The Revolution spread from Beijing like poison. Millions of Red Guard units in other cities climbed aboard trains and went to Beijing to mass in Tiananmen and be greeted and blessed by Mao. This was the Great Contact. These returned home with even more fervor and commitment and heartlessness. And Red Guards began traveling by train to other cities, to learn from each other, and to aid each other in purging the country of its enemies. Wave after wave of Red Guards descended on Beijing to meet and be blessed by the Great Leader.
The Guards waved the Little Red Book of Mao Quotations, put together and distributed under the direction of Lin Piao, defense minister and confidant of Mao. The first edition of the book was printed in May, 1964.
And even though the things that happened to my father and my mother in the early days of the Revolution, hurt us and separated us, Mamma could say later that we were lucky we had been transferred to Hefei, far away from Beijing. She had no doubt that had we remained in Beijing, we would have been among the first to be killed by the Red Guards. In this case, distance brought some safety for us, and perhaps life itself. Still, it was difficult for me and for my brothers to take heart in our condition in Hefei. We suffered there, too. But we never suffered as badly as Mama’s family in Tianjin and Beijing.
In the autumn of 1966, following the official blessing of the Red Guards by Mao in mid August, and his acceptance of the title of head general of the Red Guards, the organization went on a rampage they called “The Red Terror,” striking down enemies of the people. Mama’s relatives in Tianjin were convenient helpless targets of the brigands.
News of the destruction of Mama’s family came to us only in bits and pieces over several weeks. The details were perhaps hidden at first to ease Mama’s suffering at hearing of their fate, or perhaps neighbors and friends in Tianjin were simply too terrified to describe what had happened and what they had seen. But she did learn of it, after father too had again been removed from our home and sentenced to life in a cowshed, with other undesirable and dangerous elements.
The problem with our Tianjin relatives were not the same as Papa’s problems. Papa had been the the United States and had once worked, during World War II, for the Flying Tigers in Kunming. Mama’s relatives had been successful under the old regimes, in business and in landownership. And success in the past was now cause for undoing.
Mama’s paternal grandfather had been a successful capitalist and philanthropist. He owned several factories and he donated large sums of money to repair public roads and bridges in Tianjin. He in other words saw the responsibility of his wealth also. In difficult times he was known to set up large reed mat tents in front of his home and order the cooking of large pots of porridge to feed the crowds of poor people in the city. That would be remembers and resented later.
Grandfather’s first wife – the mother of my mother’s grandfather – died and left behind four sons and a daughter. Mama’s father was the fourth son. Grandfather married again – this time a young widow of but 20. He fathered a daughter with her, and died within the first year of the child’s birth. The girl was very beautiful, I was told, but contracted polio when she was very small and consequently walked with a decided limp. Because of that disability, she was unable to find a husband when she came of marrying age. She therefore stayed with her mother and studied traditional Chinese painting. She became an accomplished painter in Tianjin, specializing in landscapes and portraits of beautiful and physically perfect young girls.
For the next forty years, grandmother and her special daughter, lived alone in the big house grandfather had built. They lived off the inheritance grandfather left for them – not lavishly, but also not in need.
During the war against Japan paper money began to lose its value. When the war was over inflation continued at a spectacular rate, virtually wiping out the value of the Nationalist paper currency. Inflation rose, eventually, in 1948, to nearly 3 million percent. In order to salvage some of their wealth, Grandmother and her daughter bought gold on the black market and kept it in their house. In that way they were able to preserve some of their wealth. But more than half of it was lost in the inflation. They continued to live on what they’d saved through the first 16 years of communist rule.
