Sunday, March 24, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Shanghai Brothers being Sent Away in 1966

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping described how her elder brothers of her Shanghai family were sent away by the Red Guards. The year is 1966. Since it happened after train fares were eliminated for Red Guards, it must be some times in or after August. On Page 16, she wrote:
Red Guards appeared at the doorway to our home the next day, commanding my brothers to go with them. They were being "sent up the mountains or down to the countryside," a Communist Chinese expression that soon became synonymous with forced labor and a hefty dose of physical and psychological abuse.
Later on Pages 52-53, she received a letter from her Shanghai Mama in February, 1967, which included this passage:
Your brothers are all settled down in the countryside, each in a different place. The youngest is all the way in the north, in a place that borders Russia. I am so worried about him, as I am worried about you. How can a thirteen-year-old boy survive harsh conditions by himself? Your big sister is at home. She works for a factory nearby.
The Debunking:
First, a brief history of the Cultural Revolution. The original Red Guards first appeared at the end of May, 1966, in Beijing and quickly spread all over the nation. Their status peaked in August that year when Mao Zedong received them in mass assemblies at Tiananmen Square. However, they started to fall out of favor by 1968 because of the extreme violence and chaos they were causing. On December 22, Mao Zedong instructed that all "intellectual youth" (知识青年) should go to the countryside to receive reeducation from the peasants, which started the "up to the mountains, down to the countryside" (上山下乡) movement as a way of evicting the trouble-making Red Guards from cities.

Before 1968, there were a very few city youth who were going to countryside already. But they did it by their own choices (which may be heavily influenced by their circumstances in cities).

Fu Ping's story above does not hold up in several ways:

  1. In 1966, there was no such movement yet. Her brothers would not be "sent down" at that time.
  2. The "up to the mountains, down to the countryside" movement was presented as a most glorious endeavor to entice the Red Guard members to join. It was never intended to be a punishment for children of the "bad elements." 
  3. Red Guards is not a police force. They act like hooligans in breaking into homes to destroy things and beat up people. But they are not charged to round up people and send them away. (More on this later with Fu Ping's own ordeal.)
  4. It's pretty much unheard of that a 13-year-old boy would be allowed to join this movement, unless he did it on his own by faking his age.
Also, at that time, a factory job was considered the most privileged position for young people. As a child from a "bad element" family, it is rather curious how her big sister got a job at "a factory nearby," which would be a dream come true for any kids with "red blood" at the time.

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