An incredibly moving story out of the Guardian this morning. More than 40 years ago, during the height of the Cultural Revolution, Zhang Hongbing, only 16, denounced his mother for criticizing Mao Zedong. His mom, Fang Zhongmou, was tortured and summarily executed. She was only 44.
Tania Branigan reports:
In 1968, Fang fell under suspicion due to her father. Two years of investigation, detention and uncertainty tormented her: “Why don’t they just make a decision on me?” she asked.
“Her father’s death, her husband’s persecution, her daughter’s death – everything that happened made her suspicious of the Cultural Revolution … She was sick of [it],” said Zhang.
Eventually conditions improved and she was allowed to sleep at home. Then, one evening, her zealous son accused her of tacitly criticising Mao. The family row spiralled rapidly: Fang called for the return of purged leaders and attacked Mao for his personality cult. “I warned her: ‘If you go against our dear Chairman Mao I will smash your dog head,’” Zhang said, at times reading from his father’s testimony. “I felt this wasn’t my mother. This wasn’t a person. She suddenly became a monster … She had become a class enemy and opened her bloody mouth.”
Fang’s brother begged her to take her words back, warning she would be killed. “I’m not scared,” Fang replied. She tore down and burned Mao’s picture.
When her husband and son ran to denounce her, “I understood it meant death,” Zhang said. In fact, he added, he called for her to be shot as a counter-revolutionary. He last saw her as she knelt on stage in the hours before her death.
It’s a harrowing tale, and a valuable lesson — one that Zhang hopes people of his generation will confront, lest future generations are doomed to repeat their mistakes.
“My mother, father and I were all devoured by the Cultural Revolution,” said Zhang, 60, who is now a lawyer. “[It] was a catastrophe suffered by the Chinese nation. We must remember this painful historical lesson and never let it happen again.”
Yes, never again. We can start with a national catharsis, if the government ever feels the country is strong enough to withstand such an honest historical appraisal without tearing apart at the seams. We’ll wait.