Then the Cultural Revolution began. That autumn, in September, the Red Guards went from house to house in their neighborhood, chanting, shouting, smashing windows and braking down doors. They had a list, it seemed, of enemies of the people. Grandmother and her daughter were terrified. As the mob approached the gate of their house, she and her daughter unwrapped some of the gold that they had remaining to them and wrapped it to their legs and their bodies, with long pieces of cloth. Then they quickly put on their trousers and tops again. Just as they’d finished, the Red Guards, local youths, kicked down the door and poured into the house. “You god damned capitalists,” they shouted, “We are here to seize your contraband for the revolution.” They began to open cabinets and closets and overturned the beds and tables and chairs. Grandmother and her daughter stood against a wall trembling. When the head of the Red Guards demanded that they leave the house, they both moved very slowly and gingerly – and he suspected at that moment that they were concealing something inside their clothing.
“Stop!” he demanded, in a bellowing voice. “Stop right there! What are you concealing under your clothing.”
My aunt said, “Nothing…we have nothing to hide.” Grandma was apparently too frightened even to speak.
“Are you lying to the representatives of the people?” he asked.
“No,” my auntie said. “We are concealing nothing.”
Deciding to have some fun, the head of the pack of guards, a local boy of about 17 who they had seen on the street nearby many times, and who knew them by name, told one of the other guards to bring him a knife from the kitchen. Excitedly, one of the guards left the room and returned with a long butcher’s knife.
“You are concealing nothing?” he asked again.
No, auntie replied. We are law-abiding citizens.
As the two women stood in the middle of a tight circle of the youths, the boy stepped forward and held the blade of the knife against grandmother’s face. Her teeth were chattering and tears were streaming down her face. Then, quickly, he grabbed her jacket and bloused and slit them apart with the knife and just as quickly cut the cord tying her trousers and her underwear and ripped the clothing away. Grandmother now stood nearly naked before them – her legs and stomach and breasts concealed by the long cloth wrapping the bars of bold. He then grabbed her and again cut the cloth free and the gold clunked to the floor. The guards began shouting and laughing at Grandmother, and quickly snatched up the gold and confiscated it. My auntie moved to help cover her mother’s body, but before she could, several of the red guards grabbed and restrained her and the young man cut away her clothing and the cloth and more gold fell to the floors. The Red Guards denounced them, laughed at their frightened gestures, and laughed out loud at their nakedness. Then, they dragged both women out of the house and into the street. They led them to a small park near their house, threw them to the ground and summoned other Guards from other residences in the area. The two naked women huddled together while the Red Guards denounced them and chided them, pulled away their hands as they tried to conceal their nakedness. Struck them when they attempted to flee. Then they bound them both, naked, to a bicycle stand and left some of the guards to watch them. Passersby saw them standing there naked and weeping and begging to be released. But no one paid any attention to their pleading. The guards laughed at them.
The rest of the crowd returned to their home. They summoned two large trucks that arrived within the house and they removed everything that remained in the household – every piece of furniture, the clothing, cooking utensils, jewelry, pictures – everything. Nothing remained but an old wooden stool that one of the guards stood on to take down the pictures and the curtains.
The Red Guards then returned to the park and again beat and cursed and spat upon them. They were now called Class Enemies and secret bourgeois conspirators against the people. The more they denounced and pummeled the two helpless women, the more the rest of the crowd encouraged them, shouted denunciations, demanded more and more and more. The 17 hear old, wielding the knife yielded to the blood lust of the crowd. He grabbed my aunt by the hair and then quickly cut off most of her long hair with his knife. The crowd shouted for more. He cut off a handful of grandmother’s hair. He probed between their legs with the knife, as the crowd cheered him on. The women were nearly paralyzed with fear. Then he turned savagely on my aunt, who was crying loudly and begging still for mercy. He pulled her head to one side and sliced off her ear. She howled and shrieked but her cries were drowned out by the laughter and the chanting of the crowd. Blood poured down her face and body and she howled in pain. The young man picked the ear up from the ground, but his knife through it and held it over his head in triumph. He walked around the inner circle of the crowd, displaying the ear and then turned, with another idea, and attempted to force it into my auntie’s mouth. She turned her head, screaming still as he tried again and again to stuff it into her mouth. Finally, tired, he gave up and flung it into her face and turned and strode away. The others followed him, shouting, cheering, delighted by the show. Auntie and Grandmother were left alone tied to the bike stand in the park. After several minutes and the crowd had disappeared, one of the neighbors ran out of her house and untied the two women and helped them return to their empty house.
