Currently unable in today's political climate to have his years of research into the stories of those persecuted as right wing elements during China's ultra-left Cultural Revolution published, blogger-journalist Ran Yunfei (冉云飞) has since found an outlet in his blog. Last month he gave a lecture on his findings in a Chengdu teahouse, the transcript of which he then posted online. In this third installment, Ran answers questions from the audience, which included several well-known victims of the anti-right movement as well as the children of some unknown victims. Ran looks at the other labels with which people were once persecuted, mentions others doing research similar to his, and calls on people to try some research blogging of their own, starting with their own families’ stories.
I'm very thankful that Mr. Ran Yunfei has spent the the best years of his life in researching the right wing, something very rare. According to incomplete statistics, there were 550,000 right wingers nationally and over 100,000 in Sichuan. I think all these right wingers ought to thank Mr. Ran Yunfei. (applause)
If one includes right wingers’ family members, I'm afraid it wouldn't be just 550,000, but well over a million. All of whom ought to thank Mr. Ran Yunfei. (applause) I only represent seven people over four generations of my family. I've finished speaking. (applause)
I feel that research into our country's right wing has only just begun. Even so, it's started late. If it weren't such a benevolent and determined person like Ran Yunfei carrying out research of this subect (and subject is too light a word, but it should be a subject! A subject that maybe only China would have), I think that would be very significant. I think if we don't figure out the significance of this, we wouldn't be qualified to go on living as modern people. This is my first thought. The second I'll have to explain. When I was kicked out of school I was just fifteen, hadn't yet reached sixteen. I didn't go and investigate to see if I was the youngest in the country. Because at the time I was still in junior high school, I didn't get get my share of any stigmatization, but it was after being kicked out that I got my share of authentic right wing ‘treatment’. All together there were twenty years where my curriculum vitae was extremely short. After I got kicked out I ended up bumming around society's lower classes for twenty years. Even to this day some people in the Writers Association call me Blacksmith Zhang. I've hammered steel, rowed boats, waited for transport jobs down at the wharf…died like a thousand times. Then there were the twenty years I worked as a literature editor, when I would take money from the Writers Association and go out and eat with Ran Yunfei.
I'll just say a bit. This generation of ours were just kids at the time of the anti-right movement, and didn't go through the anti-right these kinds of struggles ourselves. We only know a little from listening to what the older generations have to say. For example, I met Mr. Liu Shahe in 1971. At that time we were in high school in Chuanhua, not that far from where the city turned into countryside. We heard there was a prominent right winger undergoing labor reform there called Liu Shahe. In 1971 there were still military patrols. We snuck out to go see Liu Shahe. We saw a dark, very skinny person there hauling wood. They told us that was Liu Shahe, suffering for his work ‘Vegetation‘. At that time I just had an inkling of what a rightist was, but we didn't go disturb him. Because we were just apprentices, had only received a proletarian education. What qualified us to go comfort someone like that? We just looked for a bit and then left. I eventually mentioned this to Teacher Liu Shahe, and he sympathized.
I have a friend who could be said is a well-known writer and scholar. This person's name is Lin Xianzhi, a native of Guangzhou. In places like Guangzhou people like like him are few and far between, but the same could be said for all of China. This person hasn't read much (as in education), but jumping forward to today, he's now doing research into Lu Xun and intellectuals, has developed his own specialty. Two years ago Southern Weekend invited Wang Yi and myself down to Guangzhou. Yunfei, Lin asked, can you give me some information? I asked what it was he wanted to do, he said he was writing a book called ‘The Children Who Can Still Be Taught [a term for those children from politically uncorrect families who it was believed could still be ‘taught’].’ But now it still hasn't come out. I imagine all the information has been prepared already, but that it may never come out. Regarding this term ‘bad element,’ there are no agreed-upon meanings, none haven't ever been written down. Because of having been influenced by Mr. Xie Yong, I've collected many old dictionaries, I like collecting these things; dictionaries dating back to the Republic of China, for example and post-1949 dictionaries of all shades and stripes. In the New Intellectuals’ Dictionary published in 1958, ‘right wing’ can be found, but without a doubt ‘bad element’ cannot. Until today I've been unable to find an explanation for what ‘bad element’ means; difficult for sure. The concept of what constitutes a bad element is extremely broad. Some people were painted as bed elements for economic reasons, some for political reasons, and some just for having sex. Here in my hand I have information from one person's file, inside is written that ‘bad element’ so-and-so got carried away in his sexual affairs. I've received this these kinds of reports, that's why I also feel the definition of ‘bad element’ is quite broad, but one definitely worth looking into. And I could also say this: many post-1949 things are quite worth researching. Even just one item could be used to write countless doctoral theses, create countless specializations. (applause)
