrun 許章潤 to appear in China Heritage. The first — Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes (1 August 2018) — was written in the style of a 諫書 jiànshū, an Admonition or Petition to the Authorities. The second — And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing! (10 November 2018) — recalled a traditional form of critique called a 檄文 xíwén, a Statement of Outrage or a Denunciation.

This latest essay — ‘The Teacher’ 私塾先生 sīshú xiānsheng, translated and annotated below — is an elegiac memoir. In both style and tone it recalls a literary form known as 祭文 jìwén, Memorial to the Dead or Appeal to the Soul of a Departed One. Here the author recounts the story of a teacher in his old hometown and addresses his Lost Soul. By so doing, Xu Zhangrun reminds readers about the countless Unquiet Graves of China and warns that Maligned Spirits continue to haunt the present.

As he recalls and mourns the spectre of a long-dead victim, Xu Zhangrun also evokes the shade of the Maoist era, and its lengthening shadow. This rumination brings to mind an observation the Marquis de Custine made about Russian autocracy:

Sovereigns and subjects become intoxicated together at the cup of tyranny …. Tyranny is the handiwork of nations, not the masterpiece of a single man.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
28 November 2018

***

Note:

  • Below, Professor Xu’s essay is presented twice: first as a parallel English-Chinese text; the same material is repeated but with the addition of extensive Translator’s Notes. The essay, although written in the telegraphic style of the literary language that evolved in the late-Qing era, is by no means obscure. The writer’s references, whether to traditional texts and sayings, or in the discussion of Communist-era politics and his use of Maoist terms, would be familiar to most interested readers of his generation. The information in the Translator’s Notes is aimed at helping English-language readers and students of China to understand better the complex, and pressingly real, cultural and political world of post-1949 China. Xu’s style has evolved within a modern tradition, but his voice is unique and powerful
  • In the Notes, which amplify words in the original text that are highlighted by being marked in bold and underlined, Chinese terms and phrases are generally also given in Hanyu Pinyin romanisation, with tone marks. In the case of some longer expressions, however, Chinese characters alone are offered with translation
  • This annotated translation is our latest Lesson in New Sinology (for more on this subject and on Xu Zhangrun, see the links in Further Reading below)

Further Reading:


On the Timescape of China’s New Epoch

Time and space were themselves players, vast lands engulfing the figures a weave of future and past. There was no riverrun of years. The abiding loops of causality ran both forward and back. The timescape rippled with waves, roiled and flexed, a great beast in the dark sea.

Gregory Benford, Timescape (1980)

Long ago, writers like Simon Leys pointed out that in Communist societies a utopian future is immutable, but it’s the past that constantly changes. At the dawn of the Xi Jinping New Epoch (2012-), the ‘conciliation of history’ that had been underway in the People’s Republic since the 1990s continued, with a variation. Elsewhere I have discussed this historical conciliation as a long-term rapprochement between the dynastic, the Republican and the People’s Republic eras of China that became particularly evident from the time of the post-1989 Patriotic Education Campaign. This ongoing propaganda offensive was, and is, aimed at instilling a spirit of national pride and political consciousness in a population, in particular young people, that is deemed too readily distracted by the material pleasures of economic reform.

Under Xi Jinping, the Communist Party’s ‘conciliation of history’ has consciously embraced a new element: there has been a deliberate effort to elide the differences between the Maoist and Reformist eras. Now it is emphasised that what is called the ‘Former Thirty Years’ 前三十年 of the People’s Republic under Mao (along with his cabal of supporters that, for the most part, also included Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and others) from 1949 to 1978, despite certain ‘policy missteps’, laid the basis for the grand social engineering and economic achievements of the ‘Latter Thirty Years’ 後三十年 (1978-2008). The two should not be juxtaposed, Xi and his message-engineers like Wang Huning claim, rather they should be seen as a continuum. Indeed, in middle-school text books released in 2018 the six decades of the Mao-Deng era were euphemistically recast under the heading ‘Painstaking Explorations and the Achievements of Construction’ 艱辛探索與建設成就.

Part of a larger narrative that built on the Party’s historical vision of China that dates from the 1840s to the present day, Xi’s View of the Thirty Years was coupled with the forward trajectory of the Two Centenaries (1921-2021 and 1949-2049) that frame the New Epoch. The peerless leadership of Xi Jinping is supposed to be that of a Grand Unifier, one with a particular historical vision and mission. For the victims of the Former Thirty Years, and their descendants, such unity imposes a nearly unbearable emotional and intellectual toll.

Simon Leys, again, on purges, politics and legal reform in China:

Since Mao’s death, the pathetic reformist efforts of the leaders have actually demonstrated that Maoism is consubstantial with the regime. What happened to the Maoists in China reminds us of the fate of the cannibals in a certain tropical republic, as described by Alexandre Vialatte: ‘There are no more cannibals in that country since the local authorities ate the last ones.’

— Human Rights in China, 1978, revised and updated in 1983

— Ed.

Update:

For aficionados, the speech delivered by Xi Jinping to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the birth of former state president Liu Shaoqi on 23 November 2018 is a masterful example of Communist historical doublethink. Xi extols a man persecuted and murdered by Mao Zedong without ever mentioning, let alone criticising, the Great Leader (something in keeping with the line scripted by Deng Liqun in 1980 and articulated at the time by Deng Xiaoping when Liu was rehabilitated). In it Xi also lauded the invaluable contributions that the long-dead State President made to the post-1978 era of Reform and the Open Door without uttering the name of its architect, and Liu’s (and Mao’s) former associate, Deng Xiaoping. (See 習近平, 在紀念劉少奇同志誕辰120週年座談會上的講話)


Proem

When I saw a video report about a big-character poster that had [supposedly] appeared in the streets of Beijing I found myself confounded by what lurks in the dark recesses of the human spirit. The poster hailed the Cultural Revolution as ‘a beacon of human civilisation’.

I know only too well that education alone can forestall the pernicious effects of extreme leftist thinking and behaviour. In a mood of despair I wrote these words as a votive offering to the departed spirits of those who died, so grievously wronged, in the past.

觀北京街頭又現文革大字報,竟然聲稱「文革是人類文明的燈塔」,不禁感慨人性幽暗。極左勢力邪惡,唯賴啓蒙防範,遂奮筆疾書,草就此文,以祭奠那些屈死的在天魂靈。

— Xu Zhangrun 許章潤,
18 November 2018
Tsinghua University

(published in the Chinese edition of Financial Times
許章潤, 私塾先生, 《金融時報》, 21 November 2018)


Version One, Bilingual Text:

The Teacher
私塾先生

Xu Zhangrun 許章潤

translated by Geremie R. Barmé

 

It was after the deluge, a flood that left complete ruination in its wake; ours was a world submerged. In the days and months that followed things were rebuilt. After what seemed like years of tireless work, our family finally moved into a new home. It was a humble rustic dwelling — three simple rooms with a thatched roof — not far from our original house. It was prone to the change of seasons, so we sweltered through summer storms and endured bitter winter snows. But, for the seven of us it was home. Since it was next to a river we were particularly sensitive to the passage of time, marked by the ebb of the autumn waters and the flow of spring tides.

So that’s where we lived and laboured, our lives as insignificant as those of insects. But we had a home in the embrace of heaven and earth that was ours, one in which we could feel secure. Our house at a spot between the nearby small township and the countryside that lay beyond and an east-west path ran outside our door. People used the path through the day, but hardly a soul would venture out in the pitch dark of night. Occasionally, vehicles would trundle along the road on the other side of the river making a great din. In that pre-modern world — so unlike today — their clouds of exhaust seemed to nurture the lives of the country folk in that isolated rural world.

Early every day, at midday and then again in the evening we would hear the loudspeakers blaring from the local government compound not far away. They were broadcasting the Important Calls to Action of that Great Leader sequestered far in the distant north. The sound was tumultuous, its tenor overwrought. Despite the fact that it was seemingly ineffable and formless, evidence of its impact was to be seen everywhere. Nothing escaped its touch, everything directed by one who was supposed to be all-knowing and all-seeing. And that’s exactly why it was so terrifying: clamorous yet deathly silent in its movement; mysterious yet an undeniable reality. In our out-of-the-way corner of the world — one that had only barely survived complete devastation — it was a constant reminder of the Presence.

一場大水過後,滿目瘡痍,天地蒼茫。災後重建,披星戴月,歷經春秋,父母帶著我們終於搬進新家。草屋三間,篳門圭竇,距老宅十丈,夏熱冬冷。一家七口,臨河而居,伴夏雷冬雪,看春漲秋落。勞生息死,形如螻蟻。但既然是家,天地懷中一個窩,便頓覺安全而溫暖。門前小徑,交通東西,是小鎮盡頭與鄉野的通貫之處。早晚總有行人,天黑則難覓身影。河對面偶有車輛經過,轟轟隆隆,在這個前現代的時空,倒予鄉民煙火滋養的感覺。每日早中晚,不遠處區政府的高音喇叭定時鳴響,播放遙遠北方偉大領袖的偉大號召,音調盛大,情緒高昂。看不見,摸不著,雖遁形卻有跡,無遠而弗屆,彷彿全知全能,因而才令人恐懼。它們喧闐而闃寂,神秘卻張揚,向劫後餘生的這一方水土提示著時代的行蹤。

It was the early 1970s, and the daily lives of people in our rural world were wracked by a mixture of hunger and terror. Despite this, we managed to live with something resembling a sense of hope. Just surviving despite our modest needs we eked out a life of mindful penury. The days and months passed quickly, even if anxiety was a constant companion.

這是1970年代初期,飢饉與恐懼籠罩著鄉民身心,卻又彷彿有所期待。「日食半升,夜眠七尺」,歲月遂在忐忑中流走。

An old man often passed by our place. He was tall and slightly stooped. He shaded his face in the summer with a ragtag cap, in the winter he bunched his clothes at the waist with a belt of knotted grass. In my mind’s eye he is always wearing straw sandals and the legs of his pants are rolled up above his knees. Whenever he made an appearance he’d cast a glance through our front door even as he hurried by, although, sometimes, he’d stop for a drink of water, gulping it down quickly while standing outside. Although, sometimes he would take his time and drink slowly, chatting with us inside from his spot on the doorstep. The talk would be harmless gossip, his tone indifferent — neither particularly downcast nor very excited. If he was drinking cold water out of our big water pot filled from the well he’d just slurp it down; if it was boiled water from the thermos he would savour it slowly. We never had tea: we simply couldn’t afford to buy tea leaves. I only ever remember us being able to enjoy tea during the festivities at Lunar New Year. Once, though, we happened to find a small chunk of rock sugar. It was carefully mixed with the well water in the big pot. Everyone thought it tasted marvellous. My mother was always particularly courteous towards that old man. She greeted him and saw him off with great politeness.

時常有位老人打門前經過。身板高大,微駝背。夏季破帽遮顏,冬季腰間系根草繩。印象中總是穿雙草鞋,褲腳卷到膝蓋以上。有時邊走邊朝門裡張望,匆匆而過。有時停下要口水喝,站在門前一飲而盡。偶或慢慢輟飲,坐在門檻上聊幾句家常,齊東野語,無悲無歡。快飲的是水缸里舀的井水,慢啜的則為暖壺里的開水。家裡沒茶葉,似乎只有過年時才喝上茶,有次找到一小塊冰糖攪拌於井水,都說好喝。母親對老人持之以禮,總是恭迎恭送。

For years I had no idea who the old fellow was, and it never occurred to me to ask. But I do have a very clear memory of him sitting on the threshold of our house staring at the scars on his knees. I left home when I was still fairly young and was soon absorbed in making my way in the world, chasing after mundane success. Gradually, we all were like rootless tufts of grass, buffeted by the times. I became a stranger to my old home, and for many years it was though I completely forgot about that old man. That was until about six years ago, not long before my father passed away. Chatting at his bedside one day we somehow got to talking about that fellow. Only then did I finally start to piece his story together for myself.

許多年里,我並不知此公何人,也不曾起過打探的念頭。只記得他坐在門檻上時,曾經好奇地盯著他膝蓋上的疤痕斑斑。少年離鄉,匆匆於生計,追逐浮華,大家都成了無根浮萍。我陌生於鄉里,也早把這個人忘卻。直到六年前家父過世前不久,病床前陪他說話,講到老家往事,這才將前因後果拼連起來。

It turns out that, at the time, the ‘Old Man’ wasn’t that all that old. He wasn’t even sixty. I learned from my father that he had been a teacher in our local town — my parents’ tutor in a small privately run academy. Not long after the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution he was locked up in a makeshift jail run as part of the Dictatorship of the Masses. Eventually, he was packed off to the countryside, his town residency permit transferred there as well; that was so he could be forcibly ‘Re-educated by the Poor and Lower-Middle Peasants’. In those days, there was a strict division between the cities and the countryside. The villages were absolutely impoverished; it was just as Mao had once said [about the countryside in the past]: now they really were ‘Poor and Blank’. Forced to labour in the fields day and night regardless of the season, the villagers, after having handed over their share of public grains to the Party authorities were without enough to eat. They were also too poor to afford adequate clothing and by spring each year they had eaten everything they had stored away for the winter months. Gathering together in groups they would set out and go begging in the cities. For their part, the authorities would do everything in their power to encircle, pursue, obstruct and intercept them. That’s just how it was back then.