They had always been on good terms with their neighbors. They had no enemies, they thought. They had lived quiet and unobtrusive lives. Aunties paintings were smashed and torn and lay scattered in the street in front of the house. Some of the old ceramic figures they’d kept over the years, also lay shattered in the house and in front. Nothing was left for them.
Neighbors, who told mother of the incident, said they two women went into one of the bedrooms of the house to be alone. Still naked. They were heard weeping and howling for the next hour. Then they were quiet. A neighbor, later, brought clothing for them and left it in the entryway to the house. The door had been torn away. There was no sound from the bedroom.
The next morning the clothing was still in the doorway and the bedroom door still closed. A neighbor knocked softly on the door and didn’t hear a sound. She decided to enter in order to see if she could help the two women, believing they were too frightened to answer the door.
When she pulled the door open she saw the two women. Grandmother and auntie were both hanging from a ceiling beam. The neighbor said it appeared they had used the long strips of cloth cut from their bodies to commit suicide. There was but one stool in the house and in the room and she guessed that Grandmother had first hanged herself and then a few feet away from her, Auntie used the same stool and hanged herself. They were both still naked.
One of Grandmother’s sons heard, the next morning, what had happened. He rushed home only to find several neighbors gathered in the house and the dead bodies of the two women, now covered, lying on the floor, the neighbors wailing and crying. And at the same time they were terrified that the Red Guards might return or they might be reported for lamenting the fate of these two good women.
The police were summoned and removed the bodies. My uncle tried to make arrangements for the women to be buried or cremated, but the authorities would have nothing to do with that. “Waste fuel or land on these monsters?” they asked. “Are you one of them? Are you crazy?” He no longer protested, but one of the policemen gloated and said that the bodies would be disposed of in the rubbish heap near the western gate of the city, where the bodies of all traitors were thrown to be eaten by the dogs.
Brother stayed in the house that night, and again, the neighbors heard the sounds of crying from the house. One of them brought food to him but he didn’t speak to her, but simply sat on the floor in a corner of the house crying. He was inconsolable. When Red Guards heard that he was occupying the house, they came the next afternoon for more fun. They were armed with knives and sickles and cleavers and they were in a mood for punishing more traitors. But uncle had deprived them of their joyful afternoon. When they burst into the house they found him hanging from the beam in the bedroom where the bodies of his sister and mother had been earlier. They cut him down and dragged his body to the street where they dropped it. Then the leader of the group gave a shrill speech denouncing my uncle for committing suicide, telling the others in the large crowd that this was evidence of guilt, that this was yet another traitor who sought to deprive the people of information on the valuables, stolen from the people, that this family had concealed. He kicked the body several times, as did others in the crowd, then they moved on looking for more traitors, leaving my uncle’s body to be taken by the authorities to the dump outside the western gate, to join his mother, and his sister, the artist.(Make more of her artistry)
But now the Red Guards had a family name, and they used city records to find other relatives, believing that these people too must be concealing wealth and treasures from the people. They must be found and they must be punished, the Red Guards insisted.
Mama’s brother was next on the list of the Red Guards. He lived with his family in family residence on Zhengzhou Road. The home was in an expensive section of the city where the British trade representatives and diplomats had formerly lived.
Prior to 1949 my uncle owned a large lumberyard and made a large amount of money in his business. But then the Red Terror made that a legacy and a problem for him. The Red Guards came from house to house in his neighborhood. They also carried with them a written list of specific individuals and families who were to be targets of their searches and intimidation. My uncle was on their list.
Mama was told later that there was not much hesitation, this time, or courtesy as there had been in the case of my grandmother. They simply stormed into the houses and with knifes, cleavers and cudgels murdered the class enemies who were the inhabitants. She was told that in the section of the Little White Buildings – called that because of the western style homes there – the blood ran into the streets and formed streams that puddle in the gutters. The butchered bodies of the residents were thrown into the street and their homes were ransacked.
