August 13, 2019

REMEMBERING THE HORRIFIC RED AUGUST: In August of 1966, the Chinese Cultural Revolution was shifting into high gear. Egged on by Chairman Mao, student groups calling themselves the “Red Guard” had been popping up at schools, colleges, and universities all over the country. They were drunk with power and convinced of their own victimhood (rather like our Antifa).

To rebel is justified!” Mao told them.

At an August mass rally in Tiananmen Square attended by over a million, Mao’s right-hand man, Lin Biao, instructed his young audience on what to do. Standing next to Mao, Lin Biao exhorted them to destroy “all the old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits of the exploiting classes.”

Yes, all of them.

Destroy they did. According to historian Frank Dikötter in The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976, the first death occurred in a school for girls run by Beijing Normal University. On the afternoon of August 5th, self-appointed Red Guard students accused five of the school’s administrators of disloyalty to the Revolution. Forcing them to kneel, the students hit them with nail-spiked clubs. When the vice principal, Bian Zhongyun, after hours of torture, lost consciousness, her body was stuffed into a garbage can.

The students had no need to fear retaliation. Mao had ensured that no measures would be taken against them. At Beijing’s 101st Middle School, where powerful party leaders sent their own children, more than 10 teachers were forced to crawl on their hands and knees through hot coals. In the same city, at the Third Middle School for Girls, the principal was beaten to death and the dean hanged herself. At another Beijing middle school, the principal was forced to stand in the summer heat while students poured boiling water on him. And at yet another, a biology teacher was tortured and dragged to her death. Her colleagues were then forced to take turns beating her dead body.

Fellow students were not exempt. Students from so-called “bad backgrounds” (i.e. the sons and daughters of alleged capitalists, landlords, rich peasants and counter-revolutionaries) were forced to engage in heavy labor, locked up, and sometimes tortured to death.

Beijing was the epicenter of the most extreme varieties of violence during that month. But in Shanghai, things were nevertheless out of control. More than 150 faculty members were arrested at their homes and paraded around the campus of Huadong Teachers University in dunce caps with heavy signs around their necks identifying them as “Reactionary Academic Authorities.”   Rampaging Red Guard students destroyed everything they viewed as “bourgeois luxuries”—things made of silk or velvet, cosmetics, fashionable clothes and curio shops. Flower shops were a particular target. On August 23, 36 such shops were attacked.

In Xiamen, Red Guard gangs destroyed anything thought to be old and bourgeois or foreign—from ornamental brass doorknockers to antique signs to decorative elements on buildings. Shoes with pointed toes were confiscated, and high heels were sliced off. Wearing foreign or bourgeois fashions or hair styles could get one attacked. Passersby with long braids or foreign hairstyles were forcibly shorn. Stove-pipe pants—a style thought to be foreign—were ripped up.

The Liberation Army Daily, which was directly under the control of Lin Biao (and hence of Mao), continued to support—even rhapsodize—the actions of the Red Guard. On August 23rd, it cheered them on: “What you did was right, and you did it well!” The following day, it promised the students the support of the army and declared to its readers: “Learn from the Red Guards! Respect the Red Guards!

As the month wore on, massive book burnings took place in several cities. Temples, churches and public monuments were attacked.  Staggering numbers of homes were ransacked in search of evidence of the occupants’ disloyalty or a piece of porcelain to smash.

August of 1966 was a ghastly month in China. But then again the Cultural Revolution was just getting started.

By the end, according to Dikötter, “between 1.5 and 2 million people were killed, but many more lives were ruined through endless denunciations, false confessions, struggle meetings and persecution campaigns.”

(By the way, Lin Biao himself was dead under mysterious circumstances before it was over.)

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