老者不老,那時節大約尚不到花甲。原是小鎮教師,父母私塾的先生。文革後不久,始押於「群專」土牢,後下放務農,戶口遷鄉,「接受貧下中農再教育」。當其時,厲行城鄉二元壁壘,鄉村如洗,真正一窮二白。一年四季勞作,沒日沒夜,交出公糧後,而居然食不果腹,衣不蔽體,春荒結隊乞討,卻為公權圍追堵截,是家常便飯。

After finishing senior high school my eldest sister was sent off to the countryside as a sent-down youth, setting off for distant parts with nothing more than a simple backpack. The day that she left my mother hid in the kitchen and wailed in agony. For her this just another source of anguish, for that’s how that old teacher had been exiled to the wilds and forced to fend for himself and survive as best he could, or not, as the case may be. Political control ended at the water margin. In ancient Greece, beyond the bounds of the city state, there were no gods to rely on, merely beasts to which one might fall prey. The polities on opposite shores of the Atlantic [in England and the United States] inherited much from this ancient division between town and country, although time allowed for a measure of evolution and renewal so that a political refugee might have some hope of survival. However, in the Slavic world that came to be dominated by Communist totalitarianism there was no such escape. Be it in the city or in the countryside, new and the old politics were engineered to create a devastating modern form. This not only allowed full scope to the pitiless evils of the past, for the system was enhanced by the addition of up-to-date forms of humiliation. Truly was this Net of Heaven cast wide and none could hope to slip through it. The pitiful Old Teacher, living in such a world had no choice but to get by as best he could in the wilderness, although there was no way he could escape the net of dictatorship.

大姐高中畢業後作為知青下鄉,背包出門走遠,母親便躲進灶間,放聲大哭,淒苦為平日所無,緣由在此。如此這般,先生等於被逐出化外,任由生死,而生死不得。政治止於水邊,城邦之外非神即獸,此為古典希臘意象,一脈綿延於大西洋兩岸,輾轉翻新,指東打西,異己者尚有一線活口之望。源出自斯拉夫蠻族的共產極權,無孔不入,卻又郭野分處,從而粘連新舊偏鋒一齊發作,既縱容舊惡,復加處新辱,真正是天羅地網。可憐那教書先生,身處其間,只好荒野求生,卻又難逃專政網羅。

During the early Cultural Revolution, before the flood of 1969 and as things escalated out of control, the mass movement allowed people an excuse to get away with pretty much anything they wanted: all kinds of grievance and hatred now enjoyed unfettered expression. Parading the people who had been denounced as ‘Cow Spirits and Snake Demons’ down the main village street became something of a joyous festival. I remember being woken one morning by the banging of cymbals and the chanting of slogans. Looking out I saw what appeared to be a ghostly spectre, but one that was in human form — face darkened by soot, a pointed dunce’s cap on his head, a heavy rope tied around his shoulders that wound around his arms drawing them behind his back where his arms were tightly bound, head bowed and torso bent at the waist, the figure hesitantly edged its way forward. The impossibly thin and tall dunce’s cap waved tremulously on his head. His ‘guards’ waved staffs and clubs threateningly, occasionally striking out at the hapless ghoul stumbling before them; they’d also pull up his head roughly before pressing it down with all their might. The clubs had a special name — ‘Cudgels for Attacking with Words, Defending by Force’. As thick as a man’s wrist and about 1.5 metres in length the clubs were painted white with blood red tips at either end. When they were twirled ferociously the red tips created the illusion of a ring of fire, and the motion created little eddies of wind. If these cudgels were taken to a victim, heads would crack open, bones splinter and ribs break.

洪水前「運動」勢酣,有名無名的仇恨盡情釋放。「牛鬼蛇神」批鬥遊街是小鎮的熱鬧節日。記得一天清早,睡夢中為鑼鼓和口號驚醒,窗前定睛,但見一干人形鬼怪,臉頰塗墨,頭頂尖頭高帽,五花大綁,彎腰低首,逶迤走過。那帽子總有三尺多高,搖搖晃晃。後邊押送人員,揮舞棍棒,不時敲打鬼怪,將重又直腰抬起的頭顱猛地往下摁壓。棍棒有名,專稱「文攻武衛棒」,粗若腕口,長約一米有半,兩頭塗紅,中間染白。揮舞之際,狀如火輪,颼颼帶風;用力掄擊,顱腦花開,肋骨聲裂。

On another occasion — also first thing in the morning — a whole pack of spirit-demons tied up with coarse ropes appeared in the street, press-ganged into a line. I didn’t understand why their mouths were stuffed with hay, but heavy wooden placards with their names written on them were hung around their necks. They too were wearing tall hats, but they were crawling along on their knees. The names on the placards were written in black ink but they had been crossed out with damning red lines. The hay in their mouths gave off a terrible stench and I learned that it had been retrieved from the local toilets: it was the stuff farmers used to wipe their asses, half-rotted and covered in shit. The procession was being led by people who were scattering white lime from bamboo baskets. This time around it was different from the silent shaming typical of other processions. It was a show being put on for the delight of the crowd and the Monsters were all wailing pitifully. Their plaintive cries were heart-rending and shockingly loud. It’s only when I got a bit closer that I realised that the lime was mixed with ground glass. The procession was leaving a bloody trail in its wake. The lime was getting into the wounds on their knees and the pain must have been absolute agony. The townsfolk jostled with each other necks outstretched as they strained to see the column. People reacted in various ways: there was mocking laughter and goading, as well as thoughtful silence; a few covered their faces and shed tears. I was only eight at the time, maybe nine, and I was little better than a vile beast myself. It was something I witnessed personally but, although it was scary and even though I felt uncomfortable seeing such public torture, it didn’t really touch my heart or make me feel any particular terror out of sympathy.

又一日,也是一大早,一群鬼怪,麻繩捆綁連接成串。他們口銜稻草,胸掛寫有本人姓名的厚重木牌,頭頂高帽,跪伏匍行。姓名用黑色書寫,再用紅色打叉。口中稻草臭不可聞,原是鄉民擦屁股後扔進茅坑,早已漚爛,此刻撈起塞進鬼怪們的口中。隊前兩三人,臂輓竹筐,彷彿邊走邊撒石灰。與往昔遊街鬼怪們一律悄無聲息不同,此番示眾,個個鬼哭狼嚎,撕心裂肺,聲震天宇。走近一看,原來石灰里摻雜著玻璃碎渣,膝蓋過處,血跡斑斑。石灰滲入創口,頓如火燒。圍觀鄉民伸頸縮脖,有嬉笑耍鬧者,有靜觀默察者,有不忍掩面淚溢者。我時年八歲,抑或九歲,等於畜生,親歷目睹,只覺肉疼驚悚,未覺心痛惶恐。

The first of these gruesome processions and public humiliations was aimed at the Five Bad Elements — landlords, rich peasants, counter-counter-revolutionaries, bad elements and Rightists — the second was about the reactionary primary and high school teachers ‘overthrown’ during the uprising of the early Cultural Revolution. My parents’ old teacher was forced to take part in all of these humiliations. Unable to bare the constant indignities he tried killing himself by bashing his head against a wall, but he only ended up with a cracked and bloody skull. That particular day, after the procession in which he’d been one of the people forced to walk on his knees over the broken glass and lime as he was washing his knees in the river I saw him picking bits of glass out of the wounds. His knees became infected and didn’t heal. Fortunately, the Chinese herbalist doctor in the village was able to brew him some medicine for him and he gradually recovered.

這兩場遊街示眾的,例為「地富反壞右」,外加「被打倒的」中小學教師。私塾先生場場不落,不堪凌辱,撞牆自盡而未遂,只落得頭破血流。那天劫後河邊清洗,自己將碎渣取出,不料感染化膿,旬月不治,幸虧鄉村郎中草藥煎敷,這才慢慢痊癒。

Not all that long ago, there was that common propaganda expression, surely you know the one: ‘The Old Society turned people into Ghosts; the New Society has transformed Ghosts into People’. But God of Thunder, Mother of Earth: demand on our behalf of the Clear Heavens above, and insist from the Vast Earth below — for I appeal to you: ask those ghosts and ghouls whose knees were scarred by wounds: was that really what happened, did the New Society make us Human, or was it just a lie?

曾幾何時,有一句話,是這樣說的,「舊社會把人變成鬼,新社會把鬼變成人」。可雷公地母啊,你去問問天,你去問問地,你去問問這些膝蓋疤痕累累的鬼怪們,是耶?非耶?

As your soul wanders towards the water,
Toward the grasses, as it travels far,
We summon your soul to return
Stay with us and live on

As your spirit rises up to the sun,
Faces the morning light, as it travels far,
We summon your soul to return
Stay with us and live on

你的魂靈向水,向草木
遠遠走去了的時候,
我們召喚你的魂兮歸來
居住下去,生活下去

你的魂靈向太陽,向朝霞
遠遠走去了的時候,
我們召喚你的魂兮歸來
居住下去,生活下去

Even this lament from the ancient Indian Rigveda cannot recall the soul of that man who died from such cruel injustice.

The old teacher had a grown son and a daughter: the girl died from hunger during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, so she was already long departed before his final humiliations. And one day his only son took flight without saying a word to his parents. They never heard from him or saw him again. Because of their father’s class status neither child had ever married: lives cut short before they’d really started.

Tormented by the fate of their children the Teacher’s wife threw herself down a well, leaving him to face the vile evils of the world alone. He passed the last years of his tortured life in dire poverty.

這印度古詩的詠嘆,喚不回屈死的魂靈。老人一雙兒女,一死一逃。死者是女兒,「大躍進」時餓死,墓木早拱;逃者是獨子,一走渺無音訊,終不復還。他們因受父輩牽連,未曾婚配,生命尚未開始,便已告別人世。老伴不忍,跳井了卻,留下他孤身應對這個邪惡人世,晚年在貧苦中走完蒼涼人生。

Tears blind me as I write these words and a bitter cry wells in my throat …

Tell me, all of you, tell me now: how many teachers were there like that, who suffered such torments, who faded without a sound, who disappeared without trace? Who will ever bring them justice? Who?

走筆至此,淚已沾襟,不禁長嘯:三山五嶽啊,雷公地母啊,地藏王大仙啊,觀世音娘娘啊,諸位佛祖老爺啊,你們說,你們說,多少私塾先生,生受傷痛,老來無聲,逝去無痕,誰還他們一個公道!?誰還他們一個公道!?

In this world that is but a grain of sand and a realm both of sorrows and delight, the autumnal leaves are falling now, silently. It is dusk and I hear wailing in the wilderness; I look up and see the skies full of stricken souls. I shudder uncontrollably.

世界如沙,落葉無聲,又是黃昏,彷彿四野哭聲,但見漫天冤魂,一陣寒顫。

The evening of the 18th of November 2018
Revised in the Studio That Isn’t, Tsinghua University

2018年11月18日,傍晚時分
修訂於清華無齋

Source:

  • 許章潤, 私塾先生, 《金融時報》, 21 November 2018

Version Two, Bilingual Text with Notes:

The Teacher
私塾先生

Xu Zhangrun 許章潤

translated by Geremie R. Barmé

 

It was after the deluge, a flood that left complete ruination in its wake; ours was a world submerged. In the days and months that followed things were rebuilt. After what seemed like years of tireless work, our family finally moved into a new home. It was a humble rustic dwelling — three simple rooms with a thatched roof — not far from our original house. It was prone to the change of seasons, so we sweltered through summer storms and endured bitter winter snows. But, for the seven of us it was home. Since it was next to a river we were particularly sensitive to the passage of time, marked by the ebb of the autumn waters and the flow of spring tides.

So that’s where we lived and laboured, our lives as insignificant as those of insects. But we had a home in the embrace of heaven and earth that was ours, one in which we could feel secure. Our house at a spot between the nearby small township and the countryside that lay beyond and an east-west path ran outside our door. People used the path through the day, but hardly a soul would venture out in the pitch dark of night. Occasionally, vehicles would trundle along the road on the other side of the river making a great din. In that pre-modern world — so unlike today — their clouds of exhaust seemed to nurture the lives of the country folk in that isolated rural world.

Early every day, at midday and then again in the evening we would hear the loudspeakers blaring from the local government compound not far away. They were broadcasting the Important Calls to Action of that Great Leader sequestered far in the distant north. The sound was tumultuous, its tenor overwrought. Despite the fact that it was seemingly ineffable and formless, evidence of its impact was to be seen everywhere. Nothing escaped its touch, everything directed by one who was supposed to be all-knowing and all-seeing. And that’s exactly why it was so terrifying: clamorous yet deathly silent in its movement; mysterious yet an undeniable reality. In our out-of-the-way corner of the world — one that had only barely survived complete devastation — it was a constant reminder of the Presence.

一場大水過後,滿目瘡痍,天地蒼茫。災後重建,披星戴月,歷經春秋,父母帶著我們終於搬進新家。草屋三間,篳門圭竇,距老宅十丈,夏熱冬冷。一家七口,臨河而居,伴夏雷冬雪,看春漲秋落。勞生息死,形如螻蟻。但既然是家,天地懷中一個窩,便頓覺安全而溫暖。門前小徑,交通東西,是小鎮盡頭與鄉野的通貫之處。早晚總有行人,天黑則難覓身影。河對面偶有車輛經過,轟轟隆隆,在這個前現代的時空,倒予鄉民煙火滋養的感覺。每日早中晚,不遠處區政府的高音喇叭定時鳴響,播放遙遠北方偉大領袖偉大號召,音調盛大,情緒高昂。看不見,摸不著,雖遁形卻有跡,無遠而弗屆,彷彿全知全能,因而才令人恐懼。它們喧闐而闃寂,神秘卻張揚,向劫後餘生的這一方水土提示著時代的行蹤。

Translator’s Notes:

大水 dà shuǐ: literally ‘massive water’ or flood, one that devastated East China in 1969. The author’s family lived in Lujiang county, Anhui province 安徽省廬江縣. Due to torrential rains in June-July 1969, large swathes of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, which broke its banks, were submerged. According to official statistics, during the event over three million hectares of arable land were inundated; sixty thousand houses were destroyed; 1806 people died; and, 3040 people disappeared. There were 345 other casualties. That particular flood — other terms used for such events are 洪災, 水災, 洪澇 — had a profound impact on the author, even though it was a relatively minor event in the long history of local disasters

區政府的高音喇叭定時鳴響: during the Mao era, and well beyond it, the diurnal rhythm in much of the People’s Republic was orchestrated by high-decibel broadcasts. Local radio stations 廣播站 guǎngbōzhàn would blare out programs from Central People’s Radio, Mao quotations, local news, calisthenics routines, notifications, exhortations, warnings and revolutionary cultural offerings throughout the day, and often well into the night

偉大領袖 wěidà lǐngxiù: Mao was called ‘Great Leader Chairman Mao’ 偉大領袖毛主席 wěidà lǐngxiù Máo zhǔxí. In his opening remarks at the first Red Guard mass rally in Tiananmen 18 August 1966, Chen Boda proclaimed Mao to be the Great Leader 偉大領袖, the Great Teacher 偉大導師 and the Great Helmsman 偉大舵手. In his speech at the same event, Lin Biao, the military leader who created ‘The Little Red Book’ 紅寶書 — Quotations from Chairman Mao 毛主席語錄 — and organised Mao’s coup against his factional opponents, also praised Mao as the Great Commander 偉大統帥. Addressing another rally on 31 August, Lin used the four expressions together; they became known as the ‘Four Greats’ 四個偉大. For a time, Lin’s handwritten version of the Four Greats was the most widely printed piece of calligraphy in China. However, following Lin’s mysterious death in September 1971 in the aftermath of a failed coup the man described in 1969 as Mao’s ‘close comrade-in-arms and hand-picked successor’ was denounced and all evidence of his existence outlawed.