My uncle and aunt had nine grown children who worked and lived in other cities. They lived, in 1966, in their home with their eldest daughter and her husband. Both were, by that time, in ill health.
The Red Guards invaded their home in the middle of the night. They broke down the doors before they could be opened and seized the four inhabitants. My aunt and uncle were tied up and beaten and tortured on the first floor of the home and their daughter and son in law on the second story. The house, which had been built for a British family had a western style flush toilet. But because the plumbing was primitives and the toilet paper was coarse, the paper could not be flushed down the toilet but had to be deposited in a container and thrown out. The Red Guards, it seemed, had never seen a flush toilet before – and were amazed by it when they saw it. The concluded, despite the fact that it was a new device, that it was definitely one of the “four olds” that they were striking out against.
The bound the hands and feet of my aunt and uncle and dumped the used toilet paper from the container over their heads. Then they decided to demand that they eat the paper. When they refused they were both beaten to the floor with clubs and with bicycle chains. They screamed and writhed in pain, which seemed only to encourage their detractors. They were beaten unconscious as the crowd set upon them stomping and beating and finally stabbing them. All four were beaten to death. The house was ransacked and the bodies were left on the floor of the home where they had died. Neighbors were afraid, for several days, to do anything about them, or to enter the house. Finally the police came and removed the bodies and had them sent to the dump. The Red Guards had secured in the house a letter from one of their daughters. She lived in another part of Tianjin. Her home was raided, she was beaten, stripped and tortured and, finally, leaped from the second story window of her house and killed herself. The Red Guards ransacked her home also and threw her body into the street to be removed later by the authorities to the dump.
Thus the family was eradicated and the purity of Tianjin increased as hundreds and then thousands of class enemies were hunted down by the mobs, encouraged and sanctioned and organized by the government from among students and workers who nightly celebrated their triumph and the onset of their new revolutionary order in China.
In Beijing about this time the city residents were informed by workers at the Beijing Municipal Blood Transfusion Center east of Beihai Park that no hospital in Beijing was to be allowed to provide blood to a member of the” landlord elements, rich-peasant elements, reactionary elements, hooligans, rightist elements, capitalist and black-gang elements.” Those groups also were not to be allowed to donate blood in the city. The nation was now being divided into people and nonpeople and our family was among that large group of nonpeople. Although in the late summer of 1966 in Beijing Liu Shaoqi, the president of the PRC did insist to a gathering of party members that “human beings not yet executed are still human beings.” In Beijing the still human beings not yet executed, 77,000 of them, were expelled from Beijing in order to purify the city, and ordered to return to their home cities. Similar copycat measures were immediately taken in other cities, and as a result of those measures, my elderly grandmother – my father’s mother – was ordered expelled from our home in Hefei.
(Added Story: My grandmother kept a goose in her yard. It learned to follow her everywhere, almost like a dog. She would go out in the morning or the afternoon and the goose would walk in the street for several blocks behind her. Then it would wait for her and follow her back into the yard. She fed it every day and it remained close to her. The neighbor children, too, were fascinated by it, called out to it, fed it, and laughed often at it as it waited outside for grandmother to return.
When my uncle came to grandmother’s house and discovered the bodies of her and of my aunt hanging in the bedroom, he also found the goose in the entryway. It’s feet were nailed to the floor and a piece of wood had been forced into it’s throat to keep it from making any sound. The animal was no longer struggling, but lay in a heap on the floor, moving only slightly as uncle stepped over it. After cutting down his mother and sister and wrapping their bodies in rugs, he came downstairs. He pulled the nails from
the feet of the goose and delicately removed the stick from it’s throat. He brought some water to it and carried it into the yard. But it was too exhausted, shocked and ill to drink. It died later that day and lay a heap of feathers near the entryway to the street.]