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Saturday, May 13, 2006


One pioneer Red Guard really wanted 'democracy'

So, one of the earliest of China's Red Guards, the very woman who Mao Zedong publicised for "Bombarding the Headquarters" in the open days of the what became known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, reveals that her aspiration at the time was for building a "democratic China"!

According to Jane Macartney in The Times (UK), Nie Yuanzi is now a frail, slightly stooped 85-year-old who lives with her two persian cats in a tiny, borrowed Beijing bedsit.

"The Cultural Revolution was a disaster so huge that we can only understand it if we study it," she told Macartney. "Chairman Mao used what I wrote to set alight the Cultural Revolution, but I never knew it would play such a huge role. I was very happy at the time, but I did not understand the deeper significance."

She says she tried to curb the violence and now regards the turmoil as a terrible mistake that must not be repeated. "I could have committed suicide but I felt I must stay alive so that people understand the Cultural Revolution," she said.

Her involvement began soon after 16 May 1966 when the Communist Party of China's newspaper, People's Daily, published a coded attack on Mao Zedong's political rivals within the party. Nie, then Communist Party secretary of Peking University's philosophy department, says the attack inspired her to put up a poster charging the elite school of being under the control of the bourgeoisie. Mao had the poster read out over national radio, effectively giving his blessing to attacks on those in authority and triggering a decade of chaos.

"Students rose to oppose so-called revisionists, including bureaucrats, academics, officials and leaders. Radical students calling themselves Red Guards put dunce's caps on teachers and professors and paraded them through the streets. Government ministers were forced to kneel as they were beaten. Many committed suicide to escape persecution. As the turmoil gained momentum, student factions turned on each other. Hundreds of thousands of Red Guards gathered beneath the Tiananmen rostrum in Beijing, waving the Little Red Book of Mao's quotations and chanting 'long live Mao' in slavish adulation. Mao used the movement to regain the political initiative and supreme power that he had lost in the early 1960s after the disastrous famine caused by the Great Leap Forward," Macartney noted correctly.

Nie, apparantly, was detained in 1968 as Mao moved to regain control over the Red Guards and she spent the next 17 years in jail. "She now inhabits a bizarre limbo, with no pension, deprived of her political rights, banned from publishing or speaking and relying on the kindness of friends for food and lodging. She lives in a tiny flat lent to her by a former foe from Peking University," Macartney observed.

And her final assessment? "I thought we would build a democratic China, but today we are still ruled by a dictatorship," she said.

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