After four years of hosannahs and relentless adulation, Mao remarked in a conversation with the American journalists Edgar Snow on 18 December 1970 that he now found the Four Greats to be ‘annoying’ 討嫌. In the long run, he said, he would prefer merely to be known as a Leader and a Teacher. Accordingly, the mausoleum in Tiananmen where his embalmed corpse lies on display, is formally called the Memorial Hall of the Great Leader and the Great Teacher Chairman Mao Zedong 偉大領袖和導師毛澤東主席紀念堂.

In late 2017, some local media outlets got ahead of themselves and hailed Xi Jinping as the Great Leader 偉大領袖 and even as the Helmsman 掌舵者. Reactions to this overt sycophancy were so negative that the titles were mothballed. In China’s Age of Might, Xi Jinping has has declared that the new Four Greats are: the Great Struggle 偉大鬥爭, the Great Building Project 偉大工程, the Great Enterprise 偉大事業 and the Great Dream 偉大夢想

偉大號召 wěidà hàozhào:Great Calls, Calls to Action, Exhortations or Orders were the directives issued from on high by Maoist propagandists. These quotations from Mao were generally offered in an encapsulated, often gnomic, form. This constant stream of orders were broadcast and published as a way of directing the action of the Cultural Revolution and responding to what was called ‘ever-new developments in class struggle’ 階級鬥爭新動向. When printed in the daily press, the same quotes were called Highest Directives 最高指示. They appeared in bold type in the place originally reserved for weather reports, in what was called the ‘eye of the paper’ 報眼兒, the top right-hand corner of the front page. When the Mao cult was dismantled from the late 1970s, a process that soon ground to a halt as Mao was re-invented to support the Reform and Open Door policies, the code expression used to attack Mao was ‘the modern superstition’ 現代迷信. On 3 September 2018, Xi Jinping outstripped Mao when his name appeared no fewer than forty-five times on the front page of People’s Daily (see Barmé, Peak Xi Jinping?, ChinaFile, 4 September 2018)

全知全能 quánzhī quánnéng: among the hyperbolic accolades, Mao was also said to be ‘all knowing’ 洞察一切 dòng chá yī qiè, or omniscient. Hailed by his lieutenants as the ‘Greatest Genius of the Modern Age’ 當代最偉大的天才. In May 1966, Lin Biao, declared: ‘Every statement by Chairman Mao is the Truth; one sentence of his is worth more than 10,000 sentences of ours’ 毛主席的話,句句是真理,一句超過我們一萬句. He added: ‘Chairman Mao’s words are the guide for our actions. Whoever opposes him will be obliterated by the whole Party and denounced by the whole nation’ 他的話都是我們行動的准則。誰反對他,全黨共誅之,全國共討之. In a rambling speech at the same meeting, Zhou Enlai hailed Mao as the unparalleled leader of world revolution and Mao Zedong Thought as ‘the pinnacle of Marxism-Leninism’ 毛澤東思想是馬列主義的頂峰 (see Barmé, A People’s Banana Republic, China Heritage, 5 September 2018).

Mao Zedong Thought 毛澤東思想, decocted in a handy catechism called Quotations from Chairman Mao 毛主席語錄, was regarded as a panacea for all ills, be they ideological, intellectual, emotional or physical. For accounts of the restorative powers of Mao Thought drawn from the official media at the time, see George Urban, ed. and intro., The Miracles of Chairman Mao: a Compendium of Devotional Literature, 1966-1970, London: Tom Stacey Ltd., 1971

It was the early 1970s, and the daily lives of people in our rural world were wracked by a mixture of hunger and terror. Despite this, we managed to live with something resembling a sense of hope. Just surviving despite our modest needs we eked out a life of mindful penury. The days and months passed quickly, even if anxiety was a constant companion.

這是1970年代初期,飢饉與恐懼籠罩著鄉民身心,卻又彷彿有所期待。「日食半升,夜眠七尺」,歲月遂在忐忑中流走。

Translator’s Note:

日食半升, 夜眠七尺 rì shí bàn shēng, yè mián qī chǐ: this expression meaning ‘you need only so much food each day, and a modest dwelling to sleep in’ comes from Wise Words from Ancient Times 昔時賢文, a popular Ming-dynasty children’s primer. The original reads: ‘No matter how extensive your fields [literally, ‘fields of 10,000 qǐng‘], you can still only eat three shēng [approximately ten cups] of food [rice] in a day. Regardless of whether you have a mansion containing 1,000 room-spans, at night you only need eight chǐ [roughly three metres] to sleep’ 良田萬頃, 日食三升; 大廈千間, 夜眠八尺. The author has cut down the measurements in the original so as to reflect his family’s impoverished circumstances

An old man often passed by our place. He was tall and slightly stooped. He shaded his face in the summer with a ragtag cap, in the winter he bunched his clothes at the waist with a belt of knotted grass. In my mind’s eye he is always wearing straw sandals and the legs of his pants are rolled up above his knees. Whenever he made an appearance he’d cast a glance through our front door even as he hurried by, although, sometimes, he’d stop for a drink of water, gulping it down quickly while standing outside. Although, sometimes he would take his time and drink slowly, chatting with us inside from his spot on the doorstep. The talk would be harmless gossip, his tone indifferent — neither particularly downcast nor very excited. If he was drinking cold water out of our big water pot filled from the well he’d just slurp it down; if it was boiled water from the thermos he would savour it slowly. We never had tea: we simply couldn’t afford to buy tea leaves. I only ever remember us being able to enjoy tea during the festivities at Lunar New Year. Once, though, we happened to find a small chunk of rock sugar. It was carefully mixed with the well water in the big pot. Everyone thought it tasted marvellous. My mother was always particularly courteous towards that old man. She greeted him and saw him off with great politeness.

時常有位老人打門前經過。身板高大,微駝背。夏季破帽遮顏,冬季腰間系根草繩。印象中總是穿雙草鞋,褲腳卷到膝蓋以上。有時邊走邊朝門裡張望,匆匆而過。有時停下要口水喝,站在門前一飲而盡。偶或慢慢輟飲,坐在門檻上聊幾句家常,齊東野語無悲無歡。快飲的是水缸里舀的井水,慢啜的則為暖壺里的開水。家裡沒茶葉,似乎只有過年時才喝上茶,有次找到一小塊冰糖攪拌於井水,都說好喝。母親對老人持之以禮,總是恭迎恭送。

Translator’s Notes:

齊東野語 Qí dōng yě yǔ: literally, ‘the vulgar ramblings of a fellow from the east of Qi’ (the Shandong peninsula) from Mencius, in James Legge’s translation:

These are not the words of a superior man.
They are the sayings of an uncultivated person of the east of Qi.

此非君子之言,
齊東野人之語也。

— 《孟子 · 萬章上》

Because of the context of this passage, the expression later came to mean ‘frivolous chatter, gossip, absurdities’

無悲無歡 wú beī wúhuān:’with neither sorrow nor joy’, rather than indicating indifference as such, it signifies exhausted resignation. The two word phrase 悲歡 beī huān, literally ‘sorrow and delight’ is an ancient expression still used to encapsulate the vicissitudes of life. One of the most famous uses of these words is in a poem by Su Dongpo (蘇東坡, Su Shi 蘇軾, 1037-1101 CE) where he writes人有悲歡離合, /月有陰晴圓缺, / 此事古難全:

Su Dongpo

Mid-Autumn,
I stayed up till dawn drinking,

and wrote this thinking of my brother

To the tune ‘Water Song’

When did such a bright moon ever shine?
Raising my goblet, I question the dark firmament:
What year is it tonight
in the Bright Palace of Heaven?
How I wish I could return home to the moon,
That I could ride the wind there,
but I fear that the cold,
high in those jade towers, in that crystal world,
might be too intense to bear.
So I’ll dance here instead
down in the mortal world,
I’ll play with my bright moonlit shadow.

Here it comes again,
moving round the vermilion mansion,
shining through the fretted casement,
in on the sleepless.
What right does it have
to be so cruel?
What right to choose
To shine so full,
So bright,
when we’re so far apart?
Mankind has its
Sorrows and joys,
Meetings and partings.
The moon waxes and wanes
in clear or cloudy skies.

Things were ever imperfect.
May we all live long,
May we all share,
though a myriad miles apart,
the same fair moon.

蘇東坡

辰中秋,
歡飲達旦,大醉。
作此篇,兼懷子由

水調歌頭

 

明月幾時有,
把酒問青天。

不知天上宮闕,
今夕是何年。

我欲乘風歸去,
又恐瓊樓玉宇,
高處不勝寒。

起舞弄清影,
何似在人間。

轉朱閣,
低綺戶,
照無眠。

不應有恨,
何事長向別時圓。

人有悲歡離合,
月有陰晴圓缺,
此事古難全。

但願人長久,
千里共嬋娟。

— translated by John Minford
from The Same Fair Moon
China Heritage, 4 October 2017

家裡沒茶葉 jiālǐ méi cháyè: during the years of privation under Mao access to tea, in particular to fine tea, became a matter of privilege. For details, see Geremie R. Barmé More Saliva than Tea 口水多過茶, China Heritage Quarterly (Issue 29, March 2012). For many people, 白茶 báichá, literally ‘white tea’, meant boiled water without tea leaves

For years I had no idea who the old fellow was, and it never occurred to me to ask. But I do have a very clear memory of him sitting on the threshold of our house staring at the scars on his knees. I left home when I was still fairly young and was soon absorbed in making my way in the world, chasing after mundane success. Gradually, we all were like rootless tufts of grass, buffeted by the times. I became a stranger to my old home, and for many years it was though I completely forgot about that old man. That was until about six years ago, not long before my father passed away. Chatting at his bedside one day we somehow got to talking about that fellow. Only then did I finally start to piece his story together for myself.

許多年里,我並不知此公何人,也不曾起過打探的念頭。只記得他坐在門檻上時,曾經好奇地盯著他膝蓋上的疤痕斑斑。少年離鄉,匆匆於生計,追逐浮華,大家都成了無根浮萍。我陌生於鄉里,也早把這個人忘卻。直到六年前家父過世前不久,病床前陪他說話,講到老家往事,這才將前因後果拼連起來。

Translator’s Notes:

少年離鄉 shào nián lí xiāng and 我陌生於鄉里 wǒ mòshēng yú xiāng lǐ: these two expressions bring to mind a poem by He Zhizhang (賀知章, c.659-c.744 CE) of the Tang, learned by heart by school children:

The Return

Bowed down with age I seek my native place,
Unchanged my speech, my hair is silvered now;
My very children do not know my face,
But smiling ask, ‘O stranger, whence art thou?

回鄉偶書

少小離家老大回,
鄉音無改鬢毛催。
兒童相見不相識,
笑問客從何處來。

trans. Herbert Giles

As Giles notes, He Zhizhang was one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine-cup 酒中八仙, and ‘a lover of dissipation and joviality. On one occasion he mounted a horse, although a bad rider and drunk at the time: the result was that he fell into a dry well and was found snoring at the bottom’

前因後果 qián yīn hòu guǒ: literally ’causes and effects’ or context. The expression has its origins in the Buddhist teaching regarding process, karma, effect and retribution, or simply 因果 yīn guǒ 

It turns out that, at the time, the ‘Old Man’ wasn’t that all that old. He wasn’t even sixty. I learned from my father that he had been a teacher in our local town — my parents’ tutor in a small privately run academy. Not long after the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution he was locked up in a makeshift jail run as part of the Dictatorship of the Masses. Eventually, he was packed off to the countryside, his town residency permit transferred there as well; that was so he could be forcibly ‘Re-educated by the Poor and Lower-Middle Peasants’. In those days, there was a strict division between the cities and the countryside. The villages were absolutely impoverished; it was just as Mao had once said [about the countryside in the past]: now they really were ‘Poor and Blank’. Forced to labour in the fields day and night regardless of the season, the villagers, after having handed over their share of public grains to the Party authorities were without enough to eat. They were also too poor to afford adequate clothing and by spring each year they had eaten everything they had stored away for the winter months. Gathering together in groups they would set out and go begging in the cities. For their part, the authorities would do everything in their power to encircle, pursue, obstruct and intercept them. That’s just how it was back then.

