Former Red Guard leader Tang Dahua says memories of the fanatical bloodshed that tore apart the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing return to him with startling clarity.
Decades after Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) Cultural Revolution made Chongqing a bloody ideological battleground, the riverside mega-city, China’s largest, is at the heart of a different political storm — one that has exposed rifts inside the Chinese Communist Party after the ouster of the city’s charismatic leader, Bo Xilai (薄熙來).
Tang was a prominent leader in the late 1960s battles between Red Guard factions in Chongqing that killed many hundreds in ferocious fighting, and he dismissed the idea that the violence that ravaged China then could return.
However, Bo’s downfall has exposed ideological fault lines in the government and the public that could trouble the party months before a delicate reshuffle of top leaders.
“I think the center has a real problem on its hands,” said Joseph Fewsmith, a professor of Chinese politics at Boston University.
Tang and others who came to mourn at the city’s Red Guard cemetery during the traditional “tomb sweeping” holiday said the upheavals around Bo were a reminder that China’s political unity is still brittle.
“People forget that it was not so long ago that this country was in such turmoil,” said Tang, a balding 67-year-old retired factory manager, of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
Millions were persecuted across China as the Red Guard movement launched by Mao set students against teachers and children against parents in a frenzied purge against those deemed enemies of the revolution, including Bo’s father.
“Sometimes it seems as if it happened recently, not 45 years ago. You could say it comes rushing back like I was there,” Tang said of the street battles between rival gangs of leftist students and workers using guns and cannons looted from the city’s weapons factories.
“People have urged me to write my memoirs, but I know nobody in China would dare publish them,” he said after visiting the tomb of a friend speared to death in a 1967 Red Guard battle and leaving a bunch of white chrysanthemums, the flower of mourning.
The cemetery in a vine-shrouded corner of Shapingba Park holds the bodies of hundreds of Red Guards and others killed in the Cultural Revolution, their remains under tall pillars inscribed with their names and their school or workplace.
Bo, 62, was also a Red Guard during the first stage of the Cultural Revolution, before he was jailed for five years from 1968 because Mao had turned on his father, according to Chinese historical accounts.
Bo was removed as Chong-qing party boss in the middle of last month, over a month after then-Chongqing deputy mayor Wang Lijun (王立軍) fled to a nearby US consulate, triggering a scandal compounded by accusations of infighting and abuses of power, and questions about the death of a British man close to Bo’s family.
Before his downfall, Bo wrapped himself in Mao-inspired leftist rhetoric and bold egalitarian vows. Unlike removals of defiant provincial-level leaders over corruption charges, Bo’s treatment faces open opposition from ardent supporters who see him as the victim of a plot.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) raised the stakes by obliquely criticizing Bo for fanning nostalgia for Maoist times and warning that failure to act against graft and a growing rich-poor gap could rekindle the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.