“Sample Chapter of Dragon Elegy”
The 10-year-long Cultural Revolution is history now. However, its specter is still haunting us today. What is taking place in the US and the world is alarmingly similar to the beginning of it. Reviewing the history of Communist acts perhaps can help prevent us from the headlong descent along the same disastrous path to losing our voices, our rights, and even our lives.
Communism is never rosy as it is promised to be. Nor is it benign. Under the Communists, over 100 million people lost their lives. To strike fear into the hearts of the population, they rule by terror. They ruthlessly eliminated tens of millions of “class enemies”, including their own comrades, and placed an even larger population in prisons, gulags, reform-through-labor camps, juvenile delinquent centers, and police-run work-study boarding schools for youngsters
who merely committed some one-time misdemeanor. Tens of millions died there. Their lunacy starved tens of millions more to death. To keep everyone in place, they assigned each person a class label and a personal status associated with his occupation. In China, our official personal dossier called “dang’an (archive)” controlled our entire lives. It holds all the information about us—our background, history, official judgment about our political performance, and “wrong-doings” that included spurious accusations and hearsay. It impacted
schooling, job assignment, job transfer, marriage, and advancement not only of ourselves, but of our descendants. It had legal effects that could send us to a labor camp or prison without a trial. Besides, they set up a neighborhood committee in every block to watch everyone’s daily activity. In addition, the “hukou”, a household registration system that controlled one’s food and supply ration, prevented the possibility of anyone disappearing from the authorities’ radar.
Out of their more than 60 classifications during the Mao years, only five groups were within the trusted “people” range, the so-called “proletariat”—Communists themselves that included all of their 24 grades of officials and military personnel, and their claimed “allied armies” (“tongmeng jun”)—workers, poor peasants, and lower-middle peasants. At the bottom of the totem pole were the “class enemies”—landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, and rightists. The term “Counterrevolutionaries” included former Nationalist Party and Youth League members, government officials, military and intelligence personnel, gendarmes, police, “imperialist accomplices” and “running dogs”, members of secret societies, and the “newly-bred counterrevolutionaries” while “bad elements” encompassed homosexuals, outlandish dressers, pickpockets, vagabonds, hooligans, debauchees, adulterers, and “premarital-sex offenders”. Once one was labeled an “enemy”, he or she would either be killed, or languish and die in a prison or a labor camp.
More ingenious, the assigned label was not permanent, but subject to
change, depending on our conduct and the whim of the authorities. As a matter of fact, many within the range of “people” thus became “counterrevolutionaries” or “bad elements”.
Our family was within the quasi-“class enemy” range as my father had been an employee of the “imperialist-run” Chinese Maritime Customs Service. But, my grandfather’s “bureaucrat-bourgeois” status could further pull us down to the “enemy” range, depending on the political situation. A quasi-“class enemy”, my father was expelled from his prestigious job at the Customs and demoted to bookkeeping at a local grain bureau. We were then kicked out of our four-bedroom French colonial home and relocated into two windowless rooms. As the descendants of undesirable people, we were “born no good”, “innately evil” like our ancestors, and needed to pay a fair share for our ancestors’ and our own “sins”. We were precluded from entering college and from obtaining any job that was desirable or considered “honorable”, “sensitive” or privileged. We were only fit for the most undesirable physical labor. My brother, Ciqing, was not even allowed to become a sportsman after a background screening. For selling some used wires and waste copper picked up in a deserted area to a recycling station to fund his transistor radio project, Ciqing had a “demerit” entered in his dang’an. Then, during the severe famine when we were all starving, to fill our empty stomachs, Ciqing, a spirited boy still in his early teens then, dug some clams out of a lake that turned out to be reserved for ranking Communists only. With a new charge of “consecutive thefts of state properties”, he was put on probation, one step short of being expelled from school. Twice, he was punished for daring to take the initiative to do something that would not constitute a “crime” in a normal society. A record like this would effectively end anyone’s chance for advancement. Ciqing was not even allowed to go beyond junior high school.
With activists in every residential compound working for the neighborhood committee, nothing we did could escape their attention. Anything that displeased them was reported to the police and dealt with expeditiously. My brother, Tiemin, who, at the time quit his job as a choral member to take vocal lessons to become a solo lyric tenor, was thus sent to a reform-through-labor farm for being an “idle bourgeois descendant”.
Under the Communist rule, no one was safe. No matter what his class label was, once he crossed the party line, dared to speak outside the script or lead an un-prescribed life, he would surely be punished. According to the Communist internal investigations conducted in 1978 and 1984, about 1/7 to 1/6 of the entire population was implicated during the Cultural Revolution. This ratio clearly indicated that the majority of those affected were “proletarians”. All this began with Mao’s personal vendetta against his archrival Liu Shaoqi, who
replaced him as the state chairman and ended his disastrous Great Leap Forward that led to the severe nationwide famine and 36-45 million deaths. In this persecution frenzy, not only Liu Shaoqi, but four of his family members, 14 of his service men and countless Communist officials lost their lives, millions of ordinary people also died in vain.
Today, Communism and many Communist practices are alive and well. With the help of modern technologies, catching enemies becomes much easier. Now a social credit system that tracks every aspect of one’s life is in place. The ruling class can silence you and disappear you. The population they galvanize through the media to keep themselves in power can intimidate you into submission. We now even see this take place in our beloved democratic society. If this goes unchecked, very soon, we will find ourselves living in Communist China. As Ronald Reagan forewarned, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
What my family and I experienced during the Cultural Revolution is very ordinary, but it is precisely because of this ordinariness that allows the readers to fathom the depth of the oppressive nature of a Communist regime.
Under the Communists, generations of people bent out of their natural shape, not allowed to be themselves and chase their own destinies.