老者不老,那時節大約尚不到花甲。原是小鎮教師,父母私塾的先生。文革後不久,始押於「群專土牢,後下放務農戶口遷鄉,「接受貧下中農再教育」。當其時,厲行城鄉二元壁壘,鄉村如洗,真正一窮二白。一年四季勞作,沒日沒夜,交出公糧後,而居然食不果腹,衣不蔽體,春荒結隊乞討,卻為公權圍追堵截,是家常便飯。

Translator’s Notes:

原是小鎮教師,父母私塾的先生 yuán shì xiǎo zhèn jiàoshī, fùmǔ sīshúde xiānsheng:’It turned out that he had been a teacher in our local town, my parent’s tutor in a small privately run academy.’ He taught the author’s parents in the late 1930s. The traditional style of tuition at local private schools 私塾 sīshú underpinned the dynastic examination system, the 科舉制 kē jǔ zhì. Teachers were generally learned men who had failed in the exams. Although the old system was replaced by modern educational institutions in the 1900s, private tuition continued to flourish throughout the Republican era. Outlawed by the Communists, it is popular once more

群專 qúnzhuān, short for 群眾專政 qúnzhòng zhuānzhèng: although the expression ‘Mass Dictatorship’ entered common parlance during the Cultural Revolution (which can be dated from the Socialist Education Campaign in the countryside launched in 1964 to the definitive rejection of overt politicisation and class struggle in late 1978), Mao unabashedly celebrated the importance of Party hegemony and class dictatorship on the eve of the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. In his 30 June 1949 speech titled ‘On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship’ 論人民民主專政, the Chairman forecast the policies that would be adopted once the Party was in power. In early 1962, as the country was dealing with the devastation of the Great Leap and when the Communist leaders were embroiled in an escalating conflict both with the Soviet Union and the Nationalists on Taiwan, Mao told the Party:

To practise democracy among the people and to practise dictatorship over the enemies of the people, these two aspects are inseparable. When these two aspects are combined, this is then proletarian dictatorship, or it may be called people’s democratic dictatorship. Our slogan is: ‘A people’s democratic dictatorship, led by the proletariat, and based on the alliance of the workers and peasants.’ How does the proletariat exercise leadership? It leads through the Communist Party. The Communist Party is the vanguard of the proletariat. The proletariat unites with all classes and strata who approve of, support and participate in the socialist revolution and socialist construction, and exercises dictatorship over the reactionary classes or the remnants thereof. In our country the system of exploitation of man by man has already been eliminated. The economic foundations of the landlord class and the bourgeoisie have been eliminated. The reactionary classes are now no longer as ferocious as hitherto. For example, they are no longer as ferocious as in 1949 when the People’s Republic was founded, nor as ferocious as in 1957 when the right-wing bourgeoisie madly attacked us. Therefore we speak of them as the remnants of the reactionary classes. But we may on no account underestimate these remnants. We must continue to struggle against them. The reactionary classes which have been overthrown are still planning a come-back. In a socialist society, new bourgeois elements may still be produced. During the whole socialist stage there still exist classes and class struggle, and this class struggle is a protracted, complex, sometimes even violent affair. Our instruments of dictatorship should not be weakened; on the contrary they should be strengthened. … When we are concerned with dictatorship over the whole reactionary class, it is especially important to rely on the masses and the Party. To exercise dictatorship over the reactionary classes does not mean that we should totally eliminate all reactionary elements, but rather that we should eliminate the classes to which they belong. We should use appropriate methods to remould them and transform them into new men. Without a broad people’s democracy, proletarian dictatorship cannot be consolidated and political power would be unstable. Without democracy, without the mobilization of the masses, without mass supervision, it will be impossible to exercise effective dictatorship over the reactionary and bad elements, and it will be impossible effectively to remould them. Thus they would continue to make trouble and might still stage a come-back. This problem demands vigilance, and I hope comrades will give a great deal of thought to this too.

在人民內部實行民主,對人民的敵人實行專政,這兩個方面是分不開的,把這兩個方面結合起來,就是無產階級專政,或者叫人民民主專政。我們的口號是:「無產階級領導的,以工農聯盟為基礎的人民民主專政。」無產階級怎樣實行領導呢?經過共產黨來領導。共產黨是無產階級的先進部隊。無產階級團結一切贊成、擁護和參加社會主義革命和社會主義建設的階級和階層。對反動階級,或者說,對反動階級的殘餘實行專政。在我們國內,人剝削人的制度已經消滅,地主階級和資產階級的經濟基礎已經消滅,現在反動階級已經沒有過去那末厲害了,比如說,已經沒有一九四九年人民共和過剛建立的時候那麼厲害了,也沒有一九五七年資產階級右派猖狂進攻的時候那末厲害了,所以我們說是反動階級的殘餘。但是對於這個殘餘,千萬不可輕視,必須繼續同他們做鬥爭,已經被推翻的階級,還企圖復辟。在社會主義社會,還會產生新的資產階級分子。整個社會主義階段,存在著階級和階級鬥爭,這種階級鬥爭是長期的、複雜的、有時甚至是很激烈的。我們的專政工具不能削弱,還應當加強。… 特別是對於整個反動階級的專政,必須依靠群眾,依靠黨。對於反動階級實行專政,這並不是說把一切反動階級分子統統消滅掉,而是要改造他們,用適當的方法改造他們,使他們成為新人。沒有廣泛的人民民主,無產階級專政不能鞏固,政權會不穩。沒有民主,沒有把群眾發動起來,沒有群眾的監督,就不可能對反動分子和壞分子實行有效的專政,也不可能對他們實行有效的改造,他們就會繼續搗亂,還有復辟的可能,這個問題應當警惕,也希望同志們好好想一想。

from Mao Zedong, Talk at an
Enlarged Working Conference  Convened by the
Central Committee of the CPC, 30 January 1962
毛澤東在擴大的中央工作會議上的講話

土牢 tǔ láo: a make-shift underground jail, a dungeon dug in the earth. Not quite the same as the ‘cow sheds’ or ‘bullpens’ 牛棚 niúpéng for confining Cow Demons in the cities, these crudely constructed prisons were used as an instrument of torture. In recent times, ‘black jails’ 黑監獄 hēi jiānyù created by the security forces in collaboration with private companies to detain and punish people attempting to petition the government in relation to local injustices are an elaboration and continuation of this earlier practice

下放務農 xìa fàng wù nóng: being ‘sent down’ 下放 xìa fàng was often little more than a modern version of ‘exile’. ‘Agricultural labour’ generally involved backbreaking work and demeaning tasks. To be ‘sent down’ was akin to a non-custodial jail sentence, local communities acting as wardens. (For more on this, see the note on 知青 zhīqīng ‘educated youth’ below)

戶口遷鄉 hùkǒu qiān xiāng: ‘residency removed to the countryside’. From the mid 1950s, as the Party’s socialist agenda was implemented, people’s lives, residency, accommodation and opportunities were increasingly governed, or dictated by, the party-state. The right to reside in an urban centre, with all of its concomitant privileges, was much sought after. The ‘residency permit’ or ‘household register’ 戶口 hùkǒu or 戶籍 hùjí, covered the individual householder as well as their family; it was a powerful tool of social control. Party authorities could punish an individual, family or group, by cancelling their urban residency and relocating them to some designated rural spot. For example, men and women who were labelled as Rightists during the mass 1957 purged were often exiled to labour camps or villages for years and, in many cases, decades. It depended on one’s ‘residency permit’, the details of which were officially recorded and copied into a ‘household register’ 户口簿 hùkǒu bù (colloquially called 戶口本 hùkǒu běn) in the individual’s or household’s possession. In times of economic privation, these small booklets also determined the allocation of basic necessities such as food, cloth and other items. Starting in 1984, a system was introduced using ‘Residency Identity Cards’ 居民身份證, simply called 身份證 shēnfènzhèng. This kind of ID card is now part of an increasingly integrated network called the Social Credit System, and virtual IDs came into use in late 2017

接受貧下中農再教育 jiēshòu pín xìa zhōng nóng zài jiàoyù:’undergo re-education by the poor-and-lower-middle peasants’. During the land reform era of the late 1940s through the early 1950s, Party administrators worked in local communities and all rural residents were allocated an immutable ‘class status’ simply called 身份 shēnfèn, along with a fixed ‘political character’ 政治面目zhèngzhì miànmù, that is a determination regarding their attitude towards the Party and the Revolution. These details were recorded by the local party-police establishment or in secret personnel files or dossiers 人事檔案 rénshì dàng’àn that followed the subject throughout their lives and, in the eyes of the party-state, determined their rights and their fate. ‘Poor-and-lower-middle peasant’ was a broad category of rural worker that was regarded as being politically reliable; their past economic circumstances determined that they were natural allies with the urban proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard, the Communist Party. The forced re-education mentioned here (the seemingly neutral expression 接受再教育 jiēshòu zài jiàoyù belies a relentless and cruel reality) was not, in fact, undertaken by the peasants — they generally lived in dire straits and were as much victims as the hapless urbanites exiled to the countryside — but at the behest of local, all-powerful, ex-peasant Party bosses who in many cases were little more than satraps and village thugs

Strictly speaking, the expression ‘to undergo re-education by the poor-and-lower-middle peasants’ was primarily used by Mao Zedong in late 1968 to justify the forced rustication of urban high-school graduates

一窮二白 yī qióng èr bái: ‘poor and blank’, a barbed reference to a comment made by Mao Zedong in his essay ‘Introducing a Cooperative’ (1958), which was written during the frenzy of the Great Leap Forward that was supposed to transform rural life into a Communist utopia. Mao said:

… [T]he outstanding thing about China’s 600 million people is that they are ‘poor and blank’. This may seem a bad thing, but in reality it is a good thing. Poverty gives rise to the desire for change, the desire for action and the desire for revolution. On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written, the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted.

中國六億人口的顯著特點是一窮二白。這些看起來是壞事,其實是好事,窮則思變,要乾,要革命。一張白紙,沒有負擔,好寫最新最美的文字,好畫最新最美的畫圖。

Mao Zedong, Introducing a Cooperative 
介紹一個合作社, 15 April 1958

圍追堵截 wéi zhuī dǔ jié: ‘encirclement, pursuit, obstruction and interception’. This modern four-character expression comes from a speech Mao gave in 1935 in which he said:

For twelve months we were under daily reconnaissance and bombing from the skies by scores of planes, while on land we were encircled and pursued, obstructed and intercepted by a huge force of several hundred thousand men, and we encountered untold difficulties and dangers on the way; yet by using our two legs we swept across a distance of more than twenty thousand li through the length and breadth of eleven provinces. Let us ask, has history ever known a long march to equal ours? No, never. The Long March is a manifesto.

十二個月光陰中間,天上每日幾十架飛機偵察轟炸,地下幾十萬大軍圍追堵截,路上遇著了說不盡的艱難險阻,我們卻開動了每人的兩只腳,長驅二萬余里,縱橫十一個省。請問歷史上曾有過我們這樣的長征嗎?沒有,從來沒有的。長征又是宣言書。

Mao Zedong, On Tactics Against
Japanese Imperialism, 27 December 1935

Today, the expression 圍追堵截 wéi zhuī dǔ jié is used to describe the efforts of the authorities — the police, militia and private security firms — to intimidate and harass citizens who want to protect their rights in the face of official interference and injustice, or those who want to petition the government. In Internet usage the expression means ‘besiege and intercept’, be it in regard to a user, a site, or data

After finishing senior high school my eldest sister was sent off to the countryside as a sent-down youth, setting off for distant parts with nothing more than a simple backpack. The day that she left my mother hid in the kitchen and wailed in agony. For her this just another source of anguish, for that’s how that old teacher had been exiled to the wilds and forced to fend for himself and survive as best he could, or not, as the case may be. Political control ended at the water margin. In ancient Greece, beyond the bounds of the city state, there were no gods to rely on, merely beasts to which one might fall prey. The polities on opposite shores of the Atlantic [in England and the United States] inherited much from this ancient division between town and country, although time allowed for a measure of evolution and renewal so that a political refugee might have some hope of survival. However, in the Slavic world that came to be dominated by Communist totalitarianism there was no such escape. Be it in the city or in the countryside, new and the old politics were engineered to create a devastating modern form. This not only allowed full scope to the pitiless evils of the past, for the system was enhanced by the addition of up-to-date forms of humiliation. Truly was this Net of Heaven cast wide and none could hope to slip through it. The pitiful Old Teacher, living in such a world had no choice but to get by as best he could in the wilderness, although there was no way he could escape the net of dictatorship.

大姐高中畢業後作為知青下鄉,背包出門走遠,母親便躲進灶間,放聲大哭,淒苦為平日所無,緣由在此。如此這般,先生等於逐出化外,任由生死,而生死不得。政治止於水邊,城邦之外非神即獸,此為古典希臘意象,一脈綿延於大西洋兩岸,輾轉翻新,指東打西,異己者尚有一線活口之望。源出自斯拉夫蠻族共產極權無孔不入,卻又郭野分處,從而粘連新舊偏鋒一齊發作,既縱容舊惡,復加處新辱,真正是天羅地網。可憐那教書先生,身處其間,只好荒野求生,卻又難逃專政網羅

Translator’s Notes:

逐出化外 bèi zhúchū huàwài: ‘to be expelled or cast out of the civilised world’. The traditional expression 化外 huàwài, short for 化外之地 huàwài zhī dì, means ‘places 地  beyond 外 wài the transformative power 化 hùa [of Confucian norms and civilised behaviour]’. According to ancient texts, after a series of Sage Rulers brought order to the known world, there existed a realm that paid court to the kingly ritualised ways 華夏 huáxià of the Central Plains — often called ‘China Proper’ — as well as those places that were beyond the ken, which were populated by ‘barbarians’ 蠻夷 mányí. The distinction between the civilised and the barbaric was, and in many cases still is, summed up in the expression 華夷之辨 huá yí zhī biàn. Those who were ‘transformed’ 化 hùa by civilised norms 禮儀 lǐ yí and acquired the good sense to defer to the hierarchy and the ways of the dominant order were no longer regarded as being particularly barbaric. In the Mao era, Mao Zedong Thought possessed the ultimate revolutionary power to transform the individual, or as his lieutenant Lin Biao wrote in his Introduction to Quotations of Chairman Mao:

Once Mao Zedong Thought has been truly mastered by the Broad Masses, it will become a source of boundless energy; it will have a greater force than the Atom Bomb.

