PEKING — Hundreds of former Red Guards who willingly went into the countryside 17 years ago to help promote Mao Tse-tung`s Cultural Revolution staged a rare protest outside Communist Party headquarters Friday demanding the right to move back to Peking.
The 600 or so demonstrators arrived from remote and desolate western Shanxi province earlier this week, but only stepped up their protest enough to capture attention by week`s end.
By the end of the year, the demobilization of the Red Guard organizations had been accompanied by the physical removal of millions of youths from the cities to the countryside. In December, Mao issued yet another directive that deemed it "very necessary for educated young people to go to the countryside to be reeducated by the poor and lower-middle peasants. Cadres and other city people should be persuaded to send their sons and daughters who have finished junior or senior middle school, college, or university to the countryside." By the end of 1970, about 5.4 million youths had been transferred to rural areas, mostly in their home provinces, but often to remote border and frontier regions. Few had any hope that they would ever be able to return to their homes.
After Mao finally reined in the Red Guards, many had no families, no homes, no schools, nowhere to go. Hundreds of thousands became street urchins, begging or stealing or doing a day`s worth of menial work for a piece of bread or bowl of rice.
The governement has officially exonerated the Red Guards, but many former members, especially radicals and leaders, still cannot get jobs because the rest of Chinese society does not trust them.
There are many stories of ex-Red Guards, their generation called "The Lost Generation". Because they left school and spent the prime of their youth in rebellion, not only did they not receive proper education but the entire nation distrusted them thereafter. It was very difficult for them to earn a place back in society.
At times, contending Red Guard and allied military units battled each other. By 1967, the nation had sunk into chaos, and Mao called in the armed forces to restore order. Within two years, the Red Guards were disbanded and the Cultural Revolution's worst excesses ended. But its thought control and intimidation continued until Mao's death in 1976.
By 1967 the ranks of the Red Guards included up to 10 million young people, and Mao had to call out the army to control their rampant terrorism and destruction. The Cultural Revolution continued, however, and most schools and other institutions--except for those devoted to political ``re-education``--remained closed until after Mao`s death in 1976.
Mao relied on the Red Guards, wearing their green army-style uniforms and wearing blood-colored armbands, to be his henchmen. They arrested and terrorized and in some cases tortured and killed society`s leaders. Many informed on their own parents` alleged ``counter-revolutionary`` thoughts and actions, even if they didn`t know what those terms meant.
They destroyed ancient works of art, burned books and roamed the country like stormtroopers, demanding and getting food and shelter from people who did not have enough of either but were afraid to say no.
Nobody understood Marxism. After all who would bother? The only things we believed were that Chairman Mao was the great banner-carrier of Marxism-Leninism; that Russia had turned to Revisionism and that the Third World needed guidance for their struggle against Western Imperialism and Hegemony. We also believed that Western society was rotten and decadent and that the only way to create a new society was to destroy the old one in China first. The 'academic authorities' in the fields of philosophy, history, literature and art (not science!) had to be re-educated because they stood for the Old Ideology. Temples were destroyed because they were thought to be part of feudal superstition.
``It was all very adventurous and exciting, because we believed we were doing something good for society,`` Zhang said. ``Mao and other party leaders told us that by getting rid of these `bad elements` in society, we would speed China`s progress.`` ... Like many young rebels who had never been more than a few miles from home, Zhang considers the footloose months of free railway travel the only bright break in the dark decade. The teen-agers were thrilled with a certainty that they were stirring China for achievements as profound as the 1949 revolution.
At the school from June 1966, fervent students turned on teachers and the principal, accusing them of hiding "bad" and "reactionary" class backgrounds and failing to heed Mao's demands.
They searched homes and patrolled the streets, forcing youths to get rid of John F. Kennedy-style haircuts, sharp shoes, denim trousers and other signs of deviance, recalled former student Yin.
My dad used to tell me his older brother, my uncle, was a red guard when he was young. At that time, being a red guard was considered the epitome of cool. You could walk into any restaurant, put down your red book, and demand a meal. He abstained from describing the more violent details however, so I was led to believe that a red guard position was a highly regarded position of power.
In 1966, a group of middle school students in Beijing named themselves "Chairman Mao's Red Guards." Mao's support for them led to the name "Red Guard" being adopted by groups who were sanctioned by Mao and his supporters to "rebel against the system" all over China. Sworn to protect Chairman Mao and his revolutionary line, the Red Guards and other, older revolutionary rebels caused havoc and eventually turned on each other, resulting in great destruction and considerable loss of life.
The youngsters who formed the bulk of the Red Guards and sent-down youth can be considered the third generation in the People's Republic of China. Their grandparents' generation had fought the revolution that had established Communist rule in 1949; their parents had helped build New China; these high schoolers and college students were the children of this revolution.
The Cultural Revolution is conventionally dated from 1966 to 1976. The phenomena in the first three years associated with Red Guards account for the mapping out of a space in which young people could conduct their own activities, whether in support of the current political campaigns or from more personal motivations. When Red Guards became 'sent-down youth' (or 'educated youth'), starting in late 1968, the spaces for the development of youth popular culture extended to the countryside.
I got home that night around midnight, thirsty, hungry, and tired, but still feeling warm and excited from the fire. My parents were waiting for me in the hall when I entered, and from my father's face I thought I was in big trouble. He must have found out that I had burned some of his technical books. "I was out doing revolution at school," I told them right away, hoping to ward off their anger. "We burned all the bourgeois books today. And we have started a big revolution." Surprisingly, my parents' faces cleared up and they did not scold me for coming back so late. The word "revolution" seemed to have a magical effect on them...my father said it was all right and he did not need those technical books any more and my mother smiled and said that she was proud of me for burning all those bourgeois books. "Let me cook some egg noodles for the hungry little revolutionary," she said, and tenderly rubbed my head.