I've just heard Teacher Ran Yunfei's lecture on doing research into the right wing, and I think that many Chinese mainland intellectuals, especially writers, bear a very large responsibility, and this responsibility is not one that can be shirked. Like with Cong Weixi's Great Wall series and Zhang Xianliang's ‘Horse Herder,’ etc. I didn't see anything extraordinarily wrong with these at the time I read them, but I definitely felt that they serve to mislead people. Especially with Cong Weixi‘s ‘The Blood-streaming Huanghe River is Silent,’ his portrayal of the tough environment those once cast as right wing found themselves and the tough tales from within the labor reform farms. But then in the end he completely turns around and comes out with a sense of still having hope for the Party and the government. Whether that be humanism or love, the sentiments he displays towards the Party don't seem to make sense. I read these books when I was quite young, and there weren't many such books around then, choices weren't as vast as they are today. At the time I felt there was no way Cong Weixi's works would be around for very long. Later I think he came out with a novel called ‘Moving Towards Confusion,’ and I couldn't stand to finish reading it. I'm greatly disturbed by some of the ways he deals with certain things in that book, like when he says he finally had his rightist ‘hat’ [label] officially removed, he felt like it must have all been his fault, that his parents made a mistake when ‘educating’ him. This way of putting things greatly misleads people. I just wanted to mention this superficial estimation. (applause)
Regarding the relationship between those who were purged and the ruling Party, you've just put it very well. China's intellectuals and China's citizens are all very nice and good. My article of just two days ago, “The more shameless the government gets, the more moved the people get,” made just this point. He can no longer tell the difference. He's been brainwashed by the great, glorious and all-knowing for fifty years and now he can't change. Attached to the end of that post of mine are over four hundred comments, four to five of which say I don't understand the government. I say the common people understand the government just fine. It's the government that doesn't understand the people. I'll tell ya, this kind of relationship is an indentured relationship. That is, ‘I've paid my taxes, now you must do things for me.’ To that I say that many times, this government's actions are just like those of a bandit's. I pay my taxes and not only does the government not help me, but instead becomes hostile. You tell me, is or isn't that a bandit? For example, I pay fifty yuan and not only do you not do anything in return, but you tell me not to step out of line. Wouldn't that burn you? Wouldn't you get ticked off? I'll tell you, the government cannot print its own money. It's so-called ‘people's money’ [lit. renminbi] must earn the people's recognition. If the people don't recognize it, it's nothing more than a piece of scrap paper. Even if you were today to go drink a cup of tea, and this cup of tea costs five yuan, many people would say the tax on that would be paid by the teahouse. But do you know that a teahouse cannot pay tax on your behalf? We have to pay it on our own. Everybody pays taxes, we pay them every single day. Even the beggar on the street pays taxes. That's why I say, ‘we pay our taxes, you should do your jobs.’ As simple as that. They must do their jobs, and if they don't, then they're acting illegally. Where's your governmant's validity at?
Just now you mentioned political rehabilitation. While I may not be clear on everything, I have seen a rightists’ rectification notice, because my dad has one. Why do I mention this? During 9-11 he was staying with me. When he saw the airplane strike the tower, he was extremely happy, cheering. Standing behind, I was extremely surprised to see this. Becuase my father is not a peasant or a manual laborer. He graduated from Sichuan University, studying law. And to see a lawyer have this kind of response, I felt was really strange. Since then him and I haven't talked much. Every time he comes to Chengdu I don't spend much time with him. When he came to my home and saw all my books he was shocked. There were several reasons he was cast as a rightist, the first being that he had spent several years in the army as a young soldier during senior high school. Second was that his family were landowners. Just these two. At the time the right wing was limited to just these two conditions, a problem in your history or being born into a bad family. Of course they gave him an actual reason, something that he had once said, that he though subjectivity was bad, and that got him cast as a rightist.
The case that this man just spoke of is very interesting. Actually, I don't think you should distance yourself from your father. First off, one must love one's father. Second, this love of which I speak isn't abstraction. That's why you should try and understand him. He's been brainwashed something terrible, but you can't let his having been brainwashed give rise to a sense of superior intelligence over him. You must let him slowly realize he's been brainwashed. I definitely believe that brainwashing carried out by the Communist Party is quite severe. For example, if they see these articles, heard the things I actually say, you could say it would scare them shitless. They might say, ‘Ah! Get this out of here! Ran Yunfei's talk like this scares me half to death.’ They definitely won't be leaving any comments. Some people, when they open my blog, get scared. ‘How could he speak so strongly?’ Some common folk, just like your father, have lower culture. If you talk to him like this, I believe later on he'll start to change. Some people in this society like to see things happen all at once. Don't pick up on this way of thinking. Because this change can't take place right away. We need to take things one at a time, slowly effect change.
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