毛澤東思想為廣大群眾所掌握,就會變成無窮無盡的力量,變 成威力無比的精神原子彈。

Today, in 2018, similar claims are being made in regard to the unparalleled and universal might and transformative potential of ‘Xi Jinping Thought for the New Epoch of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’

知青 zhīqīng: short for 知識青年 zhīshì qīngnián or ‘educated youth’. Faced with widespread urban unemployment in the mid 1950s, the Party began sending recent high-school graduates, or ‘educated youth’, to work in the countryside, or to be ‘sent down’, in particular to remote and backward areas in need of cheap labour. In 1955, Mao declared, ‘The countryside is a vast expanse of heaven and earth, you will flourish there’ 農村是一個廣闊的天地,在那裡是可以大有作為的. This would later be the slogan used when the Red Guard generation of restive high-school graduates who had no work and no universities to attend were dispersed as part of the ‘movement down to the countryside and up into the mountains’ 上山下鄉運動 starting in late 1968. Around the same time, urban intellectuals were also dispatched to the hinterland to labour and reform themselves in what were called ‘May Seventh Cadre Schools’ 五七幹校 wǔqī gàn xiào, so named after a directive on the subject issued by Mao. It was little more than a form of loosely supervised labour reform. Later, Maoist thinkers like Zhang Chunqiao would brief the leaders of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia on how the revolution could best deal with the intelligentsia. As in the case of Maoist China the consequences were murderous

斯拉夫蠻族共產極權 sīlāfūmánzúde gòngchǎn jíquán: literally ‘the Communist totalitarianism of the Slavic peoples’. These lines are written in concatenated prose, encapsulating a history of authoritarianism/ totalitarianism from ancient Greece, through the West to the Soviet Union and up into the Mao era

無孔不入 wú kǒng bù rù: ‘enters every space or orifice’, ‘pervasive’, ‘enter every nook and cranny’. The author uses this expression in an ironic reversal of the Cultural Revolution saying that ‘class enemies are like air, invading every space and omnipresent’ 階級敵人就像空氣一樣無孔不入無所不在。The Communist Party made the case that eternal vigilance was necessary to guard against the frenzied attacks of the overthrown classes who were determined to undermine the revolution at every turn and restore the feudal-capitalist system of the past

天羅地網 tiānluó dìwǎng and 專政網羅 zhuānzhèng wǎngluó: these expressions describing the inescapable nets 網羅 wǎngluó of fate can be traced to a passage in the classic text Tao Te Ching 道德經 attributed to Laozi. Chapter 73 reads, in John Minford’s translation:

Heaven’s Net is vast
Through its loose Mesh,
Nothing slips.

天網恢恢
tiān wǎng huī huī
疏而不漏
shū ér bù lòu

The Communists have been adept at perverting hallowed classical references and metaphors for their own political ends. The Net of Heaven also recalls Mao Zedong’s use of the metaphor of a fishing net to describe the all-embracing nature of class struggle:

Class struggle is a net,
Cast the net
All is ensnared

階級鬥爭是綱
jiējí dòuzhēng shì gāng
綱舉目張
gāng jǔ mù zhāng

Today, the surveillance state being constructed in the People’s Republic, one that employs mass spying, CCTV cameras, AI scans and other forms of intelligence gathering, is, appropriately enough, called SkyNet 天網. To appreciate better a network that still relies more on ‘wetware’ (that is, people) than software, it is worth revisiting Maple Bridge:

Remembering Maple Bridge 楓橋經驗

Commentators both in and outside China have observed with increasing alarm signs of a revival of Maoism as well as of economic, social and political policies that would appear to diminish the Latter Thirty Years while resuscitating aspects of the Former Thirty Years discussed in the above. For those with longer memories, however, Xi Jinping’s ‘revanchism’ was evident even when he was merely the Party Secretary of Zhejiang province from 2002 to 2007.

Following the Great Leap Forward period (1958-1962), during which Mao’s misguided economic policies (again, all supported by the majority of his colleagues) effectively led to unprecedented mass murder through starvation and dislocation, the Chairman was forced to reassess his position. Sidelined by comrades who were anxious to salvage the Party amidst the unprecedented suffering they had engineered, Mao continued to plan a utopian future for China, one that would require him to take complete control of the party-state.

In late 1962, Mao began reasserting his ideological control by having the Party reaffirm his policy of ceaseless and uncompromising class struggle, discussed here. This was summed up at the Tenth Plenum of the Eight Party Congress in September 1962 at which the Party issued a call to the nation to ‘Never Forget Class Struggle’ 千萬不要忘記階級鬥爭. At that meeting Mao denounced ideological backsliding that supported such things as ‘the fashion of individual enterprise’ 單干風, the ‘move to overturn verdicts’ 翻案風 (about the Rightist Movement and the Great Leap) and ‘the negative talk about China having entered an era of darkness’ 黑暗風 (for more on the word 風 wind, and its uses in the Communist Lexicon, see Mendacious, Hyperbolic & FatuousChina Heritage, 10 July 2018). Mao went on to tell his comrades that:

We must acknowledge that classes will continue to exist for a long time. We must also acknowledge the existence of a struggle of class against class, and admit the possibility of the restoration of reactionary classes. We must raise our vigilance and properly educate our youth as well as the cadres, the masses and the middle- and basic-level cadres. Old cadres must also study these problems and be educated. Otherwise a country like ours can still move towards its opposite. Even to move towards its opposite would not matter too much because there would still be the negation of the negation, and afterwards we might move towards our opposite yet again. If our children’s generation go in for revisionism and move towards their opposite, so that although they still nominally have socialism it is in fact capitalism, then our grandsons will certainly rise up in revolt and overthrow their fathers, because the masses will not be satisfied. Therefore, from now on we must talk about this every year, every month, every day. We will talk about it at congresses, at Party delegate conferences, at plenums, at every meeting we hold, so that we have a more enlightened Marxist-Leninist line on the problem.

要承認階級長期存在,承認階級與階級鬥爭,反動階級可能復辟。要提高警惕,要好好教育青年人,教育於部,教育群眾,教育中層和基層幹部,老幹部也要研究,教育。不然,我們這樣的國家還會走向反面。走向反面也沒有什麼要緊,還要來個否定的否定,以後又會走向反面。如果我們的兒子一代搞修正主義,走向反面,雖然名為社會主義,實際是資本主義,我們的孫子肯定會起來暴動的,推翻他們的老子,因為群眾不滿意。所以我們從現在起就必須年年講,月月講,天天講,開大會講,開黨代會講,開全會講,開一次會就講,使我們對這個問題有一條比較清醒的馬克思列寧主義的路線。

from Mao Zedong, Speech at the Tenth Plenum of the
Eighth Central Committee, 24 September 1962
毛澤東在八屆十中全會上的講話

[During this notorious speech Mao avoided taking any real responsibility for the disaster of the Great Leap and, among other things, repeated one of the deathless lines of his rule:

On the question of work, comrades will please take care that the class struggle does not interfere with our work. The first Lushan Conference of 1959 was originally concerned with work. Then up jumped Peng Dehuai and said: ‘You fucked my mother for forty days, can’t I fuck your mother for twenty days?’ All this fucking messed up the conference and the work was affected. Twenty days was not long enough and we abandoned the question of work.

工作問題,還請同志們注意,階級鬥爭不要影響了我們的工作。一九五九年第一次廬山會議本來是搞工作的,後來出了彭德懷,說:「你操了我四十天娘,我操你二十天娘不行?」這一操,就被擾亂了,工作受到影響。二十天還不夠,我們把工作丟了。]

The emphasis on class struggle was part of a general push to affirm the importance of political struggle in advancing the Party’s agenda and that placed heightened ideological awareness and purity over the livelihood of normal people. This ‘lurch to the left’ was, among other things, encapsulated in late 1963 in what Mao celebrated as ‘The Practices of Maple Bridge’ 楓橋經驗, which had been developed at Maple Bridge township in Zhuji, Zhejiang province 浙江省諸暨市楓橋鎮.

The Maple Bridge model was developed by the cadres of the township in the wake of the economic collapse of the Great Leap Forward. With limited policing resources, widespread dislocation and a desperate population, local Party rulers developed a system of social control and repression that would not place an economic or administrative burden on the state. In particular, it prevented people who were in dire straits due to the Party’s economic mismanagement from protesting outside their own townships, or lodging complaints with those further up the chain of command. What was in fact a form of mutual surveillance, mass dictatorship, repression and radical social stability was summed up in the formula ‘mobilise and rely on the masses, resolve local problems without recourse to higher authorities and ensure that arrests are limited and social stability assured’ 發動和依靠群眾,堅持矛盾不上交,就地解決。實現捕人少,治安好. Supported by Xie Fuzhi 謝富治, the ultra hardline Minister of Public Security, and Peng Zhen 彭真, the architect of the purges and mass murders of the 1950s, the ‘Maple Bridge Experience’ 枫橋經驗 was endorsed by Mao, the architect of China’s rural catastrophe, in late 1963. He issued a rescript that read: ‘All local areas are to emulate [Maple Bridge], and after model areas have been consolidated the system should be launched nationwide’ 要各地仿效,經過試點,推廣去做.

The Practices of Maple Bridge helped create the basis for the ‘mass dictatorship’ described here in Xu Zhangrun’s essay following the collapse of local party-state law and order bodies. Maple Bridge was reaffirmed after Mao’s death and it contributed directly to the Deng era policies of ‘Stability and Unity’ 安定團結, the practice of which evolved into the Stability Maintenance 維穩 policies of the new millennium. Maple Bridge also helped the Party formulate its repressive actions in Tibet in 1988 and 2008, and again, more recently, in Xinjiang.

In November 2003, when he was Party Secretary of Zhejiang province, home to ‘The Practices of Maple Bridge’, Xi Jinping extolled these repressive policies on the fortieth anniversary of Mao’s 1963 rescript. At that time, Xi said people must be mindful of the fact that Party policy not only champions the idea that ‘Economic Development is an Unbending Principle’ 发展是硬道理 but also that ‘Stability is an Unwavering Duty’ 稳定是硬任务. Again, in 2013, on the fiftieth anniversary of Mao’s rescript Xi Jinping as head of the party-state enjoined the nation to study, enhance and expand ‘The Practices of Maple Bridge’ in order to ensure longterm social cohesion and stability. Maple Bridge was reaffirmed yet again in November 2018, on the fifty-fifth anniversary of Mao’s rescript

During the early Cultural Revolution, before the flood of 1969 and as things escalated out of control, the mass movement allowed people an excuse to get away with pretty much anything they wanted: all kinds of grievance and hatred now enjoyed unfettered expression. Parading the people who had been denounced as ‘Cow Spirits and Snake Demons’ down the main village street became something of a joyous festival. I remember being woken one morning by the banging of cymbals and the chanting of slogans. Looking out I saw what appeared to be a ghostly spectre, but one that was in human form — face darkened by soot, a pointed dunce’s cap on his head, a heavy rope tied around his shoulders that wound around his arms drawing them behind his back where his arms were tightly bound, head bowed and torso bent at the waist, the figure he hesitantly edged its way forward. The impossibly thin and tall dunce’s cap waved tremulously on his head. His ‘guards’ waved staffs and clubs threateningly, occasionally striking out at the hapless ghoul stumbling before them; they’d also pull up his head roughly before pressing it down with all their might. The clubs had a special name — ‘Cudgels for Attacking with Words, Defending by Force’. As thick as a man’s wrist and about 1.5 metres in length the clubs were painted white with blood red tips at either end. When they were twirled ferociously the red tips created the illusion of a ring of fire, and the motion created little eddies of wind. If these cudgels were taken to a victim, heads would crack open, bones splinter and ribs break.

洪水前「運動」勢酣有名無名的仇恨盡情釋放。「牛鬼蛇神批鬥遊街是小鎮的熱鬧節日。記得一天清早,睡夢中為鑼鼓和口號驚醒,窗前定睛,但見一干人形鬼怪,臉頰塗墨,頭頂尖頭高帽,五花大綁,彎腰低首,逶迤走過。那帽子總有三尺多高,搖搖晃晃。後邊押送人員,揮舞棍棒,不時敲打鬼怪,將重又直腰抬起的頭顱猛地往下摁壓。棍棒有名,專稱「文攻武衛棒」,粗若腕口,長約一米有半,兩頭塗紅,中間染白。揮舞之際,狀如火輪,颼颼帶風;用力掄擊,顱腦花開,肋骨聲裂。

Translator’s Notes:

「運動」勢酣 ‘yùndòng’ shì hān: translated here as ‘as things got completely out of hand’. The word-concept 勢 shì — which John Minford glosses asthe inherent power or dynamic of a situation or moment in time‘ — is of immense significance in Chinese thought and history, and we will discuss it at length another time. The period of 1966 to 1969 was one of extended Red Terror 紅色恐怖 that attained its first crescendo in Bloody August 紅八月 1966 marked by mass Red Guard violence and murder. On 26 December that year, a private banquet was organised to mark Mao’s seventy-third birthday. Most members of the group in charge of the Cultural Revolution took part and, during the meal, the birthday boy reportedly congratulated himself by offering the following toast: ‘Cheers to the outbreak of nationwide civil war!’  為展開全國全面內戰乾杯!

有名無名的仇恨盡情釋放 yǒu míng wú míng chóuhèn jìqíng shìfàng: ‘all kinds of grievance and hatred enjoyed unfettered expression’. the Cultural Revolution was launched in an atmosphere of engineered mass hysteria. For years the Party media had created a sense that China was embattled, not only struggling with American Imperialism and its agents in Taiwan, as well as threats from Vietnam, India, Japan and the anti-Communist mass murder of Chinese in Indonesia, but also that it was in global conflict with the Soviet Union, the Chinese Party’s one-time mentor and the epicentre of world revolution betrayed by revisionist traitors. At home, since 1962, a new emphasis on class struggle, commented on at length elsewhere in these notes, created an environment of doubt, suspicion and ill-concealed violence. Added to that were the deep and widespread resentments created by repeated political movements and state-generated mass murder during the 1950s and early 1960s, including barely contained resentments resulting from material deprivation and starvation caused by the Great Leap Forward. Pent-up fury against Party bureaucrats, teachers and professors who imposed Party dogma at every turn, factory bosses, local Party organisations was released in waves of ferocious frenzy when Mao and his supporters called on young and old alike to ‘Smash the Old World, Build a New World’ 砸爛舊世界,創建新世界. In some cases, teachers were murdered by their students not only as part of the political rage, but also because of strict Maoist pedagogy that shamed adolescents in class for their sexual urges. Party offices were invaded and files thrown open to scrutiny. When people learned the details of the secretive and privileged lives cadres enjoyed while the masses suffered, in particular during the Great Leap era, there was boundless outrage and calls for blood. As the author points out here, however, the bloodlust was not limited to the repressive agents of the party-state, and people took advantage of the hysteria to settle old scores, revenge themselves for countless grievances or simply to indulge in some freedom, even if that freedom meant mayhem and death for their fellows. Mao’s political genius is that he turned his personal resentment about his colleagues, his paranoias and his frustration over a failed utopian vision into a national psychosis

牛鬼蛇神 niú guǐ shé shén: literally, ‘Cow Demons and Snake Spirits’, or Ghosts and Monsters. In English this seemingly comic term has the trill of orientalism about it. In China’s lived reality it represented the dehumanisation of enemies and was part of a language and political behaviour that legitimated ongoing attacks, persecution and even murder of academics, intellectuals, cultural figures and Party apparatchiki.

Mao had used the expression ‘Ghosts and Monsters’, which was drawn from a poem by Li He (李賀, c.791-c.817 CE) of the Tang dynasty, shortly before the purge of so-called anti-Party Rightists from mid 1957. In March that year, he told a national meeting of propaganda officials that:

Recently, ghosts and monsters have been presented on the stage. Some comrades have become very worried by this spectacle. In my opinion, a little of this doesn’t matter much; within a few decades such ghosts and monsters will disappear from the stage altogether, and you won’t be able to see them even if you want to.

最近一個時期,有一些牛鬼蛇神被搬上舞台了。有些同志看到這個情況,心裡很著急。我說,有一點也可以,過幾十年,現在舞台上這樣的牛鬼蛇神都沒有了,想看也看不成了。

Mao Zedong, Speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s
National Conference on Propaganda Work, 12 March 1957
毛澤東在中國共產黨全國宣傳工作會議上的講話

On 1 June 1966, Chen Boda 陳伯達, the newly appointed editor of  People’s Daily and a Yan’an-era propagandist whose literary flair excelled that of the more cunning Hu Qiaomu (Chen was Mao’s political secretary while Hu was on ‘extended personal leave’), published an editorial titled ‘Sweep Away All Cow Demons and Snake Spirits’ 橫掃一切牛鬼蛇神. In the official translation the Editorial read, in part:

For the last few months, in response to the militant call of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman Mao hundreds of millions of workers, peasants and soldiers and vast numbers of revolutionary cadres and intellectuals, all armed with Mao Tse-tung’s thought, have been sweeping away a horde of monsters that have entrenched themselves in ideological and cultural positions. With the tremendous and impetuous force of a raging storm, they have smashed the shackles imposed on their minds by the exploiting classes for so long in the past, routing the bourgeois “specialists,” “scholars,” “authorities” and “venerable masters” and sweeping every bit of their prestige into the dust. …

The exploiting classes have been disarmed and deprived of their authority by the people, but their reactionary ideas remain rooted in their minds. We have overthrown their rule and confiscated their property, but this does not mean that we have rid their minds of reactionary ideas as well. During the thousands of years of their rule over the working people, the exploiting classes monopolized the culture created by the working people and in turn used it to deceive, fool and benumb the working people in order to consolidate their reactionary state power. For thousands of years, theirs was the dominant ideology which inevitably exerted widespread influence in society. Not reconciled to the overthrow of their reactionary rule, they invariably try to make use of this influence of theirs surviving from the past to shape public opinion in preparation for the political and economic restoration of capitalism. …

At present the representatives of the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois “scholars” and “authorities” in China are dreaming precisely of restoring capitalism. Though their political rule has been toppled, they are still desperately trying to maintain their academic “authority,” remould public opinion for a come-back and win over the masses, the youth and the generations yet unborn from us. …

The stormy cultural revolution now under way in our country has thrown the imperialists, the modern revisionists and the reactionaries of all countries into confusion and panic. At one moment, they indulge in wishful thinking saying that our great cultural revolution has shown that there are hopes of “a peaceful evolution” on the part of China’s younger generation. A moment later, they become pessimistic, saying that all this has shown that Communist rule remains very stable. Then again, they seem to be fearfully puzzled, saying that it will never be possible to find genuine “China hands” who can promptly pass accurate judgement on what is taking place in China. Dear Sirs, your wishful thinking invariably runs counter to the march of history.

Sweep Away All Monsters
Peking Review, 3 June 1966

The generic term ‘Cow Demons and Snake Spirits’ included everyone deemed to be class enemy, including landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, Rightists, capitalists, blackguards as well as ‘reactionary academic authorities’, not to mention traitors, spies, capitalist-roaders, as well as the children of anyone who had been denounced

批鬥遊街 pī dòu yóu jīe: the format of these parades followed a pattern described by Mao in 1927 in a text that was repeatedly studied by Party cadres and students from the late 1940s:

Then there is another section of people who say, “Yes, peasant associations are necessary, but they are going rather too far.” This is the opinion of the middle-of-the-roaders. But what is the actual situation? True, the peasants are in a sense “unruly” in the countryside. Supreme in authority, the peasant association allows the landlord no say and sweeps away his prestige. This amounts to striking the landlord down to the dust and keeping him there. The peasants threaten, “We will put you in the other register!” They fine the local tyrants and evil gentry, they demand contributions from them, and they smash their sedan-chairs. People swarm into the houses of local tyrants and evil gentry who are against the peasant association, slaughter their pigs and consume their grain. They even loll for a minute or two on the ivory-inlaid beds belonging to the young ladies in the households of the local tyrants and evil gentry. At the slightest provocation they make arrests, crown the arrested with tall paper hats, and parade them through the villages, saying, “You dirty landlords, now you know who we are!” Doing whatever they like and turning everything upside down, they have created a kind of terror in the countryside. This is what some people call “going too far”, or “exceeding the proper limits in righting a wrong”, or “really too much”. Such talk may seem plausible, but in fact it is wrong. First, the local tyrants, evil gentry and lawless landlords have themselves driven the peasants to this. For ages they have used their power to tyrannize over the peasants and trample them underfoot; that is why the peasants have reacted so strongly. The most violent revolts and the most serious disorders have invariably occurred in places where the local tyrants, evil gentry and lawless landlords perpetrated the worst outrages. The peasants are clear-sighted. Who is bad and who is not, who is the worst and who is not quite so vicious, who deserves severe punishment and who deserves to be let off lightly–the peasants keep clear accounts, and very seldom has the punishment exceeded the crime. Secondly, a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another. A rural revolution is a revolution by which the peasantry overthrows the power of the feudal landlord class. Without using the greatest force, the peasants cannot possibly overthrow the deep-rooted authority of the landlords which has lasted for thousands of years.

Mao Zedong, Report on an Investigation of the
Peasant Movement In Hunan, March 1927
毛澤東《湖南农民运动考察报告農民運動考察報告》

After 1949, these images were reinforced by story telling, films and theatre productions in which ritual humiliations followed a similar pattern. After the Cultural Revolution was launched, what had been theatrical representations of parades and denunciations were made real, and deadly, whether by Red Guards in the cities or by local ‘rebels’ in the countryside. Some limits were placed on ritualistic parades and public humiliations after Mao’s death, but overall a similar format has been used time and again with lorries, machine-gun toting militia or soldiers and modern communications devices replacing the old street parades. Today, television confessions and media abnegation are aspects of the ‘long tail’ of Maoism

人形鬼怪 rénxíng guǐguài: ‘monsters in human form’; 鬼怪 guǐguài are grotesqueries or bogeymen. The generic term for all forms of supernatural evil is 魑魅魍魎 chī mèi wǎng liǎng, frequently used in the media at the time. Noted ‘Not Afraid of Ghosts’ 不怕鬼的故事. 除了戰略上藐視,還要講戰術上重視。

For one of the stories Mao wanted included in the anthology, Song Dingbo Sells a Ghost 宋定伯捉鬼, see here. For an official account of Mao and the publication in 1961 of Stories About Not Being Afraid of Ghosts 不怕鬼的故事, see here

文攻武衛棒 wén gōng wǔ wèi bàng: These cudgels would seem to have been a nasty local specialty. ‘Attack with Words, Defend by Force’ 文攻武衛 wén gōng wǔ wèi employed the old pairing of the terms ‘civilian’ 文 wén and ‘military’ 武 wǔ to obscure a dastardly reality. Jiang Qing, a leader of the Cultural Revolution Guiding Group that had formal carriage of the movement, who was also Mao’s wife, used the slogan following the Wuhan Incident in July 1967 when Mao and other leaders were threatened during a bloody rebellion. In response, the Party defended itself with force and carried out a series of massacres. The slogan Attack with Words, Defend by Force came to characterise what was in effect a civil war encouraged by Mao and his more bloodthirsty colleagues (for more on this, see below).

Some of the earliest and vicious Red Guard-on-Red Guard warfare broke out at Tsinghua University 清華大學, where Professor Xu Zhangrun now teaches. It was also the site of some of the most notorious events in the Cultural Revolution, including the mass rally organised in early 1967 to humiliate Wang Guangmei, the wife of China’s president, Liu Shaoqi, and ongoing pitched warfare. The university‘s Jinggangshan Red Guard Regiment 井岡山紅衛兵兵團 created an ‘Attack Words Defend Force Command’ 文攻武衛總指揮部 to lead a battle known as the Hundred Days Armed Struggle 百日大武鬥 in mid 1968 that was eventually suppressed when Mao Zedong sent Mao Thought Propaganda Teams 毛澤東思想宣傳隊 formed by heavily armed workers and PLA soldiers to occupy the campus. This subsequently led to teams of workers occupying universities throughout the country and the gradual end of bloody Red Guard warfare.

Tsinghua remains something of a hotbed for pro-Maoist thinking, if not action. Among other things, it is a bastion for celebrated ‘New Left’ pro-party-state academics like Wang Hui 汪暉. Famous for his lament about China becoming de-politicised, Wang is comfortably ensconced in the establishment now that civil life is being weaponised again under Xi Jinping. Wang is lionised by leftist-nostalgic publishers overseas, as well as by tenured arm-chair revolutionaries, in particular in the Anglo-Saxon world. Some have even managed to convince themselves that he is a dissident!

For many years, Tsinghua University also provided a welcoming academic base for Daniel Bell, a fell0w-travelling political scientist, nimble apologist and advocate of pro-Communist Party New Confucianism. Now based at Shandong University Bell maintains links to Tsinghua’s Schwarzman College and its Department of Philosophy. Another prominent Tsinghua figure is Hu Angang 胡鞍鋼, but his is a story for another time

On another occasion — also first thing in the morning — a whole pack of spirit-demons tied up with coarse ropes appeared in the street, press-ganged into a line. I didn’t understand why their mouths were stuffed with hay, but heavy wooden placards with their names written on them were hung around their necks. They too were wearing tall hats, but they were crawling along on their knees. The names on the placards were written in black ink but they had been crossed out with damning red lines. The hay in their mouths gave off a terrible stench and I learned that it had been retrieved from the local toilets: it was the stuff farmers used to wipe their asses, half-rotted and covered in shit. The procession was being led by people who were scattering white lime from bamboo baskets. This time around it was different from the silent shaming typical of other processions. It was a show being put on for the delight of the crowd and the Monsters were all wailing pitifully. Their plaintive cries were heart-rending and shockingly loud. It’s only when I got a bit closer that I realised that the lime was mixed with ground glass. The procession was leaving a bloody trail in its wake. The lime was getting into the wounds on their knees and the pain must have been absolute agony. The townsfolk jostled with each other necks outstretched as they strained to see the column. People reacted in various ways: there was mocking laughter and goading, as well as thoughtful silence; a few covered their faces and shed tears. I was only eight at the time, maybe nine, and I was little better than a vile beast myself. It was something I witnessed personally but, although it was scary and even though I felt uncomfortable seeing such public torture, it didn’t really touch my heart or make me feel any particular terror out of sympathy.

