At the height of the frenzy of the Cultural Revolution, victims were eaten at macabre “flesh banquets,” but 50 years after the turmoil began the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is suppressing remembrance and historical reckoning of the era and its excesses.
Launched by Mao Zedong (毛澤東) in 1966 to topple his political enemies after the failure of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution saw a decade of violence and destruction nationwide as party-led class conflict devolved into social chaos.
Teenaged Red Guards beat their teachers to death for being “counter-revolutionaries” and family members denounced one another, while factions clashed bitterly for control across the nation.
However, the Chinese Communist Party — which long ago decided that Mao was “70 percent right and 30 percent wrong” — does not allow full discussion of the events and responsibility.
Some of the worst excesses happened in Wuxuan, in the far southern region of Guangxi, where the hearts, livers and genitals of victims were cut out and fed to revelers.
Now, five decades after the declaration of the Cultural Revolution on May 16, 1966, the town has frozen yoghurt shops, men fish a river beneath mossy limestone karsts and red banners hang from trees proclaiming the ruling party’s dedication to the people.
Some residents say they have never heard of the dozens of acts of cannibalism, motivated by political hatred rather than hunger, that once stained the streets with blood.
At least 38 people were eaten in Wuxuan, a high-ranking member of an early 1980s official investigation said, asking not to be named for fear of repercussions.
“All the cannibalism was due to class struggle being whipped up and was used to express a kind of hatred,” he said. “The murder was ghastly, worse than beasts.”
Academics say the violence resulted from Wuxuan’s remote location, the ruthless regional CCP leader, poverty and bitter factionalism.
“In 10 years of catastrophe, Guangxi not only saw numerous deaths, they were also of appalling cruelty and viciousness,” the retired cadre wrote in an unpublished manuscript. “There were beheadings, beatings, live burials, stonings, drownings, boilings, group slaughters, disembowellings, digging out hearts, livers, genitals, slicing off flesh, blowing up with dynamite, and more, with no method unused.”
In 1968, a geography instructor named Wu Shufang (吳樹芳) was beaten to death by students at Wuxuan Middle School. The body was carried to the flat stones of the Qian River, where another teacher was forced at gunpoint to rip out the heart and liver. Back at the school, the pupils barbecued and consumed the organs.
Today the institution has been relocated and rebuilt, and students shook their heads when asked if they were aware of what happened.
Residents of the old town say they do not know the history or meet questions with silence. The few willing to discuss the violence say memories are fading and the town is eager to escape its past.
“Cannibalism? I was here then, I went through it,” a man surnamed Luo said.
However Wuxuan has developed rapidly in recent years and now, he said, that history “has no meaning.”
“This was not cannibalism because of economic difficulties, like during famine,” said Ding Xueliang (丁學良), a Cultural Revolution expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It was not caused by economic reasons, it was caused by political events, political hatred, political ideologies, political rituals.”
For 15 years, rumors of the carnage in Guangxi — which one official estimated left as many as 150,000 people dead — rippled across China and eventually authorities sent a group to investigate.
The report was never released. The outside world only learned of the slaughter when journalist Zheng Yi (鄭義) smuggled documents out of China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre and published his book Scarlet Memorial.
More recently a senior inquiry team member has sought to spread awareness in China, but his efforts have been suppressed, he said.
The cadre once wrote an article for a small-circulation liberal Chinese magazine, describing the investigation findings and saying tens of thousands died, with more than 100 people taking part in cannibalism.
Retired regional officials responded with a written denunciation sent to top CCP bodies, accusing him of falsifying facts and demanding he submit a self-criticism, rectify his errors and apologize personally.
“They said I was anti-party, anti-socialist, anti-Mao Zedong Thought,” he said.
In recent months he took a manuscript to a publisher, but refused to cut some passages.
“Before I retired I didn’t dare say ‘no’ to the party,” he said.
Nowadays government control over the media and public opinion is tightening.
“It’s absolutely clear, that to establish their own authority, they control public opinion,” he said.
No official commemorations of the anniversary are expected.
Ding said the CCP fears recalling the officially sanctioned chaos and violence could undermine its legitimacy.
“The more you talk about such things, the more current CCP leaders are worried,” he said.
The suppression of knowledge and discussion worries Zheng, who is now living in the US.
“Because the government has never permitted a deep examination of history, it’s impossible to say that lessons have been learned,” Zheng said.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable
SURGE CONTINUES: India recorded its steepest spike of more than 57,000 new virus cases in 24 hours, as Vietnam went from no virus deaths to reporting three South Korean prosecutors yesterday arrested the elderly leader of a secretive religious sect as part of an investigation into allegations that the church hampered the government’s COVID-19 response after thousands of worshipers were infected in February and March. Prosecutors in the central city of Suwon have been questioning 88-year-old Lee Man-hee, chairman of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, over charges that the church hid some members and underreported gatherings to avoid broader quarantines. The Suwon District Court granted prosecutors’ request to arrest Lee over concerns that he could temper with evidence. Lee and his church have steadfastly denied the accusations, saying they are