又一日,也是一大早,一群鬼怪,麻繩捆綁連接成串。他們口銜稻草,胸掛寫有本人姓名的厚重木牌,頭頂高帽,跪伏匍行。姓名用黑色書寫,再用紅色打叉。口中稻草臭不可聞,原是鄉民擦屁股後扔進茅坑,早已漚爛,此刻撈起塞進鬼怪們的口中。隊前兩三人,臂輓竹筐,彷彿邊走邊撒石灰。與往昔遊街鬼怪們一律悄無聲息不同,此番示眾,個個鬼哭狼嚎,撕心裂肺,聲震天宇。走近一看,原來石灰里摻雜著玻璃碎渣,膝蓋過處,血跡斑斑。石灰滲入創口,頓如火燒。圍觀鄉民伸頸縮脖,有嬉笑耍鬧者,有靜觀默察者,有不忍掩面淚溢者。我時年八歲,抑或九歲,等於畜生,親歷目睹,只覺肉疼驚悚,未覺心痛惶恐。

Translator’s Note:

姓名用黑色書寫,再用紅色打叉: part of a traditional form of public shaming in which a criminal would wear a placard around their neck which stated their name and crime. In the Cultural Revolution era, as part of the attempt to obliterate problematic individuals, their names were struck through with red ink to indicate that revolutionary judgment had been passed on them and that they were condemned as nameless non-persons

The first of these gruesome processions and public humiliations was aimed at the Five Bad Elements — landlords, rich peasants, counter-counter-revolutionaries, bad elements and Rightists — the second was about the reactionary primary and high school teachers ‘overthrown’ during the uprising of the early Cultural Revolution. My parents’ old teacher was forced to take part in all of these humiliations. Unable to bare the constant indignities he tried killing himself by bashing his head against a wall, but he only ended up with a cracked and bloody skull. That particular day, after the procession in which he’d been one of the people forced to walk on his knees over the broken glass and lime as he was washing his knees in the river I saw him picking bits of glass out of the wounds. His knees became infected and didn’t heal. Fortunately, the Chinese herbalist doctor in the village was able to brew him some medicine for him and he gradually recovered.

這兩場遊街示眾的,例為「地富反壞右」,外加「被打倒的」中小學教師。私塾先生場場不落,不堪凌辱,撞牆自盡而未遂,只落得頭破血流。那天劫後河邊清洗,自己將碎渣取出,不料感染化膿,旬月不治,幸虧鄉村郎中草藥煎敷,這才慢慢痊癒。

Translator’s Notes:

遊街示眾 yóujīe shìzhòng: the act of public shaming when guilty individuals were paraded in the streets and put on public display, usually with placards hung around their necks giving their names and detailing their crimes. This form of ritual humiliation, which had its origins in the dynastic era, was not only used to degrade the victim, it was also meant to excite popular passions, fuel mass ire against the Party’s (ever-changing) enemies, while the process destroyed the reputation of the victims as well as their families and caused the disaffection of friends and associates (see also 批鬥遊街 pī dòu yóu jīe in the previous section)

地富反壞右 dì fù fǎn huài yòu: a shorthand for the Five Black Categories 黑五類 or ‘Enemies of the People’, that is: Landlords 地主, Rich Peasants 富農, Counter-revolutionaries 反革命, Bad Elements 壞分子 and Rightists. These were in contrast to the Five Red Categories: Revolutionary Army Members 革命軍人, Revolutionary Cadres 革命幹部, Workers 工人, Poor Peasants 貧農 and Lower Middle Peasants下中農. People who were regarded as being on the ‘wrong side of history’ were ‘filed away in a separate category’ 打入另冊 and subjected to proletarian dictatorship 列入專政對象, that is, constant surveillance, persecution and punishment. Instituted from the late 1940s, the system of class persecution was only gradually dismantled from the late 1970s. Party officials and the security authorities may have moved away from persecuting people on the basis of their birth and official ‘class status’, but the view of non-Party members of society has remained one of vigilance and mistrust. (For more on the militant underpinnings of contemporary China, see Homo Xinensis MilitantChina Heritage, 1 October 2018)

On the eve of Xi Jinping’s assumption of power in late 2012, Yuan Peng 袁鵬, a senior analyst at a research institute that operates under the aegis of the Chinese KGB, listed a ‘New Black Five Categories of People’ 新黑五類 that included: rights lawyers 維權律師, underground religious activists 地下宗教活動份子, dissidents 異見人士, Internet influencers 網絡領袖 and a range of ‘vulnerable groups’ 弱勢群體, such as people with disabilities or gender non-conformists who attempt to organise pressure groups or engage in lobbying for recognition and more rights. Having been identified as a threat to the party-state, during the New Epoch, these groups have been systematically persecuted. (For more on this subject, see G.R. Barmé, The Five Vermin 五蠹 Threatening China, The China Story Journal, 4 November 2012)

被打倒的 bèi dǎdǎode: ‘those who had been overthrown’, that is, people in the party-state apparatus, in factories, local government, academia, the media, the legal system and so  on who, as part of the Cultural Revolution purge were thrown out of office, denounced at mass meetings and in big-character poster campaigns, their records minutely examined and often informally jailed and required to write reams of confessional material as well as informing on all of their family members, associates and friends. The rigours of being ‘overthrown’ often led to physical abuse if not death

Not all that long ago, there was that common propaganda expression, surely you know the one: ‘The Old Society turned people into Ghosts; the New Society has transformed Ghosts into People’. But God of Thunder, Mother of Earth: demand on our behalf of the Clear Heavens above, and insist from the Vast Earth below — for I appeal to you: ask those ghosts and ghouls whose knees were scarred by wounds: was that really what happened, did the New Society make us Human, or was it just a lie?

曾幾何時,有一句話,是這樣說的,「舊社會把人變成鬼,新社會把鬼變成人」。可雷公地母啊,你去問問天,你去問問地,你去問問這些膝蓋疤痕累累的鬼怪們,是耶?非耶?

As your soul wanders towards the water,
Toward the grasses, as it travels far,
We summon your soul to return
Stay with us and live on

As your spirit rises up to the sun,
Faces the morning light, as it travels far,
We summon your soul to return
Stay with us and live on

你的魂靈向水,向草木
遠遠走去了的時候,
我們召喚你的魂兮歸來
居住下去,生活下去

你的魂靈向太陽,向朝霞
遠遠走去了的時候,
我們召喚你的魂兮歸來
居住下去,生活下去

Translator’s Notes:

In this passage the author addresses guardian deities in the traditional and Buddhist pantheons. It is an appeal as well as an accusation, for where were the protectors who generations of believers had venerated when the people really needed them?

舊社會把人變成鬼,新社會把鬼變成人 (the first part of the sentence is also written 舊社會把人成鬼)this is a famous line from the 1940s opera ‘The White Haired Girl’ 白毛女. This and select other cultural works of China’s high revolutionary era, including ‘The Red Detachment of Women’ 紅色娘子軍, have been rehabilitated and performed both in China and as cultural exports. For those whose families were destroyed by the politics of ‘humans and monsters’, such productions are nothing less than a political obscenity

雷公 Léi Gōng: the Lord of Thunder or 雷神 Léi ShénGod of Thunder. In folk belief, the Lord of Thunder is thought to punish one’s enemies or people guilty of great cruelty. He is generally depicted holding a drum and mallet to make thunder, and a chisel to smote evildoers

地母 Dì Mǔ: Mother of Earth, also known as 地母后土 Dì Mǔ hòu tǔ, or 承天效法后土皇地祗. This goddess is also addressed by more colloquial names such as 地姥娘娘 Dì Lǎo niángniáng. In popular Taoist belief the ‘Earth Mother’ is the consort of the Heavenly Jade Emperor; she nurtures and protects all terrestrial life

問問天問問地 wènwèn Tiān wènwèn Dì: here the author appeals to Heaven and Earth to bear witness to these injustices. In so doing he recalls the ‘Heavenly Questions’ in Songs of the South 《楚辭 · 天問》, a list of questions about the nature of Heaven, the world, power, politics and human life (for more on Songs of the South see below)

***

In this passage the author appeals to traditional deities and avenging gods, as well as to the soul of the dead teacher himself. This lament brings to mind ‘The Great Summons’ 大招, one of the poems in the ancient anthology Songs of the South 楚辭, attributed to Qu Yuan (屈原, fourth century BCE).

‘The Great Summons’ is addressed to the soul of a dead ruler, and it encourages the spirit to return to the luxuries of the human world, Xu Zhangrun’s Summons conjures a long-dead spectre, speaks of his worldly suffering and offers only heartrending memories and sorrows to mark a life of torment.

The opening stanzas of ‘The Great Summons’, as translated by David Hawkes, read as follows:

O soul, do not flee!
O soul, come back! Do not go far away!

魂魄歸來!無遠遙只。

O soul, go not to the east!
In the east is the great sea, where the swelling waters billow endlessly,
And water-dragons swim side by side, swiftly darting above and below.
It is clammy with rain and fog, that glister white and heavy.
O soul, go not to the east, to the desolate Gulf of Brightness!

魂乎歸來!
無東無西,無南無北只。
東有大海,溺水浟浟只。
螭龍並流,上下悠悠只。
霧雨淫淫,白皓膠只。
魂乎無東!湯谷寂寥只。

O soul, go not to the south!
In the south are a hundred leagues of flaming fire and coiling cobras;
The mountains rise sheer and steep; tigers and leopards slink;
The cow-fish is there, and the spit-sand, and the rearing python.
O soul, go not to the south! There are monsters there that will harm you.

魂乎無南!
南有炎火千里,蝮蛇蜒只。
山林險隘,虎豹蜿只。
鰅鳙短狐,王虺騫只。
魂乎無南!蜮傷躬只。

O soul, go not to the west!
In the west are the Moving Sands stretching endlessly on and on,
And beasts with heads like swine, slanting eyes and shaggy hair,
Long claws and serrated teeth, and wild, made laughter.
O soul, go not to the west! In the west are many dangers.

魂乎無西!
西方流沙,漭洋洋只。
豕首縱目,被發鬤只。
長爪踞牙,誒笑狂只。
魂乎無西!多害傷只。

O soul, go not to the north!
In the north are the Frozen Mountain, and the Torch Dragon, glaring red;
And the Dai river that cannot be crossed, whose depths are unfathomable;
And the sky is white and glittering, and all is congealed with cold.
O soul, go not to the north! There is no bourne there to your journeying.

魂乎無北!
北有寒山,趠龍赩只。
代水不可涉,深不可測只。
天白顥顥,寒凝凝只。
魂乎無往!盈北極只。

The difference is that, in Xu Zhangrun’s lament, it is the world of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution that, in all directions allowed no safe haven or respite. Only in death was there escape, yet even now the ghost remains unquiet

Even this lament from the ancient Indian Rigveda cannot recall the soul of that man who died from such cruel injustice.

The old teacher had a grown son and a daughter: the girl died from hunger during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, so she was already long departed before his final humiliations. And one day his only son took flight without saying a word to his parents. They never heard from him or saw him again. Because of their father’s class status neither child had ever married: lives cut short before they’d really started.

Tormented by the fate of their children the Teacher’s wife threw herself down a well, leaving him to face the vile evils of the world alone. He passed the last years of his tortured life in dire poverty.

印度古詩的詠嘆,喚不回屈死的魂靈。老人一雙兒女,一死一逃。死者是女兒,「大躍進」時餓死,墓木早拱;逃者是獨子,一走渺無音訊,終不復還。他們因受父輩牽連,未曾婚配,生命尚未開始,便已告別人世。老伴不忍,跳井了卻,留下他孤身應對這個邪惡人世,晚年在貧苦中走完蒼涼人生。

Translator’s Notes:

印度古詩 Yìndù gǔshī: the quotation is a translation of Hymn 58, a Vedic chant (sūkta सूक्त) from Mandala 10 in the Rigveda ऋग्वेद by Jin Kemu (金克木, 1912-2000), a poet and scholar of Sanskrit and Indian culture

屈死 qū sǐ: short for 含屈而死 hán qū ér sǐ, that is someone who dies under a cloud or as a result of an injustice. Death due to malice or a tragic fate is a major theme both in Chinese historical literature and culture. In a cultural world obsessed with injustice, legalism and decisions based on top-down hierarchy, unjust deaths are paralleled with the desire for the overturning of unjust verdicts 冤案 yuān’àn, and righting of wrongs 昭雪 zhāo xuě. Following Mao’s death, countless verdicts were overturned, apologies made and the names of the innocent cleared. Many unknown and unnamed victims of the Maoist three decades remain 冤魂 yuān hún, ‘ghosts of the wronged’. As for Mao, as Xu Zhangrun indicates in this essay, his dark influence continues to cast a shadow over contemporary China, or 陰魂不散 yīn hún bù sàn . (For more on this, see Geremie R. Barmé, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1996)

大躍進 dà yùejìn:the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962, a Party-led campaign aimed at ‘leap frogging’ China into industrial and agricultural modernity. Launched in the wake of the nationalisation efforts of the 1950s, and following the purge of Rightists in 1957, Mao and his colleagues assumed that (seemingly) popular support for their policies could allow them to compete effectively with the Soviet Union, and to face down the industrial powers of the United States and Great Britain on the way to realising a collective Chinese utopia, unique and superior to all other revolutionary movements in human history. Unrealistic production targets, exaggerated reports from fawning officials and widespread economic incompetence led to a collapse of the agrarian economy and resulted in tens of millions of deaths due to starvation. Mao would later claim that the unprecedented famine was the ‘seven parts the result of calamitous weather conditions and only three parts due to human incompetence’ 七份天災, 三分人禍. Liu Shaoqi, his generally obsequious off-sider and president of the People’s Republic who had actually witnessed the horrors first hand during an extended tour of stricken counties in Hunan province, rebuked Mao and said the disastrous Leap was ‘seven parts the result of human incompetence and only three parts due to calamitous weather conditions’ 七份人禍, 三分天災. This, along with Liu’s emphasis on economic recovery as opposed to the politics of class struggle and ideological purity, contributed to Mao’s plot to stage an insurgency and unseat his former comrades

According to available statistics, 33,801 people died in Xu Zhangrun’s county of Lujiang county in Anhui province in the year 1960 where the average annual mortality rate was 10,000. (For details, see 洪振快, 地方誌中的大飢荒死亡數字,  《炎黄春秋》, 2014年第5期 , reprinted 公法評論. See also The Mass Line on a Massive Famine, The China Story Journal, 8 October 2014, in which  Anthony Garnaut discusses Xi Jinping’s revived mass line and the ‘two line struggle’ in China regarding the numbers of people who starved during the Great Leap era)

牽連 qiánlián: ‘guilt by association’ or ‘to be compromised’, other common terms for this kind of collective punishment are 連坐 liánzùo and 株連 zhūlián. This dates in particular from the Qin dynasty. Xu referred to Qin rulership in Teachers. The anti-corruption purge has targeted individuals but supposedly left family members alone, even giving them enough to live on, or what’s called ‘a way out’ 活路 húolù. In the Maoist era whole families were condemned due to the class ranking or political consciousness or errors of one individual

The obliteration of a family as described here in sparse but harrowing language is known as 滅門 miè mén, ‘to extinguish a household’

Tears blind me as I write these words and a bitter cry wells in my throat …

Tell me, all of you, tell me now: how many teachers were there like that, who suffered such torments, who faded without a sound, who disappeared without trace? Who will ever bring them justice? Who?

走筆至此,淚已沾襟,不禁長嘯:三山五嶽啊,雷公地母啊,地藏王大仙啊,觀世音娘娘啊,諸位佛祖老爺啊,你們說,你們說,多少私塾先生,生受傷痛,老來無聲,逝去無痕,誰還他們一個公道!?誰還他們一個公道!?

Translator’s Notes:

三山五嶽 sān shān wǔ yùe: the territory of the Chinese world, a political and religious landscape, or All-under-Heaven where traditional civilisational norms theoretically hold sway. The Three Mountains are the mythical lands of Penglai, Fanghu and Yingzhou; the Five Sacred Mountains or Marchmounts 五嶽 yùe are the mountains Tai Shan, Hua Shan, Heng Shan, Song Shan and Heng Shan. A new Three Mountains of Huang Shan, Lu Shan and Yandang Shan incorporates a larger area in the south of present-day China

地藏王大仙 dìzàngwáng dàxiānKṣitigarbha क्षितिगर्भ, also known in Chinese as 地藏菩薩. He is a Bodhisattva who has sworn to help all beings suffering in hell and who refuses to enter Buddhahood until all are released from torment

觀世音娘娘 Guānshìyīn niángniángthe lady who perceives the sounds of the world’, a popular name for Kuan Yin, or the Goddess of Mercy, Avalokiteśvara अवलोकितेश्वर, one of the most popular figures in the Mahayana or Northern School of Buddhism

公道 gōngdào: ‘decency’, ‘fairness’, or ‘justice’. This expression has been at the heart of debates about the Rule of Law or Rule Under Law 法治 fǎ zhì in post-1976 China. A society governed by systemised law is contrasted with one ruled by personal caprice 人治 rén zhì. In reality, the legal environment in the People’s Republic is for the most part one in which formalised laws are imposed by a system that allows extraordinary discretion to those who run it, or who act as on-the-ground enforcers. This kind of ‘rule by man/ people’ 人治 rén zhì can be as fickle and pitiless today as it was in the past.

These Lessons in New Sinology are written in part to encourage a historical awareness among our readers. As Simon Leys has noted:

Communist Chinese politics are a lugubrious merry-go-round (as I have pointed out many times already), and in order to appreciate fully the déjà-vu quality of its latest convolutions, you would need to have watched it revolved for half a century. The main problem with many of our politicians and pundits is that their memories are too short, thus forever preventing them from putting events and personalities in a true historical perspective. For instance, when, in 1979, the ‘People’s Republic’ began to revise its criminal law, there were good souls in the West who applauded this initiative, as they thought that it heralded China’s move toward a genuine rule of law. What they failed to note, however — and which should have provided a crucial hint regarding the actual nature and meaning of the move in question — was the the new law was being introduced by Peng Zhen, one of the most notorious butchers of the regime, a man who, thirty years earlier, had organised the ferocious mass accusations, lynchings and public executions of the land-reform programs.

Simon Leys, ‘The Art of Interpreting Non-existent Inscriptions
Written in Invisible Ink on a Blank Page’, 1990reprinted in
Watching China WatchingChina Heritage, 7 January 2018

Following the formal end of the Cultural Revolution, and even as the era of ‘Reform and the Open Door’ began, some writers could see that autocratic habits were hardly a thing of the past. One of them, the Sichuan poet, Sun Jingxuan, took his theme from the opening of The Communist Manifesto:

A Spectre Prowls Our Land
一個幽靈在中國大地遊蕩

Sun Jingxuan
孫靜軒

… Have you seen
The Spectre prowling our land?

You may not recognise him,
though he stands before your eyes,
For like a conjurer,
master of a never-ending transforming,
One moment in a dragon-robe of gold brocade
He clasps the dragon-headed sceptre,
The next in courtier’s gown
He swaggers through the palace halls;
And now — behold — a fresh veneer!
The latest fashion! And yet
No mask, no costume, no disguise
Can hide the coiled dragon
branded on his naked rump…

China, like a huge dragon, gobbles all in its path,
Like a huge vat, dyes all the same colour.
Have you not seen the lions of Africa,
the lions of America,
Fierce kings of the jungle?
When they enter our dragon’s lair
they become mere guard-gods,
rings through their pug nostrils,
standing guard at yamen and palace gate …

Chengdu, October 1980
trans. John Minford
with Pang Bingjun
龎秉鈞

Source:

  • Geremie Barmé & John Minford, eds, Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience, 2nd ed., New York: Hill & Wang, 1988, pp.122, 128. This excerpt of Sun’s poem previously appeared in Cauldron 鼎, China Heritage, 1 July 2017

In this world that is but a grain of sand and a realm both of sorrows and delight, the autumnal leaves are falling now, silently. It is dusk and I hear wailing in the wilderness; I look up and see the skies full of stricken souls. I shudder uncontrollably.

世界如沙,落葉無聲,又是黃昏,彷彿四野哭聲,但見漫天冤魂,一陣寒顫。

The evening of the 18th of November 2018
Revised in the Studio That Isn’t, Tsinghua University

2018年11月18日,傍晚時分
修訂於清華無齋

Translator’s Notes:

世界如沙 shìjiè rú shā: in four simple words the author expresses a double vision in a succinct and elegant manner typical of Chinese expression. On one hand this is a reference to the opening of William Blake’s famous poem, ‘A Grain of Sand’, widely known and referred to in China:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

At the same time, it doubles as a reference to the Buddhist expression ‘the universe in grains of mustard, each grain a world’ 芥子納須彌, 一沙一世界, literally: ‘The Sacred Mountain of Sumeru can be found in something as small as a grain of mustard; each minute particle is like a world’. This comes from the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra विमलकीर्ति निर्देश सूत्र, in Chinese 維摩詰所說經. In this latter meaning, the author uses the words 世界如沙 shìjiè rú shā to indicate the fleeting impermanence of life and the suffering inherent in all existence. In these simple words the author gives voice to his understanding of life as one of boundless beauty and possibility, as well as being one of evanescence and sorrow. In combining these two concepts in this telegraphic expression, and in the context of the words that follow, the author is offering a mediation on the follies of the world and the importance of decency and love. As the author remarked: these words ‘metaphorically hint at the harrowing realities of existence and that one must face the suffering of others with empathy, to feel pity for all sentient beings and to have compassion and pity not only for others but also for oneself’

冤魂 yuān hūn: 冤魂 yuān hún, ‘ghosts of the wronged’. From November 1978, the Communists engaged in a vast administrative process to redress the wrongs of the Maoist era. It was called 平反冤假錯案 píngfǎn yuān jiǎ cuò àn, literally, ‘the overturning of unjust, false and incorrect cases’. In 1989, the official media reported that over three million miscarriages of justice had been resolved. The Party’s 1978 determination did nothing to address the mass murder of ‘class enemies’, ‘reactionaries’, ‘traitors’, ‘bad elements’ and so on during the early 1950s. Available statistics suggest that such extra-judicial killings numbered in the millions. (For a taste of the mayhem of the time, see Sang Ye 桑曄, Accounting for 111 Years: The Wang Family of Bose, Guangxi Province 廣西白色, China Heritage Quarterly, No. 27, September 2011)

The primary benefactors were party cadres and loyalists, then scientists, academics and cultural figures, although by no means everyone was exonerated (retaining a handful of scapegoats was necessary to justify decades of murderous cruelty). Lower-status social groups such as workers and peasants did not enjoy similar official largesse, as was daresay the case of this innocent teacher and his family. The party-state frequently congratulates itself on ‘wiping clear miscarriages of justice’ 洗雪冤屈 xǐ xuě yuān qū, but for those deemed unworthy, at most this meant a few words of apology for years of relentless misery. Here Professor Xu address a long-forgotten injustice 伸冤 shēn yuān in his own terms. See also 屈死 qū sǐ above

無齋 wú zhāi: The Studio That Isn’t. The author says that in his previously stretched circumstances, when his family lived in cramped quarters, he had no study — 齋 zhāi, ‘studio’, as such places for private creative pursuits are known — or a settled place for his academic research and writing. Thus, when he did finally have a study, he decided to call it 無齋 wú zhāi, literally, ‘The Studio That Isn’t a Studio’, alternatively, No Study, Non-existent Studio, or even Nothingness Studio. That is to say, it was a place for study that was both nowhere and everywhere

***

Source:

  • 許章潤, 私塾先生, 《金融時報》, 21 November 2018

Translator’s Postscript

For the unrequited soul, a return to the world of suffering that was life is unwanted. Here we reprint an extract from Zhang Heng’s ‘The Bones of Zhuangzi’, one of the most powerful rhapsodies fu 賦 in Chinese. We previously published it under the title Rhapsody for a Skeleton 髑髏賦, a section in Spectres in the Seventh Month, China Heritage, 4 September 2017.

The introductory note to the translation is by David Hawkes, who translated ‘The Great Summons’, quoted in the Introduction above:

The long, ornate, rhapsodic fu 賦, in so far as it had an ancestor, derived from the shaman-chants of the South. Its lexical richness, euphuism and hyperbole suited an expansive, adventurous age in which Chinese armies penetrated deep into Central Asia and Chinese merchandise regularly found its way into European markets, but were deeply disturbing to right-minded Confucians, and therefore, ultimately, to the writers themselves; so that, amidst all the self-confident exuberance, a not of guilt and unease kept stealing in.

David Hawkes, ‘The Age of Exuberance’,
in Classical, Modern and Humane, 1989.

***

The Bones of Zhuangzi

Zhang Heng (73-139CE)

張衡《髑髏賦

A traveller who has wandered through the Nine Wilds and the vastness of the west comes across a pile of bones by the roadside. He addresses them and learns they are the remains of the thinker Zhuangzi.

The traveller is told:

Beyond the climes of common thought
My reason soared, yet could I not save myself;
For at the last when the long charter of my years was told,
I, too, for all my magic, by Age was brought
To the Black Hill of Death.

游心方外,

不能自修壽命終極,

來此玄幽。

Why does this wayfarer question him so …

I answered:
‘Let me plead for you upon the Five Hill-tops,
Let me pray for you to the Gods of Heaven and
the Gods of Earth,
That your white bones may arise,
And your limbs joined anew.
The God of the North shall give me back your ears;
I will scour the Southland for your eyes.
From the sunrise I will wrest your feet;
The West shall yield your heart.
I will set each several organ in its throne;
Each subtle sense will I restore.
Would you not have it so?’

對曰:
我欲告之於五嶽,
禱之於神祗。
起子素骨,
反子四肢。
取耳北坎,
求目南離。
使東震獻足,
西坤援腹。
五內皆還,
六神盡復。
子欲之不乎?

The dead man answered me:
‘O Friend, how strange and unacceptable your words!
In death I rest and am at peace;
in life, I toiled and strove.
Is the hardness of the winter stream
Better than the melting of spring?
All pride that the body knew
Was it not lighter than dust?
What Chao and Xu despised,
What Bocheng fled,
Shall I desire, whom death
Already has hidden in the Eternal Way —

‘Where Li Zhu cannot see me,
Nor Zi Ye hear me,
Where neither Yao nor Shun can reward me,
Nor the tyrants Jie and Xin condemn me,
Leopard nor tiger harm me,
Lance prick me nor sword wound me?
Of the Primal Spirit is my substance; I am a wave
In the river of Darkness and Light.
The Maker of All Things is my Father and Mother,
Heaven is my bed and earth my cushion,
The thunder and lightning are my drum and fan,
The sun and moon my candle and my torch,
The Milky Way my moat, the stars my jewels.
With Nature my substance is joined;
I have no passion, no desire.
Wash me and I shall be no whiter,
Foul me and I shall yet be clean.
I come not, yet am here;
Hasten not, yet am swift.’

The voice stopped, there was silence.
A ghostly light
Faded and expired.
I gazed upon the dead, stared in sorrow and compassion.
Then I called upon my servant that was with me
To tie his silken scarf about those bones
And wrap them in a cloak of sombre dust;
While I, as offering to the soul of this dead man,
Pour my hot tears upon the margin of the road.

髑螻曰:
公子之言殊難也。
死為休息,
生為役勞。
冬水之凝,
何如春冰之消?
榮位在身,
不亦輕於塵毛?
飛風曜景,
秉尺持刀。
巢、許所恥,
伯成所逃。
況我已化,
與道逍遙。

離朱不能見,
子野不能聽。
堯舜不能賞,
桀紂不能刑。
虎豹不能害,
劍戟不能傷。
與陰陽同其流,
與元氣合其樸。
以造化為父母,
以天地為床褥。
以雷電為鼓扇,
以日月為燈燭。
以雲漢為川池,
以星宿為珠玉。
合體自然,
無情無欲。
澄之不清,
渾之不濁。
不行而至,
不疾而速。

於是言卒響絕,
神光除滅。
顧盼發軫,
乃命僕夫,
假之以縞巾,
衾之以玄塵,
為之傷涕,
酹於路濱。

— translated by Arthur Waley,
from John Minford and Joseph Lau, eds,
An Anthology of Translations of
Classical Chinese Literature, Volume I
New York, 2000